Thursday, May 15, 2008

Social Media and Corporations

MIMA Event Thoughts

I went to Mima's Big Brands Forum last night in downtown Minneapolis. Four speakers from well known fortune 500 corporations (best buy, target, finger hut, and general mills) were moderated by Gage Marketing's very own Mike Kraabel. The event was designed to discuss what these major brands knew about social media, how they (want to or are) interacting with social networks, how there brands are being portrayed online, and how they track consumer response online in regards to social media (blogs, microblogs, forums, wiki, photo streams, calendars, groups, networks, video/audio). The end result was not astonishing, but simple the know people are interested, people are talking, and each brand has some form of online presence, but they don't know what to do with it. One of the speakers noted that while most of it was amusing (such as all the different ways to entertain apps relating to the dough boy) that they don't know how to respond and aren't going to chase down the consumers, but are more likely to watch from a distance for now with bemused head scratching. Basically, the corporations know that social media is a big deal, its here to stay, the consumers are wanting to interact with their favorite brands, but they don't necessarily know how to respond except to listen to the consumer. Simply listen.

I personally think listening is important, but how active of an approach are people taking? Are you searching these people out with  blog pulse, twitter scan, tracker, and google alert? What else are you using, micro bots? Are you responding? I think a great example of companies listening and taking initiative would be Tony, the CEO of Try saying his name on twitter. He will friend you withing twenty minutes! Also @comcastcares is the newest level of constumer service. Complain about comcast and how you can't get your phone to work. Someone will help you. There are other examples of brands listening not necessarily to consumers, but their own staff. Best Buy recently launched an in-house social network to connect their employees nationwide. Everything from pictures of cats, to tips on team development can be shared to grow a sense of team. Even charities have become interested such as the mother's day bone marrow campaign and The Great River Energy Bike Festival's new online strategy that span from flickr, to facebook groups, twitter, tumblr, pownce, a blog for pro's (written by doctors, professional racers, and other biking athletes), as well as another blog that represents the average biker (mt. bikers, enthusiasts) looking for training tips and healthy living ideas.
The post below belongs to a very popular blog: New Media Wise and their take on last night. Enjoy and don't hesitate to write a comment or send me your feedback via twitter @desaraev

Big Brands Talk Social Media in Minneapolis

General Mills, Target, Best Buy, and Fingerhut Bare It All at Interactive Marketing Confab


So, you wonder, do major consumer brands "get" social media, or are they even starting to deal with it at all yet in any meaningful ways?  Well, thanks to our local 850-member strong Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association, we had a chance to hear from some of our more well-known corporate biggies last night.  It was a gorgeous, sunny, 70-degree evening in downtown Minneapolis, but a crowd of 300+ jammed inside (on the third floor of the Solera at 9th and Hennepin) to hear a panel that had been billed as Who Controls Social Media in the Enterprise? [I guess we can assume the hope is that marketing will do that, and not the lawyers… :-) ] The panelists were:
• Jim Cuene, Director of Interactive at General Mills
• Gary Koelling, Creative Director/Social Technology, Best Buy
• Jason Kleckner, Manager of Information Architecture, Target
• Brad Smith, VP eCommerce & Digital Marketing, Fingerhut Direct Marketing
• Moderator: Michael Kraabel, Group Creative Director, Gage Marketing

After getting well oiled in the pre-reception, most of the standing-room-only crowd rushed the seats, then started grabbing their phones as the moderator told them how to email, text, or Twitter questions to him for the panel [but, sigh, Twitter wasn't working at the time]. Then, off we went into into a very candid, revealing look at how big-company brands are thinking about social media today, and—do tell—how some of them are actually even doing something about it.

Since I couldn't Twitter the proceedings, a skill I'm becoming quite well-honed at, I had to....yes, take notes on dead trees. But, hey, whatever works. Now I'm gonna give it back to you straight up, as I heard it—well, at least some of what I thought were high points worth writing down.

General Mills' Cuene got things started with a bold prediction: "In a few years, there may be no better way our brands go to market than social media." He noted there are lots of consumers doing things with his company's brands on MySpace that they of course didn't ask the permission of General Mills to do, but implied that at least some of that is good for the brands involved. Best Buy's Koelling spoke briefly about his new social network for company employees called Blue Shirt Nation, which already has 22,000 users—and even has a chapter devoted to it in the back of Charlene Li's book, "Groundswell" (just out). Kleckner was asked about Target's Facebook page and said it now has 33,000 users. That's without any real marketing, though, he pointed out, noting he'd like to see it promoted more. What's General Mills doing on Facebook? moderator Kraabel asks. "Well, nothing," admitted Cuene, "but we're looking and thinking" and agreed that "there's tons of unauthorized things" people are doing about his company's brands and products on the social networks. What's surprising to him, he said, is that there isn't too much monitoring by the company yet, "except what we do in corporate communications...the brands are doing a little, but it's mostly head-scratching."

