What is Social Media Governance and 5 Key Elements of a Successful Model

I’ve been noodling on the topic of social media governance for a while and it took a chat with Jim Storer and Aaron Strout on the Quick n’ Dirty podcast to finally get it on my blog. (Thanks for the question, Jim!)

Much has been written about the importance of social media policy and why every company should have one. However, what’s often overlooked by companies and experts alike is that creation of a policy by itself isn’t cause enough to celebrate.

So, let me start by saying that social media governance is much more than just a policy (even if policy is the first thing that comes to mind, when you use  the term “Governance”).   Governance is much more broader in scope than policy and has greater significance, especially for larger companies.

While your social media policy defines how your employees should engage via social media channels, your governance model is a bundle of policies, guidelines, processes, and educational resources to guide your employees to successfully represent your company in social media activities.

Here are the 5 key elements of a solid social media governance model:

#1 Definition of Scope: This sounds so basic but it is critical that you define what is and isn’t covered by your governance model. Be sure to call out the specific social channels along with the policies and guidelines that relate to each of them. Depending on business and organizational needs, some companies may decide to have a common governance model for their internal and external customer-facing communities, while others may decide to keep the two separate. So it’s essential to call out which ones are included to provide clarity to your employees.

#2 Frequency & Process for Updates: Given that social media is evolving at the pace of light, your governance model will need regular review and update. Make sure you define the frequency of updates and the process for those updates. This will ensure that your governance model is not outdated and provides clarity on how the updates are made. If you want employee participation in the review (highly recommended), make sure you call it out along with details on when and how to provide input.

#3 Branding Guidelines: For a large company, the broad variety of social media channels makes it imperative to clearly call out the branding guidelines for your external channels. The same principles that govern the design of all your external-facing communications such as website, collateral, etc. should be applied to official social channels. This would include, but not limited to, branded templates for your social channels like Twitter, social sharing & follow icons, as well as the use of company logo and related elements on external-facing channels.

#4 Training & Education: A solid governance model should have plenty of educational resources for employees. This should include training on responding to customer feedback, both positive and negative. Typically, it’s the customer support and PR organizations that are tasked with the responsibility of responding to customer feedback. However, social media is breaking down the traditional boundaries and depending on your company’s social media engagement policy, it could be a marketing or salesperson who is having to respond to a customer query. So it’s essential to have training as a cornerstone of your social media governance model.

#5: Approval Processes & Continuity Planning: Your governance model should clearly call out what approval processes are in place for employees to engage in social media. It should answer questions such as: Can everyone participate (highly recommended) or only members of certain external-facing groups can engage via your company’s social channels? What is the process for getting approval for an official account?

Last but not the least, it’s critical you have a continuity plan, which covers not only accounts are set up but how the account will be transitioned to a new owner, if needed. Having a centralized governace model in place will ensure that you’re not locked out of your highly popular Twitter or Facebook account/s if the person engaging on your company’s behalf decides to leave the company.

Bottom line, rather than policing your employees, start with a robust social media governance model as that will empower your employees with the right resources and training to become successful advocates for your company.

If you think there are other items that should be included here, feel free to chime in.

5 Signs Your Company is Not Ready for Social Media

If you’ve read my blog post on “Why Social Media Won’t Save Your Business“, it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that I think some companies shouldn’t have a social media presence.

So here’s what triggered this blog post. Recently, I tried to contact a live human being at a well-known national grocery chain via their Twitter account. But I didn’t get very far as the Corporate Twit (no pun intended) kept referring me back to the website, which has the contact information of one person in “Public Affairs”. Apparently, there’s only one live person at that huge national chain or the only one who dares to put his name out there.

What’s even more amusing is the disclaimer on this company’s Twitter page which says,

 

So this company won’t tell you who is posting this information but whatever this unknown person is posting is not their responsibility. Anyone else see anything wrong with this? I wonder if their lawyers are patting themselves on the back for coming up with this.

It was almost a year back when Robert Scoble wrote his blog post on how one large retailer’s website doesn’t have any people on there. What Scoble said then and I agree:

“Here it is in simple terms: add people to your web sites.”

Scoble’s not talking just about pretty stock pictures. He’s talking about real people – your employees, your customers, people your business needs in order to thrive. The same logic applies to blogs and every other type of your company’s online social media presence. Even a year later, it’s clear that there are plenty of businesses who still don’t get it or just plain don’t care.

Here are 5 signs that your company is not ready for an external social media presence:  

#1 If your company policy prevents you from adding a name or picture of a live human being on your corporate social media account (whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter or other), change that policy first and then launch your social media presence.

#2 If your company culture is all about one-way propaganda rather than two-way communication, train your employees in ”social” skills before letting them loose on the social media sites.  

