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May 07, 2008

Connecting With New Centers of Influence - 3 Questions for Social Media Maven Paul Gillin

Editor's Note: Infopresse will be launching In:fluencia Digital (a new online magazine/community) soon, and they’re giving One Degree readers a sneak peek at the kind of content you can expect.  Stan Sutter, editor of In:fluencia Digital, joins us as a contributor for this interview with Paul Gillin.

Newinfluencers Paul Gillin, the U.S. social media observer, consultant and writer — and author the one of the most acclaimed early books exploring the social media boom, The New Influencers — is a featured presenter at the Infopresse/In:fluencia Digital Internet Marketing Conference, May 15 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

He recently spoke with In:fleuncia Digital editor Stan Sutter about how blogs, podcasts and social networking communities are creating new centers of influence — and big new challenges and opportunities for companies looking to connect with consumers.

Q: Who is doing the good stuff in social media? Who should we be copying these days?

Well there are so many different kinds of social media. There are blogs, which have been popular for about four or five years, and are the most mature form of social media. There are some excellent examples there. I think Southwest Airlines does a wonderful job. Dell is very effective in blogging. The Google blog is outstanding. Kodak has just appointed an official Kodak blogger — that’s what they do full time — and they’re doing some very interesting things. There are about 60 or 70 major corporations that are doing some kind of blogging work right now.

In social networking -the Facebook, Myspace domain — it’s fairly new still.  I think Victoria’s Secret on Facebook has done a very nice job. Southwest Airlines — again — on Facebook has a very well done presence.

There are some companies that are doing their own captive sort of gated social networks, where they are bringing enthusiasts together. I would point to Nikon and what it doing on the photo sharing site Flickr.  Nikon has very effectively engaged those photo enthusiasts and brought them into a kind of community of Nikon customers. I think they’ve done a wonderful job with that.

And actually there are many excellent examples of what Procter & Gamble is doing here. There’s one called BeingGirl.com which is for teenage girls and has a very active audience. There’s another one, there’s a program they’re doing right now based on their talking stain commercial from the Super Bowl, where it’s a video contest where people are being asked to create their own videos of the talking stain. And that’s worked out very well.

Q:  Are there companies you can name that are going where you shouldn’t go?

Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart is an amazing company that does so many things right. But in social media it has for some reason just tripped over its feet repeatedly, through fakery.  They’re using social media tools but disguising what they are trying to do with them. They were trying to look like something they weren’t.  And this has happened a couple of times with Wal-Mart now and it’s very kind of painful to watch the embarrassment they’ve gone through.

Sony has had the same problem. Their technique called flogging — or fake blogging — has bitten them. Sony also was a victim of an early blog attack about three years ago over some spyware that was embedded in its music CDS. It took them a very long time to respond to the charges that were levelled by a very prominent blogger and they just looked worse and worse the longer they waited.

Those are a couple of notable companies. But frankly, big embarrassments have been rare. For the most part you can get away with a lot right now because everyone knows it’s a new medium and if you stub your toe people are pretty forgiving.

Q: Where does responsibility for social media reside in the company and their agency partners? Is this a PR function? Is it a traditional marketing function? Should the C-suite be involved?

That question comes up all the time at conferences. And I have yet to see any unanimity on this. I believe the PR function should own it, and has the opportunity to own it because they are the story tellers. They are the relationship experts and these really are about relationships.
That said, in most companies it is falling under the aegis of marketing. For some reason PR people seem to be kind of timid about this whole thing and marketers are more aggressive about seizing the initiative.

But it does not work without C-suit support. In order to really make this work you have to expose voices within the organization. You cannot delegate this to a small group of people and say “you be in charge of social media.”  You have to empower people who are at the product management level, at the engineering level, at the customer service level. They have to be empowered to speak for the company. Giving this all to marketing is not a very effective tactic because they can’t enforce that engagement. So I think it works best when people at the very high levels of the company buy into it.

In the In:fleuncia Digital Podcast (audio file and time line after the jump), Paul Gillin goes deeper into questions like what social media is and isn’t, how it is and should be measured, what the differences between Canadian and Americans and the rest of the world in their approaches to social media are and his how he’s turning the creation of his next book into a social media experience.

Interview with Paul Gillin - Audio file and timeline:

  • 00:00 - Intro
  • 00:52 - Has the social media backlash begun
  • 03:10 - Defining social media
  • 04:15 - The individual vs. the corporation in social media
  • 05:25 - Why dysfunctional corporate cultures can’t hide in a social media world
  • 06:30 - Who is doing social media well
  • 08:42 - Dell and its response to negative blog attacks
  • 09:35 - Listening to your critics - the best free market research you can get
  • 10:55 - Companies that are doing social media badly
  • 12:29 - Why consumers are -mostly- forgiving of social media missteps
  • 13:24 - Blogger relations -how it differs from and is the same as PR
  • 15:20 - B-to-B and niche market bloggers vs. mainstream/entertainment bloggers
  • 16:34 - Where responsibility for social media should reside within companies
  • 18:38 - Measuring the impact of social media - what it is being done, how it should be done
  • 20:25 - How Canada and the U.S., and the rest of the world, differ on use of social media
  • 23:40 - Gillin’s next book,  Secrets of Social Media Marketing, a social media experiment in co-creation
  • 25:37 - On Chris Anderson’s new “free” thesis and his publishing and marketing methodology
  • 27:22 - The last word - the one piece of advice for marketers joining the social conversation

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