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Much has been written about social media strategy for small business. It’s a personal medium, and a few employees engaging directly with customers on Twitter and Facebook can be a natural extension of a small biz web presence.
But things can get complicated when you extrapolate engagement over the multiple departments, offices, and countries of a large corporation. Do you centralize your social message with a few managed accounts, or do you empower every employee to be a social representative of your brand? How do you manage the hundreds, if not thousands of daily mentions and messages directed at a global company while still keeping it conversational? We spoke with the architects of some leading social media enterprise strategies for their takes on this evolving field.
The Social Challenges of Brand Segmentation
For many large brands, each product they sell could be considered a “sub-brand” in itself. People don’t seek out General Mills cereal, they just like Cheerios. This kind of fragmentation offers several marketing advantages, according to David Witt, the senior manager of social engagement at General Mills, “but it can be challenging to develop meaningful social capabilities for each [brand], while also providing synergistic platforms for the whole.”
Witt says General Mills provides corporate-wide services like training, guidelines and listening tools, but allows each brand to develop an approach that suits its needs.
While similar segmentation exists for entertainment properties, the overarching brand presence is usually stronger, and the social marketing should be tempered accordingly.
“It’s important to remember that customers still see it as one cohesive brand, even if the reality is a dozen different products managed by different people,” said Matt Gibbs, manager of social media and audience development at Playboy. “Whether it’s Playboy magazine, Playboy.com, Playboy TV, Playboy Radio, Playboy’s Miss Social, or any of our other products, to fans it’s one in the same. Wherever the social media touch point is, Playboy must be consistent.”
Samsung USA, purveyor of a wide range of consumer electronics, tackles segmentation with a hybrid approach. Because the Samsung name is associated across nearly the entire product line, it makes sense to brand the many social departments and people accordingly.
“We have official Samsung USA accounts on Twitter (e.g. @SamsungTweets, @SamsungMobileUS, @SamsungService and @GalaxySsupport),” said Esteban Contreras, the company’s social media manager. “Our social media team is setting the example by including ‘Samsung’ on their Twitter handles (e.g. @SamsungEsteban, @SamsungCos, @SamsungJessica, @SamsungLeah, @SamsungCarla). Everyone that has the ‘Samsung’ name is passionate about Samsung and is committed to add value.”
If you’re in charge of developing your company’s social strategy across multiple properties, think about how the public already perceives these brands and map accordingly.
Everyone we spoke with reports that real social media success stems from the personal accounts of empowered employees. Branded corporate blogs and Twitter feeds are important, but a network of connected employees has a social reach that far exceeds a centralized corporate message, no matter how engaging or conversational.
This model raises two primary concerns for companies. How do you empower your staff to be brand advocates, and how do you manage thousands of employees who are “semi-officially” speaking on behalf of your company at any given time?
“At Intel we have a hub and spoke model,” said Ekaterina Walter, a social media strategist for the computer chip manufacturer. “We have a central team — the Social Media Center of Excellence — that sits in the Corporate Marketing Group.” This centralized unit is responsible for empowering and educating all the departments with a social media presence, right down to the individual. “Our goal is to empower any employee who would like to engage in conversation with customers on Intel’s behalf.”
For Best Buy, the most logical social media strategy presented itself naturally. Kelly Groehler, a public relations representative for the electronics retailer, explained that employees had been talking about Best Buy on their social networks well before there was any formal initiative from corporate.
“Our ‘Blue Shirts’ and agents were already doing it,” she said. “Are we worried about this? Do we endorse it and encourage it? We chose the latter because it’s very true to our culture … [W]e sell the technology that makes all of this possible, so we should embrace the reality of how these communications channels are shifting. There’s no better demonstration of having expertise in technology than by being able to show a customer how you actually use it yourself.”
Make Guidelines Clear, and Make Them Public
Another common thread among the companies we spoke with was that clear social guidelines are important, and that making them publicly available on the web is a win for access and transparency. While many policies offer up a heaping dose of common sense, getting an entire company on the same page takes work.
Intel’s social media guidelines are public and have been translated into 35 languages, said Walter. “We also ask [employees] to take a mandatory 30-minute class that goes over some of the key points in our guidelines, legal cautions, examples of what worked and what didn’t work for us previously, etc.”
Dell uses a similar training program for its employees.
“In the last quarter we trained more than 3,000 employees and held ‘unconferences’ with employees in the United States, Europe and China,” said Richard Binhammer of Dell’s communications and outreach team.
“The majority of our employees that exist worldwide aren’t necessarily within a corporate setting,” said Groehler of Best Buy. “They’re in the field, they’re working in the stores, they’re connecting with customers … [M]aking the policy public also increases the chances that we’re going to reach more of our employees and that they understand what that policy is.”
Essentially, these guidelines all boil down to the same ethic: Communicating with social media is no different from “chatting over the neighbor’s fence,” to borrow a phrase from Best Buy’s policy. The legal cautions about confidentiality and ethics are the same, whether Twitter exists or not. Beyond that, you simply need to let employees tweet for themselves.
Keeping Your Big Brand Personal
At the end of the day, companies strive to have the same conversations with people that people are having with each other. We have seen varying degrees of success, but our experts shared the tactics that work for their brands.
“There are hundreds of thousands of conversations happening online about Intel, so it would be impossible to reply to them all,” said Walter. But she explained that her team makes every effort to keep the conversation personal. “For example, when I reply to a post on Intel’s Facebook Page, I sign my name at the end so that the person knows who he or she is talking to.”
That initial concept of brand fragmentation touched on above can actually facilitate this aspect of social engagement for large companies, according to Witt of General Mills. “With our brands managing their own presence online, that helps keep the personal touch,” he said.
Prioritization is also crucial, according to Petra Neiger, a social media manager for Cisco.
“We use a number of tools to monitor and manage the many conversations on the social web including Radian6, Cymfony, Sprinklr and Google Alerts,” Neiger said. “These tools help us organize and prioritize the conversations that are happening, as it is impossible and unscalable to participate in all of them.”
Neiger explained that Cisco’s social strategy model includes multiple hubs and spokes, rooted in corporate and which spread throughout every socially enabled department. “This model makes it so we are not trying to funnel every conversation to one person or team. [It makes] things much more manageable. It also makes it so that each group, or account has it’s own style and personal voice based on its contributors.”
And sometimes, it just takes a little social media elbow grease.
“We read every single tweet directed at our accounts and try to respond to as many people as possible,” said Contreras of Samsung USA. “We sometimes reach out to people who may have questions, even if they didn’t directly reach out to us. We also try to surprise people by responding at times they might not expect.”
Series supported by Awareness
The Social Media for Business Leaders Series is supported by The Awareness Social Marketing Hub, which builds social marketing software for marketers leveraging multiple social channels to engage with customers, build their brand, and increase revenues. Built upon Awareness’ expertise deploying more than 200 communities and social media projects for the world’s biggest brands including Sony, JetBlue, Kodak, ASOS.com and AIRMiles, The Awareness Social Marketing Hub is a leading enterprise-grade application for marketers struggling with the social media chaos of managing multiple social channels. With the Awareness Social Marketing Hub, marketers are now able to publish, manage and measure across all their social channels from one central location using advanced built-in permissioning, workflow and audit controls.
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