“We're moving from an era of mass communications to one of masses of communicators,” said Adam Christensen, manager-social media communications at IBM Corp., an early adopter of social media tools. But he warned that, to take full advantage of social marketing, a company's culture most be taken into account.
“Success comes from coordinating your business model with your culture,” he said, referring to the failure of some executive blogging efforts in the past at IBM. “If you have a conflict between the two, it won't work very well.”
IBM's social outreach is pervasive, Christensen said, entailing thousands of internal bloggers, online customer brainstorming sessions with more than 500,000 participants and a media library that has logged some 8 million downloads to date. Almost half of the company's 400,000 employees have a profile on LinkedIn, he said.
The rationale for IBM's commitment to social media is based on original company research on the factors that influence brand perception. Sitting securely in the top three slots were: 1) customers' experiences with company employees; 2) feedback from analysts or professional associations; and 3) the opinions of friends.
“Those factors are the things that social media can best address,” Christensen said. “We want to use social media to expose our employees' experiences, so they can learn, lead and collaborate.”
Social media strategist and BtoB columnist Paul Gillin also stressed the importance of peer-to-peer sharing of business intelligence.
“It's the killer app, the concept of ‘friends' and ‘profiles,' ” Gillin said. “The challenge is how to get into the mix and be relevant to your influencers.”
One way companies are doing this, Gillin said, is through customer forums. He cited Hilton Hotels' use of designated business travelers, who provide ongoing feedback about such items as Hilton room layouts and service. Gillin also said Dell Inc.'s similar concept, called “IdeaStorm,” is designed to generate and gauge customer-contributed technology ideas.
Reflecting on business organizations that are ready to accept community input to change products or strategy, Gillin said: “Our challenge is relevance, changing the way we think, taking feedback from our communities and planning campaigns almost on a real-time basis.”
To gauge the interest of public companies in its virtual shareholder meeting services, Broadridge Financial Services scores different online information requests using Web analytics then feeds the results into its Salesforce.com CRM system, said panelist Mike Clark, Broadridge e-marketing manager.
It's a form of virtual social interaction that, he said, harkens back to an earlier time.
“Information used to be shared by word-of- mouth; and now, with social media, that has come full circle back to word-of-mouth,” he said.
Panelist Michael Paradiso, VP-integrated media and director-sponsorships for IT management software company CA Inc., agreed.
“This in the age of the ‘hyper-active lead,' ” he said.
Paradiso defended integrated campaigns, including the role of print. Gillin, however, was far harsher about the role of newspapers and magazines in the future.
Citing recent dismal circulation figures showing newspaper readership below pre-World War II levels, Gillin predicted that within 10 years there would be only a handful of newspapers left in existence.