#3 If you’re only using social media for pitching products and/or shameless self-promotion, then you need to STOP. You’re no better than the spammers abusing the email system. Use social media for good – engage don’t annoy your customers.  

#4 If your customers didn’t like your cold and impersonal website and if try to replicate that same uninspiring experience on an external social media site, you will fail. We get that you’re a big company but don’t overdo the branding.

#5 If you don’t have a plan for managing and engaging your customers, STOP and create one before you go crazy on the social media sites.Your external social media presence should be treated as an extension of your existing community/customer programs and not as someone’s pet project.

Use of  social media by itself is not good enough any more. The only choice you have is to do it right or don’t do it. Doing it just because some “expert” says so, is far worse than waiting until you’re truly ready and can handle social media.

As far as my saga with the grocery chain goes, it had a positive outcome. I got a tweet from someone offering to introduce me to an executive he knows at that company. So we have proof that social media works but many companies still need to learn how to make it work for them and their customers.

Using Twitter for Customer Service in the Enterprise

There have been many innovative uses for Twitter since its inception, including finding out when your plants need watering  and many more creative uses are being devised even as you’re reading this post. On the business side, many firms are faced with the conundrum, whether they should use one account to handle all their customer inquiries, sales, promotions, and overall customer engagement. Or whether they should have a separate account dedicated solely to handling customer inquiries and leverage Twitter as a full-fledged customer support channel?

It makes good business sense to help your customers, regardless of where the query originates and for smaller companies, setting up a dedicated support forum on Twitter may be a no-brainer. However, for a large enterprise, it becomes much more challenging because of the sheer volume of queries received on a daily basis and related customer expectations. Here are some practical considerations for a medium to large-size enterprise before they start on their journey down the rabbit hole.

#1  Begin at the beginning…
By now, every organization with any credibility has a presence on Twitter in some shape or form. To determine whether or not to use that presence to handle customer queries, start with an investigation of the support queries your organization gets from Twitter. It’s not just the volume of queries, also analyze nature of queries to see if  you’re getting certain types of support questions more than others. For example: If you have an existing channel or support line for segment A customers, yet you see significant number of questions coming from them via Twitter, that’s an indicator that your customer behavior is shifting or your existing channels aren’t working or it could be a combination of both. Use the data to determine the business case for building out your customer support on Twitter.

 #2 Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat! How I wonder what you’re at?
If you’re a sizeable organization, you should already have an existing customer support center/s and related processes. Think about where  Twitter fits into your existing business processes and other Twitter accounts. The critical issue to consider here is whether you’re planning to replace the existing channel/process, supplement it or just address the occasional queries that come up via  Twitter. If your plan is some variation of the first two options, then you should put some thought into how to eliminate redundancies and avoid multiple staff members answering the same query. Include status tracking as part of your process to make sure you’re measuring the number of queries and whether they were resolved within an acceptable time frame. If you decide to handle queries as they come up using your existing Twitter account, you will still need to get some process in place to make sure the queries go to the right person/team for resolution.

#3 No wonder you’re late. Why, this watch is exactly two days slow.
Regardless of which approach you take, make sure you set clear expectation with your customers. Clarify in your Twitter account description as to what type of inquiries you will accept through the given account and when they can expect a response. If it’s an urgent inquiry, provide them with clear instructions on your escalation process. Don’t assume your customer has the same definition of  a “reasonable” response time. Your turnaround time may be 48hrs but if the customer assumes it’s 24hrs, don’t be surprised if you  find angry tweets about your company’s unresponsive customer support, the very next day.

#4 Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.
One often overlooked item in the broadly prevalent social media mania is the all-important human resource question. Many organizations underestimate the time and effort needed to effectively manage and respond to queries through social channels, so the key is to leverage the existing organizational synergies where ever possible. Despite all good intentions, if you set up a Twitter support channel but don’t have the staff to handle queries in a timely manner, you may find yourself doing more harm or good. One way to handle this with a limited staff is to incorporate Twitter queries into your existing support processes. Assign queries from this new channel to your existing support staff and if you have some social media specialists managing your account, make sure they know where to route the queries internally. While, you will have to provide the jnitial training and set up the   processes, but it will allow you to take advantage of pre-existing efficiencies and also give you some time to map out your plan for meeting potential increase in queries from this new channel.

