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Social media strategy

Marketing / No Comment / October 24, 2011

Even though I have personal profiles on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, I am dubious about the business benefit of devoting disproportionate corporate resources – time, people or money –  on social media simply because everybody else is doing so. Attracting a thousand fickle followers just by running a competition to win a couple of iPads doesn’t necessarily make you a social media expert.

Fundamentally, you are helping to populate somebody else’s website; no sane organisation should be expending significant effort to do that without a clear strategy and robust calculation of the benefits to be gained from doing so. Thus it was with a measure of scepticism last week that I attended Social Media Strategy, organised by PR Week.

Passion cells

Chris Norton. Managing Director of agency Blue Rubicon, led the speaker line-up, arguing that ‘Social UK’ means Facebook rather than Twitter in terms of user numbers (mind you, Facebook is one of his clients). As an example of the power of social media, the cited the success of the Ford at seizing the lead in the small hatchback segment of the American car market by, in part, giving key influencers a free car and using them to enthuse others. He showed us a graph that duly showed a steep rise in market share; it would have been interesting to know what other marketing tools and sales incentives contributed to the rise. His over-riding message was to listen hard to identify your ‘passion cells’ – evangelists for your brand – and then nurture them. Employees are likely to be your best advocates.


If you enthuse your fans and employees, they’ll sell your brand for you.

A new take on RoI

Next up was Madlen Nicolaus, Social Media Manager from Kodak. Along with 35 Kodak contributors on all of the major social media channels, representing 20 countries around the world, she said that they had a ‘Chief Listener’, whose role probably amounts to speaking truth unto power, telling the Board what customers really think about their products and service. She delivered what is perhaps the best rebuttal for cynics: think about your Return on Ignorance for choosing not to listen. With some 300,000 online mentions of the brand per month, it’s fair to say that the sample size is large enough to counter charges that online commentators are self-selecting and biased towards either end of the brand’s love/hate spectrum.

Kodak measures its social media activities in terms of:

  • Reach – follower numbers
  • Engagement – shares of links and images
  • Influence – who is doing the sharing and what is their public profile?
  • Impact – is Kodak achieving its goals in terms of generating sales from particular campaigns?

Kodak has coined the 4Es to describe how it motivates influenceers:

Engage » Educate » Excite » Evangelise

Social intelligence helps them in three key aspects of marketing:

  • Branding – to understand target markets better in order to refine messages that resonate
  • Product marketing – uncovering new customer needs and
  • Product development — identify pain points with existing products that enable future models to deliver improvements


Listen systematically, set realistic objectives and measure your performance against them

The puppy test

Mike Davies, Director of Global Communications at PwC, focused on getting buy-in for social media. Noting that everybody nowadays is – or can be a potential, publisher, journalist or commentator, he related how Francine McKenna, a critic of the auditing industry graduated from being a mere blogger, to an expert to a magazine columnist who inflicted serious damage to the reputation of his company. PwC didn’t take her seriously enough because it hadn’t been listening.

Operating in a heavily-regulated industry, social media governance was essential from the outset. Employees are permitted and indeed encouraged to establish an online presence, provided that they followed commonsense editorial rules and sustained the effort for the long term – ‘a puppy is for life…’ Some of their bloggers are now required reading for those in the niche markets in which they operate.

PwC recently adopted a new corporate identity and used social media internally to secure buy-in to the new branding As Mike put it, ‘our rebranding needed big thinking and board-level acceptance of social media.

Since 1998, PwC’s global headcount has increased by 30% to nearly 169,000; this year, 17,600 graduates are beginning their careers with PwC, with 20,000 expected to start next year. As well as being a good way to keep in touch with alumni – PwC has 500,000 of them – LinkedIn is a key part of its recruitment strategy. It helped to create the LinkedIn Career Explorer, a tool that enables those at the outset of the careers to plot the moves – and contacts – they need to make (and when) to achieve their desired long-term career goals.


  • engage with your critics, both external and internal;
  • use social media to attract potential new employees  and keep in touch with alumni and
  • commit to it for the long term.

Reaction in seconds, not minutes

According to Arthur Leathley, Communications Director for Virgin Trains, providing onboard wi-fi has proved to be a mixed blessing for Virgin Trains. Whilst a great selling point for its service, passengers are able to complain in real time about delays, overcrowding, buffet closures and other issues that blight their journeys. Customer service thus has to be nimble in responding to customer complaints that are no longer made one-to-one by phone but broadcast to the world on social media.

When, one of its Pendolino trains was derailed at Grayrigg in Cumbria in February 2007, causing dozens of injuries and a fatality, Virgin Trains had 20 minutes to get the rescue underway before news filtered out; now the lead-time could be as little as 20 seconds. His tips:

  • Listen
  • Centralise your response to ensure you deliver stardardised messages
  • Be proactive, open and honest


  • empower front-line staff to resolve issues before customers even reach for their smartphones;
  • train customer services teams to respond very quickly when they do; and
  • ensure that emergency contingency plans, not least in terms of media response, are up-to-date and accessible.

Outwitting Swampy

Guy Esnouf, Head of Corporate and Internal Communications at E.ON UK, talked us through how E.ON managed media reaction concerning an intended invasion in 2009 of its power station at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, Nottinghamshire by the activist group, ClimateSwoop.

As Guy saw it, ClimateSwoop ‘owned online’ before the event: they used the Internet to motivate, organise and briefed their supporters before the attempt on its perimeter fence, even providing an aerial photo marked up with boundary fences and where they thought the perimeter might be vulnerable.

E.ON, however, had recently launched a YouTube channel, on which it released videos that, to pre-empt ClimateSwoop’s arguments, set out its core messages about electricity production and highlighted its staff and their role in keeping the lights on across the nation. E.ON’s goal was to ensure that its facts and footage were easily accessible to journalists in particular.

On the night before the invasion, the press office team recorded short clips of the staff at work and, during the invasion, front line comments from the site as protesters fought with the police. E.ON’s over-riding objective, which Guy felt they achieved, was to make the protesters’ violence the story rather than the company or its environmental record.


Get ahead of the opposition in terms of media management.

The only way is up

Energy price are a more long-term source of customer resentment. E.ON has had to raise its prices along with the rest of the sector but, through astute media management, it has been able to deflect at least some of the criticism. A YouTube video featuring Graham Bartlett, E.ON’s Managing Director, was viewed more in one day than a previous price rise video had been in a week.

He also enjoyed taking part in a Q&A on Twitter that questioners praised for showing that E.ON was prepared to engage with the public.


When a negative story is about to break, prepare as much as possible and secure a senior member of staff to lead a response.In the short term, this should focus accepting responsibility and offering whatever remedy is within the organisation’s immediate power rather than finding excuses or blaming others.


So, am I now less sceptical? I can see that these examples demonstrate that social media is another essential and very effective tool in the communnications mix; they also exemplify good practice in terms of planning, execution and measurement. Although the barrier to entry is practically non-existent – anybody can create a Twitter or YouTube account – building a presence and following demands resources and perseverance.

It is true that you are putting content on somebody else’s website but, to as one of the speakers observed, you need to fish where the fish are. I would add that to be able to land your catch, you also need to know what bait works with them, when to put out your landing net and, when filleting them afterwards, whether your fish were worth catching in the first place.

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