REPUTATION MANAGEMENT THROUGH
Martin von Wyl
Key words: Participative Branding, Participation, Reputation, Social Media,
Stakeholders already exert considerable power over brands and they ask for even more
influence. Actually, companies should encourage stakeholders to play an active role in
branding decisions. They need to recognize stakeholders as a valuable source to improve
brands. Participative branding is about empowering stakeholders and involving them in
processes and decisions concerning the brand. Brands need to engage in dialogues with
stakeholders in order to understand the people’s behaviour and satisfy their expectations.
Furthermore, brands that collaborate with stakeholders strengthen their reputation and ensure
success. The collaboration entails a redistribution of power in favour of stakeholders, yet the
results are beneficial for both parties.
The Internet is the most capable brand touchpoint for participative branding purposes. On the
Internet, brands have the possibility to empower stakeholders in an economical and effective
way through social media and online communities. Participative branding results in more
satisfied stakeholders and more successful brands. Companies that value the participation of
stakeholders and that wholeheartedly engage in social media notice benefits across all
departments as well as a positive impact on the bottom line. However, participative branding
requires companies to be transparent and authentic.
Table of Contents
List of Figures .......................................................................................................................... III
1 Introduction ......................................................................................................................... 1
2 Participative Branding ........................................................................................................ 2
2.1 A Stakeholder Approach ............................................................................................. 2
2.2 Participation ................................................................................................................. 3
2.3 Participative Branding’s Influence on Reputation....................................................... 6
2.4 Stakeholders Know More about Brands .................................................................... 10
3 The Brand Touchpoint Internet ......................................................................................... 12
3.1 The Internet Generation ............................................................................................. 13
3.2 People are in Control ................................................................................................. 14
3.3 Most People are Spectators........................................................................................ 15
3.4 Participative Branding on the Internet ....................................................................... 17
3.5 Social Media .............................................................................................................. 18
3.5.1 Reviews and Opinions .......................................................................................... 23
3.5.2 Knowledge Exchanges ......................................................................................... 24
3.5.3 Social Networking ................................................................................................ 25
3.5.4 Blogging ............................................................................................................... 38
3.5.5 Sharing Media ...................................................................................................... 43
3.5.6 Community Forums.............................................................................................. 47
3.5.7 Web Chats ............................................................................................................ 50
3.5.8 Virtual Worlds and Social Gaming ...................................................................... 53
3.5.9 Social Media Best Practices – Starbucks, SAP and Dell ..................................... 54
3.5.10 The Social Media Strategy ................................................................................. 65
188.8.131.52 Understanding the Scope of Social Media .................................................. 66
184.108.40.206 Identifying the Right People ....................................................................... 68
220.127.116.11 Do Not Rush ............................................................................................... 69
18.104.22.168 Measuring Return on Investment ................................................................ 70
3.5.11 Putting it all Together ......................................................................................... 71
3.5.12 Crisis Prevention and Crisis Management ......................................................... 74
3.6 Closed Online Communities ...................................................................................... 78
3.6.1 The Advantages of a Closed Community ............................................................ 79
3.6.2 Closed Communities are Superior to Focus Groups ............................................ 80
3.6.3 Closed Communities in Action ............................................................................ 81
3.6.4 The Costs of Closed Online Communities ........................................................... 86
4 Conclusion ........................................................................................................................ 88
Appendix .................................................................................................................................. 89
References ................................................................................................................................ 94
List of Figures
Figure 1: The Ladder of Citizen Participation ........................................................................... 4
Figure 2: A Holistic Approach to a Brand and Reputation-guided Organisation ...................... 6
Figure 3: Participative Behaviour .............................................................................................. 9
Figure 4: The Social Technographics Ladder .......................................................................... 15
Figure 5: Consumer Profile Tool ............................................................................................. 16
Figure 6: The Four Levels of Community Engagement .......................................................... 16
Figure 7: Brands Fall Into One of Four Engagement Profiles ................................................. 19
Figure 8: Engagement Correlates to Financial Performance ................................................... 20
Figure 9: Entering Social Media and Anthropomorphization .................................................. 22
Figure 10: Social Media Types ................................................................................................ 23
Figure 11: Screenshot BearingPoint Wiki MIKE2.0 Website ................................................. 25
Figure 12: What do You do with Your Social Networking Profile? ........................................ 26
Figure 13: Screenshot Whole Foods Market Website .............................................................. 29
Figure 14: Screenshot Coca-Cola Facebook Page ................................................................... 30
Figure 15: Twitter Followers.................................................................................................... 32
Figure 16: Screenshot of Comcast's @comcastcares Twitter Profile....................................... 34
Figure 17: How to Build a Community Around a Blog ........................................................... 39
Figure 18: Screenshot Malaysian Hospitality Employees Advocates Blog ............................. 40
Figure 19: Most Subscribed YouTube Channels ..................................................................... 46
Figure 20: Screenshot of Chat Application on GM’s Fast Lane Blog ..................................... 51
Figure 21: What Dell learned from Social Media .................................................................... 65
Figure 22: Screenshot Electrolux Newsroom Website ............................................................ 73
Figure 23: Domino's Pizza Chatter .......................................................................................... 75
Figure 24: A Taxonomy of Detractors ..................................................................................... 89
Figure 25: Social Technographics Profile of Europe, USA and China .................................... 90
Figure 26: Air Force Blog Assessment .................................................................................... 91
Figure 27: Dell Blog Assessment ............................................................................................. 92
Figure 28: Corporate Twitter.................................................................................................... 93
“It is not the strongest who survive, not the most intelligent, but those who are the most
adaptive to change”, said Charles Darwin. Our planet, our species and our technology is
changing at an ever-faster rate. Companies must change, too. The change I will talk about in
my thesis is fundamental because it has the power to transform how companies do business
and how they interact with society. However, the magnitude of change entirely depends on
how wholeheartedly companies embrace, what I call, participative branding.
We increasingly filter marketing communication, and we’ve learned what to believe in and
what not. The traditional shouting of brands at people does not work anymore. Participative
branding is different. It is about how brands behave and engage with customers and all other
stakeholders. It is important to take an all-embracing point of view and see the company as
part of society – with stakeholders as partners whom it interacts with. Participative branding
empowers the stakeholders and invites them to participate as equal partners. Brands teaming
up with stakeholders results in more satisfied stakeholders and builds reputation and financial
Chapter 2 introduces the concept of participative branding. Subsequently, I single out the
Internet as today’s most capable technique for participative branding. Chapter 3 deals with the
Internet in general, whereas chapter 3.5 focuses on social media while presenting many
examples. Chapter 3.6 looks at closed online communities, another form of participative
branding on the Internet. Finally, I conclude.
2 Participative Branding
Participative branding takes a holistic approach as branding encompasses the four interlinked
areas of strategic management, corporate governance, corporate communication and
marketing. Participative branding means to acknowledge and to involve stakeholders as
A company, or a brand, is more successful when its stakeholders are content. Therefore,
participative branding is about involving stakeholders in a dialogue (as opposed to
monologue), exchanging views and empowering them to actively participate in the business.
Stakeholders include employees, brand enthusiasts, critics, and many more – but, as common
ground, they all have a stake in the brand. The brand does not really belong to a company as it
is made and exists solely in the stakeholder’s head. Since stakeholders are emotionally
engaged with the brand, they are usually willing to invest time and mental effort to help
shaping the brand. It is the business’ responsibility to listen to and empower stakeholders to
The perception of taking part, of being involved underpins the stakeholders’ sense of brand
ownership. People who feel acknowledged and treated as equal partners with co-
determination are naturally more emotionally involved. Hence, stakeholders are a valuable,
and often underestimated, source to improve the brand. Just think of customers who are
interested in making a product or service better for their own sake but at the same time help
the business through, for example, more loyalty and more frequent purchases.
Participative branding may be applied for temporary projects, but the permanent involvement
of stakeholders yields more benefits. The catalysts for participative activities are often
company-external stakeholders. However, companies become more proactive as they are
increasingly aware of the prospects of collaborations, and because they are more sensitized to
the responsibilities towards stakeholders.
2.1 A Stakeholder Approach
Participative branding enhances a brand’s reputation. Integrated brand management and
integrated reputation management may seem very different, but are in fact very closely
related. Reputation management is about identifying and meeting stakeholders’ expectations.
The reputation of a brand is not only affected by those who buy the product. All stakeholder
groups have, some more some less, influence on the perception and hence reputation of the
brand. Nonetheless, many companies still neglect the relationships with stakeholder groups or
concentrate only on a few handpicked ones like customers or shareholders. Looking at the
definition of stakeholders, one can see that stakeholder management should be at the core of
any business: “The stakeholders in a corporation are the individuals and constituencies that
contribute, either voluntarily or involuntarily, to its wealth-creating capacity and activities,
and that are therefore its potential beneficiaries and/or risk bearers” (Sachs, Post, & Preston,
Stakeholders are exposed, in some manner, to a brand in various ways. Brand touchpoints are
all the different ways that the brand interacts with and makes an impression on stakeholders
(Longoria & Davis, 2003). A stakeholder’s exposure to a touchpoint shapes the stakeholder’s
perception of the brand and consequently forms the brand experience. It is therefore important
to identify and monitor the brand touchpoints. Even though time and resource scarcity makes
it difficult to focus on all of them, the ambition should be to identify and manage all
touchpoints. Touchpoints are critical interfaces for many reasons clarifies Mike Mendenhall,
HP Chief Marketing Officer, “All public touchpoints, and increasingly they are digital, now
impact our brand, its reputation and its revenue. Brands are not defined today by campaigns,
but by the consumer ecosystems we nurture to support them” (AdvertisingAge, 2008).
Not all brand touchpoints facilitate collaborative practices. Predestined for participative
programmes is the touchpoint Internet, whereas others like ads in newspapers are incapable of
establishing a two-way dialogue. Furthermore, it is essential to provide a consistent picture of
the brand across all touchpoints. Last but not least, all efforts are pretty much useless if the
company cannot deliver on its brand promise on and on again, at all brand touchpoints.
The majority of brand touchpoints, think for example of the Internet, are open to all
stakeholder groups. This openness causes the additional complexity that one cannot address
stakeholder groups group-specific. Even more, many persons belong to multiple stakeholder
groups. For instance, it is not unlikely that people from the stakeholder group “local
community” belong at the same time to the group “consumers”.
Participation is the keyword in this thesis. Participation has different meanings. In social
science, participation refers to people taking part in decision-making (Cooke & Kothari, 2001,
p. 172). Participation has different gradations, and one of the first to acknowledge this was
Sherry Arnstein in 1969. She formulated the ladder of citizen participation, displayed in
Figure 1, which is also the basis for many other classification attempts. Arnstein developed
her landmark concept to address the redistribution of power that would enable have-not
citizens, excluded from political and economic processes of America, to be included in the
future. Nonetheless, the very same ladder of citizen participation may be applied to the
current context of stakeholder participation. However, when speaking of stakeholders in the
context of Arnstein’s ladder, I only consider external stakeholders, i.e. not employees.
The eight rungs correspond to the
different degrees of stakeholder
power in decision making. The
bottom two rungs, manipulation
and therapy, are condensed to a
level called nonparticipation. At
this level, there is no participation
because the aim is, using
Arnstein’s words, “to educate or
Nonparticipation is the world of
traditional public relations and
Rung 3 to 5 are called tokenism.
Informing is an important first step
to real participation. Yet,
communication is still one-way.
Figure 1: The Ladder of Citizen Participation (Arnstein, 1969)
Common informing tools are, for
example, news media or pamphlets. Consultation ensures that stakeholders hear information
and are also heard. Even though the company listens to its stakeholders, this form of
participation has generally no impact as the information does not reach the powerful people
who could change things. For many companies, however, this is already good enough as they
can attest to involve stakeholders. Placation gives stakeholders the opportunity to make
recommendations that will be heard by the right people in the corporation. The organisation is
pleased to receive outside contribution and considers the stakeholders’ inputs. To successfully
implement tools at this level, the company needs to make certain that stakeholders experience
the participation not just as tokenism.
The level citizen power is characterized by a redistribution of power. Rung 6, partnership,
transfers power over a brand to its stakeholders. Certainly, it is still the company that runs the
brand and not the stakeholders. In some areas, however, company and stakeholders
collaborate as equal partners. Delegated power sees the company relinquish power in certain
areas or for certain projects to stakeholders. The stakeholders take over a function formerly
executed company-internal. Yet, the company typically has the power of veto. Citizen control
would mean that stakeholders occupy leadership functions in a company and actually have
dominant decision-making authority. This, however, would principally transform the external
stakeholder into employees.
When we speak of participative branding we speak about the rungs delegated power,
partnership and placation. However, placation is only added if the company is really
committed to stakeholder involvement and thus ensures proper participation processes. The
appliance of Arnstein’s ladder embodies that participative branding has a lot do with giving
up control in favour of stakeholders. Participation without redistribution of power allows
companies to claim that they have considered stakeholders, but it is a futile and frustrating
process for stakeholders.
Participative behaviour is not only a nice add-on, it is more and more necessary. In the past
years, people have been increasingly bombarded by a wealth of brand messages. Only our
selective perception prevented us from a nervous breakdown as advertisers shout more and
even louder. Good news is that the bright companies have started to climb up the ladder. They
have left the lower rungs and are now engaging with their stakeholders on the higher rungs.
These companies have changed from a one-way communication to a two-way dialogue with
Traditional push marketing messages are increasingly being ignored or deemed irrelevant.
Participative branding, however, gives people the choice to engage with the brand wherever
and whenever they like. In this less obtrusive way, stakeholders are more inclined to build a
brand relationship. Participative branding requires a mutually beneficial relationship and a
brand that epitomizes transparency and genuineness.
People do not really trust advertisements in newspapers, TV commercials or online banners.
Word of mouth from satisfied customers is still the best advertising. Or as Steve Knox, P&G
Vocalpoint CEO, recognises, “We know that the most important form of marketing is an
advocacy message from a trusted friend” (Ambrose, 2006). People primarily trust
recommendations from people they know and to a lesser extent from online consumer
opinions (Nielsen, 2009). Hence, every company’s aim should be to encourage word of mouth
– i.e. let the stakeholders engage with the brands they support. Participation deepens the
emotional ties to a brand, and people are more inclined to advocate something when they feel
emotionally connected to it. Participation is marketing.
2.3 Participative Branding’s Influence on Reputation
Figure 2: A Holistic Approach to a Brand and Reputation-guided Organisation (Branding-Institute, 2009)
As shown in the illustration, reputation and brand management are interdependent. The
stakeholders’ perception and attitude towards the brand determines the reputation of the
brand. Therefore, it is essential to know the stakeholders’ expectations and the reasons for
their behaviours in order to adjust the company’s actions. Fulfilling stakeholders’
expectations is the road to success (Branding-Institute, 2009).
Participative branding may be initiated by company internal (left brown-orange side) or
company external initiatives (right side). If the demands for more participative action come
from the external side, it is expressed through feedback, expectations and behaviour – as
displayed in the arrow in Figure 2.
Stakeholders may provide direct feedback in the form of opinions about products/services or
reactions to the organisation’s behaviour. Many stakeholders directly or indirectly proclaim
expectations that they wish to have more influence on the brand. These expectations reflect
the increased self-confidence of stakeholders. They know that they can put pressure on
companies, and they know that the brand depends on satisfied stakeholders to be successful.
Because the brand affects stakeholders in some way, they also claim to have a say in
decisions concerning the brand. They realize that the brand does not solely belong to the legal
brand owner and that they, as stakeholders, have rights too. They certainly compare their
current influence to similar situations involving other brands and observe what is possible and
what is not.
Stakeholders who want to become more active have found that the Internet is a great
instrument to find likeminded people, to apply pressure on organisations and to collaborate
with people or organisations. Stakeholders become increasingly active and proactive. They
are in power, e.g. they can force the company to change suppliers or products. They influence
friends and strangers by talking about products, recommending products and rating products.
Brands are well advised to find out what drives stakeholders’ behaviour and what
stakeholders’ expectations are.
The upper arrow of the graph is about organisational behaviour. This is where participative
branding is actually executed. For a successful implementation of participative practises, the
organisational behaviour should be characterised by openness, trust, participation and
empowerment of stakeholders. If the business is able to epitomize participative behaviour – at
placation, partnership or delegated power on Arnstein’s ladder – it has a positive effect on
Participative behaviour should not be confined to selected stakeholder groups, nor should it be
confined to particular brand touchpoints. However, not all brand touchpoints offer the
interactivity needed for stakeholder involvement. Participative behaviour is about listening to
stakeholders and understanding their expectations, and it is about letting stakeholders (co-
)decide and (co-)create. It is in fact quite clever to give stakeholders power to influence the
brand in such a way to meet their own expectations. The corporate reputation, the rational and
emotional attachment of stakeholders to a brand, is enhanced by better satisfying
Unfortunately, there is only very little research investigating the correlation between
participation and reputation. However, it should be evident that when we have the possibility
to participate, or actually do participate, it changes our relation to the person or object. Even
the mere possibility to participate impacts the reputation. Sophia Parker, from Social
Innovation Labs, clarifies that people’s perception that they can participate in decision-
making has a direct correlation with levels of trust and satisfaction (Gormley, 2009).
Taking part in a dialogue with the brand is time-consuming. Stakeholders willing to take part
in participative branding demonstrate that, for whatever reason, they have an emotional bond
to the brand. They are willing to invest cognitive effort and time as they engage with the
brand. This prolonged exposure to the brand certainly has an impact on the way stakeholders
perceive the brand.
Interesting findings start to emerge in the field of neuromarketing. From a neuroscientific
perspective, brands (brand names) are pieces of information, meanings, experiences,
emotions, images, intentions, etc. interconnected by neural links of varying strength. For
brands to be chosen by customers, they need to create as many synaptic1 connections as
possible between choice criteria and the brand. This is called a rich network of synaptic links.
Participation forms a richer network of synaptic links, i.e. there are more synaptic connections
between choice criteria and the brand. Tjaco Walvis established, based on his neuroscientific
research, a law of participation which states that brands creating participation increase the
chance of being chosen by customers (Walvis, 2008).
On the one hand, the mere possibility to participate has an impact on the perception and
reputation of the brand. The active participation has accordingly an even greater effect on the
reputation of the brand. We perceive brands differently if they offer us the possibility to take
part, and if they engage with us. These are psychological effects. The empowerment of
stakeholders plays a central role because it effectively lifts the stakeholders to the same level
as brands/companies, recognizing stakeholders as equal partners.
On the other hand, participative behaviour has a lot more concrete effects on the business than
only psychological effects changing the perception of brands. The concrete effects on
businesses are illustrated in Figure 3 which is an extension to the original illustration by the
Branding-Institute. The modified arrow highlights the participative behaviour’s direct and
indirect effects on reputation. The previous paragraph describes the arrow’s lower branch,
while the upper branch indicates the participative branding’s effects on business functions and
processes. Collaborating with stakeholders introduces the stakeholders’ views and interests
into the business. The outcome of this partnership could be new product lines,
environmentally friendly production methods, improved product labels, or new markets – the
Synapse is a gap between two neurons in the brain across which an impulse (information) is transmitted from
one neuron across the synapse to another neuron.
possibilities are unlimited and in the graph simply described as “effects on business functions
and processes”. Whatever the outcome of involving stakeholders it is likely to change
perception and reputation.
Figure 3: Participative Behaviour (by author adopted from Branding-Institute, 2009)
A brand that truly engages and collaborates with stakeholders notices an increase in
reputation simply due to its open approach to involve stakeholders. Additionally, stakeholders
exert influence on business decisions or even co-create. They mainly participate to
accomplish their vision of the brand. Again, reputation increases as stakeholders are pleased
with the changes they initiated. In short, participative branding increases reputation twofold.
Reputation clearly matters. Cees van Riel and Charles Fombrun, both with executive positions
at the Reputation Institute, state that reputation clearly affects various stakeholder groups:
Reputation affects customer’s purchase decisions. Reputation affects employee’s decisions to
engage, commit and stay. Reputation affects investor’s investment decisions. Reputation
affects the media’s coverage, and lastly, reputation affects financial analysts’ language (van
Riel & Fombrun, 2003). Furthermore, the Reputation Institute’s models show that a 10%
increase in corporate reputation translates into a 1.3% increase in bottom line corporate value
(Rooks, 2009). The bottom line is primarily influenced by customers’ purchase decisions.
