SMBC’s Bob Pearson: “Social Media is not for geeks, it is about direct conversations with your customers” (unabridged)

important notice: this is the unabridged version of an article which was originally published on the Sterling Performance blog by

Bob Pearson, has just been appointed President of the newly rebranded Social Media Business Council (*) after a successful stint as Vice President, Communities and Conversations at Dell. Bob has been kind enough to agree to answer our few questions on behalf of our BNET readers. My focus in this interview will be on Bob Pearson’s experience, how he plans to use it in his new role, and about his plans for the expansion of the Social Media Business Council.

BNET: you successfully deployed social media initiatives on behalf of a worldwide high-tech company. Is social media only for geeks?

BP: No, social media is about having a conversation directly with your customers. It’s so important that companies take time to see the value in building a long-term relationship with their customers via social media. Many of the initial ideas may have started with “geeks”, who I certainly appreciate, but we live in a world today that has over 1.6 billion people online and more than 500,000 new people going online everyday for the first time in their lives. Social media is becoming mainstream for customers today and should start to become so for companies in the near future.

BNET: what are in your eyes and based on your experience the top three benefits which you, your previous employer and your clients derived from these social media initiatives?

BP: There are many benefits for companies, but gaining ideas, co-shaping your brand and unlocking the value of employees are certainly three important ones.

Social media provides an amazing window into how customers think and what they want. For example, why conduct a focus group with 10 people in a single location when you can build an idea community, ala Dell or Starbucks and receive thousands of ideas and listen to customers discuss them over months? For companies, it’s also important to co-shape your brand and reputation with your customers online. If you conduct strong analytics and you know where your products are being reviewed, you’ll find that a large brand may have as many as 5,000 conversations about itself every day. Ask yourself how many of those conversations you’re participating in or knowledgable of? If you’re not, you’re outsourcing your brand. Powerful thought.

I’ve also seen how social media inside a company enables employees to share their thinking and, quite frankly, let you know if they agree with the direction of the company via their comments or, in some cases, their silence.

BNET: what were the three main successful drivers behind your successful implementation of social media?

BP: I’ve heard people say “make the R small and the I big in ROI”. I like that advice. Social media does not have to cost a lot of money to try. What you need are some courage and a willingness to engage directly with your customers. I like asking people “how many customers do you actually speak with every day”? For too many people in companies, the answer is zero.

Here are three key drivers: #1 – know where conversations are occurring about your brand #2 – have clear rules of the road in how you will conduct social media, including an online policy and #3 – realize that customers want to hear from you, they do not want to hear from “the company”, so personalize your approach. The new formula is “Brand + Personality”.

BNET: how big and how successful is the Blog Council and what sort of a club is it?

BP: Social media is becoming a new discipline within companies that impacts all employees and all departments. As a result, it’s very important for leaders in social media to have a private place to share best practices and learn from each other in real time. There is no better person to learn from then a peer who is figuring out the same thing in a different industry.

The result is the formation of the Blog Council, which now has 60 of the world’s leading brands as members, such as Orange, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Intel, Microsoft and Coca Cola.

BNET: are all companies entitled to join the blog Council, or do they have to meet certain criteria?

BP: The Blog Council is for larger companies, generally over 5,000 employees. The key is that members are actively seeking to improve in social media. We want members who want to learn by asking their peers questions, share ideas and do it all in an “ego-less” environment.

BNET: what are your plans for the development of the Blog Council? Is there anything you’d like to share with our readers? A scoop maybe?

BP: Well, it’s fair to say that our name was ready for a change. In fact, we just changed our name to the Social Media Business Council and you can find us at

BNET: some of the “bloggers blogging about bloggers” to put it in the words of Andy Sernovitz are sometimes critical of the blog Council, what would you like to say to them?

BP: We welcome everyone’s opinion. We’re focused on building social media as a discipline and helping our members achieve success. It’s all about the conversation and we hope everyone will share how they think we can do better (as an organization and for our members).

BNET: there has been points made by Forrester’s Josh Bernoff and also Seth Godin (in his Meatball Sundae opus) that social media wasn’t for all big companies. What is your opinion about that?

BP: I respect the body of work of both Josh and Seth very much, but I could not disagree more with this particular comment. Social media is for every company that wants to improve how it interacts with its employees and its customers. Internally, a company has a major opportunity to unlock intellectual capital of its employees or gain their ideas more quickly to improve products. Externally, we are scratching the surface on how we can empower customers. Imagine opening up new B2B channels between major companies to communicate more effectively, for example.

