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BlogWell: Corporate Case Studies on Social Media Programs

June 24, 2009

Yesterday I attended Blogwell San Francisco and heard presentations on social media best practices from top brands including Cisco, SAP, Wells Fargo, Kaiser Permanente, Intuit, Dell and Pepsi. Each presenter had 20 minutes to present and 10 minutes of Q&A. This fast-paced format kept things moving. In the opening remarks, the organizers encouraged attendees to tweet during the conference, which I did. It is fascinating to see how well accepted using a laptop or mobile device to tweet or blog in real time (or catch up on email) has become during conferences.

Jeanette Gibson, Director of New Media Communications at Cisco, highlighted some of the ways Cisco uses social media to save money on communications while increasing conversations, interaction and engagement. A number of attendees later commented on how far ahead Cisco is from its corporate peers in this area, which I agree with. Disclosure: I have been a paid consultant for Cisco New Media Communications.

Mark Yolton, Senior Vice President of Community Networks at SAP, showed amazing statistics on SAP’s expert community network, which has some 1.5 million members and contributors. My question to another attendee was, “Since Mark is now an SVP, what is the next promotion for him—Chief Community Officer?” He laughed and said CCOs are already out there at some organizations!  See the brief done by DDB agency on this for details. This is quite a powerful statement on the power of social media.

I cringed a little hearing Josh Karpf, Digital and Social Media Manager with Pepsi, give a rapid-fire presentation on how they apply social media to raise awareness of their products and brands. I am not a big fan of soft drinks. However, it is only fair to give them kudos for creativity creating conversations with their target audience and be willing to take the feedback from the public.

I met attendees who worked for Intel, Wal-Mart, Ernst & Young, State Farm and Chevron. Most held communications or social media positions and were the “voice” of their corporation online. I also saw badges of individuals who work for software or services vendors in the space, including Technorati and BIZ360. I met a few consultants and saw someone in uniform from the Coast Guard.

This was my first exposure to an event organized by the Blog Council. I was impressed with the integrity and authenticity of the representatives. Peter Walheim spoke passionately about the importance of ethics, governance and policy for corporate bloggers, and gave all the attendees a hardcopy of a new Disclosure Best Practices Toolkit . The skeptic in me was satisfied that BlogWell isn’t a shill organization for its corporate members.

Overall it was an enjoyable afternoon. The conference organizers promised that all of the presentations will be posted on the BlogWell blog in the coming week….should be some good stuff.


Social Media Crash Course Highlights

June 8, 2009

In early May, Rene Siegel, president of High Tech Connect, and Brian Johnson, a social media guru with Internet Guide Services, invited me to join them on an ambitious project. They were organizing a seminar they called the Social Media Crash Course, which was intended to help marketing and communications professionals update social media and Web 2.0 skills. Although all three have are experienced presenters at professional associations and conferences, none of us had executed a full-day workshop. I accepted their challenge and immediately began some intensive weeks of planning and preparation.

On May 28, we presented to a lively group of 40 mostly seasoned PR and marketing consultants, along with a few small business owners and a U.C. Berkeley professor, at the Sheraton hotel in Pleasanton. The day was divided into three sections: Connect, Focus and Leverage. Each section included background, demonstrations, personal stories, hands-on exercises and Q&A. Here is a sample of some of the topics we covered:

Mine Your Connections: We demonstrated how to import contacts from Outlook, Entourage, Gmail, Yahoo Mail and other mail programs into Facebook and LinkedIn. Rene explained how she was able to reconnect with many former clients and friends going back some 20 years. Some of the attendees expressed reservations and fear regarding sending invitations to some of their email contacts or letting acquaintances into Facebook. One attendee asked if we recommend creating separate Facebook profiles for personal and professional use (we do not). A good dialog with the attendees on related topics ensued.

Keep ‘Em Updated: We showed how to send short status updates (a.k.a. microblogs) to all of your contacts on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter—or all of them at once with We explained how this can reinforce your personal brand (or company’s brand), and what we feel are valuable updates vs. SPAM.

Get and Stay Focused: We showed how to use an RSS reader to view Facebook and LinkedIn updates, blogs, national and international news, corporate news, newsletters and much more using Google Reader (or any RSS reader). Brian demonstrated his well-populated RSS reader, which includes not only text feeds but podcasts and videos. We explained the advantages of using an RSS reader to stay on top of the news that is important to you without clogging your email inbox.