When customers make purchase decisions, they are heavily influenced not only by the
objective features of products, but by the customers’ perceptions of the brand (Foley &
Kendrick, 2006). In turn, customers’ perceptions are influenced in immeasurable ways by
many other stakeholder groups. For example, a NGO’s criticism on unfair labour practices
can make a brand less favourable.
2.4 Stakeholders Know More about Brands
I will claim, again and again in my thesis, that the stakeholders are the real brand owners.
From a technical and legal point of view, the brand owner is obviously a company. There are
many ways to define a brand. I see the brand as a perception that exists in the minds of
people. Hence, each individual has his or her very own interpretation of a certain brand.
Stakeholders have some sort of association with the brand, and their perception of the brand
defines how weak or strong it is – i.e. not the company but the people ultimately determine
the brand’s fate.
The company associated with the brand tries to influence us, for example through marketing,
to have positive feelings about the brand and encourages us to buy it. However, we decide
whether to listen or believe in what it tells us about the brand. There are many other
influences on our perception of brands, e.g. friends’ opinions or our image of the typical
brand user. One can say that companies’ direct influence on our perception of brands is quite
limited. That’s why I proclaim that the company cannot be the real brand owner. Companies
should rather hand over part of the power they claim to have to their stakeholders. This
intrinsically makes sense because companies that involve stakeholders essentially ensure that
corporate messages get through perceptive filters more easily. Stakeholders want to improve
the brand. They want to shape the brand in a way to better suit their way of thinking. The
improved brand obtains easier access to stakeholders’ minds. Of course, the company wants
to improve the brand as well, but it frequently doesn’t understand the stakeholders’ way of
How is the perception of brands formed? Aldous Huxley wrote, in his famous book about his
mescaline and LSD experiments, that the doors of perception are the senses – eyes, ears,
mouth, nose and skin. These senses are our only point of contact to the world (Huxley, 1954).
Even so, we never know how the real world really looks like. The world we perceive is not
the real world but a simplification, a so called map. All our senses are tied to a series of
perceptual filters. Anything that is not filtered out builds our map. In addition, what we pay
attention to in the map is further filtered through our beliefs, interests and preoccupations
(O'Connor & Seymour, 2002, p. 25).
I argue that people, stakeholders, know best how to shape a message so that it actually goes
through all these filters into their awareness. Therefore, companies should encourage
stakeholders to participate in branding to help the brand find its way easily onto the map –
and become a relevant object on the map. I believe that stakeholders should influence a brand
to make it better, for their perception. And a better brand automatically becomes more
relevant to them. In the end, stakeholders perceive the brand that offers participation or that
they have influenced as better, and a stronger brand has positive effects on the company.
3 The Brand Touchpoint Internet
I singled out the brand touchpoint Internet because it is the most suitable one for participative
branding. It is also the touchpoint that is evolving fastest and many new developments, such
as social media, are worth having a closer look at. Chapter 3.1 to chapter 3.3 look at the
Internet as a whole, while I’ll explain in 3.4 the significance of participative branding on the
Internet. Chapter 3.5 goes into more detail as I introduce you to what social media is all about
and how it can be used to involve stakeholders. The objective of my thesis is to impart
knowledge about participative branding. This can be best achieved with real examples. That’s
why an extensive part, chapter 3.5.1 to 3.5.9 looks at good and bad examples of various
companies. Chapter 3.6 presents closed online communities, a promising approach to
participative branding. Again, the usefulness of closed online communities is exemplified
with various examples.
The reach of the Internet is mind-boggling. Europe’s 400 million Internet users (Miniwatts
Marketing Group, 2009) are exposed to the touchpoint Internet between 14 hours (Austria)
and 32 hours (Turkey) per month2 (comScore, 2009a). Not included in these figures is the
fast-growing mobile access. In Switzerland, 80% of the population uses the Internet – on
average 31 hours per month. 60% of the Swiss use it daily, but only 4% access it via mobile
phones – certainly a number that will soar in the near future (Bauer, 2009, pp. 93-94).
The Internet has become an indispensable part of our private and business lifes. The Internet
saturation is already high, and the Internet will get even more ubiquitous as it has eventually
started to conquer the mobile devices market. For companies of all sizes, the Internet has
become a major brand touchpoint that needs to be carefully looked after.
For purposes of participative branding the Internet is the most capable medium as it allows a
relatively cheap and practical way to interact with stakeholders. Unlike other brand
touchpoints that are dominated by certain stakeholder groups, the Internet unifies them all.
The apparently unlimited possibilities, the reach of the medium, the speed of developments
and the ability to directly communicate with people justifies to have a closer look at the
The average hours spent on the Internet was measured for 17 European countries only, as of April 2009.
3.1 The Internet Generation
How familiar are you with the latest technology? Do you effortlessly work with the newest
Internet services? Do you even know what’s currently hot? When you hear aki-aki what do
you think of? When describing the Internet affinity, people are often classified into
The Baby Boom Generation, born just after World War II, have lived most of their lives
without the Internet. Generation X, or Gen X, is the generation born between the early 1960s
and 1980 (Stephey, 2008). The Xers were brought up with Atari, personal computers and
television. Following Gen X is Generation Y, also known as the Millennials, born between
the early 1980s and 1994 (BusinessWeek, 1999). This generation closely witnessed and took
part in the rise of mass communication and the Internet. According to alphabetical order, the
subsequent generation is dubbed Gen Z. This latest generation began around 1995 (Schmidt &
Hawkins, 2008). Other names for Gen Z include Generation V (V for virtual), Internet
Generation, Gen @ and Generation C (C for community or content). The Zers are highly
connected, and being born into a world of digital technology they can be classified as “digital
It has become common knowledge that brands have to have a presence on the Internet, no
matter which of the aforementioned generations they interact with. However, in order to be
successful with the younger generations, brands should treat the touchpoint Internet with
special care. For these people the Internet has established itself as the first and most important
brand contact point. Having a nice website is fine, but will Gen Z ever visit this website? If
they visit the website, knowing about the Internet’s potential, won’t they demand for more
For most brands it is difficult to keep pace with the technology of the early adopters, the
Generation Z. The good news is that it is not about technology but about the way of doing
business. Especially people with high Internet affinity want to get involved and take part in
decision-making. They expect to be heard by the corporations and request transparency.
Hence, to meet the changed demands, companies need to loosen grips around their brands and
empower their stakeholders. The Internet clearly facilitates this process. The technology is
simply the execution for this shift in thinking.
3.2 People are in Control
The Internet has been growing and evolving ever since its modest beginnings. With the
changes came new expressions. Nowadays, some of the buzz words are Web 2.0, social
media, webinars, microblogging and social networking.
The term Web 2.0 refers to a second generation of web development and web design,
characterized as facilitating communication, information sharing, interoperability, user-
centred design and collaboration on the World Wide Web (Wikipedia, 2009a).
Social media is characterized by a shift in how people discover, read and share news,
information and content. Social media is a fusion of sociology and technology, transforming
monologues into dialogues and transforming people from content readers into content creators
(Wikipedia, 2009b). Social networks are simply online communities.
People have discovered that they, as a single person or group, are capable of changing things.
They take matters into their own hands and ask for more participation and power. If your
brand isn’t able to satisfy these demands, the competitor is just one click away – even though
it possibly operates from another corner of the world. Signs of change are visible wherever
you look, and companies start to empower their stakeholders: Co-creation, social media and
crowdsourcing3 fuel stakeholder participation and have become common practice for Gen Y
On the Internet, people are in charge. Individuals may be stopped but it is so easy to find and
connect to like-minded people on the Internet. As a group, people are usually powerful
enough to accomplish what they want: One man and his broken laptop spurred an anti-Dell
movement that initiated a change in Dell’s overall strategy (see p. 24). Another man only got
what he’d been asking for after denouncing United Airlines publicly on the Internet (see p.
People devote time to projects and organisations. They write encyclopedias like Wikipedia,
and they collaborate on open source projects like Mozilla. They assemble an orchestra of 96
musicians from 33 countries who play their opening concert at the famous Carnegie Hall
(YouTube Orchestra) (Trümpi, 2009). They take over and manage a football club deciding
together, by voting on the Internet, about the starting line-up, transfers and ticket prices
(Ebbsfleet United) (Gormley, 2009). They voluntarily and unexpectedly carry out marketing
Crowdsourcing is the act of taking tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing
it to an undefined, generally large group of people or community in the form of an open call.
functions and impact a major Hollywood movie (Snakes on a Plane) (McConnell & Huba,
2007, pp. 162-169). These are just a few examples to demonstrate that people work together
and participate in tasks formerly performed by organisations only.
3.3 Most People are Spectators
There are countless examples of Internet users participating in some way. Apart from the
question why would anyone contribute, it would be interesting to know how many do actually
participate, and how many are simply bystanders? Marc Smith and Peter Kollock (1999, pp.
225-227) try to answer the first question, why users contribute (in online communities). They
mainly see three possible motivations for participation: Users are motivated to contribute to
the community in the expectation that they will receive useful help and information in return.
Furthermore, users participate as they are motivated to increase their prestige in the
community. Lastly, users are willing to contribute valuable information because doing so
gives them a feeling to have some effect on the community.
How many do participate?
McConnell and Huba’s research
produced the 1% rule, or the 90-
9-1 principle (2007, p. 34). This
rule of thumb states that about
1% of all visitors to a forum
will create content, and 9% will
interact with the content
(writing comments or voting).
90% of all visitors read and
observe but don’t actively
Figure 4: The Social Technographics Ladder (Forrester Research,
The 1% rule applies only to a single community or a single site. When looking at the overall
behaviour of people, i.e. looking across all sites, one should consult the social technographics
ladder by Forrester Research. The ladder classifies people according to how they use social
technologies (Forrester Research, 2008). Figure 4 depicts the six categories of participation
(participation at one level can overlap with participation at other levels). The level of
participation varies depending on the consumers’ demographics. For illustration purposes, the
profile of an average French
consumer, aged between 25 and 34,
is shown in Figure 5. In the
Appendix on page 90 you can also
find the consumer participation
profiles of Europe, USA and China.
The European profile sees a
relatively high number on the lower
two rungs and comparatively low
figures on the top rungs of the
Figure 5: Consumer Profile Tool (Forrester Research, 2009)
ladder. However, by changing
countries and age of the consumers, these figures vary greatly.
Gartner promotes a
slightly different model.
Gartner identifies four
levels of engagement as
shown in Figure 6. It
all four levels in the
community as each level
has significant business
value (Gartner, 2008).
Similar to the previous
models, the inactives and
spectators make up the
Figure 6: The Four Levels of Community Engagement (Gartner, 2008)
Are the people who are very engaged, like the 1%ers or Gartner’s creators, a representative
sample of the existing customers? Most likely they’re not because they are typically well-
educated, highly involved and technology-savvy (McConnell & Huba, 2007, p. 41).
Nevertheless, their ideas and opinions are valuable as long as you take into account which
customer segment they represent.
All the figures about participation must be used with caution. It is important not to generalise
but to look at the specific brand and the behaviour of its stakeholders. This requires a bit of
research, however, it is money well-invested given the high failure rates of web sites building
on user-generated content.
3.4 Participative Branding on the Internet
Brands have become increasingly important in our everyday lives and can be seen as cultural
accessories and personal philosophies (Klein, 2002, p. 37). The Internet is a popular platform
to voice opinions about brands. It also enables people to get involved with brand-related
matters. People have undeniably taken over part of the branding function. As a matter of fact,
people have more influence on (buying) behaviour through online word of mouth than
traditional push marketing activities have. The leading companies have acknowledged the
benefits of involving external stakeholders in brand-related decisions and let them spread the
message. Outside input has always been valuable but only the advent of the Internet made it
possible to empower external stakeholders in an effective and economical way.
It is certainly not new that people talk about products and services. We’ve always talked
about brands, although perhaps more nowadays than in the past. However, it used to be nearly
impossible, or only with a big effort, for brands to listen to the conversation. Nowadays, a
substantial part of the conversation happens on the Internet which makes it easier for brands
to listen and interact with people.
In a nutshell, the Internet in general and social media and communities in particular are the
best participative branding instruments. Social media is something like a replica of the offline
life, just with more transparency. Social media users generously expose their likes, dislikes,
friends, beliefs, and so on. This looks like paradise for brand managers, if it weren’t for the
loss of control over the brand and the negative chatter. Many of the downsides of social media
can be averted in closed online communities. Closed online communities enable participative
branding in a more intimate environment.
To succeed in today’s digital world, brands need to undergo a change in thinking. Companies
can see consumers with more clarity, and vice versa consumers can see brands with more
clarity. As a consequence, on the Internet you are who you are, not what you say you are. This
is, at least, true for brands. Brands must deliver on their brand promises like never before
(Adamson, 2008). Luckily for the brands that are serious about making good on their
promises, external stakeholders are keen to help the brands getting better. Therefore, it is
about time to open up to brand evangelists and stakeholders in general to collaboratively
advance the brand.
3.5 Social Media
Is it worth to invest resources in social media? An increasing number of people would say
yes, even though it is difficult to measure the success of social media. Experts articulate that
brands can increase brand awareness, reputation, and the like. However, the finance
department and other people as well are more interested in the really important metrics:
revenue and profit. To my knowledge, there is only one large-scale study that examines the
correlation between social media engagement and revenue and profit.
The Wetpaint/Altimeter Group analysed this alleged correlation, based on the 100 most
valuable brands according to Interbrand’s Best Global Brand 2008 (Wetpaint/Altimeter
Group, 2009). The verdict is clear, “The relationship is apparent and significant: socially
engaged companies are in fact more financially successful.” Socially engaged doesn’t mean
just having a presence in social media. It means to take part, having a dialogue and empower
people. How social media should be done to have a real impact is elucidated with many
examples in the following chapters.
Figure 7: Brands Fall Into One of Four Engagement Profiles (Wetpaint/Altimeter Group, 2009)
The Wetpaint/Altimeter Group study gives even more valuable insight into social media. The
study allocates the brands into one of four profiles depending on the number of channels4 and
the level of engagement (see Figure 7). Wallflowers have below-average engagement scores
and are testing just a few channels. They are cautious about the risks and uncertain about the
benefits of social media. Selectives are also only present in a few channels, but they engage
customers deeply. The social media projects at these companies have usually only few
resources available. Butterflies have managed to cover many channels, but the engagement in
these channels is insufficient to have a real impact. Even though their ambitions are high, the
companywide support is unsatisfactory because the company isn’t fully convinced. Mavens
are highly engaged and utilize many different social media types. They have a convincing
strategy where social media affects the whole organisation along with providing the necessary
Channels are social media types such as blogs, wikis, Flickr, etc.
The Mavens had the most success in terms of both revenue and profit. Butterflies produced
stronger revenues than Selectives and Wallflowers, but Selectives had higher margins. The
authors of the study assume that more channels mean more brand touchpoints, which in turn
leads to more viral marketing and brand recognition and therefore higher sales volume. The
fact that Selectives have higher margins than Butterflies shows that it pays off to focus only
on selective channels, but doing so with high engagement.
Figure 8: Engagement Correlates to Financial Performance (Wetpaint/Altimeter Group, 2009)
Brands occupying space in social media are not perceived as being obtrusive by users. On the
contrary, 93% of American social media users think that businesses should have a social
media presence, and 85% are of the opinion that companies should interact via social
networks with their customers (Cone, 2008).
Branding in social media is different from traditional branding as stakeholders directly
interact with real people representing a brand. These people who engage with customers,
prospective, NGOs, etc. apparently have an impact on how the brand is perceived by
stakeholders. It would be interesting to conduct research as to how social media, and in
particular the persons who engage with customers, affect the brand personality.
Unfortunately, there is no such study yet. Moreover, there are many passionate brand
enthusiasts who, often without the knowledge of the company, influence the way the brand is
perceived. Rohit Bhargava calls these people accidental spokespersons. In his book
Personality Not Included he writes, “They are not controlled by the brands they describe, but
they influence perception about those brands in a powerful way” (Bhargava, 2008, p. 56).
Brand personality is strongly affected by the people who engage with customers in social
media. For that reason, it is crucial to educate the employees engaging in social media about
Brand personality is formed and influenced by direct and indirect contact with the brand.
Aaker explains that personality traits get connected to a brand in a direct way by the people
associated with the brand – the perception of the typical customer, the employees, the CEO
and the brand endorsers (Aaker, 1997). Translating Aakers findings into the age of social
media, the personality traits of employees using social media and the personality traits of
company external brand ambassadors are transferred directly to the brand. Once again, we’ve
found evidence that external stakeholders increasingly acquire control over the brand. A
company can influence as to who they employ and to a certain degree on how employees
behave, but the company has no direct influence on external brand ambassadors who
evidently influence the brand personality as well. Moreover, many companies don’t know
their brand ambassadors or they don’t even know that they exist. That's why it is so important
to listen to the conversations on the Internet – to find out who talks about the brand, what they
discuss and what is the tone of the conversation.
Brands can form their personality by actively participating in social media. Specifically,
social media humanizes brands as it is all about human interactions. As I will explain later
with a few examples, sometimes employees become the stars and not the brand itself.
In my opinion, the process of humanization is equivalent to the process of how brands should
enter social media. The more engaged a brand is, the more human interactions are taking
place. The more such interactions, the more people anthropomorphize brands5. I tried to
sketch the process of entering social media in Figure 9.
At the beginning, the company is not involved in social media. It is focused on push
marketing activities, also known as one-way communication. To appeal to customers and
prospective clients, the company tries to attribute human traits to the brand – something that is
usually quite difficult. The difficulty is exemplified through the face (representing the brand)
that lacks important human features (first phase in the illustration below).
Anthropomorphization occurs when human qualities are attributed to nonhuman objects, e.g. brands.
Figure 9: Entering Social Media and Anthropomorphization (by author)
If the company wants to get engaged in social media, it has to proceed to the next phase. This
necessitates ears as an apparatus to listen to the conversation. Stakeholders talk about many
things, probably also about a company’s brand, its competitors and the industry or business
environment in general. With the newly grown ears, the company is able to listen to the
chatter as well as to learn how people use social media. It is the phase when employees ought
to acquire knowledge about how people use social media and about the do’s and don’ts. Yet,
the communication is predominantly one-way because the emphasis in this phase is listening
The company starts to get truly engaged in the third phase. The brand gets involved in real
dialogues with real people – the double arrow symbolizes the two-way communication. The
organisation and its employees are now ready to be an active partner in the conversation. It is
an opportunity to influence the brand’s reputation, to ask for advice or ideas, or to get to know
customers – fundamentally to empower stakeholders. Engaging in human-human interactions
is also the equivalent to the third stage of humanizing the brand. Even though the dialogues
occur between two real persons, one side represents a brand or company. Whatever she or he
says influences the listener’s perception of that brand. Because of the sheer number of
interactions taking place in social media, it truly impacts brands’ perception and reputation.
Social media means new opportunities to create and communicate with people who care. This
is not just a phoney saying of some social media fanatic. The benefits are real and the anxiety
unsubstantiated – as confirmed by a Beeline Labs survey (2009): Companies reported that
they were surprised by how much customers advocate their brands. They observed that
customers help even more when companies directly communicate with customers, offering
help and giving thanks. Furthermore, the interviewees experienced social media as a way to
open doors, create relationships, learn and help people get to know the people behind the
company in a transparent, authentic and human way. Almost all companies were pleasantly
surprised at how few negative experiences occurred from social media.
In the subsequent chapter I will introduce examples of how social media is applied in practice
and how companies can derive advantage from social media. A selection of the countless
social media tools are arranged into groups as seen in the illustration below.
Figure 10: Social Media Types (by author)
3.5.1 Reviews and Opinions
60% of German Internet users and 71% of Internet users in the USA pay attention to opinions
and reviews of other customers before buying a product (Billhardt, Henke, Waldenmaier, &
Holtthoff, 2008). Review and opinion services like Ciao!, Epinions, dooyoo, etc. are social
media but not very important for participative branding.
If your brand is mentioned frequently on review and opinion sites, monitor what’s being said
about the brand, competitors and industry. However, the contribution of a company should be
restricted to direct replies to selective comments. Only write comments and ask for
information if truly necessary, and don’t even think about faking a review.
3.5.2 Knowledge Exchanges
Typical knowledge exchange websites are Yahoo!Answers, answerbag and WikiAnswers.
They allow users to submit questions and answer questions asked by other users. A step
further goes Hunch that is a collective intelligence decision-making system which uses
decision trees to make decisions based on users’ interests. Wikipedia is so popular that it
needs no explanation.
