How Brands Use Social Media

There is nothing like getting in front of college students to talk about social media marketing. I’ve had my fair share of speaking at various industry events but this one was special. Being able to get in front of the students at WP Carey class at ASU to share what I’ve learned over the years was special and I’m thankful to Bret Giles (@bretgiles) of Sitewire for giving me the opportunity to do just that.  Note, Bret happens to run the WP Carey class at ASU centered around social media.

All jitters aside, it was an opportunity for me to speak openly with the students about the realities of social media in the business world – gaining adoption, educating the troops, integrating social into the very fabric of the business, and getting buy-in from the upper management team. I also shared examples of the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to social media.

Of course, there are similarities and differences between personal social media interactions and those that are commercially or brand motivated. My presentation focused on how companies are using social media to humanize their brand, amplify their voice and engage with their audience. Examples of these brands highlight how they are integrating social into their overall business objectives. Feel free to view the presentation and share your comments.


Avoiding PR Disaster: 3 Open Leadership Lessons For BP

Embracing Social Media Through Open Leadership


Charlene Li (@CharleneLi), founder of the Altimeter Group and one of the most renowned social media experts, changed the way we think about social media with the launch of her book Groundswell. Her motto behind her work and research is that it’s not the technology, but the people who ultimately drive success.  She recently published a new book titled Open Leadership, which explains how leaders can win by letting go of control, having an honest, open dialogue, and learning from the successes and failures along the way. Today, leaders must prepare for organizational shift as social technologies continue to disrupt traditional structures. Companies must be prepared to move away from the traditional model and mindset of being paranoid and controlling of corporate information to a newer model of open leadership. This new model catapults transparency and two-way engagement to further develop a culture of sharing. I urge you to read the latest blog interview with Li by The Public Relations Strategist.    

“Revolutions create the ‘moments of faith’ and support in ‘moments of crisis'”. This is a great lesson in light of what companies such as Intel, Nestle and BP have been facing in recent months. This is a lesson in a time where leaders must embrace the changing tide in transparency and information sharing. With news traveling at light speed, companies can’t afford to waste any time being pessimistic and thinking it will go away. The more you shut off from the world and close your eyes and ears to the noise in the market around your brand, the more damaging effect this approach can have on the overall brand experience. 

There is a real opportunity to demonstrate honor and ethics through collaboration, honesty and openness. Dealing with risk and failure is never easy. BP knows this all too well. After the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana on April 20, killing 11 workers and spilling millions of barrels of oil, BP faces what could be the biggest ecological debacle in the history of mankind. The lesson here is this: we understand the impact of social media and know how we must monitor and engage it. But, without the true buy-in from leadership in understanding the full impact, it may be a losing war. Li lists out some great recommendations on how leaders win by letting go:  

  • Identify the top 5-10 worst case scenarios
  • Develop contingency and mitigation plans
  • Prepare everyone for inevitable failures

This is all good, but unless we are able to get leaders to understand what it takes to be open and to move in that direction on all accounts, the effort of putting these plans together is meaningless. For example, BP could have taken the following approach:  

  •  Immediately launched an open forum where anyone can go for aggregated news about the oil spill. Include blogs from the executive leaders on what happened, how it happened and what BP was doing to mitigate this ecological disaster. The forum would also provide the ability to ask BP leaders questions and to comment on the crisis. This type of open, two-way engagement would have allowed BP executives to address the community and environmental concerns.
  • Launched a full social media communication campaign – going on the offense to monitor and openly address and communicate via all social media and networking channels. This helps build trust that you’re not hiding behind the corporate curtains and legal safety net. It also shows the humanity behind the corporation and adds a human voice.
  • Proactive community outreach to demonstrate that BP cares about corporate gains and numbers, yet the company and its executives relate and understand the impact the spill is having on communities and environmental groups.
  • Build partnerships spanning across communities, lawmakers and environmental groups to further the agenda of putting safety and the environment first. Really see it through that there are action items attached to their partnerships.

What are the actions you should have in place should a crisis break? It’s not about shutting down or limiting the amount of communication you put out there. It’s about taking proactive measures to engage and openly talk about the issues and define what the company is doing. This needs to come directly from the leaders of the company who have executive authority and a thorough understanding of the crisis. This shows that, from the top down, your company really understands today’s digital world, your community, your brand position and its perception. So, leaders, ask yourselves this:  

  • Are you ready to let go of the control you never had?
  • How open you want to be?
  • Are you ready to nurture your leaders?
  • And, are you ready to build practices into your organization to sustain openness?

Below is a wonderful slidedeck from Li on How Leaders Win By Letting Go (courtesy of Slideshare). Her new book Open Leadership is now available. Let me know your thoughts on this blog post and whether you think leaders are ready to take the next step to embrace openness and what they need to do to effectively prepare for the organizational shift.  

