Saturday, February 27, 2010

Big Biz Embraces Social Media, Sort Of

The Center for Marketing Research (CMR) at U.Mass Dartmouth just released a study examining the Fortune 500's adoption and use of social media, specifically blogging and Twitter. In the typically prosaic vernacular of university research, the report is titled: "The Fortune 500 and Social Media: A Longitudinal Study of Blogging and Twitter Usage by America’s Largest Companies." Google it and you'll find media properties from AdWeek to Welding & Gases Today blasting the results of the study: "TWITTER IS THE FASTEST GROWING SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNEL AMONG FORTUNE 500", "BIG BUSINESS EMBRACING TWITTER".

Articles about the report tout its impressive findings:
  • Thirty-five percent of Fortune 500 corporations had an active Twitter account as of last year, and by active, they mean that there was at least one post in the last 30 days. 
  • Forty-seven percent of the top 100 companies on the Fortune list are tweeting. 
  • Four of the top five companies on the list "consistently post on their Twitter accounts." The one laggard was Exxon Mobil, who apparently read the report and opened an account four months ago.
Exciting numbers for sure, but I was a little concerned about their criteria for "active" accounts, so I took a look for myself. I reviewed 7 of the 173 company Twitter accounts that fit the study's criteria for inclusion. Of the 7, only 1 was an account that I consider well executed - @homedepot. Home Depot meets all of the criteria that should be used in any kind of social media study worth undertaking. This criteria represents baseline best practices:
  • Has a Twitter handle that's intuitive and easy to find
  • Tweets an average of 5-10 times a day
  • Has indications of a social media policy, based on a dedicated social media team who are identified on the account and identify themselves in Tweets, and having made some kind of attempt to control rogue Twitter accounts that use their brand name
  • Follows back a reasonable percentage of their followers
  • Has a very high level of interactions with followers
  • Has a very low general promotion to follower interaction ratio, or maintains a separate account just for specials and promotions
  • Tracks brand name mentions and proactively interacts
  • Integrate your social media channels and reference each on the others
This isn't to suggest that the other 165 company accounts are, or aren't, true examples of social media. In fact, Bank of America, GE, and Walmart get great scores on many of the criteria. But they stumble of poor branding and confusing, competing accounts. So, before any more hyperbolic headlines are launched, people, it's worth remembering that opening a Twitter account and broadcasting company information aren't the same things as having a genuine social media program and actually participating in social media. They're just the Twitter equivalent of dancing around in your underwear thinking you're Madonna.

Here are some observations about the other 6 Twitter accounts I reviewed: 
Conoco Phillips (@conocophillips), Chevron (@Chevron), and Walgreens (@Walgreens) are all underwear-dancers. Conoco doesn't even pretend to be interested in social media. It's account looks like someone ordered the marketing dept. to do something about social media and the buck was passed downward until it hit the receptionists desk. Their Twitter home page has no bio or link back to their website; in nine months of Tweeting they've only posted 58 times (so much for the validity of the "once in the last 30 days" criteria); and there's not a single tweet that interacts with or retweets someone. 

Chevron is only slightly better. They have an "official Twitterer", who is identified on their Twitter homepage bio and they post once or twice a day, at least 4 days a week. However, there's very little interaction with other Tweeters. Worst of all, their execution indicates a lack of any clear social media strategy. They're a company with a constituency ranging from analysts to motorists and, in using a single account to try and reach everyone, their tweets are a confusing melange of topics.

Walgreens tweets are 140-character shopping circulars: 40% off 4x6 and 5x7 prints! Get $5 off any one L'Oreal Paris moisturizer! A lack of a corporate social media policy has resulted in a ragtag group of mostly unused individual store accounts and a placeholder shareholder account that may or may not be theirs. Additionally, there's no evidence of tracking brand mentions or interaction with Tweeters, which has resulted in missed opportunities to interact with and help unhappy customers, like this one:

msgina_g On a mission to Madera to get my moms meds because 
walgreens won't transfer and she needs them she's in alot of pain
msgina_g Sometimes there really should be exceptions to policy... 
Don't get me started when it comes to my mama.
msgina_g Mission complete... Now back on the 99 I go.... 
Need to be in Modesto by 10.... Jesus take the wheel... No traffic pls
msgina_g Finally ending my night 3 trips to walgreens 
and 4 hrs driving later mamas resting

The good news for Bank of America is that they have a well identified (pix and names) Twitter team, great interaction with users, and clear evidence that they track brand mentions:

carvajal_jose Bank of America sucks=\ they couldn't figure out why my account was negative. 
And they Gave me a bs answer for it. Good thing I'm leaving.
BofA_Help @carvajal_jose We're here to assist customers. Were you able to get your situation resolved?^SB
The bad news is, as you can see in the exchange, they need a better identity. A search for Bank of America accounts on Twitter delivers a page of results, many of which are probably not "official", but which tie up their name. In fact, there is a locked and unused bofa__help account that makes the search for them even more confusing.

General Electric (@GE_Reports) also has a naming problem, as well as an apparent corporate communication problem that's reflected in their multiple Twitter accounts. Do a Twitter search for GE and nine accounts come up, all with the GE logo as their icon (in varying approximations of the logo's color) and all are official GE accounts. The problem is, @GE_Reports isn't one of them. @GE_Report's icon is a photo of Megan, their Tweeter. It's the main, consumer-facing GE account, yet it's the only one that looks bogus. In a sad example of brand confusion, none of the accounts reference each other, or even follow more than one or two of their brand siblings.

@GE_Reports links to a GE Reports website which, like the Twitter account, makes it clear that they don't quite get the "social" part of social media: " is a simple, no-frills-way of communicating what’s happening at GE. Our goal is to be a resource for people who are interested in learning more about GE." The absence of any reference to communicating with or learning about their customers speaks volumes.

And finally, there's Walmart. As you might expect, Walmart's social media efforts are chock full of guidelines. In fact, they even have rules and guidelines for their Twitter followers. Sad, but true. They have 13 official Twitter accounts for the US market. And despite the very detailed description of their Twitter account naming conventions in their user guidelines: "Unless otherwise noted, U.S.-based Walmart approved Twitter users will follow the following naming conventions of “business unit + name/category.” For example, “walmartmeeting,” “samsclubrobert,” and “walmartgames," @accessototal (Concerts and interviews with your favorite Latin artists) managed to slip by the Walmart police. So if you would like to tweet about the defective dustbuster you just bought, you'll have to figure out if you're talking to @Walmartmeeting, @Walmartspecials, @Walmartnews, @Walmartcheckout, @WalmartBeauty, @WalmartKevin, or @WalmartMP3. And search for a Walmart account on Twitter and the only listing on the first results page that looks legit, @Walmart_shop, actually isn't.

I'm glad the Fortune 500 companies are recognizing that social media isn't a fad, going away, or not important. But by lumping the faulty social media executions in with the good ones, we taint the whole group.

1 comment:

Megan Parker said...

Linda- Megan from GE. Thank you for your feedback! We've gone back and forth on using the monogram for the @GE_reports account, so appreciate your thoughts!