#5  …But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?
Last but not the least, the question to consider is whether the Twitter platform can scale with your needs. Using the Twitter platform as a supplementary promotional or sales channel is not the same as using it as a customer support channel, since latter often involves dissatisfied customers. I am sure you’re very familiar with the infamous Twitter Fail Whale and Twitter’s “unscheduled” down times.  So if you decide to use Twitter as your primary support channel, always bear in mind that if the Twitter site goes down (which is always a possibility), you will have some unhappy customers who can’t get to your Twitter account to have their issues resolved so make sure you have a back up plan in case of that eventuality.There is no right or wrong answer here, the decision on whether to have your company’s customer support account on Twitter should be made based on your customer and business needs. However, defining your plan upfront will help define your staffing needs as well as routing of the queries and how they should be handled. But the bottom line is to make sure that all queries, regardless of the channel, are routed to and handled by the appropriate team/s within a reasonable time frame.

Why Companies Struggle with Social Media Engagement

Here’s one key finding from the recent Brand Engagement study by popular industry thought leader, Charlene Li (Altimeter Group) that caught my attention,

To scale engagement, make social media part of everyone’s job. The best practice interviews have a common theme — social media is no longer the responsibility of a few people in the organization.

I agree wholeheartedly that social media shouldn’t be the monopoly of any single functional group and it should be dispersed across the organization. While cross-functional social media engagement may be a best practice, the reality is that  many enterprises still struggle with this and here’s why:

#1 We are what we do: At most companies, employees are hired for their roles based on their skill set/expertise/experience/interest (Granted, interest is a stretch, given the current economy…). While, there are plenty of geeks/technical folks who are exceptional bloggers but that doesn’t mean every engineer is cut out for social media engagement. As a result, folks who typically end up blogging and/or engaging in social media for their companies are from marcomm or PR because they are the “communicators” by virtue of their role.

#2 That’s not my job: In highly siloed organizations, outside of the traditional marcomm and PR roles, the company culture doesn’t encourage  direct interaction with customers even with traditional channels, let alone social media. So again, it’s left to marcomm and PR team to continue engaging via social media sites/tools as they did with the old media because it’s part of their job. Plus, there’s no financial or other incentive for employees from non-related functions to engage in social media so it’s not all that surprising that they shy away from it.

#3 What’s up with the time, doc?! I had previously blogged about an enterprise social media discussion panel, where in the post-discussion Q&A, Ken Kaplan from Intel emphasized that getting employees to engage in social media continues to remain a challenge. The reality across companies, regardless of size, is that there are fewer people to do the same amount of work.  With the onslaught of harsh layoffs, more is expected of the employees who are left behind. And unless you’re in denial or clueless about social media engagement, it won’t come as a surprise that social media needs significant time commitment. So, if it’s not part of their job description, there’s no motivation for non-PR or non-Marketing employees to spend any additional time blogging or tweeting.

#4 Are you being “social” or slacking off? There’s still a disconnect between reality and perception of social media as a productive use of time. It goes back to #3 – when there are limited resources, managers typically want their staff to focus on their core function. Across companies, there are trailblazers who are passionate about social media and spend hours after work – blogging, tweeting on their own time. It’s great to see the passion but in the long-run, it’s just not sustainable and once the initial enthusiasm wears off, social media engagement also languishes.

#5 Is that my neck on the line? Many corporate social media sites and user accounts have fine print aka legal disclaimer attached to it, that exempts the company from any liability arising from the employee’s social media activities. So in other words, companies have taken advice from the so-called experts in “trusting” their employees to engage but don’t necessarily stand behind them when these employees screw up in the line of duty. Anyone else see a big problem with this?!  

Bottomline: Companies need to start walking the walk when it comes to social media, not just talk the talk. Here’s how smart companies encourage social media engagement across their organization:

- Pro-actively seek out employees who have great product knowledge and/or are exceptional at engaging with customers, regardless of which functional area they are from.

- Team up the SMEs with communicators and PR professionals to create cross-functional cohorts that offer customers a well-rounded perspective not just fluff or technical jargon.

- Assign clear goals for social media activity tied to the business  objectives and make it part of the employee’s role.

- Align compensation with social media goals to recognize excellence in customer engagement.

- Integrate social media into business and organization goals so that it’s not something that employees do on their lunch hour.  

- Provide extensive training to these employees and stand behind them when they make a mistake, not hide behind legalese.

- Last but not the least, encourage employee culture where social media is not just hype or a campaign but rather a customer-centric state of mind.

4 Common Excuses from Social Media Skeptics

Yes, Oprah’s on Twitter and so’s your 50-year old neighbor but that doesn’t mean everyone is on planet Social Media. Once you get out of the social media bubble and if you’re willing to listen to some professionals in the B2B space, you’ll more likely than not, come up against pockets of resistance to the new media. I have tremendous respect for folks who think before latching on to the latest latest fad and and in a previous post, I gave 5 reasons why social media skeptics may be onto something. But, there is a difference between healthy skepticism and unwillingess to change/adapt to a new environment.