I’ve worked inside three Fortune 500 companies and have met with many others, so I’m quite sure of the opportunity ahead of us for companies of all sizes.

BNET: Is the blog Council only about corporate blogging or does it cover a much broader spectrum?

BP: The Blog Council is about social media and how it is utilized to improve communications with employees and customers. Social media represents the most direct way to have a conversation and, in many respects, the most powerful way to learn, share and build relationships. The leading companies of the world are embracing social media and learning how to utilize it effectively. Not every company understands the significance of social media today, but that’s normal for any transformation. They will with time.

Thanks Bob for answering our questions very openly. Our Bnet readers interested in knowing more about the the Social Media Business Council can connect to

(*) note: For the sake of disclosure, it needs to be pointed out that the author is also a member of the Social Media Business Council in which he is the Orange representative.

media-aces: evangelising about Corporate social media in Europe blog now open is the blog which will underpin our new club of European social media enterprise experts. This isn’t just another blog about web 2.0, but the platform which we will use in order to evangelise about social media and how important it is in the business world.

  • read on at

Blogwell #3 presentation by Nokia’s Molly Schonthal

Blogwell in NYC (photo by Yann Gourvennec)

The second blogwell presentation at Blogwell #3 which took place on April 29 in NYC, was that of Molly Schonthal from Nokia, who is in charge of social media for the Finnish cell phone manufacturer in the US, and also one of our representatives of the blog Council.

Molly’s presentation was truly outstanding, there were so many questions and answers at the end of the presentation that I’ve had a hard time trying to keep track of them all, but a good many of them will be transcribed in this post anyway.

The presentation was entitled “from broadcast to social media”. And it started with references to Tara Hunt’s latest book, “the Whuffie factor”, on which we have already had an opportunity to comment on this very blog (click here for an interview of Tara Hunt about her new book).

Molly insisted on the fact that “what is difficult for a big company is ‘listening’, participating openly and respectfully.” It might in fact sound to be an obvious thing to do, but it’s not always for a large organisation, for it is so easy to be concentrated on one’s internal organisational issues and forget about one’s clients. So what are the changes as a big organisation is facing when trying to engage in different kinds of relationships with its customers and ecosystem?

1.  One has to think, Molly says, not in terms of technological adoption, but of “psychological adoption”. Web 2.0, she says, is not difficult from a technical point of view, and it can be set up in a matter of seconds. But working with communities can take a lot longer than that.

2.  Her second point is just about that, when she says that “building networks take time”. And, “it does not follow the principles of normal press relations”. She even coined the phrase “social release” which she opposed to press release. What it takes is actually creating messages that are relevant to influencers. And to stop and listen and engage. And she also insisted upon the fact that collaboration is about “cross functional interactions which are at the heart of success”.

What Molly and Nokia’s teams have been able to achieve in the field of social media is just awesome. Here are just a few examples which I have been able to catch up on the catch on the fly:

  1. Nokia encouraged the widespread adoption of 2.0 tools internally,
  2. Nokia developed what they called an “infopedia” internally. This is some sort of Wikipedia, but it is internal. It was actually instrumental in getting Nokia employees to understand what a wiki is what a blog is etc.,
  3. Nokia also created a blog hub: all internal blog content was focussed in one place that is to say that access is granted to what employees are talking about, sharing thoughts and ideas,
  4. An internal webTV was also created, which is some sort of youtube which enables employees to upload, invent and discuss,
  5. externally, blogs have also been rolled out, therefore enabling conversations about Nokia products. They also created a platform called “blogbites”, which enables them to generate three-minute podcasts from existing text.”

Engaging with influencers is also a very important item on the Nokia agenda, and they are engaging with them on events, such as SXSW09.

Molly also insisted on what she called the blogger test centre tour which actually consisted in sending bloggers to two different countries. The stories were published in leading blogs such as Gizmodo, Techcrunch, the BBC etc. A 500,000 audience reach was achieved for that event in 2 geographical areas (the UK and Australia).

As a conclusion Molly insisted upon the fact that one had to allow company culture to evolve, beyond “PowerPoint slides with bullets in them”. (Reminiscent of an article I published a long time ago with the help of Giancarlo, and which was entitled PowerPointitis)

questions and answers

1. how are you selecting bloggers for your events?

Few people can be admitted in the test centre. Loads of explanations about temperatures were given (Nokia phones had to resist all kinds of temperatures, perform the lowest to the highest). The Nokia lab folks were also very excited about the idea and about the ability to interact with real people. The way that Nokia organised this was very straightforward. All Nokia had to do was to “invite them and be nice with them”.

2. measurements?

