Bright Matrices

Writings & musings of Mike Zavarello (a.k.a. brightmatrix), a "red mage" web developer.

Category: Event Recaps

Behind the Juggernauts’ Curtain: Highlights from BlogWell’s Social Media Case Studies Event

On November 9, 2010, I attended BlogWell: How Big Brands Use Social Media at SAP Headquarters in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. Hosted by the Social Media Business Council and GasPedal, BlogWell brought together case studies from eight major firms such as Hershey, Scholastic, Pfizer, and Discovery Communications in a fast-paced, half-day event.

Major themes discussed at BlogWell were the structure of social media initiatives within large, often heavily regulated industries, ways these firms are using innovative social campaigns to engage with their audiences, and the legal and ethical challenges they’re facing. Overall, it was refreshing to get a peek behind the curtains to see these corporate juggernauts taking well thought out, pragmatic, and innovative paths to successful social solutions. I’ve compiled notes from several of the sessions I attended.

Pfizer’s Social Media Playbook

Kate Bird, Digital Communications Professional for Pfizer, presented her company’s social media playbook, which she billed as “practical guidance for colleagues”.

The playbook boils down aspects of Pfizer’s official social media policy into a 20-30 page “umbrella” document that covers each of the major channels and provides guidance on how employees should engage in these channels, both professionally and personally.

It contains a resource repository that links to existing policies and training materials, official Pfizer social media channels, best practice documents, and illustrates how employees can get started. The playbook is evolving into an interactive digital tool encompassing wikis, videos, and collaborative spaces.

Kate also shared how Pfizer offers corporate-wide webinars and training on social media to all interested employees across different parts of the organization. All training is managed and conducted by employees.

Within the broader scope of social media, Pfizer expects to create a rich catalog of social properties, communities, and initiatives, with the goal of connecting the people who need to be connected to each other. They also hope to reduce agency costs by eliminating duplicate and redundant social media outlets with the organization. In addition, they want to offer their employees a deeper understanding of core social media principles. Finally, Pfizer seeks to have a more relevant and connected social footprint.

Keeping Bloggers Honest with Disclosures

Andy Sernovitz led the middle-of-the-afternoon main session on ethics and disclosure. His points were succinct and direct: it’s OK to have a commercially-minded social media program, so long as it’s clear. Disclosure increases the authenticity of your message, making you more credible and powerful.

The Federal Trade Commission requires disclosure and truthfulness in all social media outreach. It’s your responsibility to monitor the conversation around your brand or business and correct misstatements. Andy stated that it’s essential to have social media policies and training programs. He also cautioned that while bloggers are not your employees, you need to make a good faith effort to make certain they disclose. If the blogger or agency you hire is found to be unethical, the FTC will find you responsible.

Andy’s advice for handling bloggers is simple: never pay bloggers and insist on real disclosure. Paying bloggers changes the game from word-of-mouth to advertising, and readers will learn to distrust you. As for disclosure, make sure the bloggers are up front and clear with their statements, not burying them on their “About Me” page.

The “10 magic words” in disclosure are: “I work for X, and this is my personal opinion.” Disclosure statements need to clearly show who the blogger is, whether they were paid, and whether they’re offering an honest opinion based on a real experience. It’s then up to the reader to decide what the disclosure means to them.

The Social Media Business Council has a Disclosure Best Practices Toolkit that’s available for anyone download and use as a basis for their own social media efforts.

Coordinated Social Communications at Johnson & Johnson

Marc Monseau, of Corporate Communications at Johnson & Johnson, talked about how his corporation is taking advantage of the opportunities in social media, creating relationships, and learning more about their audience and how to best support them.

Starting first with a blog describing the history the company, Johnson & Johnson’s social media footprint has expanded over the past four years to include a corporate blog, YouTube channel, Facebook page, and four Twitter accounts. Each channel allows them to connect with key online stakeholders talking about health care and offer their own thoughts on health care topics.

Both their corporate blog and YouTube channel have healthy discussions. Marc described how they’ve become pathways into Johnson & Johnson for users to provide feedback on the topics presented and as a way to generate community discussions.

Marc explained how each of their channels operates in concert with each other. His staff has regular editorial meetings to discuss how to best engage their audiences. They then select the appropriate channel based on the nature of the message and where their audience is located, and decide which bloggers and influencers to interact with. By being open, responsive, and timely, Johnson & Johnson has been able to turn the tide in online conversations.

Johnson & Johnson has separate social media policies for their employees, based on whether the activities are external or integral to the organization. These policies give departments pathways to create their own initiatives.