Here are 4 typical pushbacks that I’ve come across that are a result of ignorance rather than pragmatism:

#1 “Our customers don’t do social media” I have heard this excuse so many times, even from organizers of social media events, who have confessed that they don’t see the value of social media for their customers. So finally, I asked one of them, “If your customers don’t read blogs or tweet, what channels do they use? Have you asked where they’re getting their information” and the answer is often a resounding “No”. Many professionals who play the “New media doesn’t apply to our customers” card haven’t even talked to their customers because leading research shows that social media is increasing in use among B2B marketers. Many purchase decision-makers pay attention to non-traditional media such as blogs and now, Twitter, thanks to big name celebrities. How much social media influences their decision-making is something the skeptics need to look into rather than hiding behind this excuse.

#2 “We’ve tried it but didn’t get any response” There’s a sense of “build it and they will come” attitude that’s very destructive for social media implementation because poor execution and lack of promotion is often blamed on the media. Companies spend a lot of time encouraging their employees to blog and tweet but don’t really spend any time promoting their efforts to the customers. “Tell our customer, what we’re doing? What a crazy concept!” Social media is new and will take some time for your customer base to adopt. That’s no different from email, not everyone was on it but you need to promote it and do it well for it to be successful.

#3  ”There’s no clear ROI” That’s another common excuse that I’ve heard over and over again. Many companies still struggle with the ROI dilemma, but if social media doesn’t have clear returns, neither do many of traditional alternatives that your company currently uses. Just because you can measure it, doesn’t mean it’s working. Social media metrics should be tied to clear business objectives and keep in mind, setting up a new channel will take time. Marketers who expect results overnight are setting themselves up for failure. Given that even the most traditional and established media struggle with the question of attribution, we need to give social media due time to get to its full potential.

#4 “It’s a fad“  Skeptics can keep hoping that the social media fad will blow over but hype aside, social media gives you the the ability to engage directly with your customers and that’s very powerful. Social sharing features provide the ability to make your marketing more impactful and empower your customers, champions to do the marketing for you and that’s not something you want to wish away. 

I am too much of a pragmatist to buy into all that jazz about how “social media is so wonderful and everyone on the planet should be on Twitter” but that being said, social media is inevitable. Engaging with our customers isn’t new, it’s not rocket-science, and it’s a no-brainer. So if social media tools enable us to do a better job at it, you either learn to do it and do it right, or else risk being irrelevant to your customers. While it’s not perfect, social media is revolutionizing the way we do business and communication, sooner companies learn how to navigate it the better off they’ll be in the long-run.

How Cisco uses Social Media

As I analyze how large companies are leveraging Web 2.o and social media tools, I recently came across a great example at the Blogwell event in San Francisco on the same topic. Jeanette Gibson from Cisco shared terrific insights on Cisco’s approach to social media and how it engages Customers, Partners, and Press with Social Media.

Gibson opened her talk with a statement that captures the essence of social media at Cisco.

“In a world where everything is open, we value openness and transparency.”

There are three ways that Cisco uses social media especially blogs to drive customer engagement:

1) Thought leadership

Gibson started by saying, “Blogging is about creating conversations with customers, partners, employees, and the public.”

Cisco’s been blogging for over 4years and the first blog was on govt. affairs. It was focused on having highly targeted 1:1 conversations and later their blogging efforts expanded to include other topics. However, their blogs tend to be more around larger industry topics like  Green IT rather than individual product-focused.

Gibson talked about how Cisco’s been using video to increase engagement between their customers and Cisco executives.  Cisco’s using flip cameras to follow their executives around. They capture their executives on video and repurpose that content where ever possible. One example is where Cisco CEO, John Chambers talks about what’s happening at the Channel Partner event, on their blog which is very open and visible to everyone.

She cited Padmasree, the well-known Cisco CTO as a great example of successful executive twittering. One way that Padamsree uses Twitter is to get ideas for one of her keynote speeches. She sent out a question on Twitter – “What’s the future of collaboration?”. She got an overwhelming response to her questions and she incorporated this direct feedback from the audience in her talk.

2) Events are an area where Cisco leverages social media as event and travel budget cuts are driving the need and demand for virtual events. The company has been hosting events via Twitter: “Tweetup” Cisco TelePresence Tweet-up with Guy Kawasaki(virtual meeting). Cisco has set up public telepresence suites where anyone can come in and use these for instant conference with Cisco. In addition, the company also organizes many virtual partner events using teleconferencing technologies.

3) Global product launches are typically very expensive and this presented yet another opportunity for Cisco to leverage social media. The company has moved from launch executions, press conferences, pr/ar briefings, large budgets, teams of spokespeople in 2005 to months of messaging cycles with real-time global impact, two-way customer interactions, and community building events in 2009. This has resulted in 50-75% cost saving and created opportunities for thought leadership. It went from transactions to interactions and engagement. Bigger launch at lower cost.

