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Dionne Lew is new member of IABC and a respected thought leader and corporate strategist on leading-edge social media, communications and business innovations.

We recently had the opportunity to chat with Dionne about social technology, and why corporations and the C-Suite need to get on board.

You are a relatively recent IABC member, what prompted you to join?

I’ve always been aware of the IABC and have been to several events. The Victorian President, Monika, was talking at a conference ahead of me and I thought: you know what, it’s time.

You have a passionate interest in the impact technology has on the ways in which we communicate? When did this interest start for you and why?

My deeper interest is the way people communicate, period. What’s really going on is as much about what is said, as what’s not said. We form impressions from cues we’re not even aware of and that influence our behavior.

So when you think about what communication is, it’s more than ‘the words’ it’s the whole environment of exchange, and technology is a huge part of that now. 

But I am insatiably curious and about six years ago I started reading a lot about radical disruption and emerging technologies.  The trend data was telling a compelling story that I could see playing out in front of my eyes.

A tangible example: it was clear young people weren’t reading newspapers but campaigns were still coming across my desk with a huge print component.

I kept thinking – there’s a disconnect here.

So, I commissioned an academic study to get data specific to the industry I was working in at the time and it confirmed that there was a big gap between where the world was at and what we were doing. For many corporate affairs professionals there still is by the way.

You speak of a $4.2 trillion social media opportunity. What do you see as the main obstacles to corporate Australia embracing that opportunity?

This is an important issues because it’s about Australia’s productivity into the future, but productivity is a complex issue of which digital and social are just a layer.

But the digital economy is going to be huge so corporates will need to know how to leverage the opportunities and deal with the risks if they want to stay relevant.

In the digital space I think some of the perceived obstacles right now are:

  1. A lack of understanding of the social opportunity
  2. A lack of digital and social literacy
  3. No clear ROI on social media
  4. Unknowns in regulation and risk
  5. Unknowns in cybercrime

I say ‘perceived’ because the reality is there is a knowledge gap from the Board and C-suite both across and down organisations. This gap can be easily closed with education and I believe we’ll start to see greater digital and social literacy at the leadership level next year.

*More detail on the five areas for corporates to lift capability can be found at the end of the document.

If you could sit in front of the top 10 CEOs – what is the first thing you would you say/ do to encourage their interest in social technology?

I’d ask if they knew that right now there are more devices connected to the web than there are people on earth; that there are 8 people coming online each second most of whom are using social media that these people are spending almost $300,000 a minute and growing fast.

I’d also tell them (and Edelman has great stats on this) that they don’t trust corporates. They trust recommendations from friends and this has a direct influence on what they buy and how they behave and that these recommendations are being made in social networks.  This is the important link in logic that corporates are starting to make.

Right now in the US for example 1 in every 10 e-dollars spent is through social or mobile with Forrester predicting that by 2016 half of everything spent will be influenced by web.

That’s opportunity.

CEOs are smart. They want opportunities and they know that they need to be where people are.

I think they’ve been slow to adapt because for a long time many thought social was a fad. I think the data has started to convince them that it’s time to change. Also, LinkedIn for example is now 10 years old. I think that myth is starting to dissolve.

You speak of the law struggling to keep up with technology and the need for a new framework to deal with this (i.e. brand as opposed to law) in light of the recent announcement by the SEC of its intention to pursue the CEO of Netflix for alleged selective disclosure via Facebook, what suggestions would you have for regulators in terms of how and where to strike the balance?

The issue with Netflix was whether they failed in continuous disclosure and they’ll argue that posting to over 200,000 people on their Facebook was very public disclosure.

The way we communicate is changing. We are straddling old and emerging ways and I think that leaders need to be conscious about using both.

Traditional communications is still important; we need to make online presence as strong as offline presence, not substitute one for another. I think this aspect of social is misunderstood. We don’t give up the important personal networks we’ve taken years to develop – these are gold. Social is adding another dimension to what we already do. Face-to-face relationships are social, online relationships are social. Social incorporates both. 

My message to corporates in particular in regulated industries is that the laws that apply offline apply online.  But I also see a need for regulators to ensure their digital and social literacy is high and that they know what is going on online and that let it inform their decision-making.

I also believe that regulators should be asking the communities who have to live with their laws to contribute to them, not through the traditional RIS process, but in ways that make sense to users and that are easier. There’s a project in America right now called the Madison Project where open source software is being used to get the community involved and I am watching that with great interest. I think the ACCC and ASIC could benefit from looking at some of the innovative ways technology can help them to tap the collective intelligence of online communities and potentially for governments it could reduce red tape.

It still surprises me when I talk to Board Directors or C-suites how few of them don’t yet understand the social environment. Interestingly though when I share relevant data and talk about the trends few fail to see the importance. I really believe corporate affairs professionals should be ensuring the leadership across their business knows what’s going on my providing high quality information. There’s an education piece here.

In regards to social technology, what do you see happening in the next 5 years?

Gosh I wish I could say, the area moves so fast and there are so many interesting thinkers out there anything could happen.

What we do know is the speed of change is getting faster and this is creating a challenge around organizational and personal agility.

I think the race is on for relevance and that because we don’t know what’s on the horizon, our focus should be on developing leaders who are able to thrive in ambiguity and complexity. That includes a high EQ quotient in my view.

