Internet users are flocking to social media as a means to communicate, and businesses can’t afford to stay on the sidelines.
However running blogs and profiles on Facebook and Twitter is a much more open way of communicating than they are used to. Big brands in particular are nervous about giving up control of what gets said about them in public.
But some companies have taken the plunge, and can help to reassure those that may still be hesitating. One of the pioneers is the leading chip-maker Intel, which has bravely dropped the old rigid approach to corporate communications. Instead of getting its legal and media relations departments to vet every public comment, it now empowers staff to talk publicly about its goals and activities unsupervised.
Through self-managed blogs and networking profiles, employees are encouraged to provide their own views on what’s going on at Intel and in the computer technology world. Social media has now been fully integrated into the company’s marketing, PR and business strategy. It also facilitates conversations within the company and with the technical community.
Two years ago Intel recognised the way customers were generating their own conversations about Intel products, according to Kari Aakre, director of consumer and social media inside the company’s Global Communications Group.
“With a flair for experimentation, we decided to see what would happen if we hosted the conversations ourselves,” she says. “And the results have amazed everyone and proven the experiment a success.”
What Intel Did
As far back as 2003, Intel began encouraging employees to communicate with each other by running their own internal blogs. These quickly gained a large following. CEO Paul Otellini launched his own internal blog in 2004, and other top executives followed.
In 2006 Intel launched IT@Intel pilot blog, and in 2007 rolled out a full blogs program, Blogs@Intel. This was conceived as a new business tool for customers and employees to directly communicate and collaborate with each other.
In May 2007 Intel was, with Dell, one of the first two Western companies to offer a corporate blog in China. Blogs in Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese and English followed, with topics ranging from corporate social responsibility and research to jobs and customer support.
Intel also makes full use of ‘wikis’, where employees can collaborate on shared content. In 2005 it creates its own internal Wikipedia site, Intelpedia, which today contains over 15,000 articles by Intel employees.
Since last year Intel has also become active in the social media space. It has developed an ‘active listening’ framework, to monitor and engage in online conversations related to the Intel brand and products, and to the technology industry generally.
In December 2008 the company launched a global initiative and training program for employees to become active participants in all forms of social media.
Also last year, it formed the Intel Insiders, social media pioneers who advise on how to better connect with online audiences interested in technology innovation. They are unpaid, but rewarded with products to borrow or keep, which they can provide feedback on, and invitations to key events.
The company is particularly active on , with nearly 150 different Twitterers (groups & individuals who Tweet for Intel) directly engaging with consumers, customers, developers, partners and others.
Training and Guidance
A key principle is that employees are free to post comment and to represent the company in internal forums without needing to get the content vetted first. But Intel takes care to ensure that they get a high level of guidance.
In 2008 the organisation created a Social Media Center of Excellence, which focuses on helping staff adopt social media broadly. This group created an extensive training program for employees on digital marketing, including social media.
Intel does not moderate content written by employees in social media outlets. However it expects them to be cognisant of legal issues, to be responsible in their comments, and to adhere to its comprehensive guidelines.
Employees are asked to be meaningful and respectful, and to avoid spam and remarks that are off-topic or offensive. They must respect confidentiality where necessary and ensure that everything they write publicly is consistent with Intel’s values and professional standards.
Transparency is advised, as any dishonesty will be quickly picked up on, and any vested interest should be quickly pointed out. Permission should be asked before reporting on any internal conversations.
Staff are also encouraged to:
* Be conversational, and avoid pedantic language.
* Create some excitement around Intel’s innovations in technology
* Add value, by helping people improve knowledge or skills, build their businesses, solve problems, or understand Intel better.
* Get involved in healthy debate, but avoid stoking controversy with heated reactions or inflammatory comments.
* Think carefully before hitting the send button, and taking time to review the guidelines if in doubt.
* Pass comment whether or not is it positive to Intel, but exclude any that is offensive, denigrating or out of context.
Intel’s objectives in using social media are threefold, according to
* Drive conviction for Intel and preference for Intel products by integrating social media into campaigns.
* Provide infrastructure and training for employees and create internal communities where they can listen, share and respond with one another.
* Monitor what is being said about Intel and the IT industry, bringing feedback and enabling the company to respond where appropriate.
“Social media is an excellent tool that lets us actively get feedback from our customers and partners, but also from the end users who purchase the products based on Intel chips,” Aakre says.
“We can also directly engage, where this is not possible through other traditional forms of advertising and marketing. This is a valuable resource for any company and one of the primary drivers of our adoption of social media.
There are areas or topics where it’s sometimes not appropriate to engage in public discussions online, including some financial topics and legal matters, Aakre adds. But there are many places where customers and consumers are talking and the company can learn from them.
The aim is to seek out market insights, listening and learning and then investing as needed, whether that is through budget allocation or people resources or some other form of investment.
“We’ve found that we have so many employees inside the company who are already very active in social media and bring a tremendous amount of experience and expertise to the table. We’re tapping those people as well,” she says.
Measurement of Effects
Intel is continuing to research and evaluate market data on the best approach to measure return on investment. These can include monitoring the ‘buzz’ around Intel in blogs and social networking sites, and comparing dollars saved by utilising social tools securing leads,
Aakre says: “From our own internal research, we know that social media plays a significant role in the purchase process of products that contain Intel technology, for both businesses and consumers.”