When the moderator asked the panel who's doing social media well, he got an answer from Target's Kleckner that drew laughs, considering the makeup of the panel: "Circuit City." I assumed that to mean a social initiative of theirs for consumers, which I wasn't aware of, as opposed to the successful internal effort we'd just heard about from their rival Best Buy. "We don't really have a corporate voice doing that (referring to Circuit City's effort)," Target's interactive marketer said, obviously with a tinge of envy. [I found it interesting that Circuit City had gotten the jump on Best Buy in this manner, since that also happened in 1999 when CC's full e-commerce site beat Best Buy to market by 10 months. But I was to find out later that Best Buy isn't too far behind this time. I guess Number Twos have to try harder—and in this case, CC is a very distant Number Two.] Fingerhut's Smith said his take is that "the companies doing well in social media are those that are responsive." General Mills' Cuene said "it's a huge challenge for us both in how we respond, and in what we say. We've been built for one message, one campaign. We're not well set up for this."

Best Buy's Koelling is not aware of many companies doing social media well, but said "to engage socially, you must be useful" and "successful companies are providing people with tools." General Mills' Cuene said a " 'how-can-we-help-you' mentality (akin to a retail salesperson's) needs to be drilled into companies"—and he includes his own. Target's Kleckner says companies need to keep working on "how to translate physical experiences to online experiences."

But it was at this point that things got even more interesting. Best Buy's Koelling was especially eloquent: "We've allowed corporations, for a long time, to be NOT social. Now they have to be able to show up at the party without being boring or dangerous." But he wasn't done yet. "Who's gonna teach us how to do this social stuff?  Our agencies?  I don't think so—It's going to be the customer." Fingerhut's Smith agreed wholeheartedly, direct marketer that he is: "You have to listen." And it was then that General Mills' Cuene gave us a critical insight into his own company's thinking: "The question we ask internally is this: what does your brand look like when it wants to be social."

Thinking this discussion couldn't get much better, and seeing I already had a ton of notes, I was glad to see I hadn't quite run out of paper. But we weren't done yet—moderator Mike Kraabel of Gage kept pushing, so I flipped my notebook over and looked for more places to scribble: "So how are you measuring this stuff?" he says. "What's the ROI?" Which Koelling jumped right into with this gem: "Social media is so cheap these days, if you can't engage your customer, you're doing something wrong." Fingerhut's Smith cautioned patience: "Online display advertising has been evolving over 10 years, so we need to give this time. We'll see in social media over the next few years how people interact." But General Mills' Cuene had a very specific recommendation for the marketers in the audience (at least, we presume, those in consumer packaged goods: "The social media budget should be under product development. If it's under advertising, it will never ROI out." Best Buy's Koelling added: "Part of me hopes we never see an ROI equation for social media." He related a great story [Shel Israel, are you listening? your tweet about how we we all love stories was so true]—about the little town in Iowa where he was raised. The longtime general store there, a very successful business, never advertised. The owner just knew everybody in town, and what they wanted. "Social media takes us back to a time when people were more normal—when they interacted with each other."

Okay, panelists, said Kraabel, sitting up straighter: "How do we turn back time? How do we get management to spend money?" [This guy has a way with words.] Well, said Fingerhut's Smith, "We're not turning back time. Consumers have always owned brands...Now, we're just accelerating how they interact with and build brands." General Mills' Cuene threw in his take: "Finally, with social media, we can do at scale what the general store did." And Best Buy's Koelling gave some great advice: "You must be willing to TRY—to do small things. Be authentic and customers will be forgiving." And that's the challenge at big-brand companies like General Mills: "We have to find that authentic voice," echoed Cuene. Koelling continued his advice: "If you want to create something good, do something that will enable you to listen—it's a much easier sell."

No one would disagree that this social stuff is much easier when you're talking about younger audiences. "So, how do we expand it to older consumers?" asked moderator Kraabel. Target's Kleckner was totally honest: "We haven't figured that out yet." Fingerhut's Smith related that his demographic, as we all know, "is not exactly bleeding edge." (It tilts to older, lower income, and rural.) But, he said, "they do want to be heard. And we're working on some private communities." General Mills' Cuene added that "with newsletters and web sites, we're trying to bring older folks in." Best Buy's Koelling answer to getting older people in: "Bigger type?" Then he got more serious: "Apps on Facebook are mostly silly, childish stuff. Older people aren't interested in what's being put out there." General Mills' Cuene reminded everyone, however, that "we're in the early stages—slow down, watch, be patient. A little maturity can help." [And, doggone it, that was music to the ears of the gray-hairs in the audience! I agree that marketing still benefits from the voice of experience, even in these rapidly changing, social-mania times.]

The final question you might have guessed: "What about the future of media? Where are we going?" The first insight came from General Mills' Cuene: "Consumer content generation is only increasing and happening faster. This isn't going away.....Pretty mcuh everyone is a media outlet now." And another good point came from Target's Fleckner: "Calling it social media is kinda weird. It's really about 'experience." And Best Buy's Koelling agreed: "It's not about 'media'—it's something else. Really platforms. And it's still a little 'Wild West' out there." He also noted that we won't be seeing anymore big social networks. "There's no room for them!" But Koelling ended the panel discussion with a great wrap:

"Brands are going to have to figure out how to act like people." Amen, brother.

Thanks to MIMA and all the participants for another great networking event, a really eye-opening discussion for a lot of people.  And now I'd love to hear your reactions—please do so via the open comments section below!  Hey, I'm listening, see?  Always tryin' to do my thing to be social… :-)

Categories: Marketing, Media, Social Media, Community, Social Networking
Keywords:, social media, marketing, Minneapolis, General Mills, Target, Best Buy, Fingerhut

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