Blogging Strategy: We spent a considerable amount of time explaining the growing prevalence of blogs and how to develop a blog strategy tailored to an individual, small business or corporation. I discussed how Cisco maintains 14 separate blogs aimed at specific focus areas and how the blogs now include videos and photos to make them more appealing. Rene explained how she was initially resistant to blog because of the work involved, but later found how easy it was to keep the blog fresh with short entries and comments on articles and other things she found on the web.  We showed how to use WordPress and Blogger, two of the free tools to easily maintain a blog.

Tag It: Brian has taken his blogs one step further, showing how he uses ShareThis to tag articles and websites of interest and have them automatically fed into his blog page immediately.  His personal blogs as well as the blog he maintains for Trapeze Networks are quite impressive.

Be Authentic and Transparent: We discussed why authenticity and transparency are two key attributes of social media that make it a powerful tool—a point echoed by Joel Postman, author of SocialCorp: Social Media Goes Corporate. We showed some of the videocam-produced, humorous viral videos on YouTube that get this point across. We touched on why slick, highly produced marketing videos simply don’t have the same level of authenticity and transparency, and are no longer seen as highly credible anymore.

For me, co-leading the seminar was a powerful experience. It was a chance to show the practical side of leveraging social media tools for an individual, small business or larger organization. More importantly, we created a forum to openly discuss fears and skepticism around the adoption of social media. I look forward to learning, teaching and blogging more on this evolving topic.

For comments and testimonials from attendees, see the High Tech Connect fan page.

Job Search Strategies for PR Grads

April 22, 2009

Last night I participated in a IABC panel for the PR199 class at San Jose State University. The students are graduating next month and were eager to hear about our ideas to secure a job and manage their careers.

I was joined by my longtime colleagues Rene Siegel, Yvonne Thomson, Brad Whitworth and John Robertson. Each of us have 20 years+ experience and a good sense of humor, making for a lively conversation. Here are some of the ideas we presented to the class. I enjoyed sharing some of the more provocative and creative approaches in the list including #1, 4 and 9.

1. The “No Resume” Job Offer: Find ways to connect to the hiring manager without sending in your resume. For example, it is far better to be introduced to a hiring manager through a friend, relative or contact through a professional association like IABC or PRSA. If they sing your praises, you may get an interview without submitting a resume and a job offer without showing your resume. It happens more than you might think.

2. Back Up Your Resume: A good resume is essential, but it is better to have a portfolio of materials to offer, including a summary of skills, volunteer work, writing samples, press clips examples, PowerPoint presentations, references, etc.

3. Customize Your Resume. For each job opportunity, update your resume to make sure the stated objective maps to the job, and move the most relevant skills to the top so the employer sees what they need in the first three inches of the resume.

4. Dump the Cover Letter: Writing the perfect cover letter is time consuming and rarely carries much weight in the screening and hiring process. Just write a short email when you send in your resume. If you submit by mail or in person, consider handwriting a short note that covers your interest in the position.

5. Establish Your Brand Online. Spend the necessary time to create robust a LinkedIn profile and a blog related to your profession. If done properly, this can make a resume almost obsolete.

6. Sell Yourself: You are a communicator, not an engineer, so you are expected convey a professional image and be able to sell yourself. Your clothes, grooming, eye contact, body launguage and handshake need to convey strong confidence; your written material should be flawless, and be sure to LISTEN carefully not just talk. Make the most of your assets, package yourself well, and be professional. This essentially what communicators do in their jobs.

7. Get Feedback: At every opportunity with hiring managers, mentors and other professionals that you admire, ask for feedback. For example, at the end of an interview, especially if it went poorly, ask for honest feedback. When done properly, this shows humility, desire to grow, and connects you to the person giving you the feedback.

8. Know a lot, but don’t know it all: Employees like to hire individuals that are smart and skilled and eager to learn more. But nobody likes to hire (or hang out with) a know-it-all.

