Socially challenged


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A company that is finding a strong correlation between its social outreach and business goals is FedEx Corp. Its Citizenship Blog, introduced last year, promulgates the company's involvement in such areas as community and disaster relief, environmental issues and work-life balance.

"We're finding that when FedEx calls on prospective and current customers, they're looking at the type of company they're doing business with," said Matt Ceniceros, FedEx's Citizenship Blog editor. "We feel this is a very powerful medium to get out our stories."

FedEx also leverages social media as an advertiser. It is a sponsor of the American Express OPEN Forum, an online networking center and information exchange for small-business owners. And the company's tongue-in-cheek videos poking fun at corporate America have gone viral on YouTube; its "Office Meeting" spot alone has gotten almost 500,000 views.

But primarily, Ceniceros said, social media has given FedEx a "more human" channel to convey news.

For example, earlier this year when the company began laying off what eventually totaled about 2,500 employees in response to the recession, Chairman Frederick Smith explained the company's situation in a video.

The positive feedback from that prompted FedEx CMO Mike Glenn to use the Citizenship Blog to discuss the company's 20% advertising cutbacks, including pulling its advertising from the Super Bowl for the first time in 12 years.

"It was presented in a human and somewhat vulnerable way," Ceniceros said.

One result: In December, FedEx was named by, a jobs Web site, one of the best places to work in the U.S. in 2009, compiled from company employee reviews throughout the year. FedEx increased its ranking to No. 21, from No. 49 the previous year, with employees reporting that it handled downsizing well.

Can this speak to social media's impact on revenue and lead-gen? Ruth P. Stevens, a b-to-b marketing consultant and Columbia Business School professor, doesn't think so, at least not yet.

"To me, social media still doesn't feel scalable," Stevens said. "I hear wonderful anecdotal stories about how customers had a bad experience with a product, for example, and the company has five people spending hours solving the problem. But that's not the kind of marketing that helps deliver gains in revenue."

Admitting that business deals can be identified via Twitter or other social media postings, Stevens nevertheless draws a distinction between business development and marketing.

"Business development is onesie-twosies," Stevens said. "It's sales without a quota, not marketing."

For FedEx's Ceniceros, however, social marketing's performance as a measurable, tracking marketing channel may eventually become apparent.

"If you look at social media as a channel instead of a new frontier, it becomes more tangible," Ceniceros said. "From a media relationship standpoint, the way we talk to print isn't the same way we talk to broadcast, for example. As the business world becomes more sophisticated in using social media, its special way of being addressed will become more sophisticated as well."

Originally published Feb. 8, 2010

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