Digital Marketing Spotlight: An Interview With Ursula Ringham, Head of Global Influencer Marketing, SAP
They say curiosity killed the cat, but in Ursula Ringham’s case, curiosity is her special gift—both personally and professionally.
“I’m a fiercely curious person who loves storytelling,” Ursula told me. “I guess it’s my hidden talent; I can strike up a conversation with a stranger and get them to tell me their full life story. I’ll talk to anyone. I want to know people and how they think.”
Her curiosity and “love of story” have guided her throughout her marketing career—from early positions at Adobe and Apple to self-publishing a thriller novel to her latest role as Head of Global Influencer Marketing at SAP*.
“I’m no millennial, but I have the millennial mindset,” she says. “You have to go after what you want. You can’t let fear decide your future. And I know if I put my mind to something, I can do it.”
As influencer marketing booms and social media marketing experiences a quasi midlife crisis, I sat down with Ursula to talk misconceptions, tools, and tips on both marketing fronts.
Q&A with SAP’s Ursula Ringham
1. Tell me about yourself. How did you come into the digital marketing space and eventually join SAP?
I was in the right place at the right time. As you know, I worked at Adobe and Apple, so I had a career in high-tech early on. I actually left Apple right before the first iPhone came out, and I stayed at home with my kids for about eight years.
When it was time to get back in, honestly, no one would hire me. They’d say: “You have great experience from back in the day, but you can’t compete.” Things had changed.
But even when I was at home, I was always doing something—I did some consulting and also worked on my passion for writing. That’s when I wrote and self-published my thriller novel, “Privileged Corruption.” I took creative writing classes, attended conferences and events when I could—and this is still something I do today; attend events to continue to develop because I still have several books in me.
Then in 2012, I was talking with a girlfriend and she said she needed someone to write customer success stories. And while I didn’t have the exact experience, I could write and I thought: “I can do anything if I put my mind to it.”
So, I got a job as a contractor; someone took a chance on me. And that someone was at SAP.
2. You have extensive experience with social media. What have you found to be the universal truths of social? (The things that stay the same no matter what platform or algorithm changes occur.)
Authenticity and storytelling; you need to own your brand—but you need to do it strategically.
As an individual on social or through your brand channels, you need to share the truths about who you are in a way that connects with your audience.
For me, these are the “five truths” I share with my following:
No. 1: My work.
Tell a story that enables people to come with you on the journey. Your audience doesn’t want to hear that your company just released a new product or service. They want to know how you’re solving problems or making a difference.
No. 2: My family.
I don’t give every detail here—just sprinkle some things in. This is how people see a different side and get to know me. You have to give something personal.
No. 3: My passion.
You have to share something you love. Dogs, skiing, Star Wars, poetry—the list goes on. Share something you’re passionate about because you’ll be able to form connections with people who have the same passions.
No. 4: Sports.
Whether you’re a sports fanatic or simply tolerate them, it’s something everyone can connect with and discuss—whether it’s your child’s little league baseball game or the NBA Finals.
No. 5: Third-party voices.
It could be an article from my favorite journalist or the latest commentary on the royal wedding. The point is to share things that you and your audience find interesting.
The bottom line here is: Be authentic. Be yourself (or your brand). But be strategic.
3. What do you think is most misunderstood about influencer marketing?
For one, people often think that influencer marketing is all about celebrities hawking a product. It’s truly not about that—especially in the B2B realm. It’s about highlighting experts who have real experience on the business challenges a brand’s audience faces.
Secondly, it’s not always about the number of followers or connections an influencer has. Some people think: “Oh my God. We have to work with this person. They have a million followers.” Your influencers have to be able to relate to your audience and that skill isn’t necessarily determined by a large following.
Thirdly, influencer marketing is not a one-and-done tactic. You want it to be for the long haul, so influencer relationships are everything. You need to dig deep to learn who your influencers are and the expertise they bring, and build a relationship by consistent and thoughtful engagement.
Lastly, influencers can be found within your own company. Your employees can be influencers. People often forget this. You can and should combine internal and external influencers.
4. What’s one “influencer marketing must” that marketers often overlook?
You must have a call to action. What’s the point? What’s your end goal? How are you defining success? Where are you sending them?
