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AKQA's new social director Ron Peterson extols the virtues of social business for brands


By Stephen Lepitak, -

January 29, 2013 | 6 min read

The next stage in the evolution of social media and its ability to strengthen the bottom line for businesses is about to begin, according to AKQA’s new director of social.

AKQA recently hired former head of business arts lab leader at TBWA Digital Arts Network in California, Ron Peterson, to head up its global social practice for clients, with Peterson having relocated to London in order to do so.

The founder of action sports business Bayvi LLC in Honolulu in 2004, Peterson took his online entrepreneurial knowledge to Omnicom where he co-founded its Digital Arts Network in 2011 after just under a year at TBWA, having developed a social insight tool for brands.

Now, at AKQA, he has been tasked with driving effective marketing that is rooted in clientʼs brand and business objectives.

Speaking to The Drum about his plans around the implementation of social business within the culture of AKQA's clients, the enthusiasm and respect that Peterson has for his new role and employer is clear. On several occasions during the conversation he extols his admiration for the entrepreneurial spirit and fast pace he has so far witnesses since reaching the London headquarters in recent weeks.

"There is a thriving heartbeat here, because Ajaz [Ahmed] and the team here have been able to take a nimble, flexible mentality of a start-up and scale it across the globe in a way that means we can make a brand's business better because can see what it takes to be nimble and what it takes to think differently and break down silos," he explains.

We come to the crux of the conversation - the use of social within large scale businesses and how Peterson believes it can improve their operations. He sees the use of social as a marketing tool as 'having laid the foundations' when it comes to understanding how to use different platforms and communicate messages. Social business is the next step for brands using social media as channel that is one whole platform rather than a fragmented set of destinations.

He explains: "Social business is a movement to how we can inherently use a network or connectivity to access information and data. Much like the Internet changed the world 18 years ago to drive the bottom line of businesses and drive revenue, improve efficiencies, reduce costs and ultimately make a business more social.

"We are seeing a fundamental shift in how social adds value to other segments of the value-chain beyond marketing," he states. "Whether it's Social Product Development, Social CRM, Social R&D, Social Sales, Social HR, or other non-advertising aspects of the value-chain, businesses are beginning to leverage the power of a connected network to drive their businesses."

Despite his determination that the use of social can help organise and internally drive a company, Peterson also acknowledges that its implementation is no easy task. "It's going to be very difficult for brands and businesses to adapt to, but the rewards are immense...the costs of not becoming a social business can be threatening to the business as well."

Asked what issues brands have in adopting a social mind-set internally, Peterson claims that "thinking differently" is one of the greatest challenges. "It's human nature to confine social to a marketing and advertising function yet so many brands and businesses will leverage social as a one-way, top down communications channel and that's the first challenge.

"The second challenge is working together to break down silos. You hear of stories within businesses working within silos, organisational structures within companies being very hierarchical and segmented and that's going to be another large challenge in order to bring down silos and create a more integrated organisational network within the brand. The third challenge is to think about innovation. For those reasons the old agency model will not work."

He explains his view of social as a whole: "One thing with social is that in recent years we've focused on thinking of it in terms of platforms. Going forward we're going to start to look at social more as connectivity to access information and data. Ultimately in some ways you can look at how leveraging social is beyond just a message being placed in that platform. It is very useful as a marketing function but you will soon start to see ways in which you can use a network to drive revenue, reduce cost and drive efficiency. In that sense that's what social means to me - connectivity and accessing information and data."

Asked to envision where social is going, Peterson begins his answer by looking back on the digital evolution for insight. "Everything is getting faster," he states. "18 years ago we saw how the Internet changed the world...the Internet provided access to information and data and spawned the transformation of business models to create the rise of companies such as Netflix and the fall of Blockbuster. Then you look at where social is now - if you think about what social means to a lot of people, it is inherently about connectivity and accessing information and data. Those are the same three fundamental drivers of what drove business transformation 18 years ago and for that reason we are on the cusp of significant business revolution and I don't think many brands and agencies are going to be quick to handle it and it's going to be an extraordinary task to do so."

Peterson has only just begun his new role, but says that he and AKQA have already begun to implement social business strategies within client brands Nissan, Nike, Barclay's and Audi.

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