Here are some great questions from the audience:

  • How are blog posts optimized for SEO?

Cisco bloggers get a list of keywords and  training in optimizing the content with keywords and links.

  • What’s the process for setting up a blog at Cisco?

Cisco requires extensive training for all their bloggers and every blog has to be approved by multiple layers of management. After going through the initial rigor, the bloggers are free to blog without any restraints.

  • Who owns the brand in the case of Padmasree and does she do the tweeting herself?

Padmasree has her own brand and she has so many followers, is because she was on the shortlist for CTO for President Obama’s team.She’s very active on twitter and does her own tweeting.

Cisco also has team Twitter accounts like Cisco Systems, where multiple people tweet behalf of Cisco.

  • No social media conversation is complete without the metrics question and how does Cisco tie back to revenue?

Cisco like many other pioneering companies is grappling with the revenue question. Currently, it uses a mix of qualitative vs. quantitative. They have a set of standardized metrics for blogging and every blogger has access to the analytics on their own blog as well as that of their peers. So they are able to compare their blog’s traffic with that of other bloggers. They also do brand monitoring with an external agency. There are interesting tools being introduced in the Sales/CRM focus is looking interesting

  • Another revenue-related question was on how Cisco measures ROI?

While Cisco is very focused on ROI, there are no standard metrics, so it uses a variety of metrics. For example: they look at the free media impressions from social media activities and measure how much does that would have cost them to assess cost savings. However, since social media is resource and management-intensive, the cost for it is still fuzzy.

  • Monetization of sales opportunities was another great question that came up, which is again very closely related to the monetizing question.

Cisco has just started testing ways to leverage social media for sales and is working with the sales team to get more traction for direct sales/revenue impact from social media.

Key take aways from this honest, insightful presentation:

  • Make the tools work for you, “First decide what you want to do and then decide on the tools.”
  • Key is finding a few focus areas in social media and doing it well, rather than trying everything and not succeeding.
  • Openness and transparency in social media has to start from the top. Senior management needs to be engaged and lead by example.
  • Budget constraints and travel restrictions favor the use of social media and virtual events, which can help with cost savings.
  • The ROI/monetization question is becoming increasing important but there’s isn’t one standard set of metrics or methodology for calculating that yet, every company uses their own metrics.
  • Social media doesn’t only save cost, but can be more impactful than traditional marketing/PR. This is a great point to keep in mind, when you’re pondering ROI on your social media initiatives.

Lessons from SAP: Reinventing Marketing to Compete in a New Media Age

newcomm09-030

Recently, Don Bulmer, Vice President of Global Communications at SAP walked a packed room at the NewComm Forum through a study on how his company redefined the traditional role of marketing communications to compete in a highly dynamic social media landscape.

Situation:

As part of the global communications management team at SAP, Bulmer is responsible for leading the Industry and Influencer Relations organization. In 2007, the SAP communications organization was challenged by their executive board to rethink all their programs and processes. They were asked to identify changes that were required to meet company goal and to double market opportunity over 5years. 

Approach:  

SAP started the journey with discovery, research, and benchmarking for 6months. The communications team talked to experts at P&G, IBM, HP to understand communication best practices. As a result of this discovery phase, the team came up with several critical realizations:

- SAP was a transactional communication organization (tactical) and  it had to change in order to sit at the table as a credible partner with its customers.

- There was an inherent flaw with its traditional model of CIO at the center as the decision maker. The new media landscape had become a complex and highly connected network. 

- It had to create competitive advantage and also, become much more strategic in its approach to marketing.

- Many of the company communication programs were not adequate to deal with this new social media space.

- Everybody had a voice, employees became an important constituency in driving change.

- There was an urgent need to align the company goals to a central vision and to create sustainable competitive advantage. 

As a result, the SAP team went through a comprehensive re-framing exercise. They started by redefining functional roles as processes and connecting each role to overall company objectives.

SAP needed an organization in place designed to identify the customers/prospects and influence the world around it. So their next step was to define what constitutes influence and influencer, and how it affects the brand and the company. 

Who are the influencers? These are good corporate citizen within customers sphere of influence that support sales by accelerating the adoption of SAP tools. Influencers helped SAP create competitive advantage. Bulmer’s team also recruited researchers from Columbia and Emory to measure the value of this influencer community and track its influence.

Outcome:

SAP took a methodical and pragmatic approach to create their influencer marketing model, where customers are at center of the equation. These were the people who made the technology decision at both IT level, like CIO,  and at business level. SAP team worked hard to understand the process of decision-making at these customers and what sources that the decision makers turned to, ie, the influencers.