9. Over Prepare for Interviews: Learn everything you can about the company—its culture, products, company’s market, competitors, industry challenges, etc. Consider preparing a PowerPoint presentation for each interview with slides summarizing this information along with a few slides on your background and how you can contribute to the organization in the position. Ask for 15 minutes during the interview to present the slides. This shows that you are better prepared and more motivated than your peers. Even if you don’t present the slides, just the exercise of putting them together will prepare you well for the interview.

10. Be Authentic: Employers want to hire people that know themselves, their strengths and growth areas, and who convey confidence and genuine enthusiasm for the company and the their profession. Dig deep to find this within yourself and let it come through. Take every opportunity to practice interviewing even if it means interviewing for positions or companies that you are not top on your list.

11. Churn, Baby, Churn: Consider any solid opportunity within the communications profession that comes your way, even if it is not the perfect or you don’t think it will last more than 6 months or a year. Employers are more interested in the skills you have gained than the how many years you were employed at one given company. If asked why you didn’t stay longer, answer that you moved on to a better opportunity and focus on the positive.

12. Think Outside PR: Consider becoming a social media maven or web content writer or marcomm specialist. Learn more about different communications positions and see how your skills align to them. PR is just one small slice of the communications pie. Why limit your job opportunities?

13. Get Personal: One of the least-used secret weapons in business: the hand-written thank you card.

Nancy Duarte on the art and science of great presentations

March 6, 2009

Today’s luncheon at Silicon Valley IABC broke all attendance records for a chapter event in recent memory, with a standing-room only crowd of 125 business communicators. Likewise, Nancy Duarte, principle and CEO of Duarte, has broken through the status quo in the field of presentations/visual communications. In case you don’t recognize her name, her firm is the brains behind Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth presentation and they work with top corporate clients including Cisco, HP, Disney, Google, etc.

Nancy gave us a snapshot of the “art and science of creating great presentations,” which is the subtitle of her book Slide:ology, a must read. Here’s a clue—the book is NOT about using PowerPoint. In fact, she enjoyed taking potshots at PowerPoint explaining that it was basically conceived as a tool to convey data. The theme of her talk and the book are focusing on storytelling: understanding the audience wants/needs, connecting with them emotionally (“what emotional state do you want to leave them in?), being authentic (“an expression of your soul”), identifying points of conflict (“where do you want conflict added?”). She also talked about taking risks (she admires Martha Graham) and being willing to face your fears of transparency and vulnerability to share more of yourself (“business is now personal”).

Her own visuals were uncluttered, visually-oriented and very impactful: a photo, a simple diagram (sometimes with annotations added), a clip from the television hit The Office, hand sketches, and case study slides. She probably showed more than 100 images, but breezed through them seamlessly as she spoke, as though the slides were an extension of her thoughts. The presentation could have been created in PowerPoint, Keynote or any other visual system—it was the images and flow that made it work so well. She also explained some of the process behind creating an effective presentation, which includes brainstorming and storyboarding up front and basically creating a whole new look, feel and positioning for the story being told.

It is great to see how her firm’s work has elevated presentations to such an art form. Her presentations flow like a well-scripted advertisement. On the other hand, the bar has been raised considerably, which means individual consultants and smaller companies with less resources are at a disadvantage. Of course, the same goes for websites, social media content and other digital content, which just gets better all the time. Good news for the those of us in the communications business.

Cisco Social Media Presentation

February 16, 2009

IABC’s first luncheon of the year was held at Michael’s Restaurant at Shoreline and the event was a big success. Jeanette Gibson, director of New Media Communications at Cisco, delivered a great presentation on the company’s use of social media tools to an engaged audience of some 80 people. She discussed examples of how they are using Web 2.0 strategies to communicate with customers and employees, including blogging, UTube, Twitter and Second Life. You can download Jeanette’s presentation from the IABC site. Once again, Cisco is implementing and sharing communications best practices.

State of the Clean Green Industry

February 3, 2009

Today I joined some 350 people for the SD Forum’s State of the Clean Green Industry at the Sun Microsystems campus in Santa Clara. The website promoting the event described it as a gathering of “policy-makers, entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and investors, updating the larger Silicon Valley community on the opportunities and challenges in the clean green space.” The event delivered largely as promised. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed kicked off the day demonstrating his knowledge of the industry and the efforts the City is doihng to support business. He talked for nearly 30 minutes and was quite convincing. The first of the panels included four VCs from GE Capital, Intel Capital, GrowthPoint Technology Partners and CalCEF who discussed issues around IPOs and merger & acquisitions for cleantech companies. M&As dominated last year especially in solar. Also last year $8.4B of VC funding went to cleantech companies, representing 15 percent (?) of total VC funding, a percentage they feel could top 33% in the coming years. They discussed what they feel are the most attractive cleantech sectors to get funded. 

