To Be Social with Customers, Look Inside Your Organization

NEW YORK—Social media drives engagement. Engagement drives loyalty. And loyalty will correlate directly to increased sales.

That was a key message from Ted Rubin, social marketing strategist and chief marketing officer at Collective Bias, and keynote speaker for Social Media World Forum North America, held here today. Rubin, who authored the book Return on Relationship, compared social brand-building to parenting.

When Rubin, a father of two girls, would see his daughters fight, his go-to intervention would be to take his children's hands and begin skipping wherever they were, the reason being that skipping evoked a sense of play in his children. He said the same technique can be applied by companies. "Do whatever you can to make your customers, employees, and friends skip metaphorically when they're interacting with you," he told the SMW Forum audience in closing.

For some companies, that means humanizing the enterprise and offering customers a look into the organization. Victor Reiss, digital and social media director for FedEx Services, said that through the company's "I am FedEx" initiative, 290,000 FedEx team members are given the opportunity to share stories with customers, which gives inside access to the brand. "Our research shows that our customers want to know, 'Who is that curator or package handler?'" Reiss said.

As the CRM magazine feature, "Transforming to a Social CRM Enterprise," (http://www.destinationcrm.com/Articles/Editorial/Magazine-Features/Transforming-into-a-Social-CRM-Enterprise-82471.aspx) outlined, having a companywide Twitter handle or a community or two is not the same as becoming a social business. To become a real social enterprise, there is a cultural alignment and shift that has to take place internally.

In the case of SAP, as Jeanne Carboni, the company's senior director of collaboration, digital, social, and communities explained today, social was not something that happened overnight or absent of experimentation. The company has maintained social communities for nine years, initially beginning with developers, which culminated into the SAP Community Network, "Coffee Corner," where employees, developers, and partners can "play" and ask questions about anything.

But a recurring theme at the SMW Forum is that social media can and must be incorporated into broader business strategy. In SAP's case, its series of grassroots meet-ups called Inside Tracks are a real "chance for you to meet someone that you know online" face-to-face, Carboni said.

Similarly, Tami Cannizzaro, IBM's director of marketing, said during a panel that the company encourages its approximately 400,000 employees to build their own blogs, and to interface with external partners and customers. "We think about, 'How are we as a company facilitating action with our audience?'" said panelist Jordan Slabaugh, social media director for software company Spredfast.

But as Robert Harles, Bloomberg's global head of social media and conference chairman pointed out, social media—both in terms of usage and strategy in the enterprise—faces some resistance. Citing findings from Omniture and other statistics from the 2012 Fortune 500 Social CEO Index, it's estimated only 7.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs have Facebook accounts and only 4 percent have Twitter accounts. Seventy percent of CEOs have no presence on social networks. But with McKinsey & Co. reporting that social business initiatives could contribute $1.3 trillion to the economy by 2018, it can't be an afterthought.

"What's really interesting about social media is it helps build connections and relationships with our customers," Harles said, and acknowledged the fact that several years ago, the policy at his company was to forgo any kind of social media at all. "All 15,000 people at Bloomberg have the ability to impact other people, so why shouldn't they have a personal brand? We have to do that…as publishers or retailers or manufacturers."

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