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GLOBAL – Today sees the start of the third annual Social Media Week. In nine cities across the world, more than 500 events are planned to help brands, organisations, companies and individuals make the most of blogs, Twitter, Facebook and all the rest. Nokia is delighted to be the lead sponsor for the week. We caught up with Craig Hepburn, Nokia’s Global Director of Digital, to find out more.

Nokia Conversations: What’s Social Media Week all about and why is Nokia involved?

Craig Hepburn: It’s a worldwide series of conferences, seminars, workshops and networking events focused on social media. There are more than 500 registered events: in New York, San Francisco, Rome, Paris, Toronto, Sao Paulo, London, Hong Kong and Istanbul. The Nokia brand is all about “Connecting People”, so it seemed like a natural partnership for us to promote the use of social media, which is all about the same thing.

But more than that, Nokia has changed over recent years. Historically, a phone manufacturer’s relationship with its customers was by proxy, through third-party vendors and network operators. Today’s consumers demand a much closer interaction with the brands they use or are choosing between. They’ve also changed the way they consume information. It’s no longer enough for brands to rely on traditional printed or broadcast media. They expect to be able to connect directly with brands through their online social networks.

In the way we do that, it’s our aim to try to enhance people’s lives: to help find them better content and better connections.

NC: We’re big fans of social media, naturally. But when the finance people come along, how do you measure its business value to Nokia?

CH: That’s really important to us. There’s a lot of fluff talked about social media but we absolutely need to be able to measure the return on investment of whatever resources we put into these approaches. We might say it’s just good to try to form better relationships with our customers, but the business people are going to ask where the financial benefits lie.

We’ve got a developing business model for social media called “Share to Connect” where we look at some quite traditional metrics like cost-per-acquisition, and more modern ones like cost-per-engagement. We use multiple, heavyweight analytics tools to capture and process what people are saying to and about us.¬†For each campaign, we create a scorecard which measures its success – how much would it have cost to get half a million people to watch a video or install an app, for example, if we’d done that through traditional media?

NC: So what’s the next big thing in social media?

CH: While we watch all the new developments with interest, maturity comes with adoption and so it’s the best-established, most heavily-populated locations that I’m most interested in. In some respects, I’m a gatekeeper: I have to stop people haring off and spending time and money on something that’s not ultimately going to have much impact.

At present, that means most of our efforts go into Facebook or Twitter, with local variations to identify the best platforms for particular regions, such as using Orkut in Brazil, for example. Twitter is relatively small compared to the likes of Facebook, but it’s very powerful for building momentum around particular stories very quickly and also for reaching key influencers.

But to go back to your question on the Next Big Thing. An area I’m really interested in is social commerce. Old-fashioned, bricks and mortar shopping always had a bit of a social element to it, with friends, family members or even just the shop assistants. Online shopping is a rather solitary, lonely experience in comparison. So we’re looking into ways people can connect with their friends during the online shopping process, to get their opinions and recommendations. Last Christmas we launched two social shopping apps for Facebook, for example. They were early efforts and we got some things wrong, but they’re a hint of what’s to come.

NC: Nokia has hundreds of millions of customers. Surely, it’s almost impossible to achieve a meaningful personal connection?

CH: It’s absolutely a challenge. We just have to do our best. First of all, we have to maintain a consistent presence on these platforms. Second, we’re trying to be more inclusive in the way we do things. Rather than only ever saying, “Here, watch this video,” we’re now also saying “Show us your videos”, “Share your picture with us” and “Let us know what you think”. And, yes, actually spending the time to look at those videos and pictures and comments. There’s more competitions, more ways for people to get involved, so more ways for people to feel personally valued as an individual.

This coming week is actually a good example of us trying to connect more with individuals. If people at the events use the #nokiaconnects hashtag for their tweets and so forth, we’ve got people attending who are following all the buzz and who’ll sort them out with Nokia N8s so that they can document the event better. We can’t get to everyone, of course, but hopefully having a fair number of these ‘random acts of kindness’ will make a bit of a difference.

NC: Thank you, Craig, for your time. You can follow Craig’s tweets here.

Want to find out more?

The Nokia Connects web app was launched at the New York press conference at the end of last week. It’s available on the Social Media Week site here. Drill down into any of the nine cities to see the latest events, tweets and FourSquare logins from that city.