Bulmer’s team identified the following categories of influencers:

 - Universities

- Analysts/IT influencers

- Business thought leaders

- Partners (ISV, Channel)

- Customer communities (User Groups and Peer Networks)

SAP

Each of these influencers had varying degree of sales impact for SAP. Universities had the highest impact. Bulmer said that, when you get into fast growth areas, research and academics are the ones who have the most influence. Customer Communities had the next largest impact, followed by the Analysts/IT influencers and Business thought leaders. Partners have the least impact of all influencers.

So SAP created a Business influencer relations group that was tasked with working with the influencers. They first used social media in SMB segment and designed the strategy to penetrate this segment. SAP built relationship-building social networking site in collaboration with Social Media Today called “My Venture Pad” which is geared at the owners, employees of startups. They made it a content-rich technology site that provides content from experts, monetized it via sponsorship.  Here are some best practices that SAP adopted to make their new media influencer model successful:

  • Create a symbiotic relationship with the influencer network by connecting the user groups through collaborative workspaces such as discussion groups, wikis, and web 2.0 platforms.
  • Bring voice of customer directly into the product and collaborate with users to provide value at every step of the relationship.
  • Provide thought leadership through webinars and event sponsorships.
  • Build strategic relations with universities to build the curriculum around supply chain. This helps build the experience of SAP into the pre-professional experience and the early exposure helps cultivate future relationships.
  • Last but not the least, connect all these groups – Universities, analysts/it influencers, business thought leaders, partners channel , customer communities (user group).

Bulmer stressed the importance of getting management buy in upfront, demonstrating value to the customer, and showing direct link to the bottomline.

He ended this highly informative session by saying, “We empowered our stakeholders to tell the story and strengthen our strategic communication goals. We learned how to use communications as a strategic tool for furthering our business goals. “

Case Study: Using Social Media to Drive Business Results in a Large Enterprise

newcomm09-016At the NewComm Forum this week, Zena Weist  and Kevin Cobb, from the Brand Management team at Embarq walked the audience  through a candid and detailed case study on how a large company successfully leveraged social media to solve a critical business problem – negative customer sentiment.

Moderated by Charlotte Ziems, Vice President at Tendo Communications and SNCR fellow, this was a highly interactive session with many questions from an engaged audience. The duo along with their customer service team manager, Linda O’Neill and team member, Joey Harper (on the phone) offered valuable insights for implementing a customer-oriented social media strategy in a large enterprise.

Headquartered in Kansas, Embarq is on the Fortune 500 list of America’s largest corporations company and  offers local and long distance home phone service and high-speed Internet services to both residential and business customers in far-flung rural areas.

Problem: When the company spun off from Sprint in 2006, it had inherited a culture that was extremely conservative. Employees were under a “gag order” and weren’t permitted to interact with customers outside of the traditional communications/customer service channels. Symptomatic  of these underlying cultural and legal issues was a high level of negative customer sentiment towards the company.

Their goal was to do a proactive outreach to customers and prospects on social media networks, typically within 24hrs, to resolve their issues, answer their questions, and change their perception of Embarq. They used pilots to test their theories before rolling out full-fledged programs, this helped in minimizing the risks, getting buy in, and ensured that their programs had higher likelihood of success.

Challenges:The Embarq team faced multiple challenges that they had to overcome in order to break away from their legacy of minimal engagement and reinvent their internal culture as they tried to meet their customer service and (re)branding objectives. Here are the 4 key challenges that social media marketing practitioners in large enterprises across industries are familiar with:

  • Lack of Social Media Awareness
  • Conservative Culture
  • Technology Hurdle

Lack of Social Media Awareness:As in any other large enterprise, the lack of awareness and knowledge about the new media fuels fear of the unknown and Embarq was no different. In order to build awareness and reduce the fear of engagement as well as build internal support for their social media strategy, the tteam started by listening to customer conversations for over 6months. Going through this intensive listening process helped them to surface the issues and questions that their customers were asking. It also helped demonstrate the value of direct engagement as well as get buy in from the internal stakeholders including the executive management.

The team didn’t use any fancy tools or complex technologies for their listening process. They started off with some free tools and started using those to monitor social media conversations, some examples: – Google and Yahoo! Alerts – Google Blog Searches – BlogPulse – DSLReports.com – Complaint boards – Technorati Later on, they added more sophisticated monitoring tools, one of them being Radian6. Once the information started trickling in, the internal stakeholders started pushing for a response to the issues they were hearing.

Conservative Culture:The Embarq team started their social media cultural revolution with people within the company who were already participating in social media. They identified the champions across the organization and leveraged their knowledge to set the plan in motion. They identified about 10-15 people out there and invited them in to join their initiative. They made the individual the focus of the activities, which helped break down the traditional silos in the organization. They empowered the customer service team to reach out to the customers directly.

