Andy Sernovitz: “large companies getting into social media need support and SMBC was the missing piece in that puzzle”

Last week, I was attending the Blogwell and SMBC meetings in Philadelphia. I also had an opportunity to sit with Andy Sernovitz, the founder of SMBC and well known author of the Word of Mouth Marketing opus.

It’s now more than 2 1/2 years since I joined the former blogcouncil, now known as Social Media Business Council, and a lot of water has gone under the bridge. I thought, as Hervé Kabla and myself – co-founders of Media Aces in France – are currently finalising our book entitled ‘Social Media Taught to My Boss’ (in French, but I’m open to suggestions from publishers), that it would be a great idea to sit with Andy and review the history and principles of SMBC as well as take a bit of hindsight and see how things had developed over the years. It’s hard to describe but spending 3 years of field practice in Social Media for a large company implies that a lot of work and effort has been put into these initiatives. Sometimes it’s good to put down one’s tools and muse.

Andy keeps repeating that doing Social Media for large groups is not as easy as doing the same for an individual or a small shop. I know that many people must not believe that this is true. « You are a big brand hence it’s way too easy » a lot of people must think. Yet nothing has ever been more true. Innovating within a large enterprise is a never-ending, groundhod day-like heavy-lifting exercise. This is why SMBC is important. It enables the heads of Social Media like us to get together, to help each other and to learn from one another. This is what Andy is referring to as being the « missing piece in the puzzle ».

And this is also why there are now more than 150 members within SMBC. Hats off Andy!

here are some of the 150 members of SMBC as of now …

Discovery Channel on Shark Week at Blogwell: “enthusiasts are doing our marketing”

2e38becbe35159151b804730c513a87bDiscovery Channel were the 3rd presenters in track1 of Blogwell on November 9 in Philadelphia with Amber Harris and Gayle Weiswasser delivering the presentation. Shark week is one of the longest running television events (23 years!). How do you  bring innovation and bring it to another level for Discovery? was the question that our presenters had asked themselves.

This year was to celebrate the “’national holiday” nature of Shark Week and it was rebranded “happy shark Week”. The company started a campaign against shark finning and partnered with the Georgia Aquarium with a live-stream from the aquarium.

Social Media Strategy

Social Media is all about communities added Gayle. So Discovery Communications didn’t have to invent anything but work with the influencers, the very enthusiastic people “who were doing [their] marketing for [them]”. Discovery Communications then went on a ton of monitoring in order to identify and engage with the right influencers.  The week took place on August 6th, but they tried to make the event live throughout the year thanks to Social Media.

Tactics

Digital PR managed to impact major online portals, and used street marketing with a building in DC with a Shark in it: People would stop and take pictures of the building and report on it. The presenters discovered some very active enthusiasts who would wear their tee-shirt and post tweets about that on Twitter. The focus was on Twitter. People were encouraged to create some videos on Youtube and post them by themselves, showing themselves in their “Shark Week” tee-shirts. They were offered to upload them to the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week Video Challenge YouTube channel.

There was no official Facebook page, but Discovery Channel was able to claim that page and set and official Shark Week page on Facebook. Video drove a lot of traffic online. The ‘adopt a shark’ campaign also enabled people to make donations.

The results were impressive

No wonder with such an impactful theme, but one has to admit that the numbers are really great: 14,000 online media and blog posts and #sharkweek was a worldwde Twitter trending topic the 1st day of Shark Week and there was over 91,000 Shark Week mentions between Aug 1-6 which resulted in 100 million potential impressions (Tweetreach.com). Somewhat facetiously, Amber mentioned “that the Radian 6 curve showing the traffic had the shape of  a shark-fin!”

What worked according to the presenters was the complementarity of digital and real-life PR, the partnerships and the Twitter engagement. However, they had mixed results with the photo contest with only 28 photo entries, showing how hard it is to get people to cooperate. Facebook was a bit disappointing but the real issue is in what Amber added: “You don’t know what goes wrong, you could do everything right and still it wouldn’t work”.

One of the things that made it for that project is that the company culture at Discovery is very much geared towards innovation according to both presenters and that there is never any push-back on anything. “Everyone has been very supportive” they said, and Amber adds that, more broadly speaking, “everybody in the company should have a vested interest in Social Media” and all of them should help make things work.

What matters is that people collaborate

Gayle concluded with what I consider pearls of wisdom: “Social Media is nothing” she said, “what matters is that people collaborate and keeping things as open as possible”.

