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


Social Media Outsourcing: Good Business or Fake Dialogue?


“Brands are the stories that unite us all in a common purpose within an enterprise, and connect us with the people we serve on the outside. These brand stories give meaning to who we are and what we do.” – Mark Thomson

Social media outsourcing has been dubbed the next big thing — which could mean placing your brand in the trusted hands of outside agencies. Social media is about building relationships between your brand and your community — about listening to the conversation and engaging in it. As agencies are claiming to be social media experts, more companies are taking what I believe to be an easy route by outsourcing this function. But how well can they truly represent your brand? And more importantly, can they do it better than you can?

I challenged my esteemed colleague @AmandaVega (her blog Http:// and newcomer @mkarre to a throwdown on the topic of whether companies are better off outsourcing social media. Not surprisingly, @AmandaVega and @mkarre argued that outsourcing is the way to go. Why? Budgetary constraints, lack of resources and lack of social media knowledge. @AmandaVega states: “While most companies are really good at PUSHING messages, they aren’t very good at receiving them, or interacting in conversations that fall outside of the ‘what’s in it for me’ mentality. That’s another reason to assign this part of your marketing to the outside.” 

My take is this: Social media is about a conversation that can deepen engagement. By outsourcing social media, companies are diluting the message, the authenticity and the value they can deliver through direct engagement. There are a lot of agencies that do social media, and those that do it well can add value in helping you define a strategy on best practices. The role of an agency should be to provide guidance — not to directly engage for you. You know your brand, customers and community better than anyone else. As some politicians and celebs have learned the hard way, having someone else tweeting for you — even a trusted staffer — can lead to embarrassing gaffes.

Launching a social media effort requires laying a foundation and understanding which technologies are right for your businesses. Before agreeing to outsource social media, companies need to first understand what it is, why they want to do it, what their core strategic goal is and the strategy around it. When Lumension was looking to expand its presence online through social media, my team and I studied every aspect of social media to better understand what tools would be right for us — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, vimeo, YouTube, etc. We took it upon ourselves to master this arena. After we comprehensively understood WHY we wanted to do social media, we brought in our existing PR firm, Lois Paul and Partners, to get SVP of Social Media Ted Weismann involved so he could provide the skinny on how it works, existing frameworks, best practices, etc. to establish a clear social media strategy. (Note: When searching for a PR firm, we made it a priority to select a firm that understood this changing landscape so we could not only establish a strong social media presence but also incorporate it into every aspect of our marketing and PR). For us — and I’m sure a lot of companies can relate — social media is about humanizing your brand and engaging with analysts, media, business community, users/customers and prospects.

My recommendation is to appoint a staff member in-house to oversee the social media function in terms of defining and owning social media strategy, policies, brand management, engagement, education, messaging and monitoring. This person (should they work with an outside agency or counsel) should play a leading role in integrating these agencies into the fold to help lay the groundwork, identify trends and ensure your strategy and execution are on brand/message.

If you are going to outsource, consider these tips before selecting an agency:

  • Find out what the agency’s basic social media strategy is.
  • Learn the why they use social media
  • Look at their success stories — how do they use social media to deepen brand engagement
  • Talk to their customers.
  • Research the agency on social media channels to see how they are using it.
  • Talk to social media experts and what the agency’s reputation is.
  • Read their blog if they have one (and they should) to see if they are driving the conversation

Twitter responses:

From @ScribeDevil @CindyKimPR In-house if possible. No one knows your voice better than you, and authenticity is more important than that pro-style shine.

From @Esnelz @CindyKimPR in your case, you probably don’t need much help, most need to outsource

From @mikesunx @CindyKimPR i think social media is not different than real life, some cos care about customers some dont all, same for PR and social media

From @srsaul04 @CindyKimPR great to see agencies like @LPP_PR give guidance on social media, but important for companies to engage/influence directly.

Let me know what you think. Is outsourcing the next big thing? And does outsourcing dilute the brand experience and authenticity of the corporate voice? Join Social Media Debate Community.

Social Media: Balancing Security & Authenticity w/o Controlling the Message

Social media is all the rage. According to a recent report, 94 percent of Generation Y has joined a social networking site. Social media is believed to be leading the next social revolution. In fact, social networking has grown so dramatically that it is now the number one activity on the Web. In response to this social media phenomenon, businesses are moving at a rapid pace to take advantage of the untapped opportunity by making social media an integral part of their business strategy. 

On the flip side, the rise in this trend is giving hackers more motivation and greater opportunities to use the Web as the new threat vector.

Recently, I spoke in front of Women in Technology International group with my colleague, Chris Hewitt. I wanted to focus on three key areas:

  • How social media is forcing business strategy shift?
  • Why social media poses huge opportunity and RISK for the corporate world?
  • Why businesses should adopt processes and policies to maintain and educate on security best practices without controlling the authenticity of the message and voice?

