Nokia’s Craig Hepburn is a Glaswegian force of nature. Upon meeting him you can understand why he’s leading the charge to integrate social media into everything Nokia does.

Recently, Hepburn launched Agora, Nokia’s version of Dell’s social media dashboard.

But how did he get there in the first place? What steps did he have to take to get social media at the core of Nokia’s working practise?

We had a chance to catch up with Hepburn at Social Media Week in New York inbetween various talks and panel discussions about turning businesses social.

What led you to your position as Nokia’s Global Director of Digital & Social Media?

In 2003, I was the global head of online for STA Travel and was there to move them from offline and online. We worked with IBM to rollout to 20 countries and digitally empowered them through tech. As it was a young student brand, they took a lot of content into MySpace as all the “kids” were there. Matt Nixon, who was STA’s Director of E-Commerce, met with “the Facebook” and did one of the first commercial deals with them before Facebook were open to the public.

I’m passionate about content aggregation and syndication. I thought it was simple and that people were further along in this area but no one was. When I left STA travel I could see the potential of social media as people wanted to know what we were doing. I knew we needed to give infrastructure in order to empower so I started working with OpenText.

Companies were freaking out about IP. Social media is such a powerful and frightening thing. Most businesses are about command and control and with sharing and transparency, you disrupt business models. I was consulting and meeting with CIOs and they hated what I stood for. One manager told me “Someone said you’re here to install the socialist system.”

The Nokia recruiter saw my tweets about social business and wanted me to work for Nokia. It was a great brand that I wanted to be a part of so I joined to help rejuvenate the brand.

How do you convince a company like Nokia to become a social business?

You need strong personalities and an amazing team to make everything happen. My team has IT, marketing, social business, communications, and partner management. It’s also about convincing the senior leadership team to put social at the center.

I’m not a big strategy, PowerPoint person. I think really simply. People talk theory but we need things to do. You have to think how to implement infrastructure first. Then you need to be more social internally.

We used Socialcast and started blogging and I showed examples of what other companies were doing. It helped employees learn from each other. For example, remote sales teams started to develop strategy and share more internally. We then rolled out listening platforms and thought about the real time changing of marketing plans as our traditional marketing wasn’t hitting targets.

The thing that helped most was the physical manifestation of what people were saying about us. When we launched Agora in the lunchroom in Finland, the CEO and his team would stand in front of the board and see what people were saying. The employees would walk up after the bosses left, and some of them said that it helped them see what social media was. It made it tangible.

Nokia had a leadership change to include one of the 50 most social CEOs. What if you don’t have that luxury?

If a management team believes it’s working, they won’t change. It takes a lot of courage to change. I think it’s not about the cost of doing it; it’s the cost of not doing it. Not everyone has to drink the Kool-Aid, but if it’s right for your business you should.

There’s been bad news around Nokia. Does this negative coverage reflect reality? How are you fighting against it?

Yes. The negativity was deserved. If you consumer doesn’t like your product there’s nothing you can do to change their opinion with social media. But at least with social, you know pretty quickly. It’s important to be able to change quickly now and you need a team of people who understand that to put a process in place to make those changes.

When people complain and want to vent, it’s healthy. But it’s also important to respond quickly. If they don’t talk about you, then they don’t care. I’d rather have complaints then silence.

We know now that we do have the products people love. The Lumia has won awards at CES and people like it. Most importantly, the Microsoft team has seen the impact of social media. It’s a big part of people’s lives so they’re putting it in the center of it with our phones.