When asked about any friction between the traditional CS channel and the social media outreach efforts, the team explained how they made a clear differentiation between the #800 customer support  team vs. what their team was tasked with. The outreach team was reaching out to customers who chose to vent on a public/social media forum such as Twitter or Face book where the traditional channel didn’t have a presence.

Technology Hurdles: The team started their listening and research by using very manual search and react processes. As they got going, the team started leveraging the existing communication and software tools without requiring many resources. Scaling their process while staying flexible was critical because they were regionally based and were engaging in fairly long-tail conversations. They tested several different pilots to see which ones would work before they rolled it out so that also minimized the investment and increase likelihood of success for the programs that were rolled out. The presenters said it was easier to implement social media outreach because it doesn’t cost that much and mainly required human resources. That’s primarily how they managed to eliminate and avoid any additional IT investment or involvement.

Results:

The ROI question invariably comes up in every enterprise social media/web 2.0 discussion and it is a fair question. The team used a two-pronged strategy where they combined short-term wins with long-term strategic initiatives.

embarq-2The team kicked off  their rebranding and education strategy with a with highly viral video contest “48 seconds” designed to create buzz around their high-speed internet service. The team invited video submissions from contestants, which was a hugely successful campaign that also got picked up by the news media.

The presenters emphasized how relevancy in messaging was the key to their success so the campaign wasn\’t just clever but also highlighted the benefits of using their offering.

They followed up on their short-term campaign by rolling out series of short but highly effective “how-to” videosthat addressed their top 10 customer service issues. This is where the team superbly demonstrates the value of listening to the customers by basing topics on information gathered from their online outreach and call center data. Not surprising, these videos became highly popular with their customer base and also demonstrated that the company was being responsive to their customer\’s needs.

They not only managed to meet their education objectives but also their branding objective of creating a presence in an online community where customer and prospects are already engaged. Over an  one-year period, the team saw a 81% success rate (Dec 07 to Mar 09) on their social media outreach initiatives. They also found significant increase in the number of customers self-correcting their negative posts and subsequent increase in the number of customers likely to recommend their service.

Most importantly, they were able to connect their social media outreach efforts directly to orders placed. Overall, this was an excellent case study in how social media can be effectively used to drive business results and chockfull of insights for social media practitioners in other larger enterprises.

This was an outstanding example of innovation by breaking down organization silos and leveraging social media to drive business outcomes. Couple of things that stood out for me in this case study were: Listening played an important role in formulating the strategy, trials and pilots were used extensively, and clear definition of objectives, and tied it all back to the bottom line.

I want to close this post with an insightful quote from the presenters that highlights their practical, yet thoughtful approach to social media:

 “It (social media outreach) doesn’t stop the telephones but it gives you an opportunity to resolve the situation and change their experience.”

You can look at the detailed slides from the Embarq presentation on the NewComm Forum site.

Guide to Enterprise 2.0 Tools, Frameworks, & Platforms at Web 2.0 Expo

webexsf2009_logo1This is the first in series of posts covering the Web 2.0 Expo starting tomorrow at the Moscone Center, in San Francisco, California. I am very excited about the number of companies offering Enterprise 2.0  tools, platforms for developers and end-(business)-users at the event this year. Many of these companies  have plans to announce exciting new social-sharing features and tools at the show, stay tuned for more details. 

 Here’s a sneak peak at some of the more interesting Enterprise 2.0 collaborative platforms and developer tools at the show this year:

logo_oovoo

ooVoo provides a high-quality video chat and communication service for people to call and connect over the Internet. ooVoo’s technology enables people to experience a face-to-face conversation and share a full range of emotions as if they are in the same room together, whether they are across the street or across the globe.

Huddle.net combines unified collaboration with social networking. The two year old company, based in London UK, provides asynchronous collaborative tools (document management, project management, discussions, team management) and live collaboration (web and telephone conferencing) via their online application and rich API. Huddle’s founder Alastair Mitchell will be talking at Web 2.0 Expo on April, 1st.

vertical_white_bg2MindTouch is an open source enterprise collaboration and community platform that enables users to connect and remix enterprise systems, social tools and web services. The MindTouch Deki i’s built with a Web Oriented Architecture (WOA), enables users to connect teams, enterprise systems, publishing systems, Web services and Web 2.0 applications to create unique content oriented experiences while maintaining IT governance.

