NEWS14 March 2017

Facebook’s Mendelsohn on how to drive business outcomes ‘relevant to people’

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UK - Facebook and market researchers have a “special responsibility to build business outcomes that are relevant to people” and "distil data into insight", according to Nicola Mendelsohn CBE, the social network’s vice-president EMEA.

Mendelsohn crop

Mendelsohn was addressing delegates at the keynote kicking off this year’s MRS conference, Impact 2017, in a presentation that spanned topics from the dominance of mobile to the need to tackle gender imbalance and unconscious bias in the workplace.

“We want to partner with all of you in this room to help businesses really understand how marketing really drives value,” she said. “We have a special responsibility to build business outcomes that are relevant to people.”

Mendelsohn, whose CV has seen her work at advertising agencies including Grey and saw her become the first woman president of the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) before joining Facebook, started the session with a slide of 1960s TV cartoon show ‘The Jetsons’. She took the audience back to her childhood, when she imagined a future that would “look like ‘The Jetsons', replete with a robotic maid called Rosie and flying to Brent Cross in my space car”.

Her point was a serious one — that when ‘The Jetsons’ debuted, only a tiny percentage of the population had colour TVs, so the impact of the trailblazing colour show was lost on most viewers.

“The lesson here is that even if you have amazing stories and content, if the content doesn’t fit the medium then it will be lost," she said. "'The Jetsons’ took another 20 years before it was revived.

“Right now, we’re living in a moment when it feels like consumer behaviour is changing faster than ever before, and like colour TV then, the new medium is mobile.”

Fourth industrial revolution

She highlighted that only 5gb-worth of data had been created from the beginning of time until 2003. “We now create the same amount of content every 10 minutes.” Much of this is fuelled by mobile take-up.

 Mobile, she said, is disrupting many markets, with for instance the world’s biggest car company (Uber) owning no cars and the biggest travel/hotel group (Airbnb) owning no venues.

She referenced figures, such as that WhatsApp carries around 50bn messages every day, that more than 90m photos on Instagram are shared every day and users share in excess of 100m hours of video on Facebook, with UK consumers spending an average of two hours and 40 minutes on their mobile phone every day.

With the sheer volume of data available, Mendelsohn stressed that it is crucial to stay focused on one thing.

How can companies like Facebook and the research industry make sense of all that data?

“I’m optimistic about the change that’s coming,” she said. “One thing won’t change for market research and Facebook, and that’s people. People are the common thread. While the numbers and research swirl and swirl, we are uniquely positioned to distil that data into insight."

Mendelsohn went on to outline five values that she said both underpinned Facebook’s an other businesses’ approach to business:

Focus on impact

The best way to do this is to ensure that you are always focused on solving the most obvious and biggest problems facing your business, Mendelsohn said.

Move fast

A business is much more likely to make mistakes if it is moving slowly, she stressed, citing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s realisation that mobile had started growing faster than desktop and how he immediately “pivoted the whole company” towards smartphones. Likewise, the launch and continuing success of Facebook Live has meant that Facebook has “literally had to build as we’ve gone along”

Be open

“We believe a more open workplace is a better workplace,” Mendelsohn said. “People with more information can make better decisions and have a greater impact. It goes for the company as well  — everyone at Facebook has as much information as possible.”

Be bold

“You’re guaranteed to fail if you take no risks,” she said. “The riskier thing is to take no risks.” She talked about the importance of gender equality and how the balance between men and women in the workplace needed addressing, with 67% of Facebook’s global staff being male. “It is important that most companies do not avoid doing the bold things that they should.” Realising it needed to train people around unconscious bias and that there was no course out there, Facebook devised its own course, which 99% of its managers have taken voluntarily.

Build social value

“It’s the thing that keep us anchored as a company,” Mendelsohn said. “We make sure we’re hiring for a company of builders. It’s why we have hackathons, to give people the opportunity to step out of the jobs they are doing and thinking about other things that can have an impact.” She talked about the conception through such a process of Safety Check, an app that allows people to be tracked during natural or man-made disasters and which has been used more than 500 times in the last two years.

She concluded her presentation by pointing out that Facebook is about “people, not pixels”. “We’ve moved away from thinking about monthly active users and now measure monthly active people,” she said.