Wikis, like Wikipedia, are a perfect tool for participative branding, in particular for
collaborative works. Businesses can use wikis to empower employees. IBM uses wikis to
involve employees in the decision-making process. Instead of just blocking access to
(selected) social media sites as many companies do, IBM chose to empower its workforce by
collaboratively establishing guidelines. In 2005, IBM employees used the wiki technology to
create a set of blogging guidelines (Snell, 2005). With the occurrence of new forms of social
media, IBM turned again to its employees and asked them to re-examine and revise the
guidelines – now called IBM Social Computing Guidelines6. By the way, wikis are also great
tools for internal knowledge management and many corporations like Citigroup, Nokia or
Dresdner Kleinwort take advantage of that (Carlin, 2007).
To build a full-size wiki together with your external stakeholders is a very challenging task.
Careful planning is necessary and the risks of failing are considerable. Jimmy Wales, co-
founder of Wikipedia, sees the problem that many brands have problems with authenticity,
they do not engage communities in a real dialogue and tend to be very controlling. Companies
tend to fix things that communities got wrong, thereby angering the community. He advises
companies to accept wrong contributions because, as it regularly turns out later, it is very
likely that they did something wrong (AdvertisingAge, 2009).
Figure 11: Screenshot BearingPoint Wiki MIKE2.0 Website
If you have external stakeholders, in this case mainly customers, who are ready to share
information and if you have an attractive topic, a wiki might be something for your business.
BearingPoint (http://www.openmethodology.org/) has a successful wiki. BearingPoint had
interesting and valuable content to start with. It used its intellectual property that was spread
all over the company. This intellectual property now lies outside of the company in a wiki,
and it has grown significantly. People even added to areas that the consulting firm doesn’t
cover. By collaborating with its own clients, BearingPoint gives its clients the feeling that
they solve problems together. Clients and prospective clients feel supported and comfortable
– and as a result book BearingPoint’s services (Li & Bernoff, 2008, pp. 165-169).
3.5.3 Social Networking
In December 2008, 75% of the European Internet users visited a social networking site
(comScore, 2009b), not including the fast-growing mobile web access7. Social networking on
mobile devices is one of the fastest growing areas on the Internet. For instance, 25% of total
traffic to Facebook happens via mobile phone (Colaizzi, 2009). The European Internet users
spend almost a third of their Internet time on social networking sites (comScore, 2009c).
All data reported by ComScore measure Internet users age 15 and older who access the internet via a home or
work computer. Traffic from public computers (e.g. Internet cafes), mobile phones or PDAs is excluded.
The number one social networking site in Europe is Facebook. The network has grown
tremendously in Europe and had overtaken its rivals in most European countries. Network
effects are definitely a factor – the more people on Facebook, the more useful it becomes.
ComScore reports that by February 2009, Facebook is the leading social networking site in 11
European countries and number two in three countries. It hasn’t reached top positions yet in
Germany, Portugal and Russia (comScore, 2009c). Apart from global social networking sites
like MySpace or Facebook there are still many national sites that are extremely popular8. For
example Skyrock in France (comScore, 2009b), Tuenti in Spain (comScore, 2009d),
Vkontakte in Russia (comScore, 2009e), Bebo in the UK (comScore, 2009f), Netlog in
Austria and Switzerland, or StudiVZ in Germany have a strong local following (Mohsin,
Figure 12: What do You do with Your Social Networking Profile? (Universal McCann, 2009)
I will use Facebook representing all other social networking sites. Even though people use
social media differently around the world, the basic concept is always roughly the same and
can usually be translated easily to other social networking sites. In general, social networking
services allow users to create a profile for themselves. Users can customize their profile, write
comments, upload pictures and become friends with other users. What people are doing with
their social networking profile is visible in the chart above.
To begin with, Facebook profiles are for people, pages are for businesses and groups are for
both. In most cases having a page rather than a group is more suitable for businesses. Besides
For a worldwide graphic overview go to http://www.oxyweb.co.uk/blog/socialnetworkmapoftheworld.php
better customization, detailed statistics are only available for the page. The statistics tool,
called Facebook Insights9, reveals demographic information, activity levels and page views.
Statistics are always helpful – maybe you find that your fans have certain similarities or
preferences. That gives you already an opportunity to create content that your fans will like.
The persons who administer the brand’s page need to be registered as administrators. All
administrators who interact on the profile page will be doing so under the brand page name
(e.g. “Converse All Stars”) and not with their real names.
The first example of participative branding on Facebook is the tortilla chips from Doritos
(http://www.facebook.com/DoritosCanada) which is produced by Frito-Lay, a division of
PepsiCo. Doritos handed the brand over to its Canadian fans. It asked them to name the
flavour of a new product and create a commercial for this new flavour. The winner was
chosen by voting on Facebook. Doritos Canada was quite generous, the winner’s suggested
name was put on the packaging, the commercial aired on TV and online, and he cashed in
CAD 25000 plus 1% of net sales for the life of the product. It is important to show gratitude
and give something back to the participants. It doesn’t need to be as generous as Doritos, but
it is a game of give-and-take. And I think it is important to reward not only the winner. The
winner takes it all mentality discourages participation and shows no gratitude for the
participants who invested their time voting or making videos – in that way deepening their
relationship with the brand. Contests are a perfect way to keep fans engaged. They need by no
means be as big and sophisticated as Doritos’. Dunkin’ Donuts
(http://www.facebook.com/DunkinDonuts) chooses each week a different fan photo to be its
official Facebook profile picture. Other popular means to entice consumers to become fans
and to engage them are coupons, free shipping or weekly deals (Balwani, 2009).
Doritos sort of outsourced a whole marketing process to its fans. One can also ask specific
questions to the audience. The dairy producer Emmi turned to its fans for help in product
decision making (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Yogi-Drink/43763851004). The apple
flavoured Yogi Drink has been discontinued, but many people want the apple flavour back on
the shelves. Therefore, Emmi pledges to start producing again as soon as the Facebook page
reaches 20000 fans. The idea is good but the execution poor. It is Emmi’s first social media
undertaking and, of course, a learning process. On the Facebook page you only find one short
explanation, but there is nothing else provided (no additional content, empty info tab, no
photos, no cross-linking) nor is anyone from the company willing to join the conversation
There are certainly many other independent statistic tools available, too.
with its fans. It is important to give your fans a reason to become fans. This criterion is
evidently satisfied. However, the Facebook page for the Yogi Drink as well as the main web
site for Emmi illustrate that it has no social media strategy yet. By the way, I found out that
Emmi has started producing again even before it reached the 20000 fans (von Hunnius, 2009).
I have the feeling that too often businesses create Facebook pages, or any other social media
accounts, because everybody else does it. You can easily spot such pages because they simply
duplicate their websites, they do not publish content that is valuable for people, nor do they
ask questions, stimulate and respond. These lifeless pages are neither a real benefit for the
fans nor the brand. For that reason, a good starting point is to develop a strategy as to why
someone should become a fan of your brand (e.g. career advice for people who want to work
at Ernst & Young) and of course what you want to get out of it (e.g. recruit talented
employees). Your Facebook account needs to have a business purpose, but on the other hand
the brand must be flexible. Depending on how the fans want to interact with the brand the
business purpose might evolve over time. Whatever you do, it is imperative to always stay
consistent with the brand.
Even if your product seems to be inappropriate for starting a conversation, various examples
show that people nonetheless are ready to engage with your brand. Scotch Duct Tape
(http://www.facebook.com/ScotchDuctTape) is a tape and not really a product you normally
talk about with your friends. However, the company provides creative content and manages to
engage its many fans by having a real dialogue with them. The key point is that it is not about
the tape, it is about how to use it. They often ask questions like, “How has Duct Tape saved
you from a sticky situation?” which generated hundreds of comments. Maybe the company
finds some valuable ideas or insights when analyzing the comments.
Now, one might think that monitoring conversations, thanking and responding to positive
comments, and even responding to negative comments is almost impossible for brands with a
big fan base. It no doubt needs resources. Nevertheless, companies like the aforementioned
E&Y Career (http://www.facebook.com/ernstandyoungcareers) along with many others are
proof that it is indeed possible.
I think most brands haven’t yet figured out how to converse with its fans on social networking
sites. A lot of brands do not yet see the potential social networking sites can yield. They look
at a social networking site as an individual entity whereas they should think of the brand
touchpoint Internet (or social media) as a whole and connect the different outposts. By
interconnecting the different brand presences on the Internet, the company can direct the
stakeholders to the web platforms which are most suitable for their specific concerns or
wishes. Even if you only want to increase your traffic on a specific social networking site, you
need to link them with each other and provide the link on your main website as well. Many
businesses fail to connect the different brand touchpoints on the Internet because they don’t
know, or forget, that people are usually not actively searching for a brand’s presence on
Facebook. They rather stumble upon a branded page, either through a link from another
website or through friends. Whole Foods Market (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/) shows
how it can be done by putting hyperlinks prominently yet unobtrusively on its website (see
encircled area in screenshot below).
Figure 13: Screenshot Whole Foods Market Website
If a business interacts with very diverse groups, it is wise to create different communities.
Dell is such an example having private customers and business customers. Even more, the
needs of business customers vary greatly depending on the size of the business. Hence, Dell
created a Facebook page for small businesses. Dell identified an area where it has superior
knowledge (social media) and decided to share this resource with managers from small
businesses. That’s how the Social Media for Small Business Facebook page
(http://www.facebook.com/dellsocialmedia) came into existence.
Having a dialogue with your stakeholders is crucial in advancing your brand’s reputation.
Dialogue is one form of participation; another form is content generated by external
stakeholders. A very remarkable way of empowering stakeholders was chosen by Coca-Cola.
But before I continue with Coca-Cola, I’d like to talk about Nutella which is in a very similar
position as Coca-Cola used to be.
Brands like Coca-Cola or Nutella certainly must have done many things right because there
are dozens of fan pages on Facebook with millions of fans. Just to give you an impression of
the scope, Nutella’s largest fan page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nutella/24932281961)
is currently ranked 17th in terms of number of fans (3.3 million). The top three Nutella fan
pages together will soon have over 5 million fans. By looking at the top three Nutella pages I
can clearly see that they are not administered or supported by Ferrero, the parent company.
There is a community of millions of Nutella aficionados Ferrero could have free access to, but
Ferrero is not present. Ferrero has a range of popular products which it heavily advertises on
TV (Nielsen Media Research, 2009). However, young people find Ferrero products
increasingly unsexy (W&V, 2009). This is not really surprising as not only Facebook pages
but the whole brand touchpoint Internet is badly neglected.
Figure 14: Screenshot Coca-Cola Facebook Page
Other companies learn more quickly. In the book Citizen Marketers (McConnell & Huba,
2007), Coca-Cola is alleged to make products that everyday people enjoy talking about, but
the company does not engage in conversation with its fans 10. Coca-Cola now writes on its
Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/coca-cola), “This is your Fan Page. Our goal is to
celebrate your happiness and passion for Coca-Cola. We want to get to know you and hear
your input so that we can continue to be the brand that you know and love” (Coca-Cola,
2009). The Coca-Cola page was created by two Coca-Cola enthusiasts and became within no
time one of the biggest fan pages. The community of over 3.6 million fans is jointly
administered by its two creators and the Coca-Cola company. The joint-venture was the result
of a dilemma. Facebook urged Coca-Cola to take over the page because it feared trademark
risks, and on the other hand, Coca-Cola was afraid to send the wrong message to its fans by
seizing control. If a brand already has a very strong community on a social networking site, it
is probably best to collaborate with the community. Coca-Cola endorses the page, but it does
not interfere nor does it disburse the site administrators (Bradshaw & Gelles, 2009).
Participative branding is about loosening the grip around your brand to empower stakeholders
– exactly what Coca-Cola did. However, I am sure that it took a lot of courage to hand over
the most valuable brand in the world to its stakeholders.
Brands can profit from social networking sites in various ways. In order to have a long-term
gain brands need to behave social. This means creating engaging and relevant content, sharing
status updates, posting photos or videos and making regular contributions to the community.
This is also true for Twitter, only that the technology works a bit differently.
Twitter enables users to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets can have a
maximum of 140 characters and are displayed on the author's profile page and to the author's
subscribers who are known as followers. Tweets can be sent and received via the Twitter
website, external web applications or mobile devices using SMS.
Twitter is not the only “micro-blogging” service but the most successful one. It is quite
widespread in the USA, though it has not (yet) reached the same status in Europe. Estimates
of number of users vary because Twitter does not reveal these figures. Growth projections
vary considerably depending on the sources11. I simply assume that Twitter will keep growing
for a while and therefore will become even more relevant for businesses. As a matter of fact,
See also the Coca-Cola/Mentos example on p. 77
Nielsen reports that unique visitors to twitter.com increased by 1382% from Feb 08 to Feb 09.
big American companies prefer Twitter over Facebook. In July 2009, 54% of the Fortune 100
companies have a Twitter presence and only 29% a Facebook presence (eMarketer, 2009).
“Consumers own the brands as much as we do, and they want to share their interests and
likes,” says Bonin Bough, director of social and emerging media for PepsiCo. “Twitter is the
only medium where we can have a two-way continuous dialog about the brand” (Milstein,
Twitter is a rather new service and businesses have discovered it only recently. Twitter is,
despite being very simplistic, changing fast. I assume there will be many improvements for
business users in the near future. I start with the example of JetBlue Airways because it was
one of the first major brands on Twitter and is therefore one of the most experienced
commercial Twitter users.
Not only does JetBlue Largest Airlines in North America Twitter followers
(http://twitter.com/JetBlue) have a lot of 1 Southwest Airlines 485 904
2 American Airlines 10 190
experience with social media, it has also 3 Delta Air Lines 10 362
worked out a competitive advantage thanks to 4 United Airlines 31 279
5 US Airways 2 297
its large and active community. Looking at
6 Continental Airlines 1 513
the biggest competitors of JetBlue (see Figure 7 Air Canada 2 719
15) gives you a hint of how far ahead JetBlue 8 AirTran Airways 42
9 JetBlue Airways 1 067 745
is with its social media presence. Imagine
10 SkyWest Airlines 360
you have a large community and a company- sources: Wikipedia, Twitter
data: August 18, 2009
internal issue you need to resolve, or you
need guidance for a decision. Continental Figure 15: Twitter Followers (by author)
Airlines will have to initiate a new (research)
project that costs money and time to get the answers it needs. Jet Blue, however, simply
tweets and the community will answer within no time. This approach is free and results in
almost immediate results. I think this example already proves all critics wrong who claim 140
characters (Twitter) cannot have any value for companies. To demonstrate a real life use, I
copied the tweet from Kodak (http://twitter.com/kodakCB) that taps its community looking
for a product name: “You want a Kodak Zi8? Try coming up with a name for our next video
camera! http://bit.ly/3MVhhJ #NameAKodak”.12
In order to save precious space, remember you have 140 characters, people use short URLs like
http://bit.ly/3MVhhJ. This short URL directly forwards to the destination URL. Hashtags like #NameAKodak
are tags that help those who seek similar content discover your tweets. Simply prefix a word with the #.
In order to keep and grow your community you need to give (e.g. content, sweepstakes,
support, etc.) and not only take. Both sides must benefit from the community. What exactly
do your followers want from you? If in doubt, simply ask the people like JetBlue asked its
community. Morgan Johnston, manager of corporate communication, explains that people
responded saying they want to see JetBlue asking questions. The JetBlue followers even said
they want JetBlue to see them as a resource for helping to deliver a better product. Johnston
consequently asks questions and posts information that people would respond to. He also uses
Twitter as customer service. The customer service part is not visible because it mainly
happens via DMs (direct messages) (Milstein, 2009b). DM is the private messaging channel;
the tweets can only be seen by the sender and receiver. You don’t need to stay on Twitter all
the time. If you think something can be resolved better by email, then do so.
There are six people at JetBlue who can post directly to Twitter, and Johnston identified key
people in different departments who can answer questions. When there are announcements
that are likely to generate a lot of questions, JetBlue adds some relevant staff to cope with the
amount of tweets. Even though it does not make sense for most companies to be on Twitter
around the clock, JetBlue plans to be available for its followers 24/7 (Milstein, 2009b).
JetBlue has achieved qualitative improvements thanks to Twitter. Johnston explains that he
can warn passengers in advance of delays because of weather issues. Passengers who have
more knowledge keep calmer and treat the airport staff with more respect which reflects back
on them (Milstein, 2009b). However, other people say that Twitter has put airlines on the
defensive as they try to cope with the many tweets, often sent directly from airports or
airplane seats, complaining about delays and poor service (The Age, 2009).
Twitter humanizes brands. Companies can’t tweet but people can. It is easier to build a
relationship with a brand when this brand has a human voice and is willing to interact with
you. Anamaria Irazabal, brand director for Pepsi, says that Pepsi tries to humanize the brand
with Twitter to make it more accessible to consumers (Milstein, 2009a).
There are two ways for a brand to be present on Twitter. Firstly, an account named after the
company, e.g. “JetBlue”. In this case I would recommend informing in the “Bio” section
(right panel) about who is currently on duty, e.g. “Currently on duty: John (JM) and Laura
(LW)”. The abbreviations in the brackets can be put at the end of tweets, so that followers
know who they are tweeting with. Alternatively, you assign each Twitter user his or her own
account. Comcast controls the account “ComcastCares” (http://twitter.com/comcastcares)
who is the director of the care team and other team members whose accounts are called
something like “ComcastSteve” or “ComcastMelissa”. In comparison to the JetBlue way,
which has the logo as their profile picture, each Comcaster has his own private profile with
his picture. “ComcastCares” (real name Frank Eliason, see screenshot below) explains in a
BusinessWeek article where they look over his shoulder, “Originally I used the Comcast
symbol instead of my picture, but then I listened to customer feedback and put my picture up.
Now when they think Comcast, they think Frank. Right now I have 5700 followers. They
know about my family web site. It gives a face to Comcast” (Reisner, 2009).
Figure 16: Screenshot of Comcast's @comcastcares Twitter Profile
In terms of humanizing the brand, Comcast decided to go further than JetBlue. I suppose
when your main purpose of Twitter is customer support the Comcast approach is better.
Otherwise, I would rather opt for one Twitter account representing the whole company, a
company location or a company division. It is of course also possible to mix the two models.
Whole Foods Market, a very Twitter-savvy supermarket
(http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/twitter/), has one main account for the headquarter, four
topical accounts, and many cities and even stores have their own accounts, too. Obviously, it
only makes sense to have accounts for different stores when the offerings are basically
different. Whole Food Market targets retail customers by giving them information for the
store nearest to them. This localization is clearly an added value to the Whole Food Market
customers. I think it is also a very interesting approach to use topical Twitter accounts, e.g.
topics that typically concern a certain stakeholder group.
Twitter is very suitable for customer support because it is more personal than e-mail or call
centres, although it cannot replace them. Support on Twitter means more back-and-forth
discussions, is less formal and gives immediacy to interactions. If you want to use Twitter for
customer support, it is imperative to integrate it carefully into the organisational structure.
Otherwise it may happen like at Comcast when not all company representatives knew about
Twitter, “right hand doesn’t know left hand is tweeting”, which only complicated matters for
customers (Bhanoo, 2009).
Browsing through the accounts with the most followers on Twitter reveals that people just
seem to love to hear from celebrities. Unlike Facebook where dead people lead the ranking
(Michael Jackson), people on Twitter are very much alive and thus able to twitter. Britney
Spears, Oprah Winfrey, John Mayer, Barack Obama and Lance Armstrong do personal
branding. There are also highly successful channels like Woot (http://twitter.com/woot/) that
exclusively concentrate on selling. Dell Outlet (http://twitter.com/DellOutlet/) began tweeting
about promotions but has changed due to audience feedback to increasingly engage customers
(Nelson, 2009). Twitter is also a true blessing for organisations like the World Economic
Forum (http://twitter.com/davos/). It enables everyone to participate at the forum in Davos.
The World Economic Forum plans to host more Twitter interviews and enable more direct
access to forum participants (Lüfkens, 2009).
Twitter has also become the fastest news channel (first reports from Mumbai terrorist attacks,
first picture of aircraft that crashed into the Hudson River, etc.) and a tool for crisis
communication (Beaumont, 2009). Brands need to be where the conversation takes place
(social media) in order to listen and respond quickly using the right channel (Salzman, 2009).
These are all compelling reasons and examples why brands should consider using Twitter.
However, in the context of participative branding, Zappos is a much better example.