Other Related Blogs:  

Welcome to the Dark Side of Social Media  

Social Media: Technology Versus People  

Social Media: People vs. Technology

Social Media: It's The People Not The Technology


 In a recent blog post by Bloggertone, Frank Bradley brings up an interesting but often missed point – social media is not about the technology but the people. It’s about creating meaningful dialogue with your target audience. To be successful in your social media strategy and planning, you have to employ the right people leading the effort and dictating which social networking channels are appropriate for your business and its target audience. We often mistake social media as a “must” for any business to succeed in today’s fast-changing Web 2.0, when we first need to understand what the company wants to achieve before jumping in.    

The year 2010 is being dubbed the “The Year of the Social Media Crisis,” according to Breakthrough Communications. This means companies cannot take a blind approach to social media by implementing any and all technologies that are deemed hot without first understanding the fundamental rules, which I’ll go into later. This type of ad-hoc approach can backfire, placing your company on the leader board for social media crisis help. Take, for example, Nestle. In mid-March Greenpeace launched a campaign against Nestle, one of the largest nutrition, health and wellness companies, criticizing Nestle for using palm oil companies that allegedly destroy Indonesian rainforest and threat Orangutan habitat. Nestle responded that they stopped using palm oil in their products. However, when the Greenpeace folks launched negative comments on Nestle’s Facebook wall, the moderator of the company’s page responded:    

“To repeat: we welcome your comments but please don’t post using an altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic — they will be deleted.”    

This is the kind of fire your company can face if you don’t have the right people managing social media. The people who are managing social media – the conversations – should be passionate and aware, but more importantly understand how these platforms work.    

They should understand how to create and build dialogue outside of their standard company policy mumbo jumbo. In today’s world where information can be disseminated within seconds across Internet chat rooms, blogs and social channels, companies no longer have the luxury of communicating the way they used to – going through legal channels and putting out a statement. This is the type of mistake you can run into without the right people behind it. It’s about conversation, and this takes the right people using the right tools. It’s a balancing act. With that said, I want to take you through a series of very high-level steps which are also referenced in Altimeter’s recent webinar slides:    

Research is pivotal. According to Altimeter, researching your customer profiles will provide some good visibility into where your target audience is online, their social behaviors, what social information or people do your customers rely on, how they’re using various channels, and how they’re being influenced in their buying decisions. More importantly, you should understand how they are using social technologies in the context of your products. You can do this by launching a social computing survey – no more than 15 questions. For more information and guidance, take a look at Groundswell by Charlene Li, founder of the Altimeter Group. This book provides a specific list of questions you should be asking. For instance, which social technologies do they currently use, for what, how long, how often, etc.    


With strong research as the foundation, companies should do their own social audit. This is essentially an internal social computing survey to gauge what social networking sites your employees are accessing, how long, for what, how often, etc.  Further, invite key leaders from marketing, product management, the executive team and solution marketing for a meeting (Altimeter suggests a brown-bag meeting, which is not a bad idea) to discuss their experiences with social media and begin to identify key internal experts, which leads me to my next point: Who?    


Social media typically resides in corporate communications or marketing. But, forget where it should belong because every organization is unique. Large organizations will typically allow everyone to socially engage, but my belief is that social media engagement, management and monitoring should be owned by a central point of contact where all information is filtered. You’ve identified the key internal experts, but you have to allocate management of your social media efforts – strategy and planning. People who understand the essence of social media, not because they use it for personal use, but because they understand the business objectives and goals as well as how these social media channels will be utilized to fundamentally help achieve the end goal.    

I’d recommend a communications expert who understands not only the corporate side of business such as processes, crisis planning, etc., but how online community members behave, connect, engage, etc. Remember, you have different target audiences, and they all do things differently – media, analysts, bloggers, users, etc. The social media expert must understand the different personas your company is targeting and how to engage on all different levels. He or she should be passionate about your brand, products and services, but also the relationship management process.    


Now that you have your external and internal research finalized and the right people behind this process, it’s time to define your strategy and determine where you’re going to invest your time and resources. By identifying your key objectives you can align those goals with the right social networking tools. The research allows you to gain strong visibility of your brand discussions online and should give you good guidance on where and why you should partake in social media. For instance, if a majority of your target audience is using communities and blogs to engage and make buying decisions, you would want to build a community to engage with your customers and foster an environment of co-innovation and deeper engagement.      

Whatever your strategy is – the first and foremost priority is the people. And if you have the right people dedicated to cultivating this environment and fostering engagement on a consistent basis, you’ll be on the road to success.    

Road to success starts and ends with a coordinated, integrated approach to social media strategy and execution to stay organized and metrics driven.