Social Media Use Among Corporations How Corning Incorporated Can Join the Conversation By Ruth Harper Objective

The project’s goal is to understand current trends in corporate use of social media tools as a part of external communications programs. Rigorous research was key in collecting data, identifying trends, and ultimately offering recommendations on how Corning can potentially use these tools. Methodology The first course of action was to identify suitable benchmark companies. Given Corning’s business-to-business (B-to-B) nature, it was determined comparison companies should also be B-to-B, or at least have a strong B-to-B component. It was also vital to include various-sized companies, while focusing on those similar or larger to Corning because the number of employees and resources within each company plays a critical role in a company’s approach to social media. Ten benchmark companies were selected in counsel with Kelli Hopp-Michlosky and Beth Dombroski. Data was collected using Google and other search engines, exploring company Web sites, searching social media tool Web sites, and conducting telephone and e-mail interviews with company representatives. Although most information could be found through online research, speaking with a representative proved especially useful in learning the company’s thoughts and strategies for social media engagement. All company background and research data is included with this summary. Corning was also analyzed via the same tactics to formulate a true comparison for recommendations. Findings Realization #1: There is no set model — needs determine use. Glancing at all of the companies together, one will quickly see that no two have exactly the same social media presence, just as no two companies have exactly the same corporate culture. Texas Instruments does not have an official Facebook fan page, but it has seven blogs. On the other hand, 3M business units have Facebook pages but no blogs. To really understand, one could simply look at the numbers. All companies studied have at least one RSS feed. Three of the 10 companies have official corporate Facebook pages, while seven of the 10 companies have some kind of external company blog