The Hershey Company on engaging with bloggers: “smart doesn’t mean big”

The second presentation I attended at Blogwell in Philadelphia on November 9, 2010 was that of the Hershey Company; not a household name in some parts of Europe so we have to explain that it is a confectioner producing sweets and chocolate bars and other foodstuffs under the Jet-puffed, Honey maid and Hershey’s brands. The presentation was delivered by Anna Lingeris, PR manager at the Hershey Company.

Blogher” is a large network (25 million plus, mostly women), probably the largest blogging organisation for women. The question was “how to engage this very exacting crowd”. the Hershey company wanted to start a buzz on the S’more snacktivity suite (the booth at the exhibition) at blogher while spending $15,000 on suite sponsorship vs $75,000 as the minimum expo floor budget. The idea was to show usage occations of these products, both indoor and outdoor.

2,400 people attended the Blogher confrence, 600 came to the Suite, spending more than 30 minutes in the suite on average and more than 200 blogposts were generated. The twitter chatter for S’mores was big: more 500 uses of the hashtag namely. Results were monitored with Radian 6, a popular buzz monitoring package in the US. A separate website with photos taken by a professional photographer was put together, and it generated 500 visits in 2 days Anna said.

“ Smart doesn’t mean big”, Anna  Lingeris added, so the success of that campaign was not based on big rewards and freebies but on how they shared their main experience with them.

Key learnings include

  • the fact that “You can’t do all by yourself” and you need to work not only with agencies but with other parts of the company too.
  • explore larger spaces for more engagement

Creating and embracing a social media culture (ConAgra Foods)

ConAgra's Stephanie Moritz

Last month, on Nov 10, 2009 the 7th blogwell session took place in sunny Atlanta, Ga. (this is meant to be a joke for I have been twice to Atlanta so far and have seen a lot of rain not to mention flooding). Nearly a month later – and I am a little late for that – now that the dust has settled I wish to recap on some of the best sessions I was able to attend. Stephanie Moritz, ConAgra foods presented her company and its many brands of foods (Hebrew National, Egg Beaters, Peter Pan, Banquet, Slim Jim, Kid Cuisine, Healthy choice…), most of which are huge hits in the US although less or even not at all known in Europe (another tale-telling example of non globalisation; there are many examples of brands which are immensely successful this side of the Atlantic and unknown on the other side and vice versa).

Stephanie explained how a big brand like ConAgra could use Social Media to stir passion within its fans. Here are my notes from that session, the live transcript of which you can also find here courtesy of Gaspedal and the Social Media Business Council.

Embracing a Social Media Culture

By Stephanie Moritz, ConAgra foods, USA

Social Media is everywhere. It is now mainstream. Consumers refuse to be marketed at. They want to participate, they have a passion. The challenge is to adapt it within a large organisation. How do you create inspiring programmes for your customers? It takes:

  • Targeted manageable plan,
  • A plan that supports business goals,
  • A focus on consensus building:
    • Setting a plan that achieves and ties to your business objectives
    • How do your get champions on board?
  • Long term commitment:

    Phil Nieman from Gaspedal and Stephanie Moritz
  • 1st step: understand how social media fits in our culture and objectives. How can you amplify your PR effort using SM
    • Creating a masterplan: define clear business objectives and match them with the SM initiative
    • Enterprise-wide solution. Not just Marketing
    • Establish some guidelines before moving into that space
    • Building the foundation first and listen to conversations. Who Responding to consumers. Addressing issues in a transparent manner.
    • Getting to know the blogging community. We ourselves tried blogs and tried and understand => Building communities
  • 2nd step: getting senior management to become a champion (through CMO)
    • Digital immersion
  • 3rd step: create coalition: there wasn’t much budget or staff. Experts and specialists throughout the organisation have been identified. All cross functional teams were identified. Enthusiasm made it.
  • (Audit) Identified key bloggers and organised discussions on products and how they could work together.
    • Created a Twitter page, spent a lot of time on it
    • Created a facebook page
    • Benchmarks, listened to conversations
    • Attended blogger events and blogger media conferences for the sole purpose of listening

When should a brand use social media? Not everyone should jump on the bandwagon Benchmarks are carried out continuously Key to success:

  • Set clear goals,
  • Create enterprise-wide endorsement,
  • Determine roadmap,
  • Commit.
  • 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 Bnet.co.uk

    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 www.socialmedia.org.

    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 http://socialmedia.org

    (*) 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.