Top 3 Ah-Ha Moments for 2015: Maria Huntalas, Social Business, IBM

This is the time of year when it seems like most people are either setting resolutions, or reflecting on upcoming trends. I also like to take this time of year to reflect back on some great “a-ha” moments, and what I’ve learned from them. Here’s my top 3:

1. Corporate social responsibility is not only alive and well, but it’s thriving AND profitable.
Let’s face it, that “feel good” feeling of working on something that truly matters beyond our own 4 walls, is incredibly inspiring – it’s what keeps us coming back for more.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend and sponsor the We First Leadership Summit in Beverly Hills in October. This inspiring event brought together 200+ leaders from the most influential brands and non-profits in the world to learn how to harness the power of strategic storytelling, and, how to use social and mobile technologies to build a company’s reputation and brand, spark employee advocacy and ultimately drive the bottom line. I had the pleasure of listening to speakers from major brands share their stories of how they ultimately transcended their brand to shape culture becoming a “mission with a business.” (not vice-versa)

“Companies that succeed in building a profitable relationship with the external world define themselves through what they contribute…generating long-term value for shareholders only by delivering value to society as well.”
-McKinsey, “Beyond Corporate Social Responsibility,” 2013

A great example of this is Unilever. Marc Mathieu, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Unilever, shared his insights on how Unilever used social business to engage their workforce and marketplace, transforming brands as forces for good.


2. Putting people at the center inspires true engagement 
The H2H (Human to Human) movement was just voted as the #1 business buzzword for the coming year – with Bryan Kramer credited for starting this movement with his book: “There is No B2B or B2C. It’s Human to Human #H2H.” Businesses behaving and sounding like real people dealing with other people, rather than “business” to “consumer” is at the core of the H2H movement. After all, when we are dealing with our customers and employees, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves: “what is the role this person plays in their organization, what keeps them up at night, how can we be of service, how can we help?” To get to the heart of a customer’s pain points, it’s really a 2-way conversation that then sets the tone for a powerful relationship – leading to meaningful engagement.

Sharing his story around how the United Nations creates strong community engagement by putting people at the center, Aaron Sherinian, VP Communications and PR for the United Nations Foundation, provides some key takeaways for brands:

Putting people at the center also extends to the workforce with employee engagement – starting with company culture. At the We First Leadership Summit, Chris Crummey, IBM’s Director of Collaboration Sales, touched on this point. Chris emphasized while there’s companies that recognize employee advocacy, they fail to realize it’s the culture of a company that drives the engagement of its employees. Plus, social technologies and tools can help a company facilitate a collaborative culture that supports putting people at the center – the catalyst for true engagement.

3. Co-creating and collaboration drives innovation
In a people-centric world, co-creation and collaboration brings us closer to customers. By inviting customers, as well as communities and employees, to be active participants in the conversation, everyone becomes invested in the power of collaboration. Deeper relationships are formed, and that leads to not only brand loyalty and advocacy, but also innovation – ultimately driving growth and impacting the bottom line.

At the WeFirst Summit, Heather Wajer, VP of Marketing with the Livestrong Foundation, shares insights on collaborating and co-creating to develop new, innovative solutions with the community – making a huge impact on the lives of cancer survivors.

The underpinning of all of these centers squarely on people-centricity and open and authentic collaboration. While mobile and social technologies help facilitate an “anytime, anywhere, on any device” form of collaboration, organizations need to acknowledge that people are the new conduit for true engagement.


Maria Huntalas is the Senior Marketing Manager of Social Business for IBM and leads various strategic marketing initiatives.


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