How to Build Social Capital: Innovate Early and Often

Steve Rubel on Digital Communications

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Last week the Altimeter Group, run by former Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li, and online marketing firm Wetpaint released a study that analyzed the 100 most valuable brands (according to BusinessWeek/Interbrand) and how they engage across 11 different online social-media venues, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Steve Rubel
Photo: JC Bourcart
Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP-director of insights at Edelman Digital.
The study was billed as creating an "engagement database" and ranked Starbucks No. 1, followed by Dell and eBay, based on their breadth and depth of social engagement. Google, Microsoft, Thomson Reuters, Nike, Amazon, SAP and Yahoo/Intel (a tie) round out the top 10.

What was eye-popping was the correlation they made between social engagement and financial performance. In my view there are a lot of factors that influence a company's financial performance, which makes such a correlation questionable. But good use of social media could be seen as a proxy for an innovative culture, eagerness to engage with consumers and take risks, a net positive for any business.

The bigger takeaway from the research is in examining how these companies were able to build their social networks. They all innovated early, often and, sometimes, incrementally. Consider that:

  • Dell and Starbucks were some of the earliest adopters of corporate crowd-sourcing. They launched ambitious sites on's platform in 2007 and 2008, respectively.
  • Many embraced Twitter early and in innovative ways. EBay, for example, was the first to live-tweet earnings calls in 2008. Amazon started offering deals on Twitter back in 2007.
  • Several were quick to build out robust communities that connect customers and employees. Microsoft, for example, launched its inventive Channel 9 platform for developers back in 2004. It followed up with similar sites for other key stakeholders.
  • A few of these companies were among the first to let employees openly blog. "Microsofties" began blogging in the late 1990s. Yahoo and Google debuted corporate and product blogs in 2004.
  • Social capital goes to those who innovate early, often and with excellence -- and repeat this process over and over. That, to me, is what the research spells out.

    (Note: Starbucks, Microsoft and eBay are all clients of Edelman, my employer.)

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