As much has been publicized about brands using social media to better connect with their customers, extend brand reach and increase sales, there’s still a high demand for practical insider advice and case studies.
To preview the upcoming BlogWell event Oct 28 on How Big Companies Use Social Media, Online Marketing Blog brings you this first ever group interview with 4 speakers from some of America’s best known brands to share their insights on defining, justifying, testing, outsourcing, measuring and continuing to learn about social media for the enterprise.
Tim Collins, Senior Vice President of Experiential Marketing, is a eleven year veteran of Wells Fargo. He manages sponsorships, events, virtual worlds, social media, etc. He also has “Only at Wells Fargo” responsibilities including History Museums and an active Stage Coach Appearance program.
As Public Relations Manager, Debbie Curtis-Magley leads social media strategy, policies, and practices at UPS. Her role includes overseeing online monitoring, research and reporting. Debbie also blogs about the Atlanta running scene. Find Debbie at UPS and LinkedIn.
Lindsay Lebresco is the Public Relations and Social Media Manager at Graco Children’s Products, a leader in the juvenile products category. She is the lead blogger for the new Graco corporate blog which was recently recognized with a PRSA bronze anvil award in the corporate blog category. Find Lindsay on Friendfeed, LinkedIn and Facebook.
Nick Ayres works as Interactive Marketing Manager with The Home Depot. Nick is a social media hierophant who has been with The Home Depot for three years with a current focus on developing and implementing new media and content strategies. Find Nick on LinkedIn.
TopRank: Thank you Tim, Debbie, Lindsay and Nick for participating in this group interview. Let’s start with the basics. Please define “social media?”
Nick Ayres: It’s funny, almost immediately after I first read this question I saw a tweet from Valeria Maltoni that was just perfectly timed. She said, “Social media is one interaction at a time”. I think that sums it up pretty nicely, actually – and speaks more to what social media isn’t which is equally important in my mind.
Whether you choose to call this phenomena “social media” or “social computing” or “web 2.0” or something else, I think perhaps the most important point is that social media is not a “campaign”. It’s not something you “do” the way you might traditional execute a print or television campaign. Instead, it’s about finding ways to connect and engage with customers in an authentic, timely and relevant manner. We’ve seen an explosion in the number of tools you can use to help do that, but regardless of which tools you use, it really is one step, one point of contact at a time.
Tim Collins: Social media is media that anyone can participate in. Not just as a consumer, but also as a creator.
Lindsay Lebresco: We see social media as a new way to create a stronger, deeper and long-term relationship with our consumers. Social media gives our brand access to our consumers and their needs in a unique environment and allows our messages to be delivered in a personal, transparent and immediate way.
Debbie Curtis-Magley: I typically rely on Forrester’s definition for “social computing,” which is a social structure in which technology puts power in individuals and communities, not institutions.
The technology behind social media is changing the way that people communicate with each other, with companies, and with institutions.
TopRank: What arguments or business case justifications have you found to be the most effective for investing time, people and other resources into social media engagement?
Debbie Curtis-Magley: As a communications function, we look at social media’s ability to extend and amplify the reach of our messages. Ultimately, the communications tactics we use need to demonstrate contributions to our business goals. We also share examples from other companies’ success with social media to show how it can be effectively used.
Lindsay Lebresco: Making a business case justification for social media investment will wholly depend on your company’s business objectives. For Graco, our business goals for the brand, we felt, could be achieved through the use of social media to build relationships with our consumers to help enable brand advocacy and to build upon trust, which is paramount for parents choosing products they will use with their infants, as a brand attribute. It’s also important to note that we see Social Media as just one part of our overall integrated marketing effort to build our brands. At this time, specific measurements tied directly to sales are not yet achievable for our brands. However, we do feel that Social Media has a long term impact on brand preference. We are currently evaluating and/or experimenting with services that will more closely measure our social media efforts and their potential impacts.
Tim Collins: Social media helps us reach our customer where they are, which will drive more customer loyalty, satisfaction and sales.
Nick Ayres: We’ve long been a business that focuses on helping people solve their home improvement problems, so in some senses, social media has been an easier sell here than you might find at other companies. If handled correctly, I really believe we have a game-changing opportunity to consistent serve our customers’ needs via what we call our “digital orange apron”. Honestly, it’s hard not to get excited at the potential.
