Success Lessons from Corporate Social Media Summit (Pt 1)

“Embed social media across the fabric of your company to become a better business.”

Richard Binhammer, Head of Social Media and Corporate Reputation Management at Dell drove home one of the key takeaways from The Corporate Media Summit 2011 held in New York this week. The corporate managers and social media “front-liners” heard time and again that social media is not an activity belonging to a single corporate department. Nor can social media achieve its full potential without integration into corporate culture.

What’s the best way to make this happen?

Useful Social Media assembled representatives from more than a score of brands at the social media forefront. Here are some of the lessons learned.

Focus on small businesses

Laura Fink, Vice President of Social Media at American Express OPEN, spoke about how social media has helped her company increase the velocity at which it reaches its customers and prospects. Programs such as Small Business Saturday and Facebook Big Break for Small Business are, according to Fink, altruistically focused on helping small businesses in ways that will encourage them to tell others about OPEN.

The core concepts behind these initiatives to facilitate peer recommendation are:

  • Meet core customer needs
  • Break through — be disruptive
  • Altruism has a long tail
  • Engagement must be fast and easy
  • Nothing tops tangible value

Addressing the oft-asked question about getting management buy-in for social media, Fink stated that her team conducts realtime collaboration across company groups to earn senior level comfort. Clear objectives are essential. “Make sure everything ladders back to the KPIs you established when you got started,” she said. “KPIs help broad teams — marketing, PR, legal, etc. — rally around a single effort.”

Fink described OPEN’s social media activities as a mix of programs and a daily posting strategy built on a continuously monitored and refined roadmap.

Social media through the PR lens

Tim McMahan, head of the web team at Union Pacific, was the first presenter to approach social media more as a public relations vehicle than for marketing. The freight railroad serves business customers, but works to build understanding with the communities through which it runs its trains.

Seeking to be more than an inconvenience at railway crossings, the company created a crowd sourced contest to bring its legendary steam locomotive to a winning community. Locales moved up the leader board of the Great Excursion Adventure through Facebook and Twitter sharing.

“Metrics only go so far,” observed McMahan. Union Pacific’s public affairs team felt that the campaign succeeded in building good will, though there were three rather disappointed communities that did not win. Having the steam locomotive tweet out its location is one of the company’s continuing social media activities.

Be grounded in a business strategy

I’ve previously posted about the Coca-Cola Company’s “liquid and linked” approach to marketing. Primarily utilizing social media as a key part of the company’s PR toolkit, Director of Digital Communications Ashley Brown warned participants to be wary of shiny objects. Just because Facebook exists or your competitor is taking particular actions on social media, it does not mean you should.

Among Brown’s takeaways:

  • The most important number in social media is 360. Your approach needs to involve all internal stakeholders.
  • Done is better than perfect. Those in social media are lucky to work in a field that values sharing. We have greater elasticity to fail – customers/consumers will accept our mistakes and allow us to move on.
  • Become really close friends with your lawyers.
  • There is no substitute for good issues planning.
  • Social media needs to maintain a constant level of engagement over a long period of time; it’s not the traditional concept of marketing campaigns.
  • Content needs to be liquid, so that it can go through any channel, and rigorously linked back to objectives.
  • Facebook pages should have house rules. Steal Coke’s.

More Posts in This Series

Be smart. Be respectful. Be Human.

From Policies to Results

Measurements and Motivations

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10 Big Brand Lessons From The Corporate Social Media Summit via Rohit Bhargava

Cisco Touts Social Intranetworking at #CSMNY via brandchannel

65 Tweetable Moments From The Corporate Social Media Summit New York via Michael Brenner

This post originally appeared in Social Times.