What's unique about Duarte is his ability to straddle two worlds. At UCT's Graduate School of Business, he's the director of two executive education programmes driven by the need to decode social media, called Nomadic Marketing and Mobile Marketing. He's also the brains behind the consulting intelligence collective Huddlemind, public lead for Creative Commons South Africa and the co-founder of 27 Dinners and Muti.
Duarte's approach at the school of business is to use the space as pause for reflection and a place for engaging people who've excelled in business. “It's about sharing epic successes and failures, not for delving into academia. As academics, what we should do is facilitate expert business perspective rather than lecturing or telling. Like good coaching, the answers come from the practitioners and from the critical necessity for business to innovate, not from dry academic tomes.”
Sharing knowledge & experience
What's exciting is that this knowledge isn't being harboured by the business elite, but shared with emerging communities of learning. Through Duarte's role as Dean of the Digital Media Faculty at The Maharishi Institute of Management, best practice can be fed into the development of young minds previously denied access to social media smarts through bandwidth deprivation or economic circumstance. A Taddy Blecher inspired free university, the institute enables eager minds from impoverished communities to learn how to use social media to buoy start-ups, or how to create a viable business using social networks.This is in line with Duarte's belief that social media is a radically transformative technology that is forcing a whole new way of working or being an entrepreneur. His belief is that the real work is for businesses to come to terms with it. “This is the first time in history that we have a medium that enables many-to-many connections, and it makes no sense to ignore this enhancement in communication. This isn't academes; it is fact. Think of it like this. If all our communication was face-to-face in the past, and then the telephone was invented and enabled remote speaking, wouldn't it make sense to use the telephone? Social media is the same level of revolution or evolution.”
This is the first time in history that we have a medium that enables many-to-many connections, and it makes no sense to ignore this enhancement in communication.
According to Duarte, globalisation is the bastard that's causing all the problems by demanding that locals innovate, muck in and get to grips with the revolution. “Globalisation brings more players in the market, increases competition, and drives the need for innovation. Instead of operating in a limited pool, 2010 has hurtled South Africa into a global marketplace. 2010 has presented a rare moment for the world to see our value, to drive investment to this country and to create opportunities for growth. This will be an event that will radically disrupt the South African marketplace.”
And the world, of course, communicates through social media. Ford is already spending 25% of its marketing budget on social media, and is one of the few US car companies that didn't need to be bailed out by the US government. When Ford launched the Fiesta in April 2009, it didn't hand a bunch of new models to journalists, but took a hell of a gamble by getting 100 ordinary online 'Joes' to tweet, blog and Facebook the experience.
“What brands and companies are coming to terms with is that people are no longer consumers to manipulate. They are people who demand authentic conversations. That the best way to reach these people is to communicate through social media in experiments of mass collaboration.” Duarte says the current consumer mood is about trust, transparency, long-term relationships, choice and alternatives. “Choice makes manipulation difficult if not impossible. Then the declarative nature of social media means people are publishers, so brands and companies can get away with a lot less than they used to.”
The biggest mistake companies are making is to view social networks as crisis response vehicles. “If you have a disaster and choose to be absent, consumers will work on assumptions, and populate social networks with these untruths. Then there's the release of built-up rage and the perpetuation of the thought that companies don't care. Being there quells the frustration. But social media shouldn't be seen as a crisis response channel. It should rather be seen as a means for collaboration to break down the barriers between consumers and the company.” Duarte says the net affect of these conversations is the creation of a whole new way of working, where new levels of respect for people are put into place.
Then don't be misled by thinking you can wait on the sidelines, because South Africa typically lags in terms of technology trends. Duarte says what business needs to consider is the 1/9/90 rule. “Only 1% of our community are active creators. Nine percent comment. And 90% are spectators. This means there is a small percentage of people who influence large online sectors. The power of social media lies with that top tranche of influencers, who have a lot of power concentrated in their hands. They are the advocates and influencers.”
The idea of advocates and influencers is nothing new in marketing, and the challenge in marketing now is for advertising managers and brand owners to understand how to influence the influencers. “It's about understanding the influence. The top 10 trafficked sites in South Africa are all user-generated content and include Facebook, Google and Gumtree. Then what's astounding is the power of Mxit, which is becoming a clear leader and is taking over from Google and Facebook in terms of local traffic.”
Internally, what's crucial for business to understand is how social media is creating new pockets of influence in worlds of work. “People who wield the power within an organisation are not necessarily those who wield the most influence,” says Duarte, who cites Dr Karen Stephenson. A corporate anthropologist, Stephenson is recognised as a "leader in the growing field of social network business consultants". In 2007, she was one of only three females recognised from a distinguished shortlist of 55 in Random House's Guide to the Management Gurus.
“Stephenson's work shows us that organised social media enables companies to identify and then influence key points of informal power. Within large organisations, these include social media role players who are 'gatekeepers' in that they control access to information or key points; 'hubs' who are the super connectors in businesses; and 'pulse takers' through whom one can get a strong sense of the general vibe or mood of an organisation.”
Back in power
Duarte maintains that if organisations are able to identify and influence these groups, then business will wield more authority, enjoy more credibility and retain some 'say so' in informal structures of influence. “These are informal, unpaid roles. Giving these key groups access to information could help business in amplifying messages or identifying emerging power players or groups that could aid their cause.
“A lot of the social interaction that happens around work isn't paid for; it isn't about monetary rewards, rather it is all about status and social currency.” Duarte advocates giving these communities or individuals special insights and nurturing them to stimulate innovation and drive change, rather than just ignoring them.
“This is where technology maps onto the real. With social media you can map relationships, social growth, and social networks. This is a key trend emerging in the use of social media internally, and understanding the more human and social aspects of business,” says Duarte.
Who are the local business leaders when it comes to social media? Duarte says Old Mutual represents one establishment that 'gets it'. “Old Mutual is engaging at a sincere level by getting some of the smartest minds to map out a systems approach that will drive organisational change through social media,” says Duarte. Think of it this way. Communication becomes increasingly difficult in a highly fragmented organisation, but social media offers new clues and paradigms for engagement.
“Old Mutual launched its new credit card with a major social media push. There was significant innovation in the way it communicated around the budget address in Parliament, which merged the use of Twitter with crowd sourcing. The result was a very engaging, collaborative and participative effort that repositioned financial planning as a lifestyle, not just insurance.”
Duarte says what's different about social media in 2010 is that business is taking it seriously for the first time. “We've been talking social media for a while, and it's been through the Gartner hype cycle, which speaks to hype, disillusionment, plateau and productivity. Yes, people are wary of technology fresh off a hype cycle, but they've watched pioneers riding the wave and getting benefit, and are now prepared to engage.” Social networks have arrived in the world of business by delivering real benefit.