I’ll mention some of the trends I see for 2013 including that corporates will start to take social seriously which means we’ll see:

  1. More corporates in social
  2. More executives in social (they have to be, the days of gatekeepers are gone)
  3. More metrics that allow corporates to work out ROI
  4. Increases in digital and social literacy
  5. The rise of social law

For corporate affairs professionals I believe their roles will become more important and we’ll see:

  • The continued professionalization of the function
  • The integration of corporate affairs with legal and IT professionals
  • The shift towards becoming content creators who know how to remix and curate existing content
  • Increased capability in Online Reputation Management

As for the really big game changers anyone who hasn’t see Pranav Mistry’s TED talk on tools that help the physical world interact with the world of data should watch it now.

The integration of real and cyberworlds that’s happening right now will dramatically impact communications.

What advice can you give to comms professionals to help corporations and CEO’s understand the importance of social technology?

First get your own house in order. Educate, educate, educate yourself.

Most corporate affairs professionals I talk to are fascinated by what’s happening but admit they’re not up to speed yet and are making huge strides to ensure they’re more digitally literate. That’s important. You must eat your own cooking.

To lead in this era you need to first be a part of it and understand what’s happening and that includes in social strategy and governance. Financial literacy is important for credibility.

There’s a massive role for communications professionals in educating leaders by providing insights on risk management as well as ROI. I’d probably caution against talking about awesome marketing campaigns in tough times like these, demonstrate how digital and social deliver on the bottom line.

CEOs want hard data and there’s plenty of it.

I also think communications professionals have skills that position them to lead in the social era, in particular those problem-solvers with a nose for issues who think out of the box. I’d like to see more communications professionals on Boards and at the Executive group.

In regards to global take-up on social media technology, where is Australia positioned? Are we ahead or behind the rest of the world?


The digital economy in Australia contributes 3.7to GDP versus 8 percent in the UK.  But corporates have been slow on the uptake both here and overseas at around 50 percent, with the exception of course of the Fortune 100s who are at +80 percent.

That’s changing fast though and the year-end figures will be out soon and I expect them to tell a very different story from the start of the year.  I guess the challenge for corporates is to see what’s happening and look at how they can use it strategically.

Love the Dinosaur and balloon image on your first e-book– why this?

All credit goes to Nat my designer at Seedpod.

I said I wanted a cover that talked about the need to stay relevant, that was a wake up call that encouraged change but acknowledged complexity. I think she’s done this beautifully. She’s saying don’t be a dinosaur and get left behind but the prominence of the title RELEVANCE that anchors everything is what it’s really about.

My new bookThe Social Executive: why you need to be social to leverage the $4.2 opportunity, comes out at the start of 2013 and I’m really excited about building a community of social executives who come together to share insights, issues and support one another. No one has ‘the answers’. This is about collaborating with one another

Dionne Lew is a respected thought leader and corporate strategist. Dionne has recently produced her first e-book Relevance and is due to publish The Social Executive in 2013. She will be part of IABC Vic’s first event for 2013. Details to follow. You can join the social executive community at

Article by Amanda Riley, IABC Victoria Board, Communications Chair


*1. The Social opportunity


Boston Consulting Grouptalks about a future $4.2 trillion online opportunity, one that Goldman Sachspredicts will already be at $1 trillion by 2013.

Only last week during Thanksgiving in the US ecommerce rose 26 percent from the year before to $1.042 billion, the highest revenue generator the online store Amazon.

This is nothing compared with China’s equivalent where Chinese consumers spent $3 billion on Taobao in 24 hours.

With the digital economyexpected to contribute 5.5 percent to the GDP of G20 countries and already at 8 percent in the UK the impetus for Australian leaders to get on board should be even stronger since they have been slower than any other country to adapt growing at only 3.7percent compared to the average of 5.5.  Digital will be increasingly difficult to separate from productivity.

Despite this research by KPMGhas found only around half of Australian corporates are using social media as an integrated part of their marketing strategy, let alone as a business model.

So there is work to be done.

2. Digital literacy

Currently there’s a lack digital and social literacy at the top.

Social know-how remains largely misunderstood with only 32 percent of leaders seeing it as an executive priority and less than 16 percent of CEOs with a presence online.  However leaders are not alone with many IT professionals not able to fully understand social in the strategic sense.

How can boards sign off on the company’s strategy and marketing plan without understanding the social media component, or in some cases the lack of one?

C-suites seem yet to fully grasp the implications of digital change and its direct business implications. 

One reason is the perception of digital as a support function rather than as central to leadership and the absence of corporate affairs executives in the uppermost tiers.  This has to change. In fact, I think that the corporate affairs professionals who invest in their own digital development will lead much of this change.

Many of today’s pre-internet world and are finding it difficult to deal with digital issues and unsure how to bridge the gap but digital literacy is a skill and like any skill, it can be learned.


3. The ROI on social

One challenge for corporate is that the ROI on social is difficult to measure.

While there are numerous metrics available, the difficulty of distinguishing the transaction in e-commerce from the buying context means there is not yet a definitive measure for the contribution of social engagement overall.

There are however effective ways to measure different parts of the system and ongoing work to find tools that capture the non-financial value of lead indicators like online relationships.

Knowing how online relationships influencethe purchasing decisions of consumers is useful for businesses since they generate lot of money.  Here again, corporate affairs professionals must lead the way.


4. Regulation

The other challenge is that the law in this area is still developing so people don’t know the ground.  I think regulators have a really difficult challenge – balancing the need for regulation without restricting opportunities for innovation that lead to productivity – and I think they’re really going to need to put some thought into how to create that balance.

Regulators are starting to look at this and I believe next year social law will really start to come of age.

5. Cybercrime

No discussion would be complete without mentioning this risk but given the contribution of digital to GDP corporates will need to manage it.