ProtoShare

ProtoShare is a collaborative website prototyping tool for teams to build, discuss, and refine clickable website wireframes and their creative design comps. Team members, management, clients, and marketing can all  participate in the discussion at an early stage of the interactive development process. ProtoShare is a web-based tool, it supports a wide range of interactive prototypes, from gray-box wireframing to rich Internet functionality.

dreamface_logo2

DreamFace Interactive  develops and markets an Open Source Ajax Framework for creating Enterprise Web 2.0 Applications and Mashups. The new DreamFace version, called Outsider, allows tech-savvy business people to create, personalize and share their own web applications through a unique and innovative concept called Web Channels.Web Channels are mini dynamic applications designed for change. They incorporate DataWidgets; widgets which use diverse data sources coming from both corporate data and the internet, to display information and interact with other DataWidgets.

coremedia_logo2

Last but not the least, CoreMedia CMS is a content management system powering corporate websites, Intranets, public and high traffic media portals. CoreMedia CMS provides a foundation for strategic content platforms for corporate websites, intranets and high-traffic media portals. Soeren Stamer, German entrepreneur, CEO of CoreMedia and Author of “Enterprise 2.0 – The Art of Letting Go” will speaking at Web 2.0 expo on Wednesday, April 1st.

I’ll be blogging on social media tools and platforms for the enterprise space throughout the show, if there’s an enterprise-focused company/product that you would like to see on here or if you want to tweet up, you can find me at Twitter.com/MiaD

You can also follow the conversation on the Web 2.0 Expo website or on Twitter (#w2e).

6 Reasons Why Enterprise Social Media Needs its Own Playbook

The last thing any company getting on the social media bandwagon should do is adopt  best practices established by practitioners and “experts” in the consumer space. Consumers and enterprises have very different objectives so here are 6 reasons why enterprises should write their own playbook rather than borrow from the consumer space:

  1. Numbers do matter: I recently wrote a blog post on how folks are getting too obsessed with their Twittercount. I still believe that when you aren’t selling something, the obsession with Twitter and Facebook numbers is just an ego trip. Individual social media activity should be focused on quality of engagement rather than quantity. However, when you are a business - quality is important but so is quantity, perhaps more so. If you’re running social media campaigns or activities for your company, you’re expected to deliver results. One way of measuring results is by looking at customer engagement numbers, but how will you engage when there’s no one to engage with?
  2. Consistency is important: I remember when the Motrin/Twitter Momscontroversy erupted, well-known blogger Louis Gray had a great blog post on how “Brand Reputation Management is Not  a Monday-Friday Gig“. The same applies to social media in general. You can’t say, I am taking the week off, so the corporate blog can languish until I get back or the unhappy customer who has been tweeting about a product issue will just have to wait. When you’re doing it for your business, you have to make sure the show goes on regardless of  what’s going on in the background. Can you imagine, shutting down your company website just because the guy who manages it has gone on vacation? That becomes even more critical for social media, which is a much more dynamic media and people expect consistent real-time updates.
  3. It’s a team sport:Unless you’re a company of one, your social media team should involve many other cross-functional folks. so that you are representing voice of the company not just your individual thoughts. Having an individual voice for a personal blog is fine, but ideally you want to have consistent messaging even through your social media channels. As a business, you want to ensure you’re not confusing your customers by having conflicting points of view from two different employees from the same company. To make the content authentic,  input on social media content should come from subject matter and content experts, not just the best communicator/blogger on the team.
  4. It’s not personal:Like it or not, enterprise social media is all about business, so companies shouldn’t go crazy trying to emulate personal blogs in their content and approach. Your company’s social media content needs to be authentic, by which I mean present truthful information without any marketing or PR spiel. Being professional is also right up there with authenticity. As your customer, I don’t want to know about your six cats unless I am buying cat food from you and even then, I don’t care unless the information is  relevant and interesting to *me*. Your customers come to you for value (no matter which social media channel you choose to use) and it’s your job to make sure you deliver that value..minus any spin or personal stories, please.
  5. You can’t fake it: I cringe when I see social media enthusiasts trying to conjure up a fictitious fun persona for their corporate social media accounts, especially when their company culture is anything but customer-centric. This warm and fuzzy approach works for companies like Southwest Airlines or Zappos, because their brand IS fun and customer-oriented, so are their employees. However, if your company is notorious for lousy customer service, no amount of cutesy tweets will help your cause.
  6. Last but not the least, it’s NOT free:When you’re writing your personal blog, it’s a fun hobby and since most social sites/tools are free, there’s no financial cost involved. However, if this activity is for a company account, it’s costing the company $$$ because the company still has to pay their employees, right?! So it’s essential to put some productivity and business outcome metrics around social media activities to ensure that these activities are aligned with company’s financial objectives and goals.

Enterprises are in business to generate value for their stakeholders, whereas personal/consumer social media activities are not encumbered by those responsibilities. Enterprises should ignore the social media hype and do right by their customers. They should leverage the social media sites/tools to deliver value to and engage their customer base even when it’s perceived as being “uncool” to do so.