The second panel featured green czars from big tech companies including Sun, SAP, Intel, IBM and HP who discussed their green efforts, best practices and lesson learned. They also discussed how they got employees engaged in the effort.  Intel tied a bonus directly to green efforts across the company. The final panel featured four entrepreneurs who have early stage cleantech companies. They described their situation and opinions on the current funding climate and regulations. Some strong opinions here as they struggle to get cash and grow their businesses.

The day included ample discussion of the appropriate role of government policy to promote cleantech, the Obama administration’s support of the the industry and the potetienal of the stimulus bailout money. Overall the tone was upbeat with an eye on the long term.

Social Media for Internal Communications

February 3, 2009

I attended a conference titled Social Media for Internal Communications in San Francisco and was joined by about 50 other communications professionals who wanted to hear about best practices and challenges in the field. Presenters at the two-day conference included Abbott, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, EMC, IBM, JetBlue, ROI Communications, Wachovia and Watson 
Wyatt. SV-IABC was one of the event sponsors and I was received a pass through a membership drawing.

Based on the presentations given, even conservative companies are taking a pragmatic approach to social media. They know their employees use already in their personal life, so why not take advantage of it to connect them at work? Some companies have even dropped the word “media” altogether, simply calling it “social” as in “social interaction” or “social behavior.” I was impressed by the courage of the presenters who shared their stories. Many of them have faced considerable obstacles convincing management to allow them to introduce social media.

The implementations presented varied widely and reflected the different company cultures. For example, EMC added a system in Jive Clearspace that allows any employee to participate via blogs and Wikis. Employees are free to create any forum they wish and the system is largely self-policed. On the other hand, the more conservative Abbott included blogs and VoDs on their intranet, but carefully screens everything before posting.

Flip cameras played a big role in three of the case studies. JetBlue gave them to 125 flight crew leaders. Videos poured in from all over with crew and passengers singing, dancing and generally filling in time during long flights. The PR lead felt this was a valuable bonding tool that promotes their culture. However, I question the value of these silly watch-me videos. Abbott also gave Flip cameras to communications leads in every country and has received a steady stream of valuable videos since. One non-profit showed how they use videos to promote and document events, which seemed to be professionally done and effective.

Watson Wyatt gave a somewhat technical presentation on Microsoft SharePoint, which has become the dominant tool for social media implementations. Evidently Microsoft has done a good job giving parts of the platform away, getting customers hooked, and then charging $90 per seat to bring it to all employees. Gartner also favors SharePoint, putting it in the upper right quadrant in their 2008 study along with IBM Websphere. Consolidation seems to rule here.

In true social media style, the conference organizers promised to set up a Wiki for all attendees. I look forward to continuing the dialog with my fellow communicators.

Below are tips from one of the presenters with their advice for organizations implementing social media tools that does a good job capturing some of the themes of the conference:

  • Enable your employees and be patient – create an environment that allows users to better collaborate via multiple modalities, across time zones, organizational barriers, skillsets, know each other professionally and socially, know each other’s skills and expertise.
  • Integrate your tools – look for integrated toolsets; must be open
  • Be sensitive to culture change – be sensitive to generational acceptance and norms, country cultures; incorporate storytelling and cultural sharing; allow for human interest and encourage employee participation and generation of content
  • Constant communication –campaigns to help with adoption; show leadership modeling and permission; define usage policies; provide education.
  • Know when you are risking too much – connect employees without creating chaos; define free-form sandboxes and focused work projects.
  • Ensure privacy – define the line between work and play; socializing and work
  • Protect and secure your assets – ensure internal data is safe; use tools that are well-tested from credible vendors
  • Develop fair policies, not fluffy ones – govern use without boxing in innovation; allow for play but maintain values of company along the way
  • Implement with a credible vendor – work with a credible vendor to select and implement for your specific organization. Don’t try it on your own or start with something safe.