Marc advised that, before you begin any foray into social media, you need to understand where conversations about you are taking place, who is saying them, and why. You must understand the dynamics of these discussions and your role in them. He recommended a consistent approach and behavior across all touch points, both in official publications and third-party websites; this is especially critical for heavily regulated industries.

Experimenting with Social Solutions for Internal Collaboration

The last session at BlogWell was led by Jonathon Haley, Director at BlackRock, an asset management firm. Jonathon elaborated on the social solutions for internal collaboration currently under way at BlackRock. His group is experimenting with ways social media can offer solutions with true business value. While the process isn’t expected to be finalized until early 2011, Jonathon shared what they’ve done to date and what they’ve learned along the way.

The key problem being addressed, he explained, is inefficient communication to and collaboration among the sales teams. Everyone is trying to feed valuable information to the sales team. How do you manage the mass of incoming information?

They first started with adding content authoring, on both personal and professional levels, to the teams’ annual objectives, then turned to internal blogs. Jonathon’s group gathered data to learn how social the teams were and conducted more intensive tests on specific channels with volunteers. This process allowed the group to find the social advocates within their organization and use them to lead the way.

Jonathon and his group then created “villains” to rally the teams around. First, they flagged PDFs in internal communications as the villain to encourage to teams to share information in more accessible, shareable, and searchable platforms. Then, they identified fringe players attempting to disrupt asset management models, as well as competitors with thought leaders on their sides, as the external villains.

Ultimately, the social solution at BlackRock must provide real business value: revenue creation and cost savings to the firm. The group has defined several metrics, such as number of phone calls per day to content experts, as benchmarks for the solution.

Jonathon advised gathering dedicated resources to work on social efforts like his, and to keep those teams tight. He emphasized that his group is comfortable with “small wins” in social as they consider how they’ll expand their solution across the company.

Notes From Edward Tufte’s “Presenting Data and Information” Course

On July 28, 2009, I attended Edward Tufte’s “Presenting Data and Information” course in Philadelphia. Tufte is well respected for his expertise in data visualization and equally renowned for his complete disdain of PowerPoint as a communications tool.

I recently came across a page-and-a-half of handwritten notes I had taken during the lecture and wanted to share what I recorded. Below are elaborations on these notes.

  • Begin with the content by asking the question: “how can something be explained?” Be guided by the task. Don’t choose the mode of presentation in advance: it’s not about pre-specifying the dataset or methodology.
  • The character of relationships between elements is just as vital as the elements themselves. Provide “reasons to believe”.
  • Use causality thinking: which properties effect and govern the cause.
  • Annotate everything: annotation is the heart of explanation. Annotations reside in the background. They are subtle, but clear and help avoid optical clutter. Annotating “linking lines” adds credibility and texture to causal links.
  • Use tables; don’t be afraid of them. People read huge tables all the time: think sports, weather, market data, etc. “Bring your presentation up to the level of the sports section.”
  • Replace “chart junk” with evidence (but not selected evidence; avoid being a “cherry picker”).
  • Supergraphics are interactive: they allow individuals to explore and find what’s important to them and encourage discussion among an audience. Everyone will look at a different section at the same time. Find a really good supergraphic to open your presentation and give it to the audience on handouts.
  • There is no such thing as information overload: there is only failure of design. Add detail to improve clarity and content. Use more tables than graphics, especially for smaller numbers.
  • PowerPoint is “a corrupt method of displaying information”. PowerPoint presentations set up a dominance relationship with extreme information denial (“a long and winding road”).
  • Integrity, relevance, and interest are content properties that design will not correct.
  • Find good reports and copy them (but have good taste); “stay out of the design business. Don’t get it original; get it right”.
  • For intellectual models, avoid marketing speak and corporate pitches; you want “non-fiction credibility”.
  • Use wall charts in project management. Make comparisons over space vs. a sequential series of slides (“stacked in time”).
  • Letter codes, legends, keys, etc., are impediments to learning. They are not universal, but instead “one-off” creations that are good for only one instance. Get viewers out the decoding business: use direct labels.
  • There two issues in information design: multivariate problem: the dimensions of data need to be communicated on a two-dimensional display (“flatlands”). Every interesting analytical problem is more than one to two dimensions or factors. Information resolution: A way to measure progress in communication and presentations. Think: what is the rate of information throughput in my presentation?
  • Use the “brute force” method: build a model by getting a real object in the room.
  • The segregation of information by modes of production is a conceptual error.
  • Don’t insult or fail to respect your audience. Maintain intellectual integrity without patronizing. It’s not considered “dumbing down” to remove jargon for dispersal to a larger audience.
  • Give users the freedom to consume the material how they want.
  • For the opening screens (home pages) of websites, show off what people can learn there. People are good at scanning: they will scan, then scroll, then click; keep it flat and rich. 90% of every screen, excluding navigation, should be content.
  • Sparklines reduce “recency bias” by showing changes over a larger span of time.
  • When giving presentations, remember the following: Work on content. Practice. Show up early. Use handouts and Word documents (never PowerPoint slides). Leave more than one copy of technical reports. Define what the problem is, who cares, and what the solution is.