Whether your goal is brand awareness or lead gen, if you’re telling a story that has people on the edge of their seat, you need to give them a natural next step to continue their journey.
Regardless of your goal, if you’re telling a story that has people on the edge of their seat, you need to give them a natural next step to continue their journey. – @ursularingham #InfluencerMarketing Click To Tweet
5. Let’s say you’ve run into a long-lost marketer friend who’s considering working with influencers. Where do you tell them to start? What do you tell them to be cautious of?
The main thing is: If you want to succeed, you have to be in it to win it. You have to be on social media, you have to be engaged, you have to follow influencers, you have to engage with them, and you have to read, watch, or listen to their content. And all of this is before, during, and after you reach out for the first ask.
When it comes to vetting who you want to work with, start by digging into their social channels.
Twitter is a great place to learn about the topics and types of content they’re interested in. LinkedIn is great for this, too, but that’s where you can really vet whether they have the expertise and background to make a partnership a good fit. Facebook and Instagram are where you can see if you really want to work with them since you’re typically able to see more personality there.
As for something to look out for, as you’re viewing their social posts, see if they’re just sharing the same things on every channel. A post on Instagram with 10 hashtags will not work on Facebook. Every channel is different and if you keep seeing the same post, it’s like: Where are you? Where’s the authentic side?
Finally, you should be very selective on who you work with. You need to make sure they’re a good fit. Sometimes I’ll actually reach out to a mutual connection or a colleague at a different company to see if they’ve worked with an influencer before and get their read on them.
6. Where do you think GDPR and data privacy as it relates to social media and influencer marketing will have biggest impact on how brands engage? (What do brands need to consider?)
GDPR is going to be the stake in the ground for all data privacy—bar none. As GDPR kicks off, we’ll start to see lawsuits and controversies in the news and people will become increasingly aware and engaged. In the U.S., we’re already becoming more aware of data privacy issues, especially after Cambridge Analytica.
But bottom line, GDPR will be really important. And as a result, our influencers will become even more important and valuable. They’re going to be our trusted brand ambassadors; our trusted voices. They’ll be a huge asset because people don’t trust brands outright—they trust people.
In light of #GDPR, influencers will become even more important and valuable. They’re going to be our trusted brand ambassadors; our trusted voices. – @ursularingham #InfluencerMarketing Click To Tweet
7. What’s in your social media marketing toolbox? (What platforms, tools or best practices are your must-haves for success?)
On the personal front, I’m on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. A key best practice for me here is tailoring the content and the messaging for each platform because my audience is different for each.
In addition, I post in the moment, every day. Authenticity is important, so I rarely use scheduling tools.
Now, for the brand marketers out there, you absolutely need a social media scheduling and management tool. You need help. And there are so many tools out there like Hootsuite or Buffer, but do your research and select one that meets your brand’s needs from a management and budgetary perspective.
8. How about your influencer marketing toolbox?
Brands engaging in influencer relations and marketing need a tool to help organize, identify, and manage relationships with influencers. A spreadsheet won’t get you very far. Tools can help you keep up with what your influencers are doing and sharing, so you can regularly engage and continue to build relationships.
9. Finally, what are you most excited for in your new role as Head of Global Influencer Marketing for SAP?
Building a world-class influencer program that helps SAP become a Top-10 brand. And we’ll do it through innovative storytelling. We make incredibly innovative products, so we need to tell our stories in innovative ways. And working with influencers will help us do that.
I love pushing the envelope. I love innovative content. And I’m excited about what can happen when we think a little differently.
10. Any final words for other marketers out there?
In marketing, story is everything. But in order to tell a compelling story, you have to be immersed. Bring empathy and understanding, bring purpose, and bring insight—the latter of which influencers can certainly help with.
Finally, embrace curiosity, think and do things differently, and embed yourself in your craft if you want to innovate.
Ready to Take the Influencer Marketing Dive?
As Ursula so eloquently said, in order to succeed at influencer marketing, you have to be in it to win it. You have to commit. So, why not start with immersing yourself in influencer marketing tips, tactics, and strategies.
Check out some of these helpful posts to get you more in the know and help you make the leap:
Disclosure: SAP is a TopRank Marketing client.