Perspectives is a series uncovering routines, inspiration, and insights by marketing leaders shaping the future around the globe.

Perspectives ft. Youri Hollier, Director of Digital and Social at Tim Hortons Future of Marketing

EDITOR’S NOTE: Youri Hollier is the Director of Digital and Social at Tim Hortons. He manages a team of digital marketers and works to develop a brand with an emphasis on the digital media landscape. He lives and breathes social content, social listening, and community management.

In his words, he shares:

  • The importance of investing in social teams
  • How marketers struggle with the quantity of work they usually have
  • Why brands should leverage user- and employee-generated content 

What does your role as a Director of Digital and Social entail? 

My day-to-day is quite plentiful but basically, it entails just the overarching strategy and creative development for all digital and social creative assets for Tim Hortons in Canada.

That includes everything from digital banners to our always-on social media strategy. 

I’m assuming you manage a team, right? 

Yes. We have a really nice team of brilliant digital marketers from reporting and insights where we analyze social listening to always-on content development, where we work with our agency to constantly develop a stream of new content – but also sourcing UGC through platforms like TINT to be able to see how guests are interacting with the product and showcase some of those brilliant pieces of content that they’re developing as well as gaining inspiration from like the various pictures and videos that are that our guests are sharing to their own social platforms. And then, we also touch on some of the lower funnel initiatives like app engagement, campaigns, CRM, content and also local stuff – like other assets. 

What is your favorite part about social media?

The breadth of it all and how every platform is so unique. You can speak in a million different ways. Billion plus different people. Maybe not as many in Canada, but still… millions and millions of people, especially working for brands like Tim’s that have such ubiquity across the country.

It really gives us an opportunity to interact with guests and a number of different fun and engaging ways. So, whether we’re leveraging UGC to tell someone’s story or developing original content for our various platforms – there’s always an interesting approach that we get to explore from a creative and strategic perspective.

Where do you tend to look for your marketing news and insights?

I think the best resource is honestly time spent. You can’t be a platform expert if you don’t spend time on the platform.

And there are a number of great resources that will allow you to learn about what’s new and exciting. But really just playing around and exploring and experimenting with the platforms themselves. For me, it has always been the best learning opportunity, and best occasion to see what’s new. Sometimes you’ll go into a platform and discover something brand new – a piece of functionality or piece of content that no one’s even reported on because it’s just flown so under the radar. So, number one is just getting in there and getting your hands dirty regardless of what your day-to-day looks like – whether you’re conducting research and reporting on a daily basis, developing content, analyzing trends… your best learning will always come hands-on.

I agree. When it comes to social media, you have to become a user of the platform in order to fully understand it because you’re only going to get so much from reading about it. 

Yeah, absolutely. Even just being able to analyze things like what people are saying.

Through your hashtag, there’s a landscape, but there’s also your landscape – or your competitor’s landscape. Using platforms that can quickly aggregate that kind of content like TINT (or others) gives you a really great opportunity to dive into things that you may not have uncovered otherwise.

So just get in there and see what’s happening (natively or through a third party is always the best approach). And it goes back to social listening – you need to know what your customers are saying about you, and the best way to do that is by being there. 

What’s something that you feel like you’ve learned over the last year and a half? 

I think organizationally a lot more impetus has been placed on digital and social media, which is great.

Not just that Tim’s breaking across the industry, but people. When people couldn’t come into a physical location – it may not have been accessible or they may have had other questions or they were staying at home more frequently – we looked to digital and social sources to get information – whether about public health or products, brands, or entertainment. When you look at user behavior across every single industry, that behavior increased. 

When it comes to actual cool functionality that I’ve learned about over the last year and a half – and this probably leads into a larger discussion – but Snapchat introducing wearables with built-in augmented reality is very cool and exciting. It opens up a whole new landscape for advertisers and marketers to start exploring. 

It’s not a shift that people will adopt immediately, but it’s a move in the right direction if we really want to start to develop these immersive experiences.

Do I put on my regular sunglasses in the morning? Do I put on wearables? And eventually, the technology will probably be portable enough that now they’re one in the same.

What’s something that you feel social media marketers, or marketers in general, need to stop doing?

This has been my philosophy for the past 10 years, but stop treating social media like a soapbox. You have to engage in conversation. You can’t just shout things to people or try to broadcast your own messaging. It’s important, of course; it’s another promotional channel – but if you’re not engaging in conversation, you’re missing a huge opportunity to connect with guests, to learn from guests, to build loyalty and improve sentiment. And I think even to this day – after social media being a thing for over a decade – it’s still something that I think marketers get wrong because they’re just treating it like a one-way platform. 

