Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fear Factor

Corporate social media? If that's not an oxymoron at your company or social enterprise, then social media can be scary, difficult stuff -- requiring a ton of courage and patience to deploy effectively, according to corporate social media strategists for Target, PepsiCo, Gap and Facebook.

"It's very, very scary," Claire Lyons, Pepsico's corporate brand program manager, told a packed room of nonprofit and CSR activists attending a panel at today's 2010 National Conference on Volunteering and Service. Social media represent "a huge shift in the way companies operate," she said, "because they [social media] shift the locus of control of a brand, which was always controlled by brand managers, and blows it up. ...It is changing the whole way that brand architecture is considered."

Lyons, one of the lead architects of the company's Pepsi Refresh campaign, said she finds social media "exciting." But using social media to engage employees and stakeholders is "very different. We really don't have control" of the conversation, she said. "This [social media] is a total quality management feedback loop par excellence."

Target also has discovered some uncomfortable moments moving to social media. Jill Pete, a member of Target's national community relations team, said it was hard at first to simply "step back, listen and not react to what was being said" on the company's Facebook page. "We were hesitant to step into this realm, especially Facebook, because Facebook's power is dialogue," Pete said. But the risk has paid off, she said. Target's decision to stay quiet and listen has been "a huge step for us because we'd been seeing some stuff on there that was inaccurate and we really wanted to correct it right away." Turns out, said Pete, the company didn't have to. "all inaccuracies so far, all of them, are usually corrected no more than two or three days after it has been asserted," she said -- by people Target doesn't know but who follow the company on Facebook. "It's testing our strength as a brand," said Pete. "If you're strong as a brand, you listen -- and you learn."

Joshua Rahn, New York Director of Facebook, shared an anecdote of how early Pepsi traffic on Facebook included one comment that simply made the statement: "I hate Pepsi but I love Coke." This triggered a swirl of internal communication at Pepsi, he said -- "the lawyers had a field day" -- but before the company could respond, one of its Facebook "friends" quietly posted a short note telling the detractor that if he didn't like Pepsi, to go to Coke's Facebook page, instead. It worked. End of story. "Before Facebook and Twitter," Rahn said, "people still bad-mouthed products. They always will. You will never be able to control for that. Never. But now, you have the opportunity to shape the responses."

In other highlights, panelists agreed that companies and organizations should:

* Get clear on "who owns social media" inside the organization. "Don't make the person who owns social a second-class citizen," Rahn said. "Your social media person shouldn't be a person who sits in on every third meeting andhas no authority and no independent power. This should be a person who has a voice. Where should the person sit? In your marketing team but they have to be able to make decisions." Rahn cited Starbucks as a good example of a company that "gets it" about social media's internal role, putting its social media team in marketing but giving it autonomy "and the same amount of say as its TV team."

* Consider setting up a private, branded employee social network. Abby Frost, manager of employee engagement and community partnerships at Gap, said the company has launched Sketchbook ["our employee Facebook," Frost explains]. On that social network, she said, employees share the highs and lows of the workplace expeirence, share team projects and communicate socially. Recently, Frost organized an "Ultimate Happy Hour" on Sketchbook, which included a video content among employees to celebrate the company's 48th anniversary. She said prizes were given out to the best employee stories and participation on the network remains high. So do employee retention rates. Said Facebook's Rahn: "As much as companies think of using social media to raise awareness, they also need to be thinking of creating engagement around it."

* Remember that ROI rules. But don't look for magic. Facebook's Rahn said that far too many companies, in their efforts to create a social media strategy, waste too much time trying to get something ready for release. "These are companies that need to consider their 'return on energy' instead," Rahn said. Gap's Frost agrees. "You need to move fast, not perfect," she said.

* Be clear that social media are a must for employee retention. If companies have hired someone to craft their social media strategy but won't let them use the tools on the job, then don't be surprised if you can't hire anyone good -- or keep them once they're on board. Target's Pete said Millennials expect to be able to use social media on the job "If you encourage your employees to engage online, they will engage in your favor; if employees see how you're connecting online and see how effective it is, they will become your biggest ambassadors," she said. "But if you don't let them engage, you may lose them." Rahn called it "social retention."

Erik Darby, vice president of business development for The Experience Project, which just launched TwitCause -- a new offering that helps companies engage Twitter users in their pet causes -- offered attendees "5 Things Your Corporation Needs to Know About Social Media." Here they are, briefly:

1. Know why you're going into social media. "Just going for fans on Facebook and followers on Twitter is not going to cut it," Darby says.

2. Know what ROI metrics you're measuring.

3. Be consistent with your social media engagement. "Don't expect to see results if you send out a tweet once a week," Darby says.

4. Be human. "Don't exploit your audience. Care about them. Ask their input on things."

5. Go where your audience is. "'Build it and they will come' isn't true anymore," Darby says. "If you're a pet company, for example, don't just do Facebook. Go where your customers are. Go on Dogster."

Okay, readers. It's your turn. Got any pointers to add?

-- Marcia Stepanek


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an IT consultant I am fully aware that IT management is struggling with whether social media is productive or obstructive for companies and their employees. Software is being developed and policy and restrictions are being decided everyday by IT managers. The security of company networks are at stake but the potential for innovation using social media is a large enough carrot for the discussion of how to properly utilize the medium continues. Palo Alto networks came up with a whitepaper,, which will explore the issues surrounding social media in the workplace. It is important to not only understand the immediate benefits of doing business how one lives, but the threat it presents to a company's greater ROI and productivity when it comes to the server's safety and security.

July 6, 2010 at 3:24 PM  
Blogger Marcia Stepanek said...

Thanks for posting and for the referral.

July 6, 2010 at 4:05 PM  

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