It is very hard to track results back to sales, Molly says. They do do some monitoring at Nokia, and then look at the number of people and followers (Nokia has more than 500 followers on twitter). Another question was, “how did you convince managers?” Molly responded to that: “our company understands the value of social media”, which is great support what she and her teams are doing at Nokia across the world for social media. She also insisted that social media produces soft numbers, which do not have to be linked to sales automatically.

3. what is the hardest thing?

The most difficult thing according to Molly Schonthal is to “listen well all the time”. It is hard to get an e-mail from a blogger/influencer, she says, because it always has to be taken as an emergency. “One has to stop,” she adds, it’s a “personal challenge”. Raising expectations is an issue (a phrase which I heard often times pronounced during this blogwell session). Planning is also a major issue: “one has to avoid formatting” she adds (mainly on twitter)

4. what are your worries about accountability?

Molly says that Nokia never “discloses private information, earnings, confidential information etc.” But that in the long run, some “of that could happen with maturity” and that “Nokia’s people and managers are not hindered by fear”. (I take this opportunity to link back to the minutes of a previous blogwell session in San Jose which was facilitated by Ken Kaplan from Intel about fear and social media)

5. how do you handle comments?

“You cannot say you’re open and honest and stop people from saying things” Molly rightfully points out. So, you will have to assume that some of the comments won’t always be coming your way and you’ll have to take it like a man.

6. what is the difference between press and social media release?

Molly says that social media release comes with some video plus a bunch of pictures and multimedia files to download and text which is more appropriate for blogs. It is true that more and more packages such as these are made available on the market by agencies on behalf of big businesses.

8. what about smaller bloggers?

There is more than one approach, Molly says, and we hope to do it again with more folks.

9. responding to external comments?

Molly says that you have to ask yourself two questions:

  • one: do you have to respond to it? The answer may not always be yes
  • two: disclosure: “this is Molly from Nokia, and this is my personal opinion.” Is the phrase which should be used (I would also recommend that you go back to and these recommendations on disclosure)

enterprise 2.0: are you ready for the Yammer take-off?

this is the latest post from our friend Rob Evans. Rob is an expert blogger and he joined the Orange Blog Live community recently. The reason why I’m relaying this post is that Rob is describing here how Yammer is becoming really big in the business community. Yammer being a new micro-blogging platform to which employees can register using their business e-mail address. The suffix of your e-mail address (, etc.) is the tag which will automatically identify you as part of a Corporate community. And it’s true that Yammer is catching like wildfire.

Now guess what! Rob and I got in contact precisely through Yammer and this is how he ended up enlisting in our blog initiative. Did you need a proof that Yammer is a great tool?

Over to Rob now:

Will Yammer follow hot on the heels of Twitter? by Rob Evans (Orange Business Services)

Use of Twitter, the micro-blogging web-site that allows people to post 140-character updates, has exploded in the UK over the last few months; traffic to the site increased by a staggering 974% over the past year according to Techcrunch UK. The site itself now ranks as the 291st most visited site in the UK, and was described by the Telegraph as the best known microblogging site:

Twitter is probably the best known of all the “microblogging” sites, and it has been incredibly popular with geeks and the technorati since it launched in 2006. People post messages to the site, either via the web or by text message, and these “tweets” are forwarded on to their network of friends and contacts

Twitter’s seminal moment in the UK was on the Jonathan Ross show on the 23rd of January . This show marked the return of Jonathan Ross following an “enforced holiday”. Both the presenter and his guest Stephen Fry– a self-confessed geek and blogger- are avid users of Twitter, and on the show they discussed how the site works and how they use it.

>> Read on at the Orange Business Live Blog

Social Media: Beyond the ROI issue

the Blog Council logo

Below is the contribution which I sent to the council on behalf of Orange Business Services.

social media: beyond the ROI issue

With the advent of the Internet since the middle of the 1990s, users have become used to not only getting what they want online, but also to being able to participate and interact with each other. 15 years later, the widespread use of the Internet as a source of information and also a place where users can help each other and solve each other’s problems has changed the face of commerce, of organizations, and even relationships within the hierarchy. In view of these changes which have permeated every section of the outside world, enterprise communications must get to grips with the benefit from the great potential which is made available by the use of social media. The power of the Internet to connect people and get them to interact can not only be used internally, but also outwardly and ultimately with one’s customers to begin conversations in a brand new way. The expected results can extend way beyond the mere ROI issue. This is what we have experienced at Orange Business Services with our 2008 Security Blog initiative.

Continue reading “Social Media: Beyond the ROI issue”