It’s such a constructive platform. I mean, you can really gain a lot of insight from having those conversations. So while it’s a little bit of extra work, of course, it pays off in the long run and that’s why I think it’s so important for companies to invest in social teams.

I don’t know if it’s like a misperception or due to lack of understanding, but historically, I think a lot of brands have had very limited digital teams. We’re so fortunate to have a team at Tim’s that is robust enough to cover a broad spectrum of different digital exploration and creative and engagement – but so often, there may be one social media manager that’s responsible for content creation, ideation, community management, reporting in what should be a 40 hour workweek. That’s just too few people for such an important function of a business. 

If you’re listening to this (or reading) and you are thinking about what you can do to further your presence, the number one thing is investing in good people.

A big challenge with social media is proving how it impacts revenue because it’s still “fairly” new, so when leaders are wondering, how is that going to impact my bottom line? It’s a bit difficult to quantify. 

Yeah, for sure.

You look at TV, which costs so much but you can’t always attribute success or sales to TV because it’s not directional; there’s no model that says, “X number of people saw this campaign or this ad and ended up purchasing.”  Now, there is that possibility – but in this whole other conversation with social, there’s an expectation in digital that says, “we need to see hard results.”

And yes, you can absolutely show, if someone saw this, they may have clicked on that and then converted, but the attribution models still aren’t perfect. And I think there are a lot of platforms that just don’t allow that level of detail yet. So the example that I usually give – and I keep going back to snap because I think it’s a platform that does some really interesting stuff –

but if you are to invest in AR and you get someone to engage with a Snapchat lens for 15 or 30 seconds or a minute, even that is pure engagement with your brand completely uninterrupted. And if you were to tell someone that you could do that with a TV spot, they would give you all the money in the world, because that’s just unheard of.

But I think it’s really hard to demonstrate that value because it is still such a nascent industry, even though it’s been around for, you know, 10 years or 15 years or 20 years, or however it’s been around. It’s an interesting challenge for sure, but just be confident that it works, test things, and learn as you’re doing it.

What’s something that you’d like to see marketers doing more of on social media? 

Investing more in people to actually really do it well – and just engaging with guests. So having those conversations and looking for their content as inspiration, where guests are telling you every single day what they want to be seeing because they’re posting it themselves. You can take a lot of really interesting cues from that. 

Why do you think user- and employee-generated content are so valuable for brands? 

Because it’s genuine. It’s believable. 

Everyone trusts the person more than they trust a brand. And there are some brands with very high trust levels. But if a family member or friend tells you, “Hey, check out this product” or even an influencer tells you, “Hey, check out this product,” you’re going to be much more receptive than a brand saying, “Hey, you should buy this because it’s good.”

It’s super important that you’re using that content or at least looking to it for inspiration because it just comes off as more sincere. And then, similarly, for employee-generated content – there’s a level of credibility for the people that you see on a daily basis. A brand’s a brand – there’s rarely a personality behind it.

Of course, there are a number of different brands that have spokespeople, but for most day-to-day attractions, it’s just a brand name. But if you can see content coming from an employee that you may be familiar with, so in our case, a team member – or a retail employee who you engage with on a regular basis – it just becomes a little bit more personal.

There are countless reasons to invest in UGC – it’s way more cost-efficient to source content than having to constantly create new stuff and frankly, the quality is on par as often as stuff that you’d create yourself because there are some very creative people out there developing content on your behalf. 

What does it really take to get your customers or your team to create this content in the first place? 

Not much. I mean, we’re in a fortunate position where we have so many restaurants across Canada and the U.S. and other countries – but primarily in Canada – and it is not just an occasional interaction; people come to Tim’s daily. It’s part of their morning routine.

It’s part of their afternoon routine, part of their evening routine – there are so many different touchpoints throughout the day where people will engage with the brand and post about it. So it’s not super challenging for us, but I think there’s also a lot of opportunities. Even for our brand to develop more touchpoints and places that have a clear call to action that encourage people to share their content – whether that’s something as simple as a hashtag, on our pop signage, or something more actionable like a really clear incentive to post… there are countless opportunities to do that.

I keep hearing that “hashtags are dead” and I feel the complete opposite. If anything, it’s a great way to categorize all of your content, so you can later source UGC for all of these touchpoints that you’re talking about.

I wouldn’t say they’re dead, they’re just mature. It’s at a point where they’re just so ubiquitous across every single platform that, you know, it may gain you followers, which I don’t really think should ever be your goal in social media anymore. 

Far gone are the days where you wanted to just drive up your subscription numbers or your follower count so that you can get really great organic distribution because frankly, that strong, organic reach rarely exists anymore on most platforms.

Aside from TikTok where it’s a different algorithm than some other platforms, and maybe say like YouTube, where subscriber counts actually really do matter – but to say that they’re dead, it’s just not true. People see them and they know what to do and that in itself is powerful. 

