How Big Brands Dip Their Toe in the (Social Media) Water

Last week at Time Warner’s Conversations on the Circle panel, a consumer packaged goods company manager who was setting up the company’s use of social media tools bemoaned the fact that in the middle of the project, the company barred employees from using Facebook and Twitter, effectively killing their social media efforts.

Big brands continue to grapple with how to effectively use social media, but some trailblazers are tentatively experimenting with different aspects. Tuesday’s Social Communications Leadership Forum put on by the Business Development Institute shed a bit more light on the struggles of big brand marketers evangelizing social media and highlighted some of the processes to launching their efforts in risk-adverse companies:

  • When Internal Resistance Gets Tough, Bring in the Reinforcements: Linda Block, Marketing Director for HomeAgain Pet Recovering Service which is part of Schering-Plough Corporation, knew the typically conservative company in a deservedly risk-adverse industry. To help get the approvals to launch their private social network, she brought in external legal counsel to help the internal legal team get more comfortable with the project.
  • Go Slow, Build Support: Kimberly Miller, VP of Consumer Marketing and Head of Audience Development at gave an example of the slow process of opening up user comments on articles. didn’t want to risk the reputation it has and close relationships with some stars. So they started slowly, allowing comments on one article each day and set up filtering to show that it wasn’t going to be a problem. Likewise, Joshua Karpf, Manager of Digital Communications at PepsiCo, said they are experimenting and spending time evangelizing inside the organization about the value and metrics versus other media: employees that were part of their foray into blogging and video casting from South by Southwest are spending time sharing their experiences internally to build more awareness of how to use the medium creatively.
  • The Competitors Made Us Do It: Miller detailed that doesn’t launch anything without a full-fledged strategy, branding and monetization plan – but they launched Twitter for their head editors on the site largely because their competitors were in the space and they couldn’t afford not to be there. That said, Miller noted that if Twitter can’t help move the brand forward by either driving positive sentiment or traffic, then they’d pull it down because it definitely takes resources to keep it running.
  • Have an Exit Strategy: Block also said another way she was able to allay the fears of legal teams was to work with their agency, Flightpath, to ensure that if there was an issue with FDA compliance or something else went wrong, they could quickly take down the site.

As an audience member noted, at some point companies are going reach a tipping point, where the risks of NOT engaging users through social media are greater than the risks of engaging. Kudos to these marketers sharing some of their tactics and blazing a trail many more companies will be following in the months ahead.

Ultimately “using” social media is not the goal, it’s a component of the overall marketing and communication strategy. Like all new initiatives, testing and roll out plans with measurable results help prove the effectiveness of the strategy. But in some cases management remains resistant. Does anyone else have strategies that have proven effective in turning around an initially resisting upper management?

Other Tidbits from the Social Communications Leadership Forum

  • Stumbleupon is consistently a top five referral site for People Pets; they pay for clicks with a paltry budget of $500 per month but it becomes even more cost effective as they benefit from the viral effect of getting exposed to those users friends.
  • PeoplePets has over 54,000 Twitter followers in two weeks, only 14,000 registered community members after six months (which exceeded plans). Within the community, there are 7-8 key influencers with which they keep close contact. They are looking at external vendors to look at influencers outside the community.
  • Metrics for PeoplePets include unique visitors and engagement stats (return visitors, time spent and pages consumed). In addition, they look at actions within the community, including number of hugs given (200,000 to date), ribbons won in contests about their pets photos, friends made, photos uploaded and number of wall posts.
  • HomeAgain has used its micro-chip embedded product plus relationships with shelters and 300,000 volunteer “Pet Rescuers” to help find over 500,000 lost pets – pretty interesting business and pretty low cost for only $14.99 annually.
  • My favorite quote about the art form of Twitter was a Flightpath Director who quoted Mark Twain, “If I had more time I would be briefer.”

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