Adam Mills

Marketing Strategy & Planning Lead

BT Group

Winner 2022

Adam Mills

How did you get into social intelligence? What was your career path to your current position?  

I fell into it a wee bit, to be honest! I started my career working with start-ups and small businesses to scale their marketing efforts, and realised the power and potential of both social and data-driven marketing. As time went on, my roles took a few twists and turns (marketing to data analysis, back to marketing optimisation and then through to research), until I arrived at BT Group to look after brand performance, which included the remit to start and grow our social listening capability. This was back in the day when social listening was still seen by businesses as your Grandma posting bad cat memes on Facebook, so it's taken a lot of hard graft from so many people (both internally and externally) to help us transition into acknowledging that it's so much more than this, and to harness the value delivered by having a full social and digital intelligence capability.  

What's your proudest achievement of your career to date?  

I've been very lucky in my career that I have a few! Being named the youngest Head of UK Marketing of a listed company (that we know of!) was definitely a highlight, and more recently, being shortlisted for a number of research-focused awards despite only having formally entered this sector a couple of years ago has been a real shining light for me. From a social intelligence perspective, scaling the capability within BT Group over the past couple of years to a full and complete self-serve capability with dedicated resource and the ability to proactively deliver strategic insight directly to our senior leadership has been an incredible feat that I'm really proud of.    

However, I'm most proud not of awards and tangible accolades, but of how I dealt with a complete crisis of confidence a few years back. I've spoken about this a few times, but I had a boss who wasn't the best leader I've ever come across... 18 months of constant self-doubt and worry as to whether or not I was even worth my salt really damaged and dented my self belief, and it took a long time for me to overcome the crippling imposter syndrome that I inherited from that experience. I was very lucky to have an incredible support network around me, and my mentors, counsellors and coaches all helped, brick by brick, piece by piece, to put me back together again. I can now proudly hold my head up and say I'm a subject matter expert, I know what I'm talking about and that I'm immensely proud of the work and value I produce. It's been a long time coming!  

How is your organisation using social data to support business decision-making?  

Our social insight and intelligence capability has really come into its own over the past year or so - we've been able to step it up from reactive reporting to proactive, strategic insight that supports and augments how we deliver the voice of the customer to our senior leaders and decision makers. I can't go into too much detail on what we actually do (that age-old chestnut!), but we're now looking to take traditional support methods (reporting, analysis etc) to the next level, and input the learnings from our social data and analysis directly into our data and decision-making toolset. We're really excited by what this can do for us, especially as it starts to develop a whole new way of democratising this data and delivering instant recommendations on approach.    

As we scaled our operation, we made the decision pretty early on that the best way to deliver true value from our social insight was to ensure it fitted neatly in with some of the more 'traditional' research and data collection methods, and that it supported existing methodologies. This way, we can deliver strong, robust and reliable recommendations and messaging to our stakeholders that goes above and beyond what people post online about their experiences. It's something I've spoken about before, but I think it's really important that we tell rich stories with this data in conjunction with other research and data sources - treating social data in isolation keeps it out of the loop, and if we want to truly deliver value from newer data sources such as social, we need to stitch it all together into one succinct narrative.    

Looking into 2022, what are your expectations for how social intelligence is going to support your organisation?  

My big hope is that we see the value of what it can bring to us from day one. Our toolsets are ready, our data and analysis is ready, our stakeholders are ready, and I think 2022 will be a big year for how we bring this data source truly into the fold of data/analytics/insight. 2021 saw the penny drop that there is such a treasure trove of information readily available in a cost efficient environment, and I'm hoping 2022 will allow us to continue to support our business units, our brands and ultimately help support putting the customer at the heart of our decision-making process.    


What's your view on how to develop social intelligence and get organisational buy-in?  

There's two things I'd suggest here: map out where you think the teams who could gain the most value out of social intelligence and find yourself some champions within those functions. It's now an exercise that our social intelligence team go through once a quarter (especially as we scale), but in the early days, we looked very specifically at where we thought the most interesting case studies would be. This all helped us deliver a business case back to the teams to show what value could be derived from the tooslets and the data we had, and the champions were tantamount to the success of that side of our programme.    

I mentioned it a little earlier, but the other thing I'd strongly suggest is to ensure social intelligence never feels like Pandora's Box - bring it into the fold and augment existing reporting and analysis with small pockets of social data. The more comfortable your business feels seeing social data and social metrics, the more likely they are to understand what they add to the story. When we started out on delivering our social intelligence programme at BT Group, we started to add really high-level social analysis into our NPS reporting, which just started to give a flavour as to what was being said and felt outside of our direct contact with our customers. These small nudges all build a better understanding as to what social could really deliver to our business.    


What piece of advice would you give to others working within organisations doing social intelligence?  

Feel comfortable when things fail - you're not going to always get it right, especially whilst social intelligence is still a relatively 'new' concept to those outside of our industry. Stakeholders will ask awkward questions, they'll challenge your data and there will be times when it feels like things aren't going your way - don't give up. This is the exact time to start ramping up!    

The beauty of having networks like the SI Lab is that you can speak to people who have almost certainly been in your shoes and in your exact situation, too - don't be scared to reach out to them. I can't tell you how much I've learnt from others in the industry: some who have already scaled their operation; some who are yet to even kickstart. We're all fighting the good fight, and I think it's really important we keep learning from each other to ensure social intelligence becomes and remains a core part of analysis in every organisation.    


Where would you like to see the discipline of social intelligence going in the future?  

I'd like to see the stigma around social intelligence disappear in its entirety - we all know the value that data can bring organisations across every sector, yet there's still some that poo-poo social insight. If we want to understand our existing audiences, let alone the next generation to come, and see and understand the wider behavioural, societal and cultural shifts our businesses are going to have to face up to in the coming years, we need to feel comfortable learning from them on the platforms that they choose, not just the ones we put in front of them.    

I'd also like to see the social networks themselves realise that they can help continue to grow this industry by allowing better access to data via accredited platforms. We've all faced the issues of walled gardens and data degradation, but from a reporting and analysis perspective, this only creates more doubt with our stakeholders. If we're serious about utilising the vast amounts of data that's captured on a daily basis for societal good, then we need to be able to access this in a clear and consistent way.    

What would you say to business leaders about why they should be incorporating social intelligence into their growth strategies?  

If you want to understand the audiences of tomorrow, you need to hold a glass up to the walls in which they're conversing - and i's not going to be through NPS texts and sitting them in a hot, sweaty room in the middle of a city on a Wednesday night for a focus group. People across the globe are sharing their thoughts and their experiences on the internet, and this digital footprint is where the next product, proposition or service is going to be born from. At this stage, social intelligence isn't going to replace all your other ways of delivering growth to our organisation, but it's sure as hell going to help augment it and deliver you a bigger, better, brighter strategy.

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