Zappos is an American online clothing store, acquired by Amazon in 2009, that is commonly
seen as the company doing the best job of using social media (Abrams Research, 2009). The
corporation is also ranked 23rd in the Fortune list of best companies to work for (Fortune,
2009). Zappos has quite an unusual approach to Twitter. Employees are introduced and
encouraged to use Twitter. There are currently over 400 employees tweeting, including the
CEO (http://twitter.zappos.com/employees). All employees’ tweets and all public mentions of
Zappos are shown publicly on the web site. The aim of all this is to express a positive
company culture which translates into superior customer service and growth says CEO Tony
Hsieh. Zappos’ approach to Twitter fosters personal connections with customers which
strengthens the brand and its reputation. Zappos can’t tweet, but its employees can. External
stakeholders feel that they are not dealing with a faceless company but with real people. Hsieh
states that Twitter has not only helped to communicate the company culture to the world, it
has also had profound impact on the company culture itself – employees learn about each
other personally (Weinberg, 2009, pp. 134-135). Zappos’ success has already spurred
copycats like Best Buy (http://bbyconnect.appspot.com/).
If you are not like Zappos and do not want as many employees as possible tweeting for the
company, who precisely is then going to tweet for your brand? Don’t hire an intern like Pizza
Hut did (Clifford, 2009). You rather want someone, if possible more than one, who has some
experience in the company and is very passionate about the brand. Margery Myres, senior
vice president of communications at Dunkin’ Donuts, says they talked a lot about what its
voice should be. They decided to choose someone who has a very dry sense of humour and is
comfortable expressing himself online (Coster, 2009). “The voice should reflect the company
culture”, explains Joel Comm, bestselling author and social media expert (Lai, 2009). The
voice influences the brand personality and how stakeholders perceive the brand.
Listen for comments about your company, brands, products and competitors. Scott Monty,
head of social media for Ford, recommends starting by actively listening, “You need to
understand the rules of engagement before you take part” (Naslund, 2008). When you talk use
a casual tone, share interesting stuff by retweeting13 messages, don’t spam, offer help if
needed, thank people for praise and remember that quality is more important than the number
of posts. Stefanie Nelson, who runs the marketing communication for Dell Outlet, says,
“Offering relevant information that people are interested in is key” (Milstein, 2009c). You can
only establish a community when you provide some real value and talk to the people about
their interests, too.
With Twitter you can build trust and relationships. Moreover, you can learn about your
stakeholders. “It's real-time responses with people, and you're getting authenticity in the
feedback”, says Dave Brookes from the small boutique winery Teusner Wines (Milstein,
2009d). As a matter of fact, small businesses can arguably profit even more from Twitter;
Retweeting (RT) means to take a twitter message someone else has posted, and rebroadcast that same message
to your followers.
they often use it as their sole marketing channel. “The small businesses typically get more
than half of their customers through word of mouth, and Twitter is the digital appearance of
that”, explains Greg Sterling who researches the Internet’s influence on businesses (Cain
Miller, 2009). Twitter can lead to new and creative ideas for your brand as the community
serves as a market research pool. Because it is a conversational tool, rather than a broadcast
tool, it is wise to use it extensively for learning and not only for informing.
Often companies are unsure whether they should follow someone who has become a follower
of the company on Twitter. I think this is not a critical decision. Nonetheless, it is always
good to have guidelines to reduce uncertainty. Dell recommends following everyone who
follows you if your focus is customer support. Otherwise, follow only others who post
information your audience would find interesting (Nelson, 2009).
I am sure that most executives would never allow such an open and transparent company
culture as lived at Zappos. They believe that what is communicated in the company must stay
in the company. This, however, does not avert the implementation of social media tools for
internal usage. There are some very powerful internal social media tools14. Currently the most
popular is Yammer (https://www.yammer.com/) which is for example used at AMD,
Thomson Reuters and Deloitte (Yammer, n.d.). These tools work similar to social networking
sites like Twitter and Facebook, but they are enhanced with special features for companies.
Essentially, all the participative branding you can do with your external stakeholders can be
done internally as well. Among the benefits of such internal social media platforms are that
they help to share knowledge, get quickly ideas and feedback companywide or from specific
groups, and connect a distributed workforce. As more employees participate, it can grow into
a corporate social network that can change the way a company communicates and works.
Finally, I should not forget to mention the social networking sites like LinkedIn or Xing.
LinkedIn claims to have more than 45 million members around the world (LinkedIn, n.d.)
while Xing is the leading European business network with over 8 million members (Xing,
n.d.). Both platforms can provide great benefits to its users, however, they do not really
facilitate participative branding. LinkedIn and Xing are great networking tools enabling you
to connect with professionals. You may find potential clients, service providers or employees
with these social networking sites. You can even build or join groups to share similar interests
Short review of popular tools like Yammer, CentralDesktop, SocialCast, SocialText and Rypple is available
and, last but not least, it should also help to build brand awareness (Weinberg, 2009, pp. 163-
Blogs can be divided into personal blogs and corporate blogs. Corporate blogs can be used
either internally or externally. Unlike many authors who argue that Twitter is a micro-
blogging service, I actually put it into the category social networking. I think Twitter is
different from blogging as it puts a lot more emphasis on relationships. My assumption is
even confirmed by an eMarketer study illustrating that most Twitter users use it to keep in
touch with friends (eMarketer, 2009).
People talk about brands. 32% of bloggers write opinions on products and brands according to
Universal McCann (2009). Blogs are often the first type of social media embraced by
companies. Yet, of the Fortune 500 companies only 77 (15%) make use of weblogs
(Socialtext, 2009). Reasons for the reluctance to corporate blogs are diverse: Resistance from
legal department, blogs have no ending date, time-consuming, employees are not brand
ambassadors, too informal, not knowing how to measure success, fear of losing control, or
lack of executive support. Even though you can stay away from corporate blogging, you
cannot prevent employees from using personal blogs. Naturally many bloggers will write,
directly or indirectly, about their employer and its brands. In this regard, companies should
think about introducing a blogging policy (or even better, make it part of a social media
policy) to provide guidelines for employees with blogs15. And why not list the personal blogs
on the corporate webpage, as for example HP does along with its Blogging Code of Conduct
Most of the objections to weblogs can be resolved. To begin with, it is important to have a
clear objective. The corporate blog is a brand touchpoint to start a dialogue with one or more
stakeholder groups. Therefore, we need to find out which stakeholders we can reach via blog.
Accordingly, one needs to determine the subject(s) of the blog, e.g. product news and
information, industry news, training, company inside stories, etc. A good blog can humanize a
brand and it can build credibility and trust through engaging with stakeholders.
A remarkably good example of corporate blogging is Southwest Airline’s blog called Nuts
about Southwest (http://www.blogsouthwest.com/blogsw). Tamar Weinberg writes in her
book The new community: marketing on the social web that Southwest’s blog achieves the
Social media guidelines are apt to be written collaboratively. The example of IBM’s Social Computing
Guideline using wiki was already brought up in chapter 3.5.2 on page 24.
balance between appealing to readers emotionally and conveying company goals (2009, p.
97). The airline’s writers make an effort to connect with the readers, often on an emotional
level. There is no need to include the brand in every post. Many of the posts on Southwest are
purely private. The bloggers try to build relationships with the readers. They also know that
visual elements (video, pictures) are helpful to capture attention, as is the writing style. When
writing a blog post it is important to remember that probably most visitors will only skim the
article. Another point that seems to work well on Nuts about Southwest is the timely response
to comments. Furthermore, dare to be spontaneous and blog regularly – if not, people forget
about you. What I miss about Southwest and most other corporate blogs is that corporate
bloggers do not think enough about how to participate readers. Unfortunately, many corporate
blogs tend to publish articles that don’t give readers the possibility or incentive to comment.
One of the aims of blogging should be to convert readers into an active community. Jason
Baer, a well-known social media strategy consultant, teaches in his training seminars five
blogging tips on how to turn a blog audience into a blog community:
Welcome • When new visitors comment on email sitewelcome them to the community.
websites. Send them a personal
for the first time, click on their names and visit their
• If visitors to the blog demonstrate an interest in a particular type of content, or topic, direct
Facilitate them to other posts or resources in a similar vein.
Answer • Within reason, answer every blog comment personally.
• If you’re taking the time to learn more about your commenters in the Welcome phase, use that
knowledge to create community segments. Create a list of people in the community who are
Connect consultants, PR professionals, customers etc. Connect new commenters to others in the same
segment. This can be done via email or in answers to blog comments.
• Don’t forget that there are millions of blogs. Not to mention TV, radio, print, direct mail, ipod,
movies, family, and countless other activities that require you to stand and move around. Every
Thank second somebody spends on your blog is a second they could EASILY have spent doing
something else. Nowadays, the greatest gift of all is time, in every respect. Make sure you take the
time to appreciate readers that spend theirs with you.
Figure 17: How to Build a Community Around a Blog (Baer, 2009a)
Many blog entries on Southwest’s blog are written by media, public relation or marketing
specialists. The average flight attendant does not write for the weblog. This, however, is
exactly what happens on the Malaysian Hospitality Blog
(http://www.malaysiaairlinesblog.com). All Malaysia Airlines employees, from cabin crew to
airport operations to management, contribute to the blog. It is a nice example of empowering
workers from different line of works and turning them into energetic ambassadors for the
Malaysian brand. The employees write about experiences on the job, tips on destinations,
behind the scenes, products and much more. The diversity makes it pleasant to read, not only
for fellow workers but for practically everyone.
Figure 18: Screenshot Malaysian Hospitality Employees Advocates Blog
Transparency is not only a buzz word, it should be lived by the company. A good weblog,
such as the Malaysian Hospitality Blog, can increase transparency. The Malaysian blog also
helps readers to view individuals in corporate positions as humans, which in turn makes it
easier to connect with them and ultimately with the brand.
Both Southwest Airlines and Malaysia Airlines blogs have numerous writers. In contrast,
executive blogs are written by just one person. Even though executive blogs are corporate
blogs, they could also be classified as personal blogs with primarily corporate content. In
brand-guided companies the CEO needs to be at the forefront of branding activities. CEOs
who feel comfortable writing blogs can be a big asset for the company. Executive blogs need
to be genuine, transparent and have a certain freshness. Therefore, if the CEO doesn’t feel
comfortable writing blogs, he or she should leave it to people in the company who feel more
Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun, hits the right tone in his blog
(http://blogs.sun.com/jonathan/). As one would expect, he talks a lot about products, strategy
and the market. However, he writes in an easy to read and entertaining language, and he even
manages to put in a few personal posts. I found an April Fool’s entry with himself in the
leading role which his colleagues videotaped. The practical joke including the video linked
and uploaded to YouTube makes it a good blog entry to lighten up the atmosphere16.
Jonathan’s Blog is not perfect, particularly from a technical point of view as, for example, no
tags are being used. Another good and noteworthy example of a CEO blogging is Bill
Marriott, CEO of Marriott (http://www.blogs.marriott.com/).
Blogs are often aimed at the public, e.g. blogs promoting single products or product lines. On
the other hand, blogs may be used for purely internal communication too. Sony Ericsson and
Dell are just two of many companies that foster internal communication via blogs
If you are serious about developing a community around your blog, you need to be part of the
blogosphere. This means you should read other blogs and, every now and then, write
comments on them. Dell actively searches the blogosphere for Dell related blog posts.
Needless to say that bloggers appreciate it as well when you comment on a post that does not
mention your brand. Dell assesses each post on whether and how to respond. If you’re active
in the blogosphere, I would recommend defining a process on how to behave on external
blogs. You don’t need to start at the beginning for writing a guideline. Take a template that is
available and change it to suit your needs. Dell, for instance, used a template from the Air
Force – both flowcharts can be found in the appendix on pages 91 to 92.
Another hot issue is moderation, something that is quite common on corporate blogs. It is a
method to make sure that offensive and off-topic chatter doesn’t affect the blog (Li &
Bernoff, 2008, p. 117). Moderation is a double-edged sword. People who interact with you
want to see their comments immediately on the blog. It is a dialogue between two persons and
people don’t appreciate it when the message takes a detour and is delayed. Li and Bernoff,
authors of Groundswell, are of the opinion that moderation is necessary (Li & Bernoff, 2008,
p. 117). I personally would start, if the topic is not too hot, with a deferred moderation. This
http://blogs.sun.com/jonathan/?page=1 (Wednesday Apr 02, 2008)
means to swiftly delete posts, but only after they were published. However, if the amount of
unwanted comments is too high, then it is certainly necessary to have a prompt moderation
process in place. Dell moderates its blogs and as a result 3% of the posts are never published.
They do not publish posts that violate any of the four rules: No profanity, no personal attacks
directed at other community members or employees, no solicitations for legal action and no
comments that contain private customer information (Menchaca, 2009a).
In the following, I present you two companies that show us how not to behave in the blogging
sphere. Both Wal-Mart and Warner Records demonstrate what happens when not being
genuine and transparent. Moreover, they both did a mistake that they cannot delete – I was
able to track down the story that took place a couple of years ago.
In 2006, there was a great word-of-mouth about a blog by Wal-Mart called Wal-Marting
across America. Jim and Laura were driving across the USA spending each night in a
different Wal-Mart parking lot and blogging their adventures. Every employee they met
seemed to like working for the retail giant. That started the blog readers asking, are Jim and
Laura real? Soon after, Wal-Mart had to admit (and shut down the blog) that the whole
project was orchestrated by its PR firm and paid by Wal-Mart (Sweney, 2006) (Montreal
Transparency generates trust. The public didn’t trust Wal-Mart in the first place. I assume this
lack of trust can be, at least partially, attributed to the company’s lack of transparency. The
inadequate blog confirmed the public’s perception of Wal-Mart, a perception which lead to
the questioning of the real identities of the bloggers and hence reinforced the lack of trust.
This public relations fiasco for Wal-Mart illustrates again that transparency is a prerequisite
for any business as trust can only be built through transparent behaviour. Speaking of fake
blogs, Wal-Mart’s well-publicized blog fiasco did not hinder Sony a little later to do the very
same mistake, resulting in the very same public outcry17.
Warner Records sent out MP3s to music blogs asking them to promote their band. Then they
posted fake fan comments on these blogs pushing the band. Soon blog owners and readers
found out what was happening, damaging Warner’s credibility (Bernstein & Brody, 2007).
There are many entertaining stories involving unpleasant blog incidents. Jason Roe thought he
had found a malfunction on the Ryanair website that would allow him to book free tickets. He
posted it on his blog. Among the many responses were three from Ryanair staff which proves
about Sony’s fake blog: http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=52541
that Ryanair listens to the conversation. The problem is the way they responded. They called
Roe an idiot and liar and referred to his life as being pathetic. What I like most about this
incident is the official response by Ryanair. After confirming that Ryanair employees wrote
the offensive posts on Roe’s blog, the spokesman Stephen McNamara said, “It is Ryanair
policy not to waste time and energy in corresponding with idiot bloggers and Ryanair can
confirm that it won't be happening again. Lunatic bloggers can have the blog sphere all to
themselves as our people are far too busy driving down the cost of air travel” (Wilkinson,
2009). Politeness sounds different.
3.5.5 Sharing Media
Even though the title of this chapter is “sharing media”, I do not want to neglect the sharing of
bookmarks. Bookmarking has become quite a social experience. The core idea is to save
bookmarks online and share them with friends. The bookmarks are tagged and one can also
recommend bookmarks to friends. A useful side effect is that you have access to your
bookmarks wherever you go and from whatever computer you use. Some of the big players
are StumbleUpon, Delicious, Digg, Mister Wong, Simpy and reddit – even though many of
these websites do not have bookmarking services at its core.
I am not a social bookmarker and I have only tested it for this thesis. Thus far I do not really
see substantial benefits for brands. Nevertheless, according to various sources, businesses
should use social bookmarking tools to tag their own websites. Another possible use is to
discover how people identify with the content (Weinberg, 2009, p. 215). The tags users assign
to bookmarks give you an indication of how people think about the content or under what
they classify the content.
Blogging has evolved and increasingly incorporates audio, video and images. Yet, in terms of
popularity the dominant players in the media realm are unquestionably YouTube and Flickr 18.
If you intend to use image sharing for your brand, there is certainly the Yahoo! owned Flickr
which hosts a staggering 4 billion photographs (Champ, 2009). However, Flickr’s community
guidelines state that Flickr is for personal use only and selling of products or services is not
allowed. Having said that, Flickr seems to be not very strict and evidently uploading images
of products is not a problem. What can a brand do on Flickr?
If you have fascinating photos that appeal to people, you can upload them to Flickr. Car
manufacturers seem to be quite active on Flickr uploading heaps of photos, for instance
Asia is different. For example Tudou from China is supposedly bigger than YouTube.
Subaru UK (http://www.flickr.com/photos/subaruuk/) or Ford
(http://www.flickr.com/people/fordmotorcompany/). BBC created Flickr groups where people
can join an upload photos for some of its shows. The BBC Eurovision 2008 party group
(http://www.flickr.com/groups/bbceurovision2008/) invites people to share their photos of
celebrating the Eurovision contest. Brands should not only upload photos, they need to tag
photos, organize images into sets, join communities and get active in these communities.
Nevertheless, for most brands Flickr is not an essential part of their social media strategy. If
you can amaze the world with your terrific images, give it a go. Else, the benefits for brands
are not very substantial.
Nonetheless, there are occasions when Flickr comes in very handy. Flickr is a good option if
you stage an event and you’re looking for a way to share the pictures. Innocent Drinks, the
smoothies maker, holds an annual event to listen to customer opinions and ideas. The photos
are put on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/innocentdrinks/sets/72157618317893265/)
and the videos on YouTube. Using Flickr in this manner seems to be a trivial matter but it fits
Innocent’s strong reputation of involving and empowering stakeholders. By using Flickr
instead of not publishing or putting the pictures on their own webpage, Innocent stays true to
its open and responsible image. I think in such cases as the Innocent event it is better to put
the images on Flickr rather than to upload them to the own webpage. After all, the event is
open to all customers and most images show customers and employees. Uploading the
photographs to Flickr demonstrates that the happening is as much the participant’s event as it
is the company’s event. Apart from being the quicker and cheaper solution, Flickr also
encourages the participants to share their photos with friends, so spreading the word of the
Flickr is also very practical when you run an image-based user-generated content competition.
This is probably the most popular use of Flickr for brands. Microsoft Switzerland utilizes
Flickr by looking for the best background pictures that will be used for the local version of the
new Windows 7 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/microsoftschweiz/). Passepartout, a public
transport network, wants people to take pictures of themselves together with the people-
shaped posters it put up in the region (http://www.flickr.com/photos/38726926@N08/).
Social media tools turn amateur photographers into content creators, some of them even make
a living out of it. Similarly, technological advantages let everyone become a producer or
director – YOU could be the next star on YouTube!
YouTube can essentially be used in a very similar way as Flickr, just replace pictures with
videos. The presence of brands on YouTube is much higher compared to Flickr. On YouTube
you find tons of product reviews, discussions about brands and companies, fan-created
product commercials and so on. Videos engage the viewer much more than photographs, and
videos need less interpretation by the viewer. Therefore, it is quite logical that many brands
are voluntarily and involuntarily present on YouTube.
Nestle addresses stakeholders interested in how it creates stakeholder value through its CSV at
Nestle programme. Apart from the corresponding website, Nestle also installed a YouTube
channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/NestleCSV) with videos to demonstrate how it creates
stakeholder value. The most viewed video is 19 months old and has 1481 views. The most
discussed video has 8 comments: 1 positive, 1 neutral and 6 negative comments, whereas 5 of
the 6 negative comments are made by a user who has his own channel called Boycott Nestle19.
His most viewed video is 13 months old and has 4264 views. This user’s most discussed
video has also 8 comments.
What do we learn from these statistics? 1481 views do not seem like a lot and the handful
mainly negative comments won’t make Nestle jubilant either. Of these 1481 people, we
cannot know whether they quit after just 10 seconds or watched the video to the very end. I
chose Nestle to represent the fate of many brands on YouTube. In terms of participative
branding, YouTube is not very useful. From my observations the comments are normally of
very little value. If you, for some reason, intend to measure the success of your YouTube
video by means of views, you need to upload very entertaining or flashy videos. YouTube is a
great entertainment platform but lacks the ability to establish a quality dialogue with
However, most companies use YouTube only as a supplementary tool for their corporate
websites. Nestle aims to communicate CSR initiatives to its stakeholders through its dedicated
CSR website. The videos should be an integrated part of the webpage or supporting selected
articles. Nestle does not embed the YouTube videos but uses videos hosted on their own web
server20. This is of course not wrong. However, Nestle does not link the video on YouTube to
the related article. In so doing it misses a big opportunity to direct the people who discovered
the video on YouTube to its own CSR website.