If just the mere sight of a hashtag encourages someone to post, it indicates that they still work. 

What do you think most marketers struggle with? 

I’d say just the quantity of the work – knowing what to prioritize because again, it’s endless. You can put in a never-ending stream of inputs, and it’ll just keep coming back and coming back. We could easily have a 20 response thread with a guest and that’s great – but at what point does it become a balancing act and how much are you going to invest into that when there are thousands of people interacting with your brand on any given month?

The hardest thing is knowing what to prioritize. We’ve been able to navigate that pretty well, but it’s a never-ending struggle with constantly evolving platforms; it’s just keeping up to date and, again, so much of that just comes from just being on the platforms on a daily basis.

And it’s not to say to look at every single platform every single day, but if you can even just carve out 15, 20 minutes to look at every platform over the course of a week or every two weeks it’ll go a very long way. 

We ended up finding out that over 72% of marketers were having trouble with time and the more marketers I speak to, the more I realize how much that really is an issue. 

I mean, you also have to find efficiencies, right?

So, using the right software at the right time can tremendously help. It’s hard to do everything from a single place. I mean, I love to look natively at platforms and work through those different workflows – there’s just not enough time to do it all the time. So, consolidating things on a platform like Hootsuite or Sprinklr – or whatever you’re using for your community management – it’s just really helpful. 

What does the future of marketing look like to you? 

More digital. It’s just becoming more and more important as more people spend more time there. 

I think we will see an increase in AR and VR – but that’s still, again, probably quite a ways away until it actually hits a scalable level. Either the hardware becomes less cost-prohibitive, or just becomes such a necessity that everyone has it. So, I think more digitally-led campaigns where creative is not repurposed, but really catered to the digital space.

What is a book podcast person or event that shaped your career and why? 

In terms of events, it’s just having the opportunity long ago to work at a company that let me take on social with no experience, no expectation, no real direction.

It was just, you know, here’s a chance to try this in the midst of everything else I was doing at the time – from print coordination to PR coordination, to product knowledge, to internal communications – so it was just doing everything and I was like, well, here’s social media too. Just having the opportunity to learn on the fly.

I think it’s so funny because when you look at job postings for social media, there’s so often this requires that people have like five years experience, seven years experience, 10 years experience. Nobody’s been doing it that long, except for a very select handful of people.

And people who have just grown up with it, probably know better than people who have studied it, so I think just giving people the opportunity to be able to learn from experience and from their mistakes is how you’re going to get the best social people. And I was just super fortunate that, at the time, that’s the opportunity I got; it’s all about taking chances.

Who, where, or what do you tend to look for inspiration? 

Good question. It comes from everywhere. I mean, I could be watching a show and come up with an idea. I could be just scrolling through my personal Twitter and see something really cool. But I think there are two streams.

There are the ones for the broader campaigns that are rooted in social insights and consumer behaviors – and then there are the other ones that are very platform-specific and that are rooted in platform functionality and things that are specific to that social network or digital channel.

Ultimately, I’d say the best ones just come from consumer behavior and consumer insights based on what they’re already posting across.

What advice do you have for marketers who look up to you? 

I don’t think anyone looks up to me, but just take chances. 

Your brand isn’t precious; you can take risks. I mean, obviously, there are guardrails and things you shouldn’t be doing and social, but for the most part, if you have an idea for an irreverent tweet or an Instagram post that’s unrelated to your brand or business, it’s not going to make or break the company. And frankly, it might even show something that works that you just never thought would be fun.

Just don’t worry too much about what you’re putting out there because if anything, even if it fails, that’s good learning. Best practices are only best practices until someone does something better. 

How do you wind down from a long day of work? 

I look at Reddit for a long time. 

My favorite subreddit is /r/food. Or /r/ bleach. With so many overwhelming and negative stimuli coming in from so many different platforms, including Reddit, it’s just nice to look at something positive or fluffy or delicious…. that just puts a smile on your face. 

What are you excited about or looking forward to? 

I’m having a lot of really great strategy discussions for 2022. It’s often overlooked for a lot of different social media – but for me, it’s super exciting to kind of get into the weeds and look at those insights and those conversations around what more could we be doing and how could we be approaching it and what are the insights and consumer behaviors that we can be tapping into for next year?

So that’s incredibly exciting. And then, ultimately seeing how that evolves into really great content. And the next thing is just – I know I probably sound like a broken record talking about UGC – but just seeing how it’s evolving with the various different platforms and how we’re able to apply it across all of our different social channels.

Want to learn from other marketing leaders like Youri? Subscribe to Future of Marketing for weekly updates and strategies.