RealTime IT News

Companies Need Social Media All-Stars

NEW YORK -- Branding is about people, not company names, according to Steve Rubel, Edelman Digital director of insights, Web PR veteran, and author of the Micro Persuasion blog.

Speaking the Mediabistro Circus, Rubel told attendees that companies will need to put faces on the brand in order to win acceptance.

Companies that send out press releases by e-mail are part of a firehose. Recipients get more than 100 e-mails each day, and that's before you count tweets, RSS, SMS, IM and phone.

"How many of you have experienced 'e-mail bankruptcy,' where you delete all unread e-mails and assume that if any message was important, the person will contact you again?" he asked.

Web sites don't work either. "Brands expect people to beat a path to their sites, but the average American visits only 111 domains per month, and only 2,554 Web pages," he said.

People trust other people to introduce them to brands, Rubel said.

He pointed to research from the Edelman Trust Barometer 2009, page 14, figure 14, that showed that of the communications people receive from companies, they trust individuals at those companies (other than the CEO), but not press releases, advertising, or the company Web site.

"Companies have to put their individual employees out there and let them become brands," he said.

They need to make policies fast, because the youngest people at any company are already on social networks.

I, the brand

This change is already happening. During its announcement of the Twitter extension to the Service Cloud, Salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM) pointed to Frank Eliason, who tweets as comcastcares as an example of a company using Twitter well. Eliason now heads a group of four following notes about Comcast on Twitter.

Rubel pointed to Eliason and others as the beginning of this trend. Another is "Kelly" @Quickenloans. Rubel noted an exchange between Kelly and a realtor called Jody Zink that started on May 22, with a tweet by Zink saying, "Just say no to Quicken Loans. There's nothing QUICK about it" and ended with her tweeting "Thanks for your help, Kelly. We are closed!" on May 28.

"This isn't customer service," said Rubel. "This is branding."

Therefore, more effort is required than would be with customer service. On June 4, Zink tweeted, "@quickenloans Thank you for the kind note and token of gratitude! I found it in my mailbox today."

"All of this is seen by the gods of Google," said Rubel. He noted that Comcast's Eliason now ranks higher in Google search than a famous video titled A Comcast Technician Sleeping on my Couch that had over 1.3 million views at press time. Eliason was following 20,192 people and had 20,584 followers at press time.

Rock bands and digital embassies

"Some companies use rock bands," said Rubel. He meant that they promote teams instead of individuals.

"Just not the CEO," he added. "People have not trusted CEOs for years, and especially not for the last 12 months."

He pointed to Kodak's chief blogger and social media manager, Jennifer Cisney.

Zappos, a retail company well-known for its Twitter presence, has a public ranking of its employees by number of followers on Twitter.

Other companies prefer to build digital embassies. Rubel himself is a member of Pepsi's digital embassy on Friendfeed. He uses CoTweet to allow several people to collaborate on maintaining one Twitter account.

Rubel concluded by suggesting that companies do four things: find their social media all-stars, connect their customers to the all-stars, give their all-stars independence, and give them the equipment and support they need in order to do active listening on social media.

He said that companies that have someone's data on a social media network can get the rest of the personal data from a service called RapLeaf.

Editor's note: Mediabistro is part of WebMediaBrands, parent company of this Web site.