A fine tune in a multi-megaphone content cacophony: Social influencers and brands

Imagine a megaphone…designed to blast sound indiscriminately into all ears within earshot with the expectation for everyone to find a tune or, at minimum, a beat. Imagine that going on all day and all night at high volume. Ouch! We’d all develop tinnitus.

Now imagine the megaphone of the future. Instead of painful noise, it amplifies comprehensible, sensible data only to those who actually want it, need it, appreciate it and are inspired by it. What about if this data were curated knowledge with built-in ethos, pathos, trust and intelligence! This clearly cannot be a device, technology, platform, software or artificial intelligence but, you guessed it, a human with lots of expertise and the hard earned ability to inspire others to believe, trust and act. Let’s imagine that this human also had a vast social network of interested audience members… Yes, this human exists. We have recently grown accustomed to call this person a social influencer. I don’t like that term, it gets the squiggly red line every time I type it and, to me, it doesn’t denote the right vibe. I prefer “intelligent insights curator” but I don’t expect it to catch on.

While we all know which one of our friends and family members influences us before making decisions (different people for different decisions), brands are also beginning to figure out that their customers have that very same need – to find an independent voice – online – they can consult and trust before making any purchasing decision or which brand they should trust in the first place. Brands, of course, have long known that independent experts are really, really important that’s why they have, for example, analyst relations teams. Now, we are in the ‘social influencer darling’ phase and are building programs that focus on creating long term, trusted partnerships with influencers who are social media rock stars with deep expertise and the ability to inspire action among their followers. We understand that this must be based on mutual value creation and we are seeing great successes when done right. Let’s be clear, this is very different from campaign marketing or celebrity endorsements.

Being in the shoes of figuring this out for my brand, it has become clear to me that social influencers can help a brand to expand thought leadership and trust only when there are common goals, philosophies and mutual trust nurtured over time into deep, long term relationships. When that happens, the outcome can be a beautiful thing: A harmonious tune in the ears of customers emerging from a loud, multi-megaphone cacophony.

This is exactly what happened recently when we brought in four social influencers to participate in a mini #Social360 Unconference during SXSW. They each gave a 10 minute micro keynote illustrating four different angles of the same topic: the social business of the future. The keynotes served as discussion starters for the online and onsite audiences who determined the topics for the following breakout sessions. If there were a ‘new idea smell’ you could have smelled it at the #DellLounge. We were able to amplify and extend the conversation with the help of our owned social channels and to a large extent via our social influencers who assured me that the experience was just as valuable to them as it was to us. This combination of influencer thought leadership in an audience driven Unconference setting led by an innovative social business leader proved successful in a trending, #social360 kind of way.

Influence WHAT?

I wrote the following post for Mark Schaefer’s Grow blog:

It’s not a pitch, it’s a person. The super powers of influence marketing

I’m going to tell you a story about food but make a point about content, influence and service. Ready?

In theory, I love Whole Foods. I love the vision, the philosophy and the concept, and I love getting really good food. So far so good, but there is one thing that I don’t love: The vast amount of choices I have to make at every stop.

I get lost in Whole Foods, I feel overwhelmed, I come out with more than I intended to buy and, most often, with more than my family can eat before the expiration date.

I need a personal shopper! I need a place where someone has made this selection for me. I needed a personal relationship, not another aisle of food displays.

It was a dilemma for me … until I found Trader Joe’s. I became an instant fan of this specialty food shop. Sure they have great food, but Trader Joe’s also has something else – a distinctly human experience at the checkout – every single time. Without fail, I come out feeling amazing! This place has earned my trust and tickles my endorphins. Read more…

Got Social Capital?

I wrote the following post for Mark Schaefer’s Grow blog:

The Un-Tapped Value of Employee Social Capital

Why should any business owner like social media? Because social media connects people – employees to other employees, employees to customers, business and IT decision makers and vice versa, customers to customers, and so on.

Let’s forget the public giants, Facebook and Twitter, for a moment and focus on the social media technologies that connect employees of large companies to each other, inside the company. In this scenario, social paradise is when your social technologies (think company blog and micro-blog), are adopted by your employees and help form social capital among 10s or 100s of thousands of them on a global scale, like at my company, Dell.

