At the Society of New Communications Research Symposium last week, one panel discussion stood out, David Parmet's company social media case study review. People from Coca Cola, Dell, Scuderi Group, SUN Microsystems, General Motors took part.
Christopher Barger's social media review of General Motors was the highlight of the panel for me. I've written about GM, their blogging strategy and their tactics a number of times. Christopher was even kind enough to mention one of PR Communications posts about GM’s blog in his overview.
Christopher gave an excellent state of social media and blogging at GM. I thought the presentation sounded as if his group had made some early successes. Based on that progress he had received more funding, as he is expanding his internal team.
What's exciting about Christopher's work to me is that it again demonstrates the importance of a company developing internal social media expertise. In the early days of business blogging there were few examples and consultants, so there were few people to turn to. Microsoft, Macromedia, SUN all did a good job of helping to form the industry. I recall the community was very excited at any developments at any of these early pioneers. That internal expertise was I believe one of the reasons for their success. I also think that the companies that have really got to grips with social media and blogging are those that have a dedicated internal team.
Ford tried a version of social media that used outside agencies; the result was poor and did not work. So much so Ford took the content down. See my previous posts on Ford listed in this book review. However, Ford's experience was no doubt a lesson that they can apply for the future.
Christopher Barger from General Motors went on to give an anecdote in the panel at the SNCR event that GM marketing would only work with his group when they thought it would help their numbers and campaigns. This indicates to me that many GM marketers are not thinking about marketing, but merely using social media as another advertising channel. There may be a lack of understanding of how to approach this new two way conversation medium.
Christopher's work at GM demonstrates company's with a disconnect between existing culture and the ideals surrounding the marketing concept or conversation using social media, really have to hire or develop internal resources for social media within company outside of existing communications departments.
Auto Industry Corporate Blogging Adoption
GM has a conservative culture, and the company also has some big problems. Perception is one of the biggest image problems for the company. Most people I know would not buy a Ford or General Motors car. (In the interests of transparency, I own a Ford) Even if American cars are better, and there are several studies that suggest it, most Americans I know don't think so. Social media, or conversation with customers is one way to change that perception, but only if transparency is used and Ford and GM are willing to accept criticism, but also do something about suggestions and ideas from customers I believe there will be more hope for those companies. Why because, while the tools might be fun to use, starting to converse with customers is really about changing business strategy to follow the marketing concept, which is all about building better products and a better company by listening to customers. Microsoft showed us the path to conversation and marketing with Channel 9 and Robert Scoble. Dell has proven the model with its triage unit, and customer service bloggers and ideastorm.
The Blog Council was recently formed to share ideas between large companies on the topic of corporate blogging. One issue that such large companies face is what it takes to change culture in a large organization where people are sometimes resistant to change. I used to work in the software accounting industry for wholesale distributors. Gordon Graham a writer and expert in the industry wrote a book about using computer accounting software and inventory management principles. In his book, "Distribution Inventory Management," Gordon discusses how employees are often reluctant to adopt new technologies and make process cultural changes; especially if they have seen other technologies come and go. Senior management has to stand behind new technologies and be seen to promote them within the company. Moving from inventory control to inventory management requires new processes and new ideas.
Social media, conversation and becoming a marketing orientated company require a substantial culture change for any organization.
Blogging Strategy Execution
1. Your strategy fails to recognize the limitations of the existing organization.
(Understanding the limits of what is possible within an organization is important for the implementation of social media strategy.)
2. Your employees don’t know how the strategy applies to their daily activities.
[ A 2-day event with Verne Harnish, CEO of Gazelles, enlightened me that we all see the world for how it answers 3 questions:
A. What's in it for me?
B. Why should I care?
C. Why should I believe?
I'm successful in promoting an initiative with any audience, to the extent I can answer those 3 questions succinctly and in a compelling manner.
(Evangelizing the use of social media means you have to demonstrate that the use will bring benefits to employees. Microsoft's showcasing with channel 9 was a brilliant step in motivating people to adopt.)
3. Your organization’s business systems or processes can’t support the strategy.
(You have to understand what resources are needed to be successful in using social media and your organization capabilities. Once you know both you know what resources have to be added and what changes in thinking have to occur.)
4. Your performance measures and rewards are not aligned with the strategy.
(Paying people to blog, or giving them time off might not be a bad idea.)
I suspect the gig at GM is requiring all of Christopher Barger's diplomatic skills, and if he and the company can pull it off, it will turn out to be one of the best case studies in the industry, after all this not just about using social media tactics but the whole American Auto industry getting to the essence of the marketing concept through conversation with customers. Lastly, Christopher Barger explained GM is planning on beefing up the existing corporate blog with more resources and outreach.