By Charela Lee
In today’s workforce, there are many advantages to having a social media strategy. A company can save time, energy and money by being able to reach customers in a way that was previously not possible. Last week while conducting a consultation, a potential client described a challenge that his company faced. One of his customers who normally would qualify for the lowest level of service has an impressive 100,000 followers on Twitter. The potential client isn’t doing much yet with social media and has no formula for adapting it to particular customers, but the executive still wondered whether the customer’s “influence” might merit special treatment.
In this case, I explained the importance of influencer marketing and how it is changing the game when it comes to advertising. I also went into detailed about how many corporations are using social media influencers to increase business. Consider the following examples.
To increase Clorox’s virtual R&D capabilities, the social media team created Clorox Connects—a website that enables brainstorming with customers and suppliers. A typical query posted there: “We’re working on X product idea. What features would you like to see included?” To encourage participation, Clorox uses incentives borrowed from gaming. For example, people who post answers or add rating comments are awarded points. The site features different levels of difficulty, and contributors who demonstrate expertise can advance to problems requiring greater creativity, knowledge, and involvement. The sharpest contributors gain visibility, making participation rewarding and sticky. One early success came after Clorox posted a question about a specific compound for its salad dressings. Five responses quickly came in. The company decided on a solution within a day and brought the problem solver into the product development process.
This approach involves large initiatives designed for predictable results. It may depend on close collaboration across multiple functions and levels and include external parties.
Consider Ford’s 2009 Fiesta Movement campaign, used to prepare for the car’s reintroduction in the U.S. It required joint efforts among marketing, communications, and the C-suite. Ford decided to lend 100 Fiestas for six months to recipients who would use social media to discuss their experiences with the cars in an authentic, direct way. It held an online contest to select candidates, carefully choosing drivers with large social media followings. To further reduce uncertainty, it required them to regularly produce content on themed “missions” (for example, volunteerism) and designed a schedule for postings. Within six months the drivers had posted more than 60,000 items, which garnered millions of clicks, including more than 4.3 million YouTube views. The $5 million campaign created a prelaunch brand awareness rate of 37% among Millennials, generated 50,000 sales leads to new customers and prompted 35,000 test-drives—a level of results that might be expected from a traditional campaign costing tens of millions of dollars.
This approach enables large-scale interactions that extend to external stakeholders, allowing companies to use the unexpected to improve the way they do business.
In 2010 Cisco launched the Integrated Workforce Experience (IWE), a social business platform designed to facilitate internal and external collaboration and decentralized decision-making. It functions much like a Facebook “wall”: A real-time news feed provides updates on employees’ status and activities as well as information about relevant communities, business projects, and customer and partner interactions. One manager likens it to Amazon. “It makes recommendations based on what you are doing, the role you are in, and the choices of other people like you. We are taking that to the enterprise level and basically allowing appropriate information to find you,” he says. Cisco also makes extensive use of video. It conducts most of its training and meetings virtually, through video streamed to desktops and available via video-on-demand. Like Facebook, the system lets users tag and comment on videos. These technologies have accelerated “time to trust” among Cisco’s stakeholders, quickly establishing collegiality and knowledge sharing among new geographically dispersed teams.
Companies taking this approach embrace uncertainty, using small-scale tests to find ways to improve discrete functions and practices. They aim to learn by listening to customers and employees on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Sometimes they use proprietary technologies to conduct internal tests.
The IT services giant EMC is a creative experimenter. It pays particular attention to how its 40,000 global employees use internal social media to locate needed expertise within the company. In an effort to reduce the use of outside contractors, it created a test platform, called EMC/ONE, that helped employees network and connect on projects. “We were very clear that in two months we might unplug this and try a completely different approach,” says Len Devanna, the director of social strategy. “This was the reason we were inside the firewall: To be free to make mistakes and learn our lessons before exposing ourselves to the outside.” Within a year EMC/ONE was delivering substantial benefits. For instance, a division that needed to produce a sales video connected with an in-house production group, saving $10,000 as a result. The company estimates that EMC/ONE has generated more than $40 million in savings overall.
Creative experimenters are driven in part by small budgets; labeling a project “experimental” can exempt it from ROI constraints. Both the predictive practitioner and creative experimenter strategies can quickly create significant results and learning and serve as a training ground for larger efforts.
These are just a few examples of how social media strategy can improve and impact your business. It is important that companies have —or migrate toward—a social strategy if they want significant results for their business. A social champion strategy can help companies identify and enlist enthusiasts to expand initiatives inside and outside the organization. As Ford’s Fiesta Movement showed, carefully engaging those who have a sizable influence in social networks can have many benefits to a company’s bottom line.