BlogHer Business Day Two: Social Media Outreach Breakout #1

BlogHer Original Post

Who You Are, Not What You Do


Social media outreach can help you do way more than sell a product or propagate can tell your customers who you are. So, how does that help your company through good times and bad? Author and
Weber-Shandwick Chief Reputation Officer, Leslie Gaines-Ross has some insight on just that.

Is your company concerned with corporate social responsibility and particularly how sustainability and green initiatives fit into that? Mary Clare Hunt has some data on why it should be top of any corporate communicators mind...and priority list.

Can you measure the value of creating positive reputation out in the social media world? Umbria CEO Janet Eden-Harris has some answers.

Finally, what's it like to be the human face of a technology company? Tara Anderson from Lijit knows, and she and Lijit are probably like most companies out there who learned a lot as they went along. What organizational values are you incorporating into your outreach, and what good does it
do you? Moderator Elana Centor will make sure you find out in this session.

Elana: How did you get involved in reputation management? How do you see the blogosphere changing reputation management?

Leslie: I've always been fascinated by reputation. It's all the same. There's no difference between what I do and what my company does in terms of the blogosphere. You're always at the mercy of whoever covered you, or the top-tier media, or agencies or whatever. In the blogosphere, you can create and monitor your own reputation. The biggest challenge is monitoring and making sure your reputation fits who you are as an individual and your market internally. Ex: Southwest. The company has such a great reputation, and then I'm hearing about them skirting safety regulations and flying planes with cracks in them. The second there is a disconnect in reputation, people are really angry. I try to help people realize it's got to be seamless.

Elana: With the new company, your personality becomes the company's, and vice versa. How did you do that?

Tara: When I started this company, I had very little experience with technology. I just jumped in with both feet. I decided to be very transparent. It's my own personal integrity that I'm dealing with. I represent my company and myself. I make jokes. I blog for Legit, as well, and I bring all of my personality to all of it. That's what our company is like. So far, it's been pretty successful. I'm still navigating it. A lot of my followers on Twitter are Legit users. I have to make sure I watch what I say as people see me as Legit.

Elana: Do you worry about representing core values?

Our company needed someone who wasn't afraid to go out and start conversations with strangers. I'm making it up as I'm going along. I have a very supportive team.

Elana: You work with a lot of companies interested in having a green reputation. What are the challenges?

Mary: You have to have truth in green advertising, or it will become prosecutable. The EPA has a bunch of guidelines. They've never done much with it before. Those rules are being tossed about in a greenwash fashion. Nobody knows how you can look progressive without violating green guidelines. You have to prove it. What you can say is that you use bamboo and let people come to their own conclusions. Be very specific on what you have or the energy that you're using or not using. Tell the truth. When you get to your products, you have to start proving it.

Elana: Talk about strategies for determining a company's reputation.

Janet: Bloggers post because they want people to hear about what you have to say. You represent the top-tier of bloggers because you are in a way professional bloggers. Some people go out to blog primarily to have a social experience. Those are the consumers that companies are passionate about trying to understand. Benefits to listening to bloggers: 1) reputation learning 2) outreach 3) learn about what they love about your product or your competitor's product, what they're about to buy, strategic input like that -- people don't care as much about specific people as they do the trends.

Aha moments?

Janet: Orange-handled scissors. Fiskers (sp?) scissors. They knew their market.

Elana: What does "the lines are blurred" really mean when you are advising a company about their online experience?

Most companies get that things that are internal are external, etc. The challenge of blogging is realizing that everything you say and do reflects on you as an individual. You're thinking about the filters in your head, what's confidential, making sure you're speaking for yourself and you're speaking on behalf of the company. The best companies give their bloggers a lot of bandwidth. You have to always know where the guardrails are.

Elana: Guidelines?

Tara: Don't drink too much? It's kind of difficult. I am who I am, and Legit likes that about me. I don't feel like I don't censor myself, but I do carefully select my words.

Q & A

Q: Is it still that you (Tara) and Legit are one person, or do you have a personal identity online that is separate?

Tara: I just set up a Legit Twitter account last week so Legit can have its own separate presence. I didn't know what to put on my personal blog. I've been working on that. When you're in a start-up, it kind of consumes you. I've been putting my all into it. It's a blurry line.

Q: If someone else needed to take that job, how would they continue that voice?

Tara: Very carefully? I don't know. I would hope they could bring a different voice to the role. I don't think I'm the only one who could do this job. I've tried to establish a very transparent relationship with our publishers.

Jory: What about leaked info?

Leslie: You always have to be prepared for people starting a rumor, misquoting you, anything. You have to really be prepared, which comes down to having a plan and being quite aware that you should always try to do the right thing so you don't have to be put in that position in the first place. If it's true, admit it. The TSA has an interesting blog with lots of criticism.

Mary: Who you are speaks so loudly that it enhances everything you have to say. Ex: Wal-Mart is doing a lot for sustainability, but there are a whole bunch of I Hate Wal-Mart people out there who don't want to cut Wal-Mart any slack. I've been everyone else's voice for 30 years. When I started my own blog, it's become really hard to find my own voice. Once you find out who you are and you blog from that point of view, everything else just flows. You don't have to look over your shoulder. You're not going to screw up. And if you do, you're going to make the best of it. Be that person who is trustworthy to begin with, and then go forth and be human.

Tara: When someone says something about your company, you can either be offended or see it as valuable user feedback. Some people pay a lot of money for that kind of information. Thank people for the fact that they're even writing about you.

Elana: Is there any research on companies who allow the negative comments to stay up? Does that actually help them?

