The social good

6 Mar 2012

Adele Cooper, director of Global Business Partnerships, Facebook

Director of Global Business Partnerships at Facebook, Dublin native Adele Cooper, believes social platforms can further enhance how the Irish diaspora connect. She spoke to Ann O’Dea.

In her career, Adele Cooper has experienced just about every side of the tech sector, from start-ups to Irish multinationals to U.S. multinationals, and today works with social media giant Facebook.

Born and bred in Dublin, it was a teacher at her international school St Andrews that first set Cooper on the road to what was to be a global career, when he mentioned students might consider applying to colleges in the U.S. as an option. Having never even been to the U.S., at the tender age of 17 Cooper made the call to apply to Stanford University in Stanford, California, was accepted, and proceeded to pursue a BA in history there.

“It was wonderful. I had a great four years there,” she says. “It’s ironic that in those days I had no thoughts of working in the tech industry, but I ended up back in the U.S. again with Google and then eventually Facebook.”

After several years back in Ireland and then France, Cooper did return to the U.S. to earn an MBA at Harvard. “I wanted to get an MBA because my primary degree was in the liberal arts, and I thought that a broad-based business degree would be helpful for me in my career.”

On her return to Ireland in 1999, Cooper initially tried her hand at starting her own company, but after about six months she opted to throw her lot in with Claire Cronin, another Harvard Business alumnus who had just started online auction company “So I joined forces with Claire, and it was great fun, with 12 of us sitting above a plumbing shop in Dun Laoghaire,” she recalls.

Then followed a stint at a small Irish software start-up called Exceptis Technologies, which was subsequently bought out by Irish multinational Trintech for $26m. Finally, she worked in technology consulting for small start-ups in Dublin before Google came calling.

“I was the first local manager they hired in 2004, when there were only about 50 people in Google in Dublin, while today I think they’re heading for 3,000,” she says. “Again, it was a real start-up, which I loved, and a very fast-moving company with a great culture.”

Adele Cooper makes move to Silicon Valley

Cooper was to spend six years at Google, initially as director of Online Sales & Operations for the UK, Irish and Benelux markets, before moving into a marketing role in Dublin and then ultimately, when she was asked to take over as director of Global Customer Marketing, moving to the Mountain View, California, offices in 2009.

It was in Silicon Valley that Cooper became very engaged with the power of social media. “What I noticed when I moved to the Valley was the amount of talk in the marketing community about social marketing and about how it was changing communications.

“I became really interested in that ability for the average person or consumer to contribute to the marketing message, and have a two-way dialogue with the brand,” she says. “I had been on Facebook myself for quite awhile and really liked the product, but now I started to become very interested in it as a marketer and wanted to learn more.”

She reached out to contacts she had at Facebook and, as she went through the various interviews that ensued, she became more and more impressed with the company and what it was doing, she says.

Thus in January 2010, Cooper began her current career at the social media giant. Having spent two years in the Palo Alto, California, Facebook office running all outbound marketing and communications, she recently took up a new role as director of Global Business Partnerships and is today based out of the London offices.

“In my previous role, a lot of the focus was on trying to explain Facebook, and telling the stories of what brands, large and small, were doing on the platform. I became very interested, in particular, in what the large brands were doing, because some of them are doing really transformative marketing on Facebook.

“That’s what attracted me to this new role, where I work with just a couple of major brands and help them figure out how to use Facebook for growing their business and marketing.”

A passion for social media

Cooper’s new-found passion for social media has clearly not abated, and she believes it has changed our world fundamentally.

“I think we’re still only beginning to understand ourselves the impact it is having,” she remarks. “On a personal level, it has had a huge impact on how we connect with our friends and families, and I think anyone who has lived away from home will appreciate that, in particular. But it has also fundamentally changed the relationship that people can have with businesses, with institutions and with governments.

“Take Iceland, which is trying to redraft its constitution online and has set up a Facebook page to allow people to submit their ideas. In this way, they are crowdsourcing ideas for what the constitution should look like,” she says. “Or after the earthquake in Christchurch in New Zealand, someone set up a Facebook page and the city council started posting updates on road closures, where to get clean water and so on. The opportunity for businesses and governments to reassess how they communicate with people is huge.”

Indeed, Cooper says she would like to see the Irish diaspora making even more use of Facebook to connect.

“Clearly, there’s a huge population of Irish people outside of the country who are still very passionate about Ireland, whether they’re first, second or third generation, and there’s a number of amazing organizations like the American Ireland Fund, the ITLG, Enterprise Ireland, who I think they do an incredible job of bringing people together and getting people to play a part in some way, whether its sharing tech skills, fundraising or mentoring, there’s an awful lot of things going on.”

“I’d love to see all those organizations doing more on Facebook, because I believe there’s still an opportunity for a more active diaspora online.”

Silicon Republic has joined forces with the Irish Technology Leadership Group to bring you The Silicon Valley 50 most influential Irish-American people in the tech world ahead of the ITLG/Irish Times Innovation Awards event in California on 12-13 March.

Ann O’Dea is the CEO and co-founder of Silicon Republic and the founder of Future Human