I’d also say that for many social media endeavors there is such a low cost of entry that you don’t have to sell a big IT investment and a big human capital investment to get a project off the ground. We’ve been able to use successes from some of our smaller, lower-cost case tests to show the value potential to the broader organization and to grease the wheels for bigger asks. Last, it goes without saying that if you can show positive ROI and/or track back directly to sales, it’s a huge plus. We’ve had success there with product ratings and reviews on homedepot.com.
TopRank: How do you decide whether to blog vs setup social networking profiles vs Twitter vs image and video sharing or other social media tactics? What’s your decision making process when it comes to testing and implementing social media engagement efforts with specific tactics?
Tim Collins: It all starts and ends with the business objective and the audience we’re trying to reach. That’s what drives the tactics, as well as measurement of success.
Lindsay Lebresco: Most people using social media will tell you that the first thing you need to do when making decisions regarding the use of these tactics is to listen. Listening to what your consumers have to say will inform your business strategy in this space and your strategy can then be achieved through the use of specific tactics. So listen first then create a strategy and then apply tactics that can help achieve your business goals. Because social media is so new and much of what our brand is doing is, in a sense, experimental, we have to be prepared to be flexible. Although a strategy is always put in place when trying something new, we are always prepared to adjust, dig in or pull out whenever necessary. It’s important to [be willing] to recognize when adjustments are needed and take action accordingly – if you don’t do it yourself, then your consumers will be happy to do that for you.
Debbie Curtis-Magley: For all tactics – whether social media or traditional communications – we look at its ability to support our communications and business objectives. One of the advantages of social media is that it offers new ways to connect with the media, customers and employees. It also broadens your ability to measure the effectiveness of your efforts, such as the volume and tonality of discussions that your communications attract.
Nick Ayres: It sounds a bit like strategy and marketing 101, but you really have to start with who your customers are and what their expectations and desires are from you in the space. Based on what you learn, you can much more easily lay out your objectives, strategies and tactics to meet those wants and needs. If you aren’t already doing so, one of the first things you need to do before even thinking about a tactic is to just start listening to what’s already being said about you. Whether it’s on blogs or on Twitter or in existing online communities – wherever your customers are already talking about your brand – you can learn a lot by just paying attention to what’s already being said. I’m a big fan of approaches like Forrester’s POST methodology, or frankly any method that starts with customers and their expectations, and works towards technology, versus the other way around.
For us, if you look at what we’ve done with Twitter or with our video syndication efforts (posting our how-to videos on YouTube and other video sites) we’ve had the most success when we’ve approached the spaces from that direction rather than a “hey this is cool so let’s do it” mindset.
TopRank: What strategies do you use to measure the effectiveness of social media? What metrics make the most impact upstream (C-level) in your organization?
Debbie Curtis-Magley: Ultimately, our management will evaluate the success of a program on its ability to deliver business results.
One example that I can share is our launch of UPS Delivery Intercept in 2007. To complement our media outreach, we used MySpace and YouTube to promote the service. Delivery Intercept has exceeded its revenue plan. During the first 12 months that the service was offered, UPS received well over 1 million requests from more than 165,000 distinct customers for this fee-based service. In a company that is highly focused on numbers, usage continues to run significantly above plan.
Nick Ayres: It’s an ongoing process for sure. There are some efforts that are much easier to tie metrics to (product ratings and reviews, for example) and some areas where we’re still trying to nail down exactly what “effective” means, and what measurements should follow based on that definition.
Because of how new the space is for The Home Depot, I think the things that make the most impact upstream are the candid customer comments (both positively and negatively) we receive from places like Twitter. While we can throw numbers out all day, the most attention-grabbing and impactful items tend to be when a customer just gushes about how appreciative they are of our efforts, or how much they have benefited from our presence in a particular space. It puts a very human face on what sometimes can be perceived as a faceless environment to some of the more traditional brick-and-mortar personalities throughout our organization.
Tim Collins: We use the usual online metrics, but also have metrics on consumer engagement. We determine how “social” our social media outreach was, and whether the customer not just a consumer, but also a creator. Did they write a comment, a review, etc.?
