How to Operationalize Social Media – Cisco Style!

Social media may have jumped the shark, but many B2B companies are still struggling to understand social media’s implications or added value. The social Web can be like a maze for those who are getting their feet wet. If you look past all the chatter, social media experts are moving their conversations from tools to the methodology and execution of social media programs that align with corporate and marketing objectives. This is a good thing – a lot of people understand it’s a must-have. What many fail to understand is how they can actually operationalize social media and fit this into a strategic plan to augment your marketing blueprint for success.

In today’s dynamic environment, there are trendsetters in the social media space, and then there are companies that are transforming the way we “do” social media – from driving brand strategy and thought leadership to sales. One example of such a company is Cisco, the global networking giant. Cisco began its social media journey long before Twitter and Facebook became a part of our everyday vernacular.

I recently spoke with LaSandra Brill (@LaSandraBrill), evangelist and senior social media manager for Cisco, who has become a well-recognized name in social media marketing. During our interview, one thing stood out – operationalizing social media. This topic is still in its infancy, and while a lot of businesses are going through the discovery phase of social media, she and her team at Cisco have wasted no time in building social media into the very fabric of their company’s goals, elevating the Cisco brand by merging social media strategy and programs into the company’s everyday marketing decision-making process. This a two-part series – for more insight into how this company is influencing B2B social media marketing, please see part I of the Q&A.

Q: Today, it’s about doing social media well. When did Cisco get started with social media, and what prompted you to do this?

A: Back in 2005, we noticed that blogging was becoming a popular means of communication. After looking at this trend, we started our own blog called Cisco High-Tech Policy Blog with a very controversial topic – China and censorship. One of Cisco’s senior executives was going before the U.S. House of Representatives International Relations subcommittee to testify on this topic. Cisco decided that it wanted to use the blogging platform to publish the information about this event. Our initial goal was obviously to bring awareness to this topic, but also to provide vital information from Cisco on this developing issue. This was picked up by the Wall Street Journal and several others.

We used the success of this blog as a launching pad to create other blogs. Our goal was to use these platforms as our main communication channels to create a two-way engagement with our audience.

Q: Blogging is one of the cornerstones of your social media program. Tell me about your policy and how that has evolved?

A: We provide a policy and some guidelines, but Cisco has also encouraged our people to blog. We don’t monitor the content, and we don’t have a formal process. When a team wants to start a blog, they have to go through a formal process – and understand the key tenets of a successful blog such as blog ownership, content strategy, editorial calendar and executive sponsorship. Once they start a blog and have met all the criteria, we grant them access, train them on the platform, and provide ongoing education on topics including how to write a successful blog post, and ways to optimize. Then it’s up to the blog team to individually manage the blog. If they fail to come up with a strategy or plan, we shut it down.

Q: Did you have a strategy and plan in place?

A: Our strategy started coming together in 2006 when we mainly focused on blogs. Initially, we wanted to close the loop and have a little bit of control, but as time went by, things such as YouTube and Facebook started popping up. This is when we realized the importance of continually evolving our strategy and policies, and adding channels to communicate and engage. While we retained a tight reign over our blogs, we realized that as the social media channels were opening up, we too wanted to loosen the grip and allow others to participate.

This is when we decided to centralize the social media strategy and policies to provide governance, guidance and expertise to help people openly engage on the social media front. In February of this year, we developed a global social media team that is solely focused on education, governance and managing voice and brand integrity across all social media channels. Before this team was constructed, we had more than 300 YouTube channels and 50 Facebook pages – all built on grassroots efforts. Today, it’s about creating a strategy that includes an integrated program that brings all of the different facets of the organization under one umbrella so that our people can go and represent their personal and corporate brands but also follow policies and guidelines. With our centralized social media team, there is more consistency. Success is about building a sound, well-defined strategy that addresses key corporate goals and filtering them down to the groups to help them understand the strategy and plan so they can execute.

Q: How did you get started?

A: We started by conducting an inventory of all the Cisco channels that were out there to get visibility into our overall online presence. Once this was completed, we decided to tackle one channel at a time. We decided to create one Cisco brand across all relevant channels like YouTube and close down all others that were not relevant to our brand and mission. We really put the customer first – and wanted to alleviate the confusion by creating Cisco-branded channels that were organized and supported by easy-to-find, strong content. We are starting to do the same for Facebook and Twitter. 

Q: When did you and the team move from experimentation to operationalizing social media, and how did you approach this?

A: We started talking about it toward the end of last year when our CMO – Sue Bostrom – asked: “What is this social media, and how does it tie to what we do?” This is where we started looking into ways to integrate social media into the overall corporate objectives. I teamed up with Suraj Shetty, VP of marketing and Doug Webster, Sr. Director of Marketing, to understand how social media fits into the marketing mix and to map our social media organization and how we were going to bring the key players into the fold to truly operationlize it across Cisco. We decided to go forward with an approach Jeremiah Owyang has defined as the dandelion with multiple hubs and multiple teams. To create efficiencies and streamline the process, our social media team worked with services organization who manages some of our largest communities, corporate communication, and of course marketing to create an advisory board consisting of these three teams to review and develop policies as well as address other needs like training programs and other concerns.

To further our work in operationalizing our efforts, we created a hub-and-spoke model – we are still rolling this out but this involves having social media strategist at the business level to create and oversee a plan for their respective areas both on the marketing and PR side. We also want to make sure our teams are not competing for the same audience. One example of how we’ve strengthen communication across the organization – we have built an internal Wikipedia called Ciscopedia, which outlines all of the accounts and owners so everyone in the company knows who to reach out to and understands how to get their message out there. We also developed an internal newsletter of all the social media content to help cross-promote as well as to do some sanity check on whether the message is generic or not. We’re looking into automating this process within the year.

How to Operationalize Social Media – Cisco Success Story – Part II will post next Tuesday, Sept. 21st. Tune in to find out how they are measuring success and what makes LaSandra Brill cringe.

Convince and Convert: 5 Sure-Fire Ways to Operationalize Social Media

Social Media Examiner: How Social Media Helped Cisco Shave $100,000 Off a Product Launch



  1. Thanks for the great write-up Cindy!

    • Thanks again. What you guys are doing at Cisco is great. Can’t wait to discuss how you guys are measuring all of this. Thanks for being so flexible with the interview process and always making yourself available. I admire your passion and authenticity.

  2. This was a very helpful and insightful post. Thank you for sharing this information.

  3. I love that big companies see the value of blogs.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cindy Kim, Alltop PR. Alltop PR said: How to Operationalize Social Media – Cisco Style! […]

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