Hitherto, we haven’t answered the question, what content do we have to upload to our
YouTube channel to maximize brand engagement? The only way to find out is by doing a bit
of research since the data is publicly available on YouTube21. The relevant metrics are the
number of subscribers to corporate channels. I did not choose number of views because I am
more interested in the long-term commitment of viewers to branded YouTube channels. The
time period chosen for the analysis is All Time and the region is Worldwide.
Out of the 50 top subscribed
channels worldwide, 18 are
about past or upcoming films,
video games and computer
games. The graph also shows
that beverage/food YouTube
channels are flourishing. The
sports apparel industry is also
among the top subscribed
channels, although the five
channels belong either to Nike
Figure 19: Most Subscribed YouTube Channels (by author)
or Adidas22. The numbers
indicate that apart from the filming and gaming industry the contributors are very diverse with
surprising brands like the city of Seoul, Scientology, Post-It or Carl’s Jr.
How do they manage to draw such a great number of subscribers to their respective YouTube
channels? The video/computer game and film industries have definitely an inherent advantage
as their products are very closely related to the medium video and Internet. My analysis
shows that another way to pull a large crowd is to upload (humorous) commercials. Also
highly popular is the use of entertaining videos which often feature behind the scenes footage,
exclusive videos or similar forms. Two brands, Burger King and Frito-Lay, even design their
YouTube channels around animated cartoon series. Product presentations are less common in
comparison to commercials and entertainment, yet some (e.g. Porsche) are able to attract a
great number of viewers and subscribers. 10 brands have stimulated their customers by
inviting them to submit self-made films for a video contest. The majority of these 10 brands
use YouTube exclusively for their video contest, only a few provide additional videos such as
commercials. YouTube users who submit videos to companies are noticeably on the rise and
Adidas and Nike have channels branded with 5IVE, adidas Originals, NikeFutebol, NikeFootball and LeBron.
exemplify that stakeholder involvement in all its forms has become more popular. In spite of
that, it is remarkable that among all the channels analysed nearly all brands rely on their self-
made videos (video contests excluded). Only Carl’s Jr., the American fast-food restaurant
chain, profoundly integrates videos created by other YouTube users into their playlists.
3.5.6 Community Forums
Internet forums, or message boards, are web applications managing user-generated content.
Most forums need registration to post forum entries, but anyone is able to read. A forum is a
community, a group of people joined together by a common interest. The forum may be
hosted by brand owners, by external stakeholders or jointly. The individuals governing the
forum are the administrators and moderators.
When it comes to forums, the main difficulty for brands it to relinquish control, otherwise
they end up with an angry or collapsing community. A major fear for many managers is the
potential negative communication about the brand and not knowing how to cope with it.
Apart from the argument that the communication will be going on no matter whether the
business participates or not, there are some rather simple rules on how to deal with hostile
comments or disturbing behaviour of community members. Of paramount importance is to
have a community/forum guideline and to abide by these rules. Remember that guidelines
(co-)written by (selected) members have more legitimacy. Nevertheless, you cannot avoid
having people who want to disturb the community. Forrester Research compiled a practical
table with recommended actions when dealing with offenders, see Appendix on p.89. Not
dealing with troublesome users will result in an unpleasant atmosphere which will drive
members away. It wouldn’t be the first forum that had to close because of that – it happened,
for example, at the Sportsman newspaper (Luft, 2007).
Forum topics are as diverse as people’s interests. There is literally a special interest forum for
anything you can imagine of. This includes a variety of forums centred around brands. The
initiator can be the brand-owner or somebody with strong positive or negative emotions about
the brand. The reasons for people to set up an online community are diverse. Some create
product forums that are de facto support groups; some initiate a community to connect with
A quick search reveals that there are several Mini forums in various countries. MINI2
(http://www.mini2.com/) is one such forum, run and initiated by Mini enthusiasts. It currently
has 43000 registered members and 3.3m posts. Relatively unusual is that MINI2 has a
membership structure (free, USD 15 p.a., USD 40 for lifetime) offering extras for the paying
customers. BMW Group, owner of the Mini brand, is aware of this particular forum and pays
close attention to it. BMW takes a passive stance, listening but not intervening. However, they
are well aware of the potential of this forum full of brand enthusiasts. BMW invited Paul
Mullet, founder of the forum, along with 79 journalists to test-drive a new Mini before its
commercial release. Relationship, dialogue and feedback can be significantly improved by
integrating the community with real-world events. BMW only invited one person, however,
this one person was then able to hold an event in his forum with pictures and detailed reviews
of all new features creating a huge buzz among the community members (McConnell &
Huba, 2007, pp. 18-19). The forum members profited from receiving unreleased new product
information, which in turn strengthened the forum’s reputation. At the same time, the
members intensified their relationship with the Mini brand. All three parties benefited, it is a
Toyota is also one of the lucky companies that have fans who created a forum for them. In
contrast to BMW, Toyota decided to work more closely with its outside partner. It regularly
provides information and support to the PriusChat (http://priuschat.com/) (Wetpaint/Altimeter
Unlike the Mini or Prius forum, there are many forums owned and initiated by brands
themselves. Caterpillar’s Electric Power Division established a community featuring a blog
and a forum (https://caterpillar.lithium.com/caterpillar/?category.id=EPG). Caterpillar’s goal
of the online community is “to help people in our industry connect with each other around the
clock and around the world”, according to Dave Lucas, from marketing communications at
the Electric Power Division (Caterpillar, 2009). With the help of the (rather dull) blog it tries
to address the topics new technology and trends, while the forum is a platform to address
challenges and find solutions provided by other community members.
The brand that empowers its stakeholders gives control over the brand away to its
stakeholders. The benefits of this move are manifold as the following example will exemplify.
Logitech, via its forum (http://forums.logitech.com/), interacts with stakeholders. In addition,
it encourages stakeholders to interact with other stakeholders. The forum itself has a clear
structure and it is really easy to find what you are looking for. All participating Logitech
employees are clearly identified by the Logitech logo next to their user names. All non-
Logitech users are ranked by the number of posts contributed. Logitech uses different colours
and titles for the ranking, such as Logi Master, Logi Guru or Logi Apprentice. This system
does not only help users judging the credibility of an offered solution, it is also an incentive
for members to get more involved and hence upgrade their status. After all, it is also a public
recognition of their effort. In order to improve confidence in user-generated answers and to
highlight useful content, the author of a topic can mark any reply to set it as accepted solution
if it solves the problem. Logitech appreciates the contribution of its power users who help
both Logitech and its customers. The five community members with the most Kudos23
awarded were recently mentioned on the corporate blog and some Logitech products were
shipped to them.
This kind of community forum proves the strength of participative branding. Apart from
establishing relationships with stakeholders and getting new ideas and solutions, the forum is
also a knowledge base. Hewlett Packard maintains a forum comparable to Logitech. Mike
Mendenhall, HP chief marketing officer, sees quality and efficiency benefits, “We know that
communities that have existed on their own as a social community around HP are actually
solving customer service issues for HP customers, better than at times some of our service
department people. So you can have more accuracy within this community, bring efficiency
into the process of the operation and actually be more effective” (AdvertisingAge, 2008).
A knowledge base community forum is also a call centre, or in the words of Citizen
Marketers authors McConnell and Huba, “Companies that create their own communities are
democratizing call centres” (2007, p. 153). When you have a problem or need information
about a product your starting point is usually the corporate website or a public search engine.
The website may have a FAQ section or you find the information you need somewhere else
on the site. Still haven’t found what you are looking for? From that moment on it starts to get
expensive for the company. You can phone the call centre, write an email hoping someone
will eventually get back to you, or you may even switch to the competitor’s brand. However,
if the business has a Twitter account, it is quicker and easier trying to explain your problem
via Twitter. Even better, you search for the piece of information in the support forum or ask
the forum members for help. In an open and thriving forum the company doesn’t even need to
respond to your request – there are plenty of forum members willing to help you. People are
also more willing to trust each other, rather than a company. Providing knowledge in a
community forum is currently the cheapest form of dealing with customer inquiries, generally
Kudos is a rating system that lets users vote for the messages they think are the most useful or important.
Giving someone a kudos is like offering a thumbs up for the good content and a pat on the back. It is a way to
increase value of certain posts and the reputation of the author.
with good quality posts provided by the voluntary participants. As a result, many businesses,
predominantly technology companies, have established such forums. Any company whose
product raises a lot of questions should consider support forums (Li & Bernoff, 2008, p. 163).
Not only technology companies, software manufacturers and Internet businesses operate
forums. Companies in other industries as well rely on forums and communities. The
supermarket chain Sainsbury’s opened its forum in June 2006
(http://www2.sainsburys.co.uk/yourideas/homepage.aspx) (McCormick, 2006). One section
of the forum accepts and discusses ideas with stakeholders. The discussion about whether to
introduce a small fee for the plastic bags has already over 760000 views and 427 replies. The
66000 users also participate in food-related discussions, from starters over main meals to
deserts and special diets. It must be noted that Sainsbury does not put recipes in its forum, it
rather provides the means to share recipes and ideas among forum members.
Financial service companies have discovered the advantages of communities as well. HSBC
(http://network.hsbc.co.uk/category/Forums/3) hosts a forum aimed at its business customers.
The topics are diverse ranging from start-up tips, business planning, human resources,
financial facts, to women in businesses. HSBC’s forum is part of Business Network which it
claims to be “a place to share and gain valuable advice and information on topics affecting
you and your business”. The community features videos, an event calendar, the forum, HSBC
and community member blogs and even photo albums.
Success of any community primarily depends on the interests of its members. If you are
unable to provide valuable content for the community, there will be no community. Many
new communities struggle because they have not enough members or members who do not
create (enough) content. Some people might be tempted to kick-start the discussion by
registering a few accounts using different pseudonyms. I found some social media consultants
who think this is acceptable as a last resort. I think this is definitely the wrong approach
because you need to be genuine and transparent when using social media tools. We don’t
know the consequences once people find out about this little secret. Most likely the mistake
was made in the planning process when the business should have studied the online behaviour
of its stakeholders.
3.5.7 Web Chats
I remember that online chat rooms used to be very popular in the first years of the Internet.
But over the years they acquired a bit of a bad image and were also threatened and
subsequently partly substituted by instant messaging clients. In the blogosphere, in the news
media and in the books about social media, web chat is currently not talked about – or perhaps
not considered as social media tool. Nevertheless, this chapter deals with web chats because I
see them as a way to do participative branding – and, surprisingly, I witness some signs of
First of all, web chats can be used to support, or in some extreme cases even substitute, call
centres. A recent survey in the United Kingdom reveals that British web users see customer
service as important or very important when conducting transactions online (91%), and poor
customer service would make them stop using the company or looking for alternatives (94%)
(nGenera CIM, 2009). The study also shows that older web users (age 45+) turn to email or
phone for help while they younger generation (age 18-24) say they would rather turn to the
FAQ section or use online chats. These findings justify the use of web chats as support
function. However, web chats used as customer service centres is not really what I’d like to
Figure 20: Screenshot of Chat Application on GM’s Fast Lane Blog
The aforementioned study indicates that young people are willing to engage in one-on-one
communication on the Internet. Instead of just answering service questions, web chats can be
used to interact with stakeholders. Intel has started using web chats to talk about its
technology products. Intel’s first live chat was all about a new processor
(http://www.intel.com/business/enterprise/emea/eng/expertchat/index.htm). General Motors
has also only recently (June 2009) started its web chat series. GM experts discuss products,
technology, customer service and other areas of interest (http://fastlane.gmblogs.com/). GM
puts the chat application on its well-known blog, as an extension of regular blog entries (see
screenshot above). The chat history can only be accessed when clicking on this application.
To make the web chat part of the blog is a nice idea. However, as a consequence, people
discuss the chat topic and often address questions directly to the host of the chat. But they do
this on the blog itself and not in the web chat. This of course happens after the chat has long
been closed. I think GM needs to reply to the comments (currently they don’t) or find a better
solution than just ignoring people’s contributions.
These web chats give stakeholders the chance to communicate directly with influential people
at companies, like Bob Lutz (see GM screenshot). Chat hosts are usually experts in their
respective field or members of the top management. In big companies like Intel or GM it is
almost impossible for an average external stakeholder to get through to these high-ranking
managers via email or phone, unless they hold a chat session. Web chats should be introduced
as an instrument to foster stakeholder feedback and communication. It may not be the best
way for co-development or relationship building. However, live chats are tools to connect
directly to stakeholders. They enable to listen and respond to questions, concerns and inputs.
With these chat tools it is important to follow up on the inputs and questions of people. Just
chatting with people is nice, but has no impact on the business.
Shell Dialogues (http://www.shelldialogues.com/) brings together the topics energy security,
technology, responsible energy and social development. Apart from news, podcasts and
videos produced by reputable media organisations, this Shell web site also features web chats
with senior Shell policy makers. Shell Dialogues has 32000 visitors and 1500 participants
(Köhler, 2009). Shell has also proven that it is able to act swiftly to stakeholders’ requests. In
response to an Amnesty International report, Shell received lots of tweets asking it to host a
web chat about Nigeria (Doctorow, 2009). Soon after, a web chat featuring six Shell experts
was hosted on the topic Doing business in Nigeria: challenges and questions.
The web chat, welcoming pre-submitted and live questions, is a new way for Shell to interact
directly with global stakeholders. It’s actually the replacement for the Tell Shell forums. This
raises the question whether the web chat isn’t a step backwards in terms of stakeholder
involvement. The web chats allow people to interact with Shell, but only on specific topics
during a very limited time period. Apart from the chat, Shell Dialogues is a broadcasting
channel without any possibility to interact. An additional problem of web chats is that all
questions raised before and after the chat usually remain unanswered. A forum would
guarantee a continuous dialogue, letting the stakeholders decide when to talk about what.
The aim of Shell Dialogues is to improve Shell’s reputation with external stakeholders (Shell
World Philippines, 2008, p. 9) and build productive relationships and alliances (Edlund,
2008). Energy companies like Shell are constantly under public scrutiny and have to deal with
many different stakeholder groups who mostly voice quite critical views regarding the
companies’ intentions and practices (e.g. the 2400 members of the ShellGuilty Facebook
group24). Shell and other energy companies inform their stakeholders about their efforts and
business practices by cooperating with reputable independent experts and media
organisations. Social media tools, like Shell Dialogues or the discussion forum on Chevron
(http://www.willyoujoinus.com/discussion/), facilitate the exchange of views. Understanding
stakeholders’ views and behaviour is necessary to improve the company’s reputation across
all stakeholder groups. Shell Dialogues has positively influenced stakeholder’s perception
about Shell: Journalists write more balanced articles. Analysing blogs and tweets showed also
positive shifts in view from academics and industry influencers (Cannes Lions International
Advertising Festival, 2009).
3.5.8 Virtual Worlds and Social Gaming
Many brands entered virtual worlds at a time when the media was obsessed with virtual
worlds. The media attention had died after some time, and many companies walked out of the
virtual worlds because their strategy failed (or had no real strategy). Nonetheless, the number
of people living in their virtual worlds has steadily increased (Mitham, 2009). The same
research study also points out that the average user age is 14 years. I don’t know whether the
virtual world technology is advantageous for participative branding, but it doesn’t justify the
effort to explore it further as almost all users are between 7 and 21 years young. However, on
the Internet everything is constantly evolving, and it is probable that the average age will
increase considerably in the near future.
Social gaming soars on the back of strong social networking growth rates. Facebook will
emerge as the world’s biggest gaming platform. The most popular games already attract
millions of players, currently the most popular one is Texas Hold’em Poker played by 12.5
million people (Smith J. , 2009). Social gaming has changed the way the game is played. It is
typically played with people you know, which gives the experience a new dynamic (Nuttall,
2009). Unlike virtual worlds, social networking sites like Facebook have more suitable
demographics for participative branding. Social games may be an interesting marketing
opportunity for brands, but the player’s intention is to interact with other players, not with a
brand. A brand that wants to build relations in this space is too abrasive. Hence, at the
moment, I merely see one-way communication opportunities for businesses. Brands can
sponsor a game or develop a social game but such games are not suitable for brand-
3.5.9 Social Media Best Practices – Starbucks, SAP and Dell
So far the focus was on specific social media tools. In order to demonstrate how successful
brands put the individual puzzle pieces together, the following section portrays the social
media strategies of three different companies – one B2C, one B2B and one B2B/B2C
company: Starbucks, SAP and Dell. None of these companies’ social media approach is
perfect, but they all have very strong areas where they are best practice. Additionally, all three
described companies scored top results in a recent Wetpaint/Altimeter report measuring social
media engagement (Wetpaint/Altimeter Group, 2009).
Ideas in Action Blog http://blogs.starbucks.com/blogs/customer/default.aspx
My Starbucks Idea http://mystarbucksidea.force.com/ideaHome
Starbuck fans have been active for a long time on the Internet, e.g. founding the
StarbucksGossip forum (http://starbucksgossip.com/) which also became a platform for
employees (McConnell & Huba, 2007, pp. 7-9). Starbucks’ own social media initiative started
in March 2008 with the launch of MyStarbucksIdea. Currently, there are six people in the
Starbucks social media team.
MyStarbucksIdea is a platform where people (including employees) help to shape the future
of Starbucks. They are invited to submit their ideas, comment and vote on other ideas. Before
launching this platform, Starbucks ensured that all departments possibly affected have one
MyStarbucksIdea representative. Alexandra Wheeler, director of digital strategy, recalls that
getting people on board and getting the operational readiness in place was the hardest part. On
this note, it was definitely a big advantage that CEO Howard Schultz has advocated the
MyStarbucksIdea from the beginning (Wetpaint/Altimeter Group, 2009).
Matthew Guiste, from the MyStarbucksIdea team, talks about the key benefits of the program,
“The main benefit to our decision-making from MyStarbucksIdea is not necessarily from
brilliant new ideas – coffee is a relatively simple business after all – but from prioritization.
Analyzing the site carefully yields insights far beyond what jumps to the top of the heap on a
given day.” He mentions the example of gluten-free products which had been on the radar
screen for a long time, but only the response on MyStarbucksIdea lead them to speed up the
development of these products. “The other key benefit of the site is dialogue”, Guiste
continues, “We get immediate feedback on every change and a vehicle to give complete and
contextual information back to the community members most interested in a given issue or
product. This alone makes the site worth it” (Brice, 2009).
The Ideas in Action blog is part of the MyStarbucksIdea website. Starbucks puts a lot of
transparency in the idea generation and evaluation process. The Ideas in Action blog enables
readers to distinguish between blog entries talking about ideas under review, reviewed,
coming soon and launched. The community members provide the company, gratis, with new
ideas, collaborate on ideas and also help to make business decisions that are underway or
forming. Wheeler states that the program has 75000 ideas in it, and they launched 25 ideas in
the first year (Wong, 2009). While browsing through the blog, it looks like the number of
ideas implemented has gathered speed.
The Starbucks Flickr group is a bunch of people who upload Starbucks related photos.
Looking at it more closely, I am quite certain that the group has no official connection to the
coffeehouse company. Actually, the group was started by a young fan from Dubai and is now
being administered by some brand enthusiasts (Lipan, 2007). Starbucks’ YouTube channel
contains commercials, product information videos, videos about its origins and significance,
and also videos about its corporate social responsibility. The Seattle-based corporation was
one of the first big brands to reply with self-made videos via YouTube to video critics (by
Oxfam on YouTube) (Fawkes, 2007). Starbucks V2V is a social networking program which
encourages people, and specifically its employees, to get involved with social causes.
In October 2008, Starbucks contacted the owner of a Starbucks Facebook community created
by a coffee lover. With the approval of the original owner, Starbucks decided to take over the
community. Since then it has grown and become one of the biggest fan pages. The enormous
growth rate explains Chris Bruzzo, vice president of brand, content and online, “We found
that for every four people that interacted with a particular news item, another three people are
added virally as friends of those people.” People love to talk about their favourite beverages,
their rituals, the values, and the things the brand stands for on the company’s Facebook page
Starbucks’ Twitter account is more customer service oriented, and the person in charge of the
Twitter channel has to answer all kinds of questions from customers and sometimes even
employees (Wong, 2009). He is also responsible to inform the community about events,
contest and other noteworthy news. Alexandra Wheeler puts a lot of emphasis on the notion
that Starbucks uses social networking sites not as a marketing channel but to develop and
foster relationships. Consequently, one needs to think of how being a follower or friend with
the Starbucks brand can add value to the communities. Wheeler says that they try to find a
way that is a balance between providing relevant and meaningful content, experience and
offers (Wong, 2009).
