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Published January 11th 2016

Interview: In Conversation with The Economist on Social Intelligence

We sat down with Tim Grimes of The Economist to talk all things social intelligence, and how the publishing powerhouse uses this vital information source.

One of the most important aspects of understanding social and making the most of it is ensuring that insights actually get used.

It’s no use spending thousands of dollars on an excellent platform if all of the business-improving intelligence is held by one team.

So how does a global publishing powerhouse ensure that social intelligence is activated among its 2,000 employees, and that it’s at the cutting edge of social practices?

We sat down with Tim Grimes, Social Media Manager of The Economist, to discuss this – and other hot topics, like understanding influencers, and using social intelligence to drive subscriptions.

The Economist: an integral relationship with social

The Economist, an English-language weekly newspaper, was founded in London in 1843.

The publication covers current affairs and cultural events, and enjoys a weekly circulation of over 1.5 million – with four-fifths of this outside the UK.

As well as the print edition, there’s the hugely successful online subscription model, Economist.com, as well as apps and newsletters for its members.

A lot of Tim’s role involves maximizing the reach of this brand through social, encouraging engagement, and understanding the landscape it sits in.

Clearly, The Economist understands the importance of social, as Tim explains.

“Social is one of the key focuses of the business.

Without the social side of it, there would likely be a 25% drop in traffic – so it is a key part of the business for us.

Also, from an editorial perspective, all our journalists are very clued-up on the social aspect and publish a lot of articles on their channels, do a lot of reporting, do live Q&As.

We’ve had Zani, our Editor in Chief, do live Q&As on Facebook – so there’s an obvious understanding that social is a key role in the business, and I think it always will be.”

Behind the scenes: employee advocacy

This understanding of the importance of social permeates into the newsroom.

We asked Tim about employee advocacy – one of the emerging use-cases for social data of last year, and likely to continue in 2016.

Google Trends search volume for employee advocacy soared in 2015, more than doubling on 2014 search data.

A Harvard Business School study in 2013 revealed that 71% of respondents ranked employee engagement as very important to achieving overall organizational success.

And of course – who better to promote an organization than its own employees?

Such activity can help shape online reputation, even of a brand that’s been going since the 1800s.

Tim agreed this is incredibly important.

“This is something that I want to work on further, and get the company as a whole sharing content more.

The editorial team are great at it. I think when you’ve got nearly 2,000 employees and, let’s be honest, your employees are the best advocates for the business, there’s definitely scope for people to share content – whether that’s internally or externally across the platform.

One of the tools we’ve set up for this is a leaderboard on Brandwatch that’s monitoring all our editors – such as how many links they are posting each week, what kind of impressions they’re getting, what kind of reach and what kind of engagement.

There’s definitely scope for us to do more internally and externally as well.”

We’re certainly seeing more of this as a use-case for social media intelligence, across all sectors.

A study by MSL Group found that this activity hugely increases brand messaging – it’s unsurprising The Economist is on board.

Understanding influencers and their audiences

Another current marketing hot topic is influencers – influencer marketing is now a $240m industry, and is one of the fastest growing marketing mediums in the past five years.

Much has been said about influencer marketing, and most brands now adopt at least the most simple principles – @mentioning and hashtags designed to turn the heads of influencers.

But social intelligence platforms are now taking the concept further and offering in-depth audience profiling, enabling organizations like The Economist to identify and engage the right people, and understand the networks and audience segments they influence.

Identifying influencers is one of the most regular uses of social intelligence for The Economist.

“On a weekly basis we take a close look at our influencers; is there scope to engage or re-tweet a lot of the influencers? For instance, Bill Gates tweets some of our content. We might set up alerts, or monitor who he is talking about.”

Understanding their audience, and that of their competition, also helps the content teams decide how often to push out their content.

“One of the key challenges for us, and all breaking news organizations, is getting the posting quantity correct.

We have abundance of content, so what’s the optimum amount of posts? Is it 100 times a day?

At the moment we’re posting over 100 times a week on Facebook, but is that correct capacity?

We do an ongoing weekly analysis on Brandwatch to see how we are stacking up, who is posting more, what’s the reach per post, impressions per post – it all helps inform our strategy.”

Sharing the intelligence

Being able to take a reactive approach on a daily, weekly or monthly basis is incredibly helpful for any marketing team.

Tim also touched on how the PR team at The Economist uses social intelligence:

“The Economist gets picked up on so many different influential sites, whether it’s business sites or the BBC, and we need to monitor all that different exposure.

We like to be able to see where we’re being picked up, what’s the view of a particular campaign, is it positive, is it negative? What are people’s opinions on us?

There’s a summary we do every Friday showing where The Economist has got picked up or spoken about, and we share with the whole of the global teams. It’s shared with the whole company.”

The important point to note here is that the results are shared with the whole company.

The McKinsey CMO Survey of 2015 highlighted that only 10% of those surveyed believe they are effective at feeding back the insights available to the wider business.

“We have found that companies that invest time and energy focusing on activating insights rather than just generating them have the greatest success.” – McKinsey

The Economist teams are making sure they’re getting this right by considering how the whole company can consume the data, and continuing to do this on a weekly basis – impressive.

A big thank you to Tim for speaking with us. This interview was one in a series with industry experts – you can expect more every week.

Coming up, we’re speaking with Cisco, FXCM, and Walmart on the challenges and opportunities in using social media intelligence. Stay posted.

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