Here are several key quotes I jotted down during the lecture:

  • “Do whatever it takes to display something.”
  • “Document everything and tell people about it.”
  • “The metaphor is the map.”
  • “A feature that is buried is not a feature.”
  • “Talent imitates, but genius steals.”
  • “The person who heads up web design is a content expert.”

The course was more lecture than seminar, but Tufte kept me interested and engaged throughout the day. A bit prickly in person, he’s nevertheless an excellent presenter. I would highly recommend the course as a “professional development opportunity” (i.e.: training) for those interested in how to present content and data in pretty much any form, not just visual representations. Plus, you get all four of his books to add to your library, which is an excellent take-away… more so than a flash drive or fancy badge clip.

Notes from Radian6’s Online Seminar on Open Leadership in Social Media

On Friday, July 30, 2010, I attended an online seminar hosted by Radian6 and starring Charlene Li, founder of Altimeter Group. Charlene talked about key points from her book, “Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead”. Below are some brief elaborations of the key points I live-tweeted during the seminar. You can listen to the entire recording on Radian6’s website.

Please note: All quoted text is attributed to Charlene, not me.

  • “You are no longer in control because of these social technologies. Have the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control” of both the message and the medium.
  • The dialog between businesses and their customers is changing from formal press releases to chats on Facebook (John Deere) and question-and-answer sessions on Twitter (Best Buy’s Twelpforce). Starbucks is successful in crowdsourcing, for example, because they take the time to integrate it into their business (My Starbucks Idea). These relationships will deepen as the culture of sharing becomes more accepted.
  • Learn and listen first. There is a movement from traditional market research to “anyone who can do a search”. Learning comes ahead of dialog, supporting, and innovating. Monitoring tools are key t0 success in learning about your customers and their needs; free, online tools like Google Blog Search and Twitter’s search engine are great starting points for listening.
  • When businesses consider entering social media, they should think about blogs. “Blogs establish thought leadership” and showcase the act of sharing with your clients, partners, employees, etc. CEO blogs are good examples of this.
  • Respect that the relationship your users want with you may not include engaging; they may just want to watch. When responding to feedback found via social media monitoring, start with comments on blogs. Use a personal approach instead of simply acknowledging the post with “send me an e-mail”; it’s less unsettling and sets a more comfortable tone.
  • Pick one of your annual strategic goals where being open and social will have an impact. This decision is crucial for budget and buy-in from senior management.
  • Prepare your organization for the new relationships your company will have when going social. Think about how you’re going to engage negative comments or reviews. Prepare for failure. Encourage dialog to foster trust and speed recovery. Follow Google’s mantra: “Fail fast and fail smart”.
  • Create “sandbox covenants”: rules of engagement for how open your business will be in social media.
  • Trust is not an absolute; it is built over time. “You may not trust a lot, so you may need to start with a small base”. Make small gains and show discipline in order to gain trust in use of social media and openness. You can’t have trust without responsibility. Being open means understanding the promises you’re making by establishing a relationship with your customers; it requires accountability.
  • Explaining and updating are two ways people are often open within their organization. Being open doesn’t mean completely open, however; you don’t need to share everything. Most businesses have false sense of what “openness” means in social media.
  • The key employees to seek out when staffing social media channels are those who are “obsessed about developing that relationship [between the business and the customer]. They see themselves as the glue tying people together” and can come from any dept: PR, IT, marketing, investor relations, etc.
  • One of the biggest problems with social media in business is, “who owns the technology”. HP, for example, has multiple Facebook pages for their brands, but each has a consistent look-and-feel to help unite them.
  • Capturing social media information for compliance (a requirement for government agencies) is difficult. There are ways to accomplish this on the back-end, but can be a challenge to identify people. The structure of regulated industries can give a more defined focus on how to drive their efforts. Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Pfizer are examples of large, regulated firms who are well-established in social media.

Some of the many quotable quotes from the seminar included:

  • “Can being more open help connect you with your customers? What do your customers what you to be more open about?”
  • “You never know what’s going to happen on the other side of that tweet.”
  • “I look at blogs and Twitter as two great cousins working together.”
  • “People realize [that social media] isn’t a bright, shiny object any more… it’s here to stay.”

Many thanks to Radian6 and Charlene for an excellent seminar.

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