The coffee chain from Seattle increasingly connects online with offline. Because Starbucks
realized that its fans love to post photos of Starbucks shops, ads and items on social
networking sites, it started a contest by challenging people to hunt for the billboards and be
the first to post a photo of one on Twitter. It also plans to better engage its employees into
online campaigns (e.g. submitting headlines for future ads) (Leahul, 2009). The strong social
media presence is clearly an advantage over its competitors that can also be witnessed when it
comes to ad budgets. “It’s the difference between launching with many millions of dollars
versus millions of fans”, says Chris Bruzzo (Miller, 2009).
Sometimes Social Media can be quite unpredictable. The aforementioned campaign that
encourages fans to send photos of new ads had been hijacked by an anti-Starbucks activist
group. The activists submitted pictures to the Twitter contest with people holding signs
targeted at the company’s alleged unfair labour practices (Owens, 2009).
Starbucks is in general very protective of its social media channels. It shies away from
empowering employees to play an active role in representing the brand in social media.
Perhaps, as one could unkindly interpret, working conditions are in fact not that good, and this
is the reason why Starbucks doesn’t want to empower its workforce too much.
Starbucks uses its social media channels as a test market, notably for an instant coffee called
Via – and social media will also play a significant role in the launch of Via. Starbucks listens
and actively participates in conversations around Via and makes sure that the right people
receive free samples. The company plans to grow and develop its already existent social
media presences. However, it has no intention to establish presences in all the different
channels. It rather believes in nurturing the current channels. Asked about how Starbucks
measures ROI, Wheeler points out, “Brands love emotional connections and human
connections are one of the biggest entry points we have [...] Another key point is translation
and understanding whether these communications add value to the bottom line and the
business and we believe they do” (Wong, 2009).
SAP Network Blogs http://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/scn/weblogs
SAP Community Network Wiki http://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/scn/wiki
SAP Community Network Forum http://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/scn/forums
To begin with, SAP has no social media strategy. SAP has a strategy for its online
communities and a strategy on how to use social media for events (Business.com, 2009), but
as I understand it lacks a clear overall social media strategy. Therefore, from my personal
observation, social media at SAP looks quite chaotic. However, SAP hasn’t been idle. For
instance, it recently introduced the SAP Social Media Participant Guidelines25.
Similar to Starbucks’ MyStarbucksIdea, SAP has also one particularly strong social media
asset. It is called SAP Community Network (SCN). SCN actually consists of five distinct
communities26. Together they add up to 1.7 million community members from more than 200
countries who are very engaged: The SCN forum gets 6000 posts every day, there are 3.4
answers to every question and the time until the first reply is 17 minutes. Anyone can
contribute to the forums, blogs and wikis. Two-thirds of the contributions are from external
stakeholders. 36 employees work at SAP for the SCN (Business.com, 2009). Mark Yolton,
senior vice president of the SCN, explains the team’s tasks, “The team runs programs that
encourage best practices and sharing of experience, and encourage customers to help other
customers and partners. We have reputation programs. A small handful of our team runs
programs that encourage grassroots communication and knowledge sharing. Another part of
our team is involved in content publishing – there is an account manager to draw content out
of SAP organisations, format it, and make it more web-ready and publishable. We have
project and program management – we seek to innovate and offer the community new
features and capabilities.” Yolton further explains that the SCN’s success is based on content
and connections. The community members have the chance to connect to other customers,
innovators, and thought leaders in the technology area as well as in their industry area. In
terms of content, SAP has the big advantage that it can draw exclusive content from numerous
SAP divisions and organisations (Business.com, 2009).
The Contribution Recognition Program was set up with the intention to encourage
engagement. Community members collect points for certain activities like adding to a wiki
page or responding to questions from other forum members. It is a way of showing the
reputation of individual community members who may benefit from their reputation
personally (job market) or for their enterprises (securing contract) (Wetpaint/Altimeter Group,
In the same way as many successful companies do, SAP connects online and offline. The link
between online and offline is the SAP TechEd conference. In 2009, the annual event will take
place in Phoenix, Vienna, Shanghai and Bangalore – reflecting the global reach of the
Guideline available on http://www.sapweb20.com/blog/2009/07/sap-social-media-guidelines-2009/
SDN - SAP Developer Network (http://sdn.sap.com); BPX - Business Process Expert Community (
http://bpx.sap.com); BOC - Business Objects Community (http://boc.sap.com); SAP EcoHub (
http://ecohub.sap.com); UAC - University Alliances Community (http://uac.sap.com)
community. Such events deepen and enrich relationships that were initiated through online
connections. The TechEd conference is supported and promoted via Twitter
(http://twitter.com/sapteched), Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/SAP-
TechEd/74338051990), Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/groups/sapteched/), blogs
(https://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/scn/weblogs?blog=/weblogs/topic/27) and the forum
The SAP YouTube channel is an extension of SAP TV27. The videos cater for the global
community and are available in German and English – some even in Japanese, Chinese,
Portuguese and Spanish. The German software giant offers behind the scenes at SAP,
information about the people at SAP and its products, as well as videos about events and
SAP has various Facebook pages, e.g. for countries28, products29, industries30 or developers31.
They vary significantly in quality and richness of content. SAP has also many accounts on
Twitter. Some SAP Twitter accounts are exclusively used for events, as already seen with the
TechEd conference. SAP even uses Twitter for product launches. It invited some top SAP
Twitter contributors to a product launch where they kept the rest of the online community
informed. Moreover, some questions to the SAP team on stage were asked via Twitter
(Business.com, 2009). Apart from the official Twitter accounts, a lot of SAP employees tweet
with their personal accounts. Mark Yolton thinks, “A corporate presence doesn’t speak well
in Twitter. It’s better to have individual voices in Twitter where they can engage as people”
(Wetpaint/Altimeter Group, 2009). Nevertheless, SAP has numerous corporate accounts in
different countries and languages.
Yolton is convinced that there is a correlation between customer engagement and SAP’s
financial performance, yet he cannot prove the causality. He sees the social media undertaking
also as a way to differentiate SAP from the competition by engaging very actively, “We can
plug into the power of member influence” (Business.com, 2009). I personally think that SAP
has with the SCN an extremely powerful participative branding tool. These SCN communities
have brought SAP tremendous financial and non-financial benefits. However, I believe there
is still room for improvement. Mark Yolton admits that SAP is a fairly conservative company
SAP CRM: http://www.facebook.com/pages/SAP-CRM/68317347552?ref=sgm
Retail industry: http://www.facebook.com/pages/SAP-Retail/82783264322?ref=sgm
SAP Developer Network: http://www.facebook.com/pages/SAP-Developer-Network/7401986015?ref=sgm
and that its aggressive social media approach requires change within the company. So the
future will tell us how fast SAP will open up to its stakeholders.
Dell Blog Network http://en.community.dell.com/blogs/
Dell Knowledge Exchange
Dell Wiki http://en.community.dell.com/wikis/
Dell TechCenter http://www.delltechcenter.com/
Dell Media Galleries http://en.community.dell.com/media/
Dell Community Forum http://en.community.dell.com/forums/
Dell Groups http://en.community.dell.com/groups/
If I had to choose only one best practice case in social media, it would definitely be Dell.
There are not many other big companies that have such a comprehensive and thought-out
social media strategy. Dell implemented social media to accomplish a change in the way it
does business. It is an ongoing process and it evolves as the Internet evolves.
Dell is an excellent example to illustrate how a company and its culture can change. Dell
accomplished to turn itself into a much more transparent company that listens to its
stakeholders and that actively seeks stakeholder participation. Dell, step-by-step, got more
engaged in social media because it has become a natural part of Dell’s strategy. There are
about 45 people working in the social media team (Gelles, 2009), but many more are involved
in blogging and tweeting. Social media was also the catalyst for all the changes at Dell.
In 2005, Jeff Jarvis bought a Dell laptop that didn’t work right. The technician who arrived
couldn’t fix it so he suggested sending it back to the factory. This made Jarvis furious. He
posted an angry note to his blog that ended with “DELL SUCKS. DELL LIES. Put that in
your Google and smoke it, Dell.” 32 It gained momentum; readers commented the blog entry
and shared their own bad experiences with Dell. Dell continued to treat Jarvis badly and
wasn’t even able to repair the laptop. Hence, his second blog post was “Dell Hell, continued”
and more were to follow. By now, the story was picked up by major newspapers as more and
more people vented their anger – even joining together in communities like
http://iHateDell.net/. It was a bad time for Dell and its reputation: Disgruntled customers
because of poor customer service (Li & Bernoff, 2008, pp. 205-213), profits were falling
(BBC, 2005) and a laptop publicly caught fire at a conference which initiated the recall of 4.1
million batteries (Noon, 2006).
In March 2006, Michael Dell appointed a team with figuring out how to proactively find
customers experiencing hardware problems and connect them with technicians. They soon
found a way to listen to the blog conversations. Consequently, they set up a cross-
departmental team responsible for reaching out to bloggers who write about their Dell
problems and resolving their problems directly (Li & Bernoff, 2008, pp. 203-213). Dell
listened and offered help while engaging in a dialogue with the blogosphere. Then, in July
2006, it was time for the next phase, the corporate blog. Direct2Dell
(http://en.community.dell.com/blogs/direct2dell/) was put in place to talk to people who
haven’t got problems but are still interested in hearing from Dell. Founder Michael Dell not
only approved the ventures into social media, he actually wanted to see them developing a lot
faster. The blog sparked controversy within the company. For example through blog posts
about the notebook that caught fire at a conference including a link to an external article that
showed the flaming notebook. However, this new level of transparency was greatly welcomed
by the readers of Direct2Dell (Li & Bernoff, 2008, pp. 205-213).
To convince all Dell employees, the blog moderators invited managers from anywhere in the
company to post on the blog and afterwards read and respond to the comments. Bob Pearson,
vice president of corporate communication, explains, “We’re integrating blogging and talking
with customers into people’s normal jobs – if you’re speaking to the customer, it’s part of
your job now to be more transparent” (Li & Bernoff, 2008, pp. 205-213). Michael Dell
understood what was going on the Internet, "These conversations are going to occur whether
you like it or not. Well, do you want to be part of that or not? My argument is you absolutely
do. You can learn from that. You can improve your reaction time. And you can be a better
company by listening and being involved in that conversation" (Jarvis, 2007). Dell had started
its change process, and the next phase was the introduction of IdeaStorm.
IdeaStorm was launched in February 2007 with the objective of encouraging ideas, feedback,
input and dialogue from customers (Killian, 2009). It is very similar to the MyStarbucksIdea
platform. So far, the IdeaStorm community has generated 11500 ideas, 660000 promotions of
ideas, 84000 comments and 325 ideas were implemented. According to Vida Killian,
IdeaStorm manager, 12% of all ideas are unusable, 4% really innovative and 80% are
improvements for next generation products and existing products 33. Most of the implemented
ideas are related to products (48%), followed by IdeaStorm (15%), Linux (11%) and website
(11%). The community expects rapid feedback on their ideas. To meet the community
demands, Dell has a dedicated Ideas in Action blog
(http://en.community.dell.com/blogs/ideasinaction/default.aspx) that keeps the community
updated every two weeks. Because Dell has private and business customers with different
expectations, it needs to address the two segments differently. Dell accordingly put two
different processes in place to suit the needs of both customer segments on the IdeaStorm
platform (Killian, 2009).
Dell plans to extend the reach of its community in the future by better integrating with social
networking sites. The motives are obvious. People spend a lot of time in social networks, and
they are more likely to encourage their friends to participate on ideas on social networking
sites. Killian points out other enhancements of IdeaStorm that address specific business needs
and interest groups: The Dell Social Innovation Competition
(http://www.dellsocialinnovationcompetition.com/) targets students worldwide, or the
IdeaStorm for healthcare and life sciences (http://healthcare.ideastorm.com/) is directed at this
specific industry. Another extension is private IdeaStorms that are exclusively used for
collaboration with key accounts (Killian, 2009).
The inclusion of internal stakeholders distinguishes Dell from many other companies with
good social media strategies. Dell understood right from the beginning that opening up to its
external stakeholders is only possible when doing the same internally with its employees. All
the internal stakeholder initiatives swiftly followed after the external ones. About a month and
a half after launching the Direct2Dell blog, Dell introduced the internal version of the blog
called “1 Dell Way”. What started with one internal blog has grown into a sophisticated
internal blogosphere with blogs for geographical regions, departmental blogs and many other
The remaining 4% cannot be categorised.
sub-blogs (Evans, 2008). IdeaStorm, too, has an internal version called EmployeeStorm. 4800
ideas have already been generated by the employee community which brought about 22000
comments. Dell has implemented 150 ideas from EmployeeStorm (Killian, 2009).
In 2008, Dell opened up to various social media sites for all employees. It started with
Facebook and continued with Twitter, Flickr, etc. which are open for all employees
worldwide. Dell Chief Blogger Lionel Menchaca recalls that the internal debates about
opening up these social media sites were very similar to the debates about the introduction of
the Internet: “Companies were talking about if we give employees Internet access it’s going to
be a productive waster and we'll have all those issues on our hands. The same kind of issues
come up again with the social media debate.” Nowadays, many Dell employees use social
media to get their jobs done. Social media has become another channel for communication,
like phone or email. Social media also helps to bring the outside perspective into Dell, even
without setting a single foot outside of the building (Wetpaint/Altimeter Group, 2009).
Externally and internally Dell gets more people engaged, and Dell acknowledges the value in
having these open and honest dialogues (Evans, 2008). The opening up proves that Dell is
serious about more transparency and more stakeholder participation. Transparency means
being frank with your stakeholders. Don’t talk around the issue; address it directly even if it is
unpleasant (e.g. recall the laptop on fire). Dell recommends if it is something that you can’t
talk about, e.g. for legal reasons, then say so because people usually comprehend. The goal is
to talk between two persons – and not between corporate and person. People want to talk with
someone that is familiar with the same things they are and who sound like them (Pope &
Dell has continuously developed and extended its social media strategy. An overview of
Dell’s communities and social media presences can be found on
http://www.dellcommunity.com/. The multinational corporation from Texas describes its
overall strategy as to enter into relevant conversations with the customers wherever they are
occurring 24/7 throughout the world in all languages (Pope & Knox, 2009). This strategy
guides the development of tools and services. Dell joins the conversation through blogs,
Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Dell now owns close to 40 Twitter accounts and has an
impressive Facebook presence. There are currently 6 Facebook pages, 5 Facebook groups, a
couple of Dell employee groups and numerous local Facebook groups. It also uses YouTube
and Flickr to initiate dialogues with its stakeholders.
The leading blog is Direct2Dell which serves as the voice of the company. There are about 30
to 40 bloggers – all experts in their respective areas of business – who contribute to
Direct2Dell (Evans, 2008). Apart from the Direct2Dell blog, now available in five languages,
there are six other official corporate blogs. For example, there is one blog specifically targeted
at the stakeholder group investors. This “Dell Shares” blog addresses topics on Dell's business
performance and strategy. Dell employees not only contribute to their internal and external
Dell blogs, they also post frequently on other people’s blogs. Lionel Menchaca says it is
easier to make contact and a positive impression on personal blogs (Evans, 2008). Moreover,
Dell regularly invites external key bloggers to events and product presentations. Dell,
however, does not only want to talk, it likes to listen too. When inviting bloggers, Dell often
sets up roundtables where employees discuss with bloggers what they like and don’t like
about Dell (Carlton, 2008). Dell sees transparency, speed and accuracy as prerequisites for
successful blogging. Moreover, it is decisive to use a personal and not a corporate way of
engagement, and the posts need to add value to the readers (Pope & Knox, 2009).
Dell has built several online communities. Some of them, like the Dell TechCenter, are
designed as wikis. Remarkable are also the Dell Groups which are communities set around
very specific topics, e.g. government affairs or education. The heart of all Dell communities is
the enormous Dell forum where employees and external forum members answer questions
and give advice.
Dell has a lot of different channels because it understands that engagement jumps between
channels. Therefore, cross-channel engagement is crucial. For instance, the Direct2Dell blog
asked people for feedback on new netbooks and directed people to IdeaStorm to post their
ideas there. At the same time, they launched a dedicated Twitter account for the Dell mini
netbooks, and the team answered the forum posts about the netbooks. The team responsible
for this cross-channel engagement was not instructed by the Dell social media team, but was
the initiative of three employees from the mini netbook development team.
While cross-channel engagement has become standard, Menchaca sees the future in, what he
calls, activity streams. These real-time activity streams (similar to topics) are fed with content
from Dell and the community. The content from the community is being pulled from social
media tools like Flickr, Twitter, blogs, IdeaStorm, etc. (Menchaca, 2009b). This would mean
that stakeholders get even more acknowledged and influential.
All (or most) of these
social media efforts pay
off. One indication for the
success is the decrease in
negative conversation. In
2006, 50% of what was
being said about Dell was
negative. The negative
commentary decreased to
20% in 2008 (Evans,
2008). Dell even manages
to make money with
Figure 21: What Dell learned from Social Media (Pope & Knox, 2009) Twitter. Within two years,
the company has earned
USD 3 million worth of sales from Twitter (Tages-Anzeiger, 2009). In general, companies
that engage in social media can improve their products and processes, enhance their relevance
and build affinity, loyalty and trust. This is also part of what Dell has learned from social
media. The full list of insights can be seen in Figure 21. These findings were presented at
Dell’s executive social media boot camp in April 2009.
3.5.10 The Social Media Strategy
At the time of writing this thesis, the Internet sparks excitement about Twitter and Facebook
for marketing and communication purposes. It almost seems as if social media is everything
and everybody uses social media. Not surprisingly, the money follows the trend. Aberdeen
Group found out that, despite recession, 63% of the best-in-class34 companies plan to increase
their social media budget in 2009. 34% of the respondents intend to have no change in the
budget. Furthermore, the report states that, as of February 2009, 58% of the best-in-class
companies have dedicated resources to social media marketing and 61% have online
community platforms (Aberdeen Group, 2009). Another study by the Marketing Executives
Networking Group shows that 67% of the nearly 2000 American senior-level marketing
professionals asked consider themselves as beginners at using social media for marketing
purposes (Marketing Executives Networking Group, 2008).
Top 20% based on performance
Social media for brands is something quite new. Hence, it is not surprising that a Beeline Labs
survey reveals that practices among companies vary tremendously. Most of the companies
using social media are still in the early stages. Only few have created strategies, policies and
processes for participating in social media conversations (Beeline Labs, 2009). However, it is
a bit naive to just jump on the bandwagon with no plan – that’s why I added this chapter.
22.214.171.124 Understanding the Scope of Social Media
“We need social media”. Why, because everyone else is doing it? This is definitely the wrong
approach. What is needed is a proper social media strategy that exploits the potential for the
entire corporation. Companies need to decide how far reaching the effects of social media
should be. I will argue from a point of view that reflects my believe that social media is part
of a holistic branding approach and hence should not only be implemented in marketing and
communication departments, but across all departments.
A lot of companies think of social media as just another channel or an add-on. Scott Monty,
head of social media at Ford, recounts that he has seen many examples of companies saying,
“We’re ready to launch the campaign - now what are we going to do for social media?”
(Naslund, 2008). Even if you use social media just for a campaign it should be integrated
from the beginning.
The general attitude towards social media is that it’s free and easy to use. Compared to other
projects it is definitely cheaper, but it does not come for free. Depending on the scope, a
considerable amount of time and resources need to be invested. Nevertheless, a
comprehensive social media program is usually worth the effort.
When it comes to social media, a lot of talk is about Facebook, blogs and Twitter. But these
are simply tools – and tools will change. Not long ago Netscape Navigator was the dominant
web-browser and everyone was crazy about Altavista. If you create a strategy around tools,
you’ll have to change your strategy recurrently. Focus instead on what you want to achieve
with social media and who you want to be affected by it in your company. Think about the
relationships you want to build with your stakeholders, the communities you want to form and
how both the company and its stakeholders can profit from it.
As hitherto, this thesis takes an integral view on stakeholders. However, virtually all articles
about social media for companies focus exclusively on customers. Yet, there is probably no
easier way than social media to get involved in a dialogue with diverse stakeholder groups.
Consequently, part of formulating the social media strategy is to examine how each
stakeholder group uses social media. The Social Technographics Ladder and the Profile Tool
(both introduced on page 15) help out when you want to find out how stakeholders use social
media. Once we have enough insights about the stakeholder groups we want to involve, it is
time to define objectives and think about what both parties can gain from this relationship.