Ex: Early 1990s Dell computer when they outsourced all the customer service. There was a blogger who took on this Dell problem, started a firestorm. Dell did marketing 1.0. Tried to get the main blogger to change his mind so it would go away. The blogosphere is not about who starts the conversation, but what they are saying. Word of mouth works that way. If I pass it on and make it my words, I've made it grow exponentially. Dell did learn from that. They have 24 people that do nothing but look at social media and offer to help when people are having trouble. The original blogger has written about Dell and how they have come around. It's all about being authentic and reaching out to customers. The blogosphere is an enormous tool for doing intimate customer outreach.

Leslie: If there are criticisms, they should remain. Offensive things have no place on a blog and should be taken off. But if it's a rumor, or a competitor starting something on your blog -- companies now have an opportunity to tell their own side of the story. You don't have to wait to get a letter to the editor of the NY Times. I don't have to turn the other cheek -- I can respond when someone criticizes me.

Q: What's the best way to express frustration? Should you even express it?

Leslie: There's nothing better than being passionate about something.

Mary: Blog smart.

Q: As a consumer, I've had two experiences where there was a great disconnect between the brand and the experiences. I found horrific things being said about these companies that totally validated my experience. I thought it was an accident that it happened to me. So I called the president and told him that he needed to know. Some people are not telling you, they're walking away.

Mary: It's good to be able to talk to someone and get it off your chest, so you can feel heard.

Elana: Are people telling the truth when they say they don't know what's being said about them on the blogosphere?

Janet: They're telling the truth.

Elana: Are you seeing people are really not aware that their reputations are being affected by the blogosphere?

Leslie: They're seeing it much more. The problem is that sometimes nobody want to bring the senior officers the bad news.

Tara: You also have to be part of the conversation so you have the opportunity to respond, so it's not coming from outside.

Elana: Do you have an example?

Tara: I like to meet people in real life that I've helped with a problem or followed on Twitter. They feel free to come up to me and start talking to me about the company.

Q: Historically in media, there's been a halo effect for companies who appear in certain places. Do you think that's true of companies who support communities?

Mary: I absolutely think we say that yesterday with GM.

Janet: For years, marketing has been a very mass-media approach. Now you can actually form one-on-one relationships with your customers. Social media allows us to understand our customers and engage them. If you turn something from a negative to a positive, they'll be more loyal.

Before, we just used message, message, message. Now, carve your opinion into the Internet cave wall. We have to help companies understand that long tail -- it's their choice, you can make sure that's a good or bad long tail.

Tara: It's good when you can put yourself in the bloggers' shoes by blogging yourself, so people can check you out and see who you are.

Leslie: Just blogging gives you a more positive reputation. 10% of the Fortune 500 actually have blogs. My perception of Target is now tinged because I can't believe they don't talk to bloggers. What do I know think about their management? What about their talent pool, their products if they are not getting all this feedback?

Asks the room -- do you start questioning companies when you hear things?

Audience: Faith Popcorn saw this coming a long time ago, saying consumers were going to reject the notions of large companies and take matters into their own hands.

Mary: When you have stores full of stuff, that's not necessarily good for the environment. There's starting to be a disconnect there.

Q:  I had a terrible experience with JetBlue, and I posted it on my blog.  The VP of communications called me, asked me to retract the story, compensated me. I have a large audience.

JetBlue is a great example, everyone remembers the Valentine's Day crisis. Once a company realizes they've angered a lot of people, they come out of it in better shape.

The writer of the post kept it up but let her readers know what had happened.

If you have a really wonderful reputation, you can mess up a little.  Will Southwest really see people not flying them because of this gaffe?

You'll always have your fans, but it raises a question mark for some people.  You want to have the reputation so that when the crisis comes, you have some goodwill.

Tara:  Part of my job is to build the goodwill.  One of the problems we've had this year is that we have a COO who likes budgets.  It's difficult to prove the goodwill with the metrics.  

Elana:  What do you want to be doing that the COO says no to?

Tara:  We have blogger meet-ups in our area. I wanted to sponsor some of it.  That's where we are.  He doesn't understand that having a presence and being part of the conversation is important.

Elana: How do you talk about ROI?

Janet:  In marketing, it's always a challenge to prove the ROI.  The metrics for blogs are not as straightforward as specific sales.  Look at lead generations.  Look at the reach.  Next week I'm speaking at a conference at Forrester about how do we measure engagement?  Knowing how social media works, the engaged customer is more valuable than the person who buys the most from you because of the impact that person can have both positively or negatively.  When people look at bloggers, they should think about whether or not that person is engaged and whether or not they are saying positive things about the company.

Then you need to think about less obvious things.  Recruiting.  Visits to the Web site.  

TweetScan has been huge. I know what's being said about Legit on Twitter.  

Q: I installed Legit because of what I read about it on Twitter.  

Q:  How do I tell my clients that you're still getting an ROI by hitting bloggers?

Mary:  If you're getting a posting, we're in a recession now and the post lasts forever. Get some really good content now about your stuff.

Janet:  The Pew Research Institute - bloggers represent 8-10% of the Internet community, but 40% read blogs.  If you contact bloggers, you're hitting a much broader segment of the Internet population.

Q:  Yesterday we presented research about moving away from the traditional.  That's another good argument -- people are paying less attention to traditional media.

Mary: Branded entertainment.

Q:  People now want branded reach.  It's getting to what TV primetime CPMs are.  It would be great to tell companies to engage the eyeballs, but it's difficult at the same time with the recession.

Q:  Yesterday we presented research about moving away from the traditional.  That's another good argument -- people are paying less attention to traditional media.