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A look at how brands are embracing social media

PivotCon 2012

Companies used to controlling their brand message often balk at the very idea of social media. They fear the inevitable company slip-up, where a video of disrespectful employee goes viral and the Twitterverse reacts en masse. Or they might relegate corporate Facebook and Twitter accounts to the organizational fringes: un-paid interns. For publishers, who have traditionally been able to contain the spigot of information, social media can be just as daunting.

Yet now that social media has proved itself to be more than a fleeting phenomenon, companies are realizing the value of becoming a “social business”, leveraging the power of community to spread positive messages about the brand and counteract negative ones. At PivotCon, a conference that explores the issues surrounding brands and social media, the day’s speakers touched upon key social media lessons, many of which are relevant to the publishing industry.

 1. The online conversation about your brand is going to happen whether or not you participate:  Why participate in social media even if it’s notoriously difficult to quantify the ROI? Because the conversation about your brand or publication is going to occur on social media no matter what. This conversation is especially likely to happen in times of crises. Charlene Li, chief executive of the Altimeter Group, recounted the story of the FedEx employee who was caught on camera throwing a package with a computer monitor over a fence. The video soon amassed over eight million views on YouTube and generated virulent online discussion. But if companies haven’t already gained the trust of their online community, participating in this discussion will certainly prove ineffective.

2. Social media shouldn’t be relegated to a single department: Ellen Stone, senior vice-president for marketing at Bravo TV, emphasized that instead of social media being the responsibility of one team, it “has to be a company-wide philosophy”. Social media needs to be a key part of marketing, customer service, research, digital and programming. As Coca-Cola’s Racquel Mason put it, “Social is not any one person’s job; it’s everyone’s”.

3. Get rid of the editorial and digital “silos”: The word “silos” might have been the jargon term of the day at PivotCon. Many of the day’s speakers repeated the word, imploring organizations to get rid of the silos, or divisions, between technology teams and editorial teams.  At the Huffington Post, for instance, journalists and designers sit side-by-side. Jimmy Soni, the Huffington Post’s managing editor, said that “the words on the page aren’t the last thing our journalists think about. The design of their story matters, how the story looks matters”.

4. Hire digitally savvy employees: As social media grows in importance, companies must hire more digitally savvy employees. For the Huffington Post, social media know-how is embedded in their hiring philosophy. Travis Donovan, executive products editor, said that for many HuffPo employees, social media is “something they grew up with; it’s something they do inherently. We find people who understand the platforms and we take it to the next level.” Linda Boff, the executive director of global digital marketing at General Electric, spoke of their “reverse mentoring” program, where employees who are familiar with social media – often younger employees – mentor those who aren’t.

5. Embrace “social-sharing”: The popularity of social media means that many news stories are often discovered on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Jonah Peretti, chief executive officer at BuzzFeed, believes that publishers should embrace this new method of discovery. In fact, the rise of the social web might ultimately be good for publishing. “A really excellent writer can reach millions of people because of the social web. That favors top quality work and good reporting”, he said. “Google can’t tell the difference between a rewrite of a New York Times article or a real Times article. Twitter users can”.