The interviews Beeline Labs conducted in 2009 reveal unambiguous results about outsourcing
social media to agencies. They all advise not to outsource engagement to agencies. After all,
people prefer to interact with the company itself. Moreover, most agencies simply have not
enough knowledge about their clients to represent their culture and thinking. What is more,
most of the interviewed enterprises also keep their monitoring function in-house. An agency
can assist you to answer specific questions, but you do not want to give your conversations
out of your hands (Beeline Labs, 2009).
Ideally, you should already have some social media experience prior to writing the strategy.
In addition, it is important to stress that social media is not a selling tool. Your employees
should know that it is a very powerful communication tool that makes it easier to get outside
input. When setting up a social media strategy, it must be well coordinated with all other
possibly affected departments. Looking at the best practice cases, one can conclude that the
results are evidently best when social media is embraced by the whole organisation
(Wetpaint/Altimeter Group, 2009). Even if, for example, a company has only a Twitter
account, this might already impact public relations, branding, customer support and human
resources departments. Inform and involve all the affected departments, or else it most
definitely leads to confusion. Comcast is one famous example of not informing other
departments that social media had actually taken over part of their function35. The
consequences were many angry and confused customers and employees.
The impact social media can have on the company does not depend on the size of the social
media team. Toyota has a very small social media team, but the impact of social media on its
employees is significant. Toyota pulls in all departments and all brands into the social media
place. For example, the Twitter account (http://twitter.com/toyota) features four specialists,
each responsible for his/her respective area. The monitoring software identifies the tweets’
themes and they’ll pop up on the screen of the person with the expertise. The same applies to
Toyota’s Facebook page. Depending on the topic, posts are sent to the corresponding
department which then responds on Facebook. This ensures that enquiries are answered by
real experts. At the same time, it gives all departments the chance to engage in and profit from
social media. Moreover, the Toyota social media team uses content from across the
corporation. Be it videos, text or images – they simply write a request for content. Denise
Morrissey, online community manager, is delighted at the response, “People are excited to
give us content, such as dealer training videos, because it serves the public as well. A lot of
the departments are coming to us with content [without any requests from us]”
(Wetpaint/Altimeter Group, 2009).
126.96.36.199 Identifying the Right People
A company culture that is based on openness, authenticity and trust is a pre-condition for an
effective social media strategy. Companies, or rather executives, need to trust their employees
and need to set a good example when it comes to transparency. All these values are central
because social media tools are based upon them. Think of wikis, blogs or forums – these are
all tools that deal with the exchange of knowledge. To productively employ these tools,
employees must be willing to share their thoughts and knowledge. The company will be
successful if employees take on the “we are smarter than me” model.
Many employees who are passionate about introducing social media into their organisations
will face legal obstacles. The legal team might not be very enthusiastic about so much
transparency, honesty and two-way dialogues (see also Appendix on p. 92). Yet, by using
specific examples you can show the legal team the value of participating in social media and
the risk of not participating. Establish guidelines and train employees on how to use social
media. If you encounter tricky issues while using social media, consult with the legal
department as you would with any other problematic issue.
Companies need to ask themselves questions like who generates the content? Who interacts
with stakeholders (corporate communication, subject matter experts, customer service,
everyone, etc.)? Who monitors the brand(s) in social media? Who measures performance?
Part of defining the strategy is to outline the workflow and determine who will do the work.
Depending on the company culture and the type of employees it can be a difficult undertaking
to identify people for key roles. First and foremost, it is important that people are comfortable
using social media. They should not have to pretend to be someone they are not – just be your
authentic self. Stakeholders will appreciate that. They will also appreciate when participants
mix personal messages with corporate messages. Social media is all about people and not
about logos. Sometimes employees are the real stars, recall Jonathan Schwartz blogger and
CEO of Sun (p. 41), Frank Eliason as the face of customer support at Comcast (p. 34) or all
the employees at Zappos (p. 35).
Employees need to understand the rules of engagement before they take part in social media.
Fortunately, more and more people use social media for their private purposes and already
have a fundamental understanding of the rules. For people with no or little experience it is
best to join in, listen and learn – and don’t forget to actively participate. If you plan to use
company-internal social media tools like Yammer, it might be a good idea to roll out the tools
aimed at internal and external stakeholders simultaneously. Employees gain confidence with
handling social media by using internal tools. This naturally reflects on their behaviour with
Employees have different interests and strengths. You can try to assign people to tasks by
their strengths. For instance, keen writers should write blog posts or good speakers are more
suitable for video blogging.
188.8.131.52 Do Not Rush
Quite often the first social media adventures are extensions of existing functions. Corporate
communication may perhaps already monitor the chatter on the Internet. Use the social media
functions that are already in place to gradually develop your strategy.
It is not advisable to rush from no activities to cover all possible types of social media. Start
by listening and track what’s being said about your brand and the competition. Carry out the
research to find out how your stakeholders use social media. Then start slow and take one step
at a time.
In the beginning, it is usually easier to have small but very specific objectives. For example,
to gain insights for a planned new product or to start solving customer service issues that you
find on blogs. It is easier to track the success of these first initiatives, and it will be easier to
gain cross-functional collaboration for expanded programmes. As the company moves up the
social media learning curve, the strategy will see more employees and more external
stakeholders getting involved. Once again, remember to set objectives on what you want to
achieve with social media and not how many types of social media you want to utilize how
The stakeholders are usually not overly demanding (at least in the beginning). They
appreciate a company’s effort to enter social media in order to listen to them. They don’t
expect you to have the most comprehensive and sophisticated program in place. Many of
them simply want to be heard. You won’t be able to solve every problem or apply every idea
they have, but by responding transparently and showing your gratitude you possibly will be
already one step ahead of your competitors. However, inappropriate behaviour or just having
a hard-sell approach does not only work but is likely to backfire and damage the brand’s
As already pointed out several times, monitoring the brand is crucial. One can monitor for
free with tools like Google Alerts (http://www.google.com/alerts), Social Mention
(http://www.socialmention.com/), Twitter Search (http://search.twitter.com/) or Facebook
Lexicon (www.facebook.com/lexicon)36. Alternatively, you can rely on paid tools. There are
countless suppliers that offer their monitoring services, often with added features like
understanding emotional and motivational drivers of contributions, or revealing the
terminology being used with negative and positive sentiments. As reported by Beeline Labs,
people are usually surprised of the value of insights they get from systematic monitoring. The
report states that the insights gained are most valuable for customer service, sales, product
innovation, brand management and corporate communications (Beeline Labs, 2009).
184.108.40.206 Measuring Return on Investment
Measuring the success of social media is seen as the most challenging task. There is no
common accepted measurement, even the leading companies in social media still regularly
modify their practices as the technology and knowledge improves. Various agencies offer
measuring indexes. The problem with such predefined indexes is that they often measure
irrelevant things. Rather focus on measuring what matters to the brand. The measurement
needs to refer to the objectives set for the social media presence. Furthermore, don’t try to
measure everything, and focus instead on a few key metrics. Don’t worry too much about
what you aren’t able to measure.
One needs to distinguish between quantitative and qualitative goals. Quantitative goals like
traffic, community members or share of voice are easy to determine. What about qualitative
social media objectives like loyalty, trust, passion, interaction, reputation or brand awareness?
They need to be converted into quantitative metrics, and this conversion is sometimes a bit
Starbucks, for example, wants to increase customer satisfaction by asking on
MyStarbucksIdea what customers would like. Starbucks’ goal is to have XY amount of
suggestions collected per month and XY of them actually implemented. As success metrics it
See also http://wiki.kenburbary.com/
uses “amount of good suggestions that the company hasn’t thought of” and “amount of these
suggestions that are actually implemented” (Yongfook Cockle, 2009).
Since social media is about people who are having conversations, one of the key questions
ought to be, what is our company getting out of the conversation? Possible outcomes include
share of voice, tone, attitude shift or behaviour change. No one can claim that determining
ROI for social media is exact sciences since it is always problematical to put numeric
quantities around human interactions and conversations. As there is simply no universal
measurement procedure, it is best to look at your objectives and pick some solid metrics to
track the success of the goals. Experts recommend giving it some thought, test things out,
experiment, and see what works for you.
Social media is a long-term investment. Be patient, results are not instant. A company has to
commit to participating in social media and work hard to see the results. In spite of
everything, social media is no rocket science. It is about humans and relationships, and it
builds on values such as transparency and authenticity – things we should be familiar with.
This section about social media strategy was written by putting together knowledge from
various experts in the field of social media37.
3.5.11 Putting it all Together
Cross-linking the different brand touchpoints on the Internet is one of the simplest things, yet
many companies don’t do it or only incompletely. It is a waste of resources when you want to
converse with your stakeholders on a social network but fail to put a visible link to it on the
company website (or any other presence on the Internet). It is not only a matter of efficiency
or a way to extend the community, the different social media channels also perform different
I see it as the companies’ responsibility to connect the stakeholders with the information that
is helpful to them. One way of doing this is to better cross-link the various outposts. Another
way is to better integrate the different outposts. Dell has started doing so and will increasingly
integrate its different offerings to make it easier for the people – especially those who are not
yet engaged. Dell chief blogger Lionel Menchaca explains, “We have to integrate all of our
Most inspiration came from Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff (authors of Groundswell), Dan Dunlop
(http://dandunlop.wordpress.com/), Olivier Blanchard (http://thebrandbuilder.wordpress.com/), Jay Baer
(http://www.convinceandconvert.com/), Scott Monty and Krista Gleason via Amber Naslund
(http://altitudebranding.com/), Jason Falls (http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com/), Scott DeYager
(http://www.engagementdb.com/downloads/ENGAGEMENTdb_Report_2009.pdf) and the Beeline Labs
properties so that there's not a Direct2Dell entity and there's not an IdeaStorm over here, and
there's not a forum over here. That confuses people” (Evans, 2008). He basically wants to
have a one-stop-shop for all stakeholder concerns.
A major annoyance for all Internet users is the many user names and passwords we need to
remember. For instance, when we want to make a comment on a blog we usually have to
to prevent spam. These measures certainly do not encourage participation. The solution is
Facebook Connect and Twitter Connect. Instead of going through the rigorous process of
providing all your details again, you simply click on the connect button that retrieves the
necessary information from the respective social networking site. It is essentially a trusted
authentication into partner sites using existing social networking accounts. In addition, the
user’s activity on the website, for example the comment on the blog, can be shared with
friends on the respective social networking site.
At the time of writing these services are relatively new but one can already observe that
businesses increasingly apply Facebook Connect and Twitter Connect. The benefits are
significant. It makes participation for stakeholders simpler and is subsequently expected to
increase participation. It enables companies to gain more insight in who they are engaging
with (e.g. through access to Facebook profiles) and draw the consequences out of it.
Companies can single out someone from the mass who they identify as potentially helpful for
the business. An influencer or someone with specific knowledge can be picked out and
approached for an intensified collaboration.
Visa has recognized that many small business owners use Facebook. Visa introduced
Facebook Connect on its Visa Business Network (http://www.visabusinessnetwork.com/) to
simplify access and encourage activity. This network is a community made up of mainly
small business owners whose goal is to move their business forward by sharing information
and making connections. The Connect tool can also be used to restrict access to only selected
persons, e.g. based on demographics. For example, the content of GirlsGuideTo
(http://girlsguideto.com/) is only accessible via Facebook Connect and only if you are female.
These are just two examples of a growing number of businesses that have started to
implement these new services.
In the future, the social media outposts will move even closer together. Companies will have
more information about the people they engage with and can better personalize content based
on age, location, interests, work and the like. However, more transparency on the stakeholder
side implies that people will only interact with brands they trust, with businesses that
incorporate authenticity and transparency.
An increasing number of companies install newsrooms, or social media newsrooms, as part of
the official website or as an auxiliary microsite. These newsrooms are basically a collection of
all social media activities listed on one page to show visitors how and where they can interact
with the company on the Internet. However, these newsrooms should not be used instead of
cross-linking the outposts – they should be seen as an extra. A good example of a newsroom
can be found at Electrolux (http://newsroom.electrolux.com/). However, too often newsrooms
function as public relation tool only.
Figure 22: Screenshot Electrolux Newsroom Website
Newsrooms or Facebook Connect are means to connect the various social media presences of
a brand or company. Another way to link the different channels is the use of widgets. Widgets
are mini applications that can be installed and executed almost anywhere – desktop, web
pages or mobile phones. The popularity of widgets is growing rapidly as they become more
interactive and social. Widgets can be almost anything including games, tickers, videos,
quizzes and slideshows. The possibilities are boundless. Nevertheless, I’d like to provide one
simple application of the method, as used by Innocent Drinks. Innocent’s widget
(http://grow.innocentdrinks.co.uk/virtualbadge.php) is a virtual badge that can be added to
various social networking profiles. For every product you buy in a store you can enter the
unique product code online and Innocent will plant a tree in India. The widget keeps track of
how many trees you have contributed and shares the information with your friends. In
general, widgets can be a great way to start a dialogue with persons interested in a brand.
Particularly suitable are survey widgets that poll users on a question.
3.5.12 Crisis Prevention and Crisis Management
Even if a brand refuses to get engaged in social media, monitoring the Internet including
social media is indispensable. The comments on the Internet about a brand are not always
neutral or positive – negative mentions are inevitable. It is important for any brand to listen to
the social media conversation and recognize negative sentiments so that the company has the
possibility to respond and react before the fire can spread. Such unwanted “fires” have the
ability to spread extremely quick without any borders and soon go offline.
I assume that most big corporations already have processes in place to deal with offline crises.
However, do they know who is responsible and who needs to be alerted if something happens
to the brand in social media? It is strongly recommended to have a plan for online crises as
The aim of crisis prevention is to avoid that a negative sentiment turns into a major crisis.
This can be achieved by rapid and sincere responses. Furthermore, it is essential to react using
the same communication channel as the initiator, or at least a closely related channel. The
response must be personally addressed to the initiator – and it’s clearly not a public statement.
Domino’s Pizza is a frequently cited example that illustrates the viral nature of social media
and the consequences of not listening. What happened in April 2009? A Domino’s employee
prepared sandwiches while putting cheese up his nose and doing other disgusting things while
a fellow employee videotaped and commented on it. They uploaded the video to YouTube,
and within days the clip had been viewed more than a million times38 (Gregory, 2009).
Domino’s was unaware of all that until their ad agency altered them (Baer, 2009b).
The original video has been removed from YouTube. However, I found a copy here
Domino’s was not listening to the social media conversation, nor had they any experience in
this realm, let alone a crisis plan. Initially, Domino’s had intended to stay silent (Neville,
2009) but then decided to do the right thing: Fight fire with fire. A press release in such a case
has no impact. Only a response using the same channel directs attention to the company
which subsequently has the chance to explain the situation. It took Domino’s too long, but
eventually the CEO of Domino’s Pizza USA issued a video apology on YouTube39. Soon
after, a Twitter account was set up, and Domino’s encouraged its employees with Twitter
accounts to tweet about the apology (Gregory, 2009). Domino’s absence from social media
damaged the brand’s reputation badly. The perception of Domino’s brand quality dropped
from positive to negative (Vogt, 2009), and the online chatter increased greatly – albeit these
conversations were all negative (see chart).
Figure 23: Domino's Pizza Chatter (Buzz Study, 2009)
This case study points out how important it is to listen to the conversation on the Internet. If
Domino’s had listened, and if they had processes in place on how to deal with such issues,
they could have taken the video off YouTube before millions of people watched it and before
newspapers picked up the story. Crisis management is top management’s business. Therefore,
it is clearly an advantage when today’s senior management is comfortable dealing with the
latest technology and major online trends. Press conferences and written releases are
progressively being substituted for things like video and blog statements. In general, we
observe that traditional media gradually shifts to the Internet and to social media.
Organisations need to be ready for this new reality.
The following example of United Airlines illustrates the power individuals can exert on the
Internet. The power of individuals, and of the masses for that matter, naturally frightens many
corporations. But ignoring it doesn’t help either. Dave Carroll took a United Airlines flight
when baggage handlers broke his USD 3500 guitar. He immediately complained and did so
again with several phone calls (Reynolds, 2009). After months of trying to get compensation
he decided to write a song about his suffering. The video uploaded to YouTube illustrates the
whole story marvellously, and the music is really worth listening to40. The video had been
viewed by millions of people, and the story was in the news all over the world. After
publishing the video online, United Airlines gave in, called Carroll and offered him
compensation (Jamieson, 2009).
The whole story would not have unfolded if United Airlines had acted prior to the video. Or
does United only react when a complaint is made in public? It clearly shows that companies
need to learn how to handle the power of individuals. They are afraid of such situations when
individuals hold them to ransom. Therefore, part of the crisis management plan should
address this risk. At the same time, it is critical to make good on its promises. Any brand that
does not deliver on what it claims is very vulnerable in social media.
Brands that participate in social media should talk to persons with positive sentiments as well
as to persons with negative sentiments towards the brand. People who express their
dissatisfaction are those who are passionate enough to share it with others. By reaching out to
them you may turn these persons into brand ambassadors, or at least bring the discussion from
an emotional to a more rational level. People who complain online are often quickly satisfied
– listening and offering help is often enough. JetBlue approaches people on Twitter who talk
negatively about JetBlue by offering them help. In most cases these people don’t respond. It
seems they just want to be heard by the company.
The smartest companies turn negative statements about a product or service into positive
ones. Electronic Arts’ ad agency discovered a video about one of EA’s products on YouTube
showing a glitch (Radd, 2008). In the video, showing scenes from the game Tiger Woods
PGA Tour 2008, one can see that golf players can take a shot while standing on water –
clearly a bug in the game code. Electronic Arts responded using the same channel and
acknowledged the bug while giving a more human face to the company. With the video
response41, showing the real Tiger Woods walking on water and taking a shot, Electronic Arts
demonstrates that its employees are human and make mistakes but also have a sense of
humour. The video caught the attention of the public and was very well received.
What seems like a looming crisis may perhaps be a great opportunity. Companies need to
accept the fact that the brand is not theirs alone. The brand belongs to its stakeholders. Having
this in mind, what one company sees as a problem is identified as an opportunity by another.
In 2006, when videos emerged that showcased what happens when you put Mentos into Diet
Coke42, the two involved companies reacted very differently. The videos became an instant
hit, and Mentos decided to sponsor the two experimenting guys who then became real stars.
Coca-Cola, on the other hand, issued a statement saying, “It hopes people want to drink Diet
Coke more than try experiments with it" (Geist, 2006). The spokeswoman even added, “The
craziness with Mentos doesn’t fit with the brand personality of Diet Coke” (McConnell &
Huba, 2007, p. 133). When Coca-Cola eventually realised that it had missed out on a huge
opportunity, it tried to get involved after all. Subsequently, Coca-Cola re-launched its website
as a user-generated site. However, this attempt failed once again because it still tried to
control the brand too much (Bernstein & Brody, 2007).
Participative branding involves listening to and talking with stakeholders. This has the nice
side effect that it can prevent reputation crises. No matter what business you are in, it is a
must to listen to the social media conversation and it is a big asset when participating actively
and wholeheartedly in it.
It causes a physical reaction: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKoB0MHVBvM
3.6 Closed Online Communities
I have already used the word community quite often in the previous chapters about social
media. Social media tools are often part or even the heart of online customer communities.
The term online community has different meanings for different people. I adopt the definition
from the Online Community Handbook that describes an online community as a group of
people who interact with each other on a website (Buss & Strauss, 2009, pp. 4-5). The
members are united by a common interest or activity, and as they get to know each other a
sense of connectedness develops. As in many other kinds of communities, online community
members sometimes join the group to meet others members. The social aspect is sometimes
more important than the specific interest or activity they engage in. It is also important to note
that I do not talk about brand communities which are exclusively formed on the basis of
attachment to a brand.
In this chapter I’d like to show how closed online communities can help brand or marketing
managers in their daily jobs. Nevertheless, online customer communities shouldn’t be
confined to the marketing department only. A recent survey shows that 96% of respondents
claim that their marketing department derives value from closed online communities (one
third of all respondents even said it changed the company’s marketing strategy). 71% report
that the market research derives value, while 67% report the same for product development
(Passenger, 2009). Closed customer communities are very diverse. They can be built around
specific objectives (e.g. ad testing) or target a wider set of objectives (e.g. understanding
One needs to distinguish between open and closed communities. Closed communities are also
referred to as private communities. Many market research communities are closed, that is they
are invitation only and cannot be viewed by non-members. Closed communities have a
specific number of members, often chosen to be a number that supposedly maximises
participation of members. The size is naturally also a cost factor. Open communities are open
to everyone, or nearly everyone as sometimes criteria are applied. For instance, BMW’s M
Power community can only be joined by providing the chassis number of your BMW M car.