Why should you care? Social capital (really not an oxymoron!) is a critical fuel for corporate knowledge sharing, innovation and growth. What company does not want that? Read more…

Assessing the Value of Corporate Blogs: A Social Capital Perspective

The following co-authored article appeared here: 0361-1434/$26.00 © 2010 IEEE
2 IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON PROFESSIONAL COMMUNICATION, VOL. 53, NO. 4, DECEMBER 2010

—CRAIG BAEHR, MEMBER, IEEE, AND KONSTANZE ALEX-BROWN
Abstract—This three-phased study examines corporate blog use, specifically the impact and value of blogs on organizational social capital and knowledge sharing at Dell Inc., a global computer manufacturer. The impact of social-mediated Web 2.0 technologies on organizational social capital has received limited attention in scholarship,possibly because of the inevident connection to measurable economic value and newness of the technology. Our findings indicate the corporate blog can be used as a sustainable forum leading to a shared understanding of organizational roles, increased sense of group cohesiveness, improved work processes, and fostering of professional and personal ties between employees in the organization.

Knowledge is embedded in the collective workforce of an organization and is highly dependent on human interaction to share and attribute value to that information. With the increasing level of information a worker encounters on a daily basis, the task of capturing tacit knowledge, properly contextualizing it, and distributing it across an organization has stretched the limits of human capacity. With the emergence of participatory technologies, organizations have invested in software and web-based tools for information and knowledge capturing, sharing, and reuse. They also allow for improved interaction, collaboration, and accessibility of structured and unstructured data in varying degrees of formality. Using these tools to capture and disseminate organizational knowledge can depend greatly on the social capital of the organization, through the informal relationships, networks, and communities formed by its workers.

Many corporations are using blogs, wikis, knowledge bases, and social networking sites as routine parts of their business operations. Examples such as Jammer, Twitter, Facebook, and various Enterprise Content Management Systems (ECMs), such as MOSS 2007, that include blogging and microblogging applications are ubiquitous in today’s workplace. Rockley notes that ECMs have evolved to include management of unstructured content and data such as email, blog posts, wiki entries, and even personal profile pages of social networking sites [1]. Manovich adds that metadiscourse and metacontent, such as tag clouds and social bookmarking capabilities, have also become important parts of these technologies [2]. Collaborative authoring is also collaborative knowledge sharing—along with legacy content, we have come to expect feedback, cross-posting, discussion, and comments as an essential part of the genre.

Blogs, as social networking tools, have become widely used in social and corporate settings. Blogs are websites (often participatory) that feature regular commentary and related content on a specific subject, which is usually presented in reverse chronological order. Blogs can contain textual, visual, multimedia, and even interactive content. Blogs have been studied as social genres that allow individuals and groups to share dialog on a specific subject. Miller and Shepherd argue the social blog genre has value through its immediacy, formal features, brevity, self-expressive content, and community development and involvement [3].While the blog’s initial function was primarily social
in nature, more recently, organizations have begun using blogs as networking and information-sharing tools, internally for employees and externally for customers and vendors. In organizational contexts, corporate blogs are more focused on knowledge sharing and information reuse. They emphasize efficient information delivery to large numbers of individuals and serve as a common knowledge
base. Tørning states that this type of blog serves as a “knowledge repository for getting information and for learning processes” [4, p. 2]. Workers must intrinsically invest in this communication technology, use it, contribute to its development, and see potential value in their efforts, from either an individual or an organizational perspective. The resulting products can create social capital within an organization, which connects the value of knowledge sharing to its impact on organizational efficiency and, ultimately, innovation. From a management perspective, integration and sustainability of these information products depend heavily on measuring and proving proving their bottom-line value to the organization.

A closer look at employee communication

Digital communication technologies have changed workplace communication. Internal, corporate communication is no exception and has undergone several important shifts. Carliner (2010) has noted that there has been a massive move to publish organizational content online and, second, organizations increasingly seek dialogue with and feedback from employees via social, digital communication technologies, such as corporate blogs, micro-blogs, wikis, discussion forums, and social networking sites. How do social digital communication technologies, specifically the blog and the micro-blog used for employee communication, change the formation of organizational social capital of a large, global, high-tech organization?

Large corporations in the US, such as Intel, Dell, IBM or Starbucks, have begun to adopt social media tools for employee communication. The weekly printed or emailed newsletter is increasingly being replaced by or supplemented with posts published on company internal blogs that allow for quick and efficient publishing and updating if needed. Micro-blogging tools, giving employees the opportunity to communicate with each other, have also been launched inside of many large businesses. Organizations are recognizing that their employees are exposed to a plethora of social media tools in their private lives and are beginning to expect the same communication tools at their place of work. Some companies are experimenting with intelligent corporate directories that have the ability to connect employees based on the information they enter into their profile pages. These technologies are designed to connect employees for their benefit and for the benefit of the organization. These tools have one important thing in common: they create digital archives of what is communicated. These records can be searched and filtered and, at minimum, provide insight into a company’s culture. For the researcher interested in organizational communication, these archives or information products provide never-before-seen opportunities to examine communicative exchanges between the organization’s leadership and the employees and communication among employees.

Konstanze Alex Brown

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