Lindsay Lebresco: We use Converseon’s (Social Media AOR) Conversation Mining tool to measure and monitor online conversations for popular topics, potential issues and product level detail as well as brand polarity and sentiment in order to create benchmarks we measure against quarterly and throughout specific campaigns. Metrics like brand sentiment which increased from 68% positive to 83% over a year, brand mentions (vs. product mentions) which doubled in our year of engagement and recommendations about the brand or our products increased significantly over that year as well. Our use of social media actually landed Graco on the Today Show which wasn’t planned for and wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for our engagement in this space and our relationships with bloggers in the space as well. Of course we also track comments on the blog, links to the blog, increased SEO, impressions of online influencers, etc- these details help to support the story of success that Graco has had in this space.
TopRank: Do you outsource any social media work and if so, do you have tips for other large company social media marketers for finding and managing consultants?
Tim Collins: Most of our work is done internally. But on the small portion that is external, the same rules apply to other media:
• Get referrals from people you trust
• Check their work with other clients
• Set clear expectations and hold them accountable
Debbie Curtis-Magley: We collaborate with our vendors to shape our strategy and to build the technology. Program management and measurement are typically managed internally.
The research firms that follow social media are a good starting point for help with finding vendors. The analysts are knowledgeable about vendors’ capabilities and expertise. They can also help companies establish expectations for working with vendors.
As far as advice for working with vendors, it would be the same practices you’d follow for managing any vendor. Define your strategy and goals before engaging a vendor. Identify potential obstacles (internal and external) that can hinder your work. Avoid misunderstandings by ensuring that both your team and the vendor are in agreement on project goals and how success will be measured.
Nick Ayres: We’ve used a few agencies for different things, but we do keep a lot in-house. That being said, everybody is pitching “social media” these days, whether they have any experience in the space or not so mostly definitely do your homework. In today’s times, it’s really not hard or time-consuming to do. Ask for case studies, talk to their current clients, search out the blogosphere around campaigns an agency currently has in the market, and see what the agency is doing with social media on its own behalf.
I think the other thing you want to find are agencies/consultants that really understand your customers and your brand, and are able to articulate the role social media should play in your overall communications / marketing mix. Social media should rarely happen on its own island.
Lindsay Lebresco: We’ve partnered with an agency, Converseon, which specializes in social media. They help us with social media strategy and planning through their technology and consulting services. Our internal team (1 dedicated, 1 support) does all the social media execution and outreach. For companies interested in using social media, I would highly recommend finding an agency partner that can lend their expertise in the space, has a track record of experience and relevant case studies, who can help guide your planning. Having an expert in our corner not only helped our brand communications team feel confident in our adoption of social media and in our plans to utilize this new media but it helped significantly in dealing with the internal cultural shift that needed to happen – especially with the legal department.
TopRank Bonus question: Please share 3-4 resources for staying on top of social media marketing trends and tactics:
- Twitter – Not only have I relied on Twitter for breaking news and election updates, but I follow a lot of social media experts who are always pointing to resources that are helpful. Our brand is using Twitter as a resource for moms – follow @GracoRoadAhead to see how we’re doing that.
- Mommy Bloggers – Don’t be fooled by the label they’ve been given. They are an incredibly savvy group of women who, especially for a brand like Graco’s, will point you to some of the best ideas in the biz (and some of the worst ideas too). They are free to share their ideas and since they are our consumers (as are daddy bloggers), we pay close attention.
- Agency partner – This was another huge help of having an agency partner – they often (constantly) filtered new trends and tactics our way – a lot of learning happening from an expert source.
- Blog Council- The BlogCouncil has been a fantastic resource for corporate blogging. It feels like a safe environment where folks in similar positions can toss around ideas, ask questions and garner knowledge from other experts in the space.
- Forrester Research – They are an excellent resource on future trends in social media and interactive marketing and provide an objective perspective on vendors and services in this area.
Debbie Curtis-Magley: Often times, I get the best information from colleagues and vendors who pass along blog posts, case studies and research to me. I also get a lot of great insight from Blog Council members through our monthly teleconferences and discussion board posts. When I get a chance to catch up on blogs, I read Groundswell and Micro Persuasion.
TopRank: Thank you again Tim, Debbie, Lindsay and Nick for your insight and expertise!
BlogWell is happening October 28, 2008 from 1-5 pm at the San Jose Convention Center in California. The cost is only $200 and you can register online.
!! TopRank is giving away a free pass to the first person that volunteers to liveblog the BlogWell event. Leave your info in the comments and we’ll contact you with more information.