Online customer communities can also be distinguished by the permanence. Some
communities are only temporary (e.g. for projects) whereas others are long term, lasting for
many months or years. Furthermore, communities can be branded or unbranded. Participants
in an unbranded community don’t know the identity of the client. Yet, most experts
recommend brands to reveal their identity. Lastly, there are proprietary communities and
shared communities. A shared community is a community that is employed by multiple
Essentially, a shared community is owned by the company that built it. The owner maintains
the community and grants other companies access to it. For example, Face Group is a
London-based agency that directs two 500-strong closed communities. One is called
Mindbubble (http://www.mindbubble.com/) and described as a community for 25-50 year old
web savvy, creative and articulate women. The second community, Headbox
(http://www.headbox.com/), targets 12 to 25 year olds. Face Group is an agency specialised in
co-creation, and when working with clients it draws on the wisdom of the communities.
PluggedIn is another such agency. It can create new communities tailored to suit the needs of
businesses. Alternatively, businesses can tap one of the agency’s existing shared
communities. These private communities can be used for just asking a few questions, for
running a short project, or companies can build a permanent private community-within-a-
3.6.1 The Advantages of a Closed Community
Although I will focus on private communities, many findings can be applied to open
communities, too. Some companies strictly prefer to keep the conversations invisible to
competitors. If that’s the case, a private community is definitely the preferred choice. A
private community offers a higher level of privacy. Companies often wish to have more
privacy when testing new products before they are launched. An advantage of closed
communities is that they enable to specifically select persons to get a specific design – e.g.
mirroring the demographics of the target group to increase the validity. As a general rule, you
know the participants in a private community much better than in an open community as a
result of profiling every member before joining the community.
A frequently mentioned argument is that closed communities are more suitable to share deep
insights and ideas. Both members and companies tend to be more involved and open in
private communities. Private customer communities that are relatively small (typically 50 to
500 participants) yield better results in terms of quality than large open communities (Hessan
& Schlack, 2006).
Private communities see significantly higher participation rates than the generally accepted
participation figures presented in chapter 3.3. For example, Communispace reports that 86%
of the members logging in make contributions43. Each member who contributes to the
community makes on average 8.8 contributions per month (Lerman & Austin, 2007).
Members are likely to participate more because closed communities create greater trust and
personal accountability among members with similar interests (Hessan & Schlack, 2006).
Perhaps it is the perceived anonymity that makes people less afraid of saying the wrong
There are valid reasons for and against closed communities. Some companies have both
types. An interesting approach could be to invite members from an existing open community,
e.g. Facebook fans, into a new private community. This is certainly cheaper than to start from
scratch, given that Facebook profiles reveal extensive information about people.
3.6.2 Closed Communities are Superior to Focus Groups
Private communities supplement or even replace focus groups and surveys44 (Passenger,
2009). Diane Hessan, founder and CEO of Communispace, likes to call these types of
communities “focus groups on steroids” (Hessan, 2009). A typical focus group is a dozen of
persons convening for an hour or two. A typical closed online community is around 400
people who are all in the same “room” for a couple of months.
Closed communities allow the company to cover a wide range of topics. The geographical
reach of private communities extends the one of focus groups, geographic borders don’t really
matter. It is also easier to reach niche groups via virtual communities. The people taking part
in a focus group are often taken away from their normal day and routine. This can yield to a
very specific type of information and feedback (Wasserman, 2009). Engaging members over
an extended period of time, as in private communities, yields more authentic results.
However, the risk is that we only hear the loudest members and shy people will be poorly
represented. Nevertheless, only a community can offer a unique perspective into the lives of
participants, which allows a much deeper understanding of their needs and views (PluggedIN,
The community moderator initiates many discussions, but a lot of the chatter is initiated by
members. The most interesting learning actually comes from such member generated
discussions (Bernoff, 2009). An interesting question is whether it is easier to display emotions
offline or online. Some people are more liberated by being online and hence show emotions
Contributions are defined as pieces of content added to a website.
43% use fewer focus groups and 36% conduct fewer surveys as a direct result of using closed online
communities. The quoted Passenger study analyzed 16 Fortune 500 companies.
more freely than they would offline. Others might feel more at ease to express their emotions
orally in focus groups. What we know is that we cannot observe people’s physical reactions in
online communities. For example, when testing advertising campaigns it could be helpful to
observe the physical (facial) reactions.
When time is over, the focus group members go home and it gets very difficult to discuss or
ask questions that may arise some days after the meeting. One of the main advantages of
online communities is the possibility to ask follow-up questions. Even more, you have the
ability to look at profiles again and put their comments in context.
Traditional market research methods are not as flexible and fast as private online
communities. Nowadays, things are often changing too quickly, the data that used to be
relevant last month might be already obsolete. In the wake of the financial crisis, many
financial institutions are too far away from their customers. Online communities can remedy
this problem – a lot of banks show interest in building communities. Steve Howe, CEO of
Passenger, explains, “There’s no industry that needs to repair relationships with customers
more than the financial services industry. Focus groups are often not quick enough. A
telephone survey may take six to eight weeks. The world can change a lot in that time”
(MarketingWeek, 2009). Setting up a focus group takes time, so does creating a community.
But once you have an online community you can use it again and again whenever you need
advice, feedback or insights.
Finally, private online communities don’t come cheap. Over time, however, online
communities can save money over focus groups. The typical focus group costs for budgeting,
setting up, recruiting members and travel costs can be avoided. The quality of the online
community findings is usually much better, too.
3.6.3 Closed Communities in Action
The best way to illustrate the value of private online communities to brand and marketing
managers is by presenting an assortment of examples. Sometimes the communities are set up
because of specific objectives but often they serve diverse purposes. Here are some specific
examples as to how marketers can benefit from private communities.
One common goal of closed communities is to better understand customers and spot patterns
and trends. Virgin Mobile carefully selected 2000 customers to identify and track trends
(Martin, 2009, pp. 111-112). Listening to customers may cause businesses to radically change
their marketing strategy. The NCCN is a group of American cancer centres which have their
own private online community. The first question NCCN asked the community was how they
decide where to get treatment. The common wisdom was that cancer patients make decisions
based on reputation. That’s why the NCCN put a lot of money into the reputation
management of its centres. However, the majority of cancer patients cite their primary care
physician’s recommendation as decisive on where to get treatment. As a consequence, the
NCCN cancer centres started programmes to improve the relationships with doctors (Li &
Bernoff, 2008, pp. 84-85).
Many companies use closed communities for product developments. Del Monte’s Snausages
Breakfast Bites is a line extension entirely devised by a community called “I Love My
Dog/Dogs are people, too”. Del Monte’s objective was to find out what products to make,
how to package them, and how to sell them to dog owners who treat their pets like members
of the family (Li & Bernoff, 2008, pp. 179-181). Del Monte drew 400 carefully selected dog
owners, from its existing 9000-strong online panel, on this “I Love My Dog” group (Dye,
2008). Within this community, dog owners discuss issues, blog, chat, participate in surveys,
share photos and videos, and find resources. Del Monte asked the members what their dogs
would want for breakfast. It turned out that they want something that looks like bacon and
fried eggs, with vitamins and minerals in it. Del Monte made such a product, the packaging
was also a co-creation, and soon the new product arrived in stores. The process from idea
until the item arrives in store was thereby halved (Li & Bernoff, 2008, pp. 179-181). Similar
stories of companies, involving consumers in every phase of the product development life
cycle from concept through launch and beyond, can be heard from many other businesses in
Dave McTague, executive vice president of the fashion company Liz Claiborne, explains why
he decided to set up a community of 300 female consumers for the “New York” brand:
“Because we needed a more contemporary way to stay on the pulse of our consumers' wants,
needs, concerns and desires and an incremental methodology to connect with the brand.” For
example, Liz Claiborne managers found out that Isaac Mizrahi is the perfect fit for the post of
creative director. The fashion brand also learned that the brand DNA, focusing on smart-
casual dressing, is actually what their target customers have in their closets (Wasserman,
2009). Closed communities can be used to see whether the brand identity aligns with the
target customers’ values. At the end of 2006, the British share dealer IWeb lacked a clear
identity and was losing customers. Instead of launching a marketing campaign, IWeb’s
agency suggested to turn to its customers to help build an identity and advertising style. It
quizzed the community about areas such as logo styles, colour palette and tone of voice.
Based on the input, the agency developed a new advertising style which was then approved by
the community. IWeb also asked the community what product features they would like to
have. IWeb finally emerged as an almost new company, influenced by a community of
customers (Dye, 2008).
Language plays a crucial role in marketing. Sometimes it is quite difficult to reach a target
group, especially when they are considerably younger and speak a different language. For the
AXE marketing team it is very difficult not to sound like parents when talking to their target
customers of young men. Often they would try too hard to be cool. Unilever’s deodorant
division found a way to avoid these common problems. It set up a community of young men
and encouraged the men to upload pictures of their rooms, use their natural language, and talk
about their attitudes (Li & Bernoff, 2008, p. 88). Alison Zelen, director of consumer and
market insights for the deodorant category, explains, “Because the AXE guys talk to one
another as well as us, we can observe them talking as if they were in the locker room. So we
aren’t influencing their word choice or the tone of their language. It’s really great for us
marketers who are older than our target” (Kelly, 2007, p. 82). The results can be seen in
AXE’s positioning and communication. AXE is positioned as attracting the opposite sex,
using language and settings that are familiar to young men (Li & Bernoff, 2008, p. 88).
Communication is crucial when steering a business safely through a crisis. Mattel did a great
job when faced with massive product recalls. An important role played the private Mattel
community, a group of 500 moms with children aged 3-10. During the fall of 2007, right
before the important festive season, Mattel had several worldwide product recalls due to
dangerous leaded paint on popular toys. Mattel turned to the community and wanted to hear
how they felt about the recalls and their opinion on made-in-china toys. Mattel explained
them its response plan and asked them if and how it would have to change the plan. The 500
parents not only helped to shape a successful response plan, they also came up with a
promotion for one toy line especially hit by the recall. During the toughest time, Mattel asked
the community to give daily feedback on Mattel’s crisis communication (Communispace,
2008). The community was of course only one part of the crisis management plan. Mattel was
able to shift the focus from the issues to its response and safety efforts (PR News, 2009). It
was commended for the manner in which it responded to the negative publicity, outrage and
fear felt by parents (Robinson, 2009). The transparent and truthful response using the whole
range of communication channels prevented the toy company from major reputation and
financial damages (PR News, 2009).
Communities are a convenient way of outsourcing naming decisions. Adidas recruited brand
advocates, within its already established private community, to assist in building the “New
School of Thought” campaign. Adidas wanted the community to decide on the three
campaign elements font treatment, headline and tag lines (Skey, 2009). Communities can
think up names for products, campaigns, headlines, etc. – even for colours. The Hyundai
Think Tank, 1000 people who own Hyundai cars or have expressed special interest in them,
suggested a name for a new shade of gray: Carbon Gray Mist (Glagowski, 2009).
Co-creation in the form of deciding on package designs is very popular. Maybe more
interesting is the change of package sizes. Godiva Chocolatier turned to its 400-strong female
community members and wanted to know how the economic downturn affects the chocolate
lovers. The message the community sent was clear, they wanted luxury in small doses – treats
they could buy for not much more than the price of a cafe latte. Godiva acted on the
suggestion and successfully introduced smaller package sizes (Baker, 2009).
Generation Benz is a closed online community made up of 800 Generation Y persons who
could potentially buy a Mercedes. Steve Cannon, vice president of marketing, describes what
they do with the community: "We do head-to-head comparisons, asking them questions about
us versus our key competitors. We poll them on a regular basis. And we ask them about their
media choices” (McMains, 2008). One of the main goals of the community is to analyse
Mercedes’ brand positioning among these young affluent people (Greenberg, 2008). The
automaker regularly tests how upcoming advertising campaigns will be received by Gen Y
and adjusts them accordingly (Chang, 2008). In addition, Mercedes also tries to connect with
the community offline – real life events are still superior to online meet-ups. Mercedes has
offered community members to take part in driving events or to attend press conferences at
automobile shows (McMains, 2008).
Closed communities frequently assist marketing managers in testing advertising campaigns.
Sylvan Learning is a US based provider of tutoring services. Sylvan sent mothers with
children potential story boards for a TV commercial. The responses from the community
clearly indicated that it needed to show the success kids can have through tutoring instead of
showing the struggles children have to deal with at school. In the past, Sylvan questioned
customers at shopping malls or called them at their homes. With the closed community,
people are in their own homes and decide when and how deeply they want to participate.
Sylvan recognizes this as a big advantage because it thinks that participants are more relaxed
and willing to give more honest answers (Steel, 2008).
Apart from testing advertising campaigns, communities also help in product testing. For
example, Burton’s community members test snowboards, boots, bindings and apparel. Burton
listens to a community of 300 professional snowboard riders, but only 39 of them are
sponsored by Burton. The professional riders give Burton precise feedback, much more
precise than amateur snowboarders would. However, Burton has also an online community of
25000 mostly non-professional riders who can try products for free in exchange for feedback
(Martin, 2009, pp. 113-114). The department store chain JCPenney launched a private
community for Ambrielle, a high-end lingerie line. From a customer database JCPenney had
already built, it invited women who wanted to communicate with the brand (Kuchinskas,
2009). JCPenney sent the participating women lingerie to test at home and discuss on the
online community. Based on the feedback and discussions, JCPenney changed the products to
better meet the customers’ needs. Before the products hit stores, the adjustments were
reported back to the community to listen again to the women’s feedback. JCPenney has
started to incorporate wear tests for all Ambrielle products (Skey, 2009). Product testing with
the help of online communities is doable for almost all products – from snowboards to
lingerie to TV series.
After three very successful years, Ugly Betty’s ratings are falling. ABC needs to make
changes to its TV series to lead it back to the growth path. The makeover of protagonist Betty
is a huge risk. In fact, changing characters is the main reason why people lose interest in a
show. It has become common practice to use customer testing for TV shows. NBC, ABC’s
rival network, conducts online surveys about all its shows at the end of each season. ABC
showed its 2000 members in the online community videos and photos of the new Betty to
observe their reactions. ABC substituted focus groups for online communities because it says
that in traditional focus groups strong-willed people affect fellow participants too much
The possibilities of private online communities are plentiful. Some companies, like Dell, use
private communities to get an in-depth look at the customer experiences at the various brand
touchpoints (PluggedIN, n.d.). Others ask the community members for help as they are
struggling with the economical downturn. Automaker Hyundai wanted to know how to sell
more cars during recession. It asked the community whether customers should be able to
return the car if they lose their job. As it turns out, the car is needed to find a new job. The
collaboration with the community resulted in a new type of assurance which will give new car
owners a 90 days payment relief if they lose their job (Bernoff, 2009).
Still other companies involve their communities in CSR initiatives. The InterContinental
Hotels Group wanted to donate money to charities, but it planned to choose charities that its
loyalty program members consider commendable. Consequently, it questioned 500 American
members of its community which charities they support. After a few weeks, InterContinental
decided to give each respondent who participated in the discussion priority points to donate to
their charity of choice. Cassandra Jeyaram, marketing manager of the hotel chain, explains
that InterContinental sees the community as a way of building long-term relationships with
some of the most valuable customers, “They go and champion our brand for us, which is
marketing and credibility we can’t buy through advertising or email campaigns.” The
community insights are also exploited to learn how InterContinental has to position itself to
differentiate itself from the competition. InterContinental tries to initiate community building
as much as possible, so that not only the business can profit from the members but members
help members, too (Nedelka, 2009).
As shown in this chapter, private online communities have a very broad range of use.
Businesses can collaborate with closed communities in many ways. This kind of participative
branding pays off: Building relationships and brand advocates, help in decision making, co-
creation, accelerate business processes, reputation management, insights into customers and
trends, testing, and private communities typically have a positive effect on the bottom line.
3.6.4 The Costs of Closed Online Communities
A closed community can be used for a specific purpose, but it is perhaps more efficient to use
it for a variety of purposes. In any case, many companies use their communities only for
research purposes – overlooking the many other co-creation possibilities.
Practically all businesses can gain something from private online communities. Who wouldn’t
want new insights and access to people who help getting things done? Yet, not all companies
can afford their own closed community. Unlike the social media tools presented in the earlier
chapters, closed customer communities are not really suitable for experimenting. Therefore, it
is recommended to have some experienced community experts on board. Alternatively, one
can seek advice from specialised companies which help businesses to establish and run
communities. These services are not exactly cheap, yet in many cases the findings justify the
Communispace, one of the industry leaders, asks for at least USD 180000 for a six-month
trial community and about USD 20000 per month after that (Li & Bernoff, 2008, p. 84). Other
sources talk about USD 200000 per year (Berkman, 2008, p. 103). For this price you also get
a skilled community moderator who effectively handles the community. And you can make
use of sophisticated software to assist the managers (e.g. generate transcripts or reports). The
moderator is the voice of the company, and success of the community largely depends on him
or her. The moderator needs to keep the discussion lively, introduce new engaging topics that
set off important conversations, and moderate activities that provide insights for the company.
Moreover, the moderator should be able to spot patterns and trends among the community.
People are moving from simply consuming to creating. They choose what marketing message
to believe, they decide what to buy and where to buy, and they chose with whom they want to
interact with. People are more powerful because they have more credibility than companies,
and people have the ability and desire to share their opinions on brands. Power is shifting
from businesses to individuals, thus fundamentally changing businesses.
It is time for companies to accept the new reality and recognize that brands are made and
owned by their stakeholders. Hence, companies ought to be open and welcome the active role
of stakeholders. Organisations must realize that they can profit from collaborating with
stakeholders since the tools to do so are available. Participative branding ensures that
stakeholders get the influence to change the brand in order to satisfy their expectations which,
in turn, strengthens the brand.
I believe that companies that are ready to change, that are willing to take a more responsible
stance towards their role in society and open up to stakeholders will be the most successful
A A taxonomy of detractors
Type of Why they make How to recognize What you should do
Legitimate Needs help with Raises legitimate issue; may Solve problems or explain
complainer products or use strong language but policies, publicly if possible
services or wants seems open to reason
to warn others
Competitor Want to promote Continues to mention other Engage rationally and respectfully
competing brands; parrots their with your company’s perspective
products marketing messages
Engaged critic Think they can Makes suggestions, not just Create forum to encourage
make things better complaints; responds discussion; recognize good ideas
intelligently to others’ publicly
Flamer Like to argue with Tend to participate in “flame Refocus discussion on higher
other members wars” and may have specific goals of community
other members they target
Troublemaker Have a grudge Complains continuously and Address individually and
against company; cannot be satisfied; uses privately, if complaints continue in
hope to create incendiary language face of attempts to resolve,
problems remove from community
Figure 24: A Taxonomy of Detractors (Owyang, 2008a)
B Social Technographics Profiles
Figure 25: Social Technographics Profile of Europe, USA and China (Forrester Research, 2009)
C Air Force Blog Assessment
Figure 26: Air Force Blog Assessment (Owyang, 2008b)
D Dell Blog Assessment
FINAL EVALUATION YES NEW BLOG POST FOUND
You can agree with Is the post positive?
post, let it stand or
provide a positive review. NO MONITOR ONLY
Will you respond?
Avoid flame wars. Monitor the
AGGRESSIVE site for relevant information
Is the site overly negative and dedicated to YES and comments.
CORRECT THE FACTS
NO RESPONSE MISGUIDED Comment with
Let the post YES
Does the post have the facts wrong? factual information in
stand. comment field.
Does the post detail an unresolved customer issue? YES SUPPORT
Rectify the situation.
NO Respond and act upon
a reasonable solution.
FINAL EVALUATION e.g. Escalate the
NO RESPONSE issue internally.
NO Base response on present circumstances,
Let the post
site influence and stakeholder prominence.
Will you respond?
BLOG RESPONSE CHECKLIST
TRANSPARENCY A CLEAR GOAL PERSONALISED TONE CUSTOMER FOCUSED
OF ORIGIN Your response aims to Your response is Your response Your response
Your association achieve a desired goal. not generic. You have is conversational and positions you
with Dell is clear. Inform/Guide/ thoroughly read the blog makes a positive as a true customer
e.g. KerryatDell Document/Thank and all related entries. statement. advocate.
Figure 27: Dell Blog Assessment (Pope & Knox, 2009)
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