This presentation will highlight how businesses can put security front and center to protect brand and customer confidence while learning to let go of control and reach their audiences through the open dialog of social media.

Social Media Reshaping Journalism… How Will You Cope?

social-media-evolutionAccording to a blog called Simple Zesty, there are 10 industries that will be revolutionized by social media – print media, politics, television, hospitality, sports, music, recruitment, advertising, PR, and shopping. With the availability of Web 2.0 tools such as YouTube, Twitter, etc. the power to create, publish and syndicate content no longer resides to only the news publication and journalists.  Today, we have the capability to custom create and communicate our own editorial content to influence the way the online community digests and disseminates information in real time. Prior to Web 2.0 adoption, consumers had to wait to get information on the latest news and information from your print and broadcast news. Now, we, the masses, have become writers and content creators from all walks of life, spreading information in real time. People are becoming social journalists in their own right to publish photos and stories from their points of view. For instance, real time terrorism was captured on Twitter by the actual users trapped inside the hotel that was bombed by terrorists in 2008, which catapulted Twitter to new heights.


The revolution in Iran – some of the most riveting and thrilling reporting was done via Twitter by a university student in Tehran who goes by the moniker Tehran Bureau. So what does this say about the changing landscape of the news media? Will social media change the way journalists adopt, connect, engage, and disseminate information to the rest of the world? Will this change affect the way PR/Communications and marketing pros connect and communicate with the media? One reporter, Del Jones ( of USA TODAYwhom I’ve been following closely on Twitter, is one clear example of someone who gets it and understands how to harness the power of social media to look at the emerging trends and ride the way with the rest of us. Through social media, he engages, connects and collaborates with his online community.  He is someone who is authentic and transparent in his approach to social media (two key traits I admire most). In this blog Q&A, I ask Del about how he came to embrace social media and some key tips on ways for us PR professionals to approach reporters via social media platforms.

What prompted you to join the social media craze?  

I’m sure my high school class would have voted me the least likely to succeed in social media (had they had any clue).  I still don’t use Facebook or LinkedIn, although I’m registered on both. I was a complete Twitter skeptic, but I have a counter-intuitive streak in me. Twitter was growing and I needed to know why. So, when I had some time on my furlough (yes, three weeks of unpaid leave), I decided to devote 1-2 hours to figure it all out (ha ha). Months later, I’m still trying to figure the thing out, but I’m hooked to the point that my editor would probably fire me if I didn’t have so many followers (so please don’t unfollow me). I’ve also threatened to reveal personal information about him on Twitter if he fires me, so the social media craze is really all about having your own printing press should revenge become absolutely necessary. 

How is Web 2.0 changing the media landscape? Is that a good thing or bad thing?

I’m a free market person, so if people find value in reading anything, then it’s good. The only thing I object to is the wholesale plagiarism that goes on. Blogs will cut and paste entire stories I’ve written, never bothering to link back to USA TODAY. If they want to help USA TODAY pay my salary, then maybe they can steal my intellectual property (yeah, I know intellectual in my is a stretch, but you know what I mean).

How should journalists approach Web 2.0 and how transparent can they be?

This is a touchy point. I push it far more than most journalists, most who will still seem to think they are above it all and won’t post anything that isn’t a link or some boring factoid. I’ve been called into the boss’ office for going too far. They didn’t like it when I started giving out free online subscriptions to USA TODAY to my special followers (the joke being that the dot-com site is free to all). I’ve always been a believer in the “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission” model. When it comes to Twitter, it’s always easy to dial it back but I’ll continue to push the envelope. If I don’t tweet for a month, it will be because my 401K went down even more and I really need my job.

Many USA TODAY reporters are afraid of getting on Twitter. They have been made gun shy by the reader comments below our stories on the Web page, which are full of venom. I find the culture on Twitter to be the opposite of people who bend over backwards to be nice.

Are policies different for journalists than corporations?

From what I’ve read, USA TODAY is actually very liberal in its policies compared to most. It amazes me that media outlets that are built on the first amendment are the first to take it away from their reporters. Shame.

How does this change in terms of engagement for PR and marketing professionals when it comes to connecting and building relationships with the media?

It’s been very good for me. I get a few pitches on Twitter, which I ignore as I do pitches on email (unless, of course, I’m interested). However, it has allowed me to put forward a human face to PR people, who before Twitter, thought I lived in a dungeon. It’s nice not to always feel mean. I like to compare Twitter to the Lion’s Club Luncheon of old. Business types would show up. They all wanted to sell something to everyone, but nobody did any selling at the luncheon. Rather, they just got to know each other so that selling could be accomplished sometime down the road. Twitter greases the wheels.

Is social media/networking hindering or helping the media community?

Helping those who are good at employing it. 

When it comes to pitching, what are your key recommendations for PR/marketing professionals?

Pitch away. There is no formula. Most pitches I don’t like and there are a few I like a lot. Then, there is a huge amount that I don’t like much but have something to it. I hang on to a lot of emails until I figure out an angle that I’m interested in pursuing. PR people sometimes get an email from me a year later after they send a pitch. I prefer email pitches because I have developed a system for saving the emails I want so that I can find them down the road. I rarely respond to them, however, because I don’t like to get into a long discussion about why I don’t like their story pitch. It’s a question I really can’t answer. It’s my gut instinct.

social-media-dialog-participationJones makes a great point that social media is changing the way even journalists communicate and connect with people. From my point of view, I can’t say whether all journalists should adopt the social media tools to connect with people, but I do believe that just like with anything, only by listening to what people are saying can journalists really understand what we’re looking to hear and learn from them. Just like the “push” tactic of marketing and PR has changed the way we communicate with our audience, it too has changed the way journalists disseminate news to their audience.  Vice versa…PR and marketing pros need to understand how social media is changing the news media landscape. We must embrace this shift and learn how to connect with them in new ways in order to reach and connect with them.  

A few tips on how to connect and approach reporters and analysts on Twitter:

  • Research your target audience – trade and business reporters as well as analysts
  • Follow them on Twitter and their blogs consistently
  • Engage – follow their content on Twitter and their blogs and comment if relevant
  • Participate – keep an ongoing dialogue with them even if they don’t follow you.
  • Provide feedback and input using traditional tactics – provide news that would be relevant to them and the stories they cover.  Write compelling news pitches that could add value to their current or future stories and learn what they are working on so you can contribute.
  • Link it – as Del mentioned, if you have a blog, look at their stories and write a post that references or links back to their blog or story and post it on Twitter
  • NEVER blindly pitch a reporter on Twitter (unless you have a good relationship with them)

Another good read by Mashable: Social Journalism: Past, Present and the Future.

Do you agree? Let me know what you think.

CEO Blog: Good for the Executive Brand and Thought Leadership?



Seth Godin recently wrote a blog post titled: Beware of the CEO blog. He writes:

“It’s apparently the newest thing. I just got off the phone with one CEO who’s itching to start, and read an email from another who just did.

Here’s the problem. Blogs work when they are based on:
Pithiness and

(maybe Utility if you want six).

 Does this sound like a CEO to you?



Short and sweet, folks: If you can’t be at least four of the five things listed above, please don’t bother. People have a choice (4.5 million choices, in fact) and nobody is going to read your blog, link to your blog or quote your blog unless there’s something in it for them.”

This kind of statement is warranted given the role and demands of a CEO and it’s clear that a lot of CEO blogs are for the most part ghost written by someone in the marketing department or a third party ghost writer. Let’s face it: most CEOs don’t have the time nor patience to write  blog posts on a consistent basis. While the demand for more CEOs and senior executives to join and engage in the online conversation, they have greater pressures at hand: growing the business, meeting or exceeding profitability for their shareholders and managing the overall business goals and objectives for the company. There are some exceptions to the rule – a few high profile CEOs who have been blogging for an extended period of time, most notable among them, Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Jonathan Schwartz, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, Tony Hsieh, CEO of and Guy Kawasaki, founding partner and entrepreneur-in-residence at Garage Technology Ventures, among many others.  These CEOs among others are utilizing Web 2.0 technologies, social networking, and social media to push their agenda, educate the market, and use their blogs as a platform to highlight industry trends, challenges, and bring insight by combining personal experience and industry expertise. Why? Simply put, they understand the need to adopt new ways of communicating with the online communities beyond their internal groups such as employees and shareholders.   

My personal experience with launching our own blog and our CEO’s blog brings me to this topic. I believe that executives down to employees should take a top down approach when it comes to blogging and if a company decides to take this on, it needs to be implemented with the right strategy and plan in place.  Our CEO Pat Clawson is a great example of how he leverages the blogging platform to communicate a clear message on the industry trends and challenges but how certain issues impact the market as a whole.  It’s not just about engaging but educating as well.  Here is an example of what not to do in a CEO blog in a CEO blog – McAfee CEO David DeWalt’s blog of using the platform to promote the company and its products and services.  People aren’t interested in coming to your blog to read more about your company and your products, they want to learn and gain insight into your expertise and knowledge about what’s going on in the industry and how it will be impacted.  While this isn’t the worst example of a bad CEO blog, this is just one to demonstrate some common mistakes CEOs make when it comes to blogging.

Getting back to the point, out of curiosity I took this question to several CEOs and executives who are active on  Twitter and blogging and posed the question: Should CEOs blog? Why or why not? This blog is to shed some light for those who are looking to start or already have established a blog, what are some of the dos and don’ts?  This will be a rolling series to provide different perspectives on this topic – first of which begins with my Q&A with Guy Kawaski who was named as one of the top CEO bloggers to provide his perspective. At the end of this series, I will provide an outline of key steps to achieving a successful CEO blog and dos and don’ts.

Q&A with Guy Kawasaki:

Do you think CEOs should or shouldn’t blog and why?

It’s hard to provide a definitive answer to this because there are several key factors at play. First, is the company publicly traded? If it is, then the CEO must be very careful to limit the information in the blog—so much so, that the blog may be rendered boring. Second, can the CEO write well? If not, is she or he willing to use a ghost writer? Third, does the CEO truly have something significant to say? This is a “duhism,” but not enough CEOs as themselves this question.

How important is it for CEOs to blog?

On a scale of 1-10 where 10 = “you’ll get fired if you don’t do this,” blogging is about a 4 or 5. Fundamentally, a CEO is paid to lead, and that’s what she or he should focus on. Blogging can be an aspect of leading (specifically, communicating), but it is by no means to that end. It’s not an end in itself.

Should you get other senior management to blog? Why or why not?

The same questions apply to the CEO as senior management.

Do you think blogging by a CEO has a positive or negative impact to their overall brand?

The best case is that the CEO’s blog is mildly interesting. The worst case is that the CEO’s blog is deadly boring. The worst case is much more likely. What the CEO should truly do is ensure the creation of great product or services so that OTHER people blog about the company.

What other ways can it benefit the Company and its overall business objective?

CEOs should focus Twitter versus a blog.  What CEOs should do is tweet, not blog. Or have a ghost tweet as her or him. Blogging requires a carefully crafted, legally and HR cleared essay that shows intelligence and insight on at least a weekly basis. Good luck. Tweeting requires a good link to something that the CEO (or ghost) finds interesting. These tweets should point to articles, blogs, etc that the CEO thinks his or her audience would find interesting. This is a lot easier to do and a lot safer too.

Top 5 dos and don’ts for senior management and CEOs when it comes to blogging?

Sponsor a company blog as opposed to a blog or blogs tied to specific people because the overall purpose is to communicate with the company’s customers, provide tips and tech support, and engender loyalty. Good examples of this type of blog are here..

Can bad blogging kill your brand? Any examples?

Kawasaki says: “If blogging killed your brand, you had a pretty weak brand already, and it probably deserved to die.”

President Barack Obama sets a great example on how he uses social working and Web 2.0 technologies to educate and forward his agenda. He is considered an Internet marketing maven who has used platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace to market his message across to millions of individuals.

First and foremost, I believe CEOs should ask themselves whether they have the right ideas, content, and dedication to create and share their content/message with the world. Second, what is the overall objective?  As Godin mentioned in his blog, there are key components to launching and maintaining a successful blog that others will want to read and follow. If you don’t meet the criteria, then it might not be your cup of tea. But rest assure, if it’s not you, the CEO blogging, be sure to get your company behind a corporate blog to create a competitive advantage.

While it sounds like a “me too” approach, the way we communicate has significantly changed. My belief is that CEOs should definitely blog and every company should have a blog because it’s not about the return on investment (ROI), but about the return on influence within your industry. By adding your voice through a blog, you’re putting a face to the company and humanizing your brand, not to mention elevating your thought leadership. And, if you don’t have the time to blog, get a ghost writer to meet with you on a weekly basis, brainstorm on some key topics, and voice your opinion and why people should care. While the option of using a ghostwriter might not be ideal, as long as they can take YOUR message to your blog, it’s a step forward in moving the needle and getting your company front and center in the market. The article on Why Most CEOs Who Blog – Blog Badly sums it up nicely: keep your posts short, clear, educational and most of all, compelling. Don’t become the poster child for “Why CEOs shouldn’t blog” but take a leadership role and drive a message that can change the market perception, interests the readers (journalists, buyers, bloggers, etc.).

My blog: How to Achieve Return on Influence Through Corporate Blogs

David Meerman Scott: The Future of PR: should your CEO blog?

Jeremiah Owyang: The Many Challenges of a CEO Blog

Guy Kawasaki is a founding partner and entrepreneur-in-residence at Garage Technology Ventures. He is also the co-founder of, an “online magazine rack” of popular topics on the web.  Previously, he was an Apple Fellow at Apple Computer, Inc. Guy is the author of nine books including Reality Check, The Art of the Start, Rules for Revolutionaries, How to Drive Your Competition Crazy, Selling the Dream, and The Macintosh Way. He has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College. You can read completed coverage of blogging at

Be on the lookout for Part II in Should CEOs blog. This one takes the perspective on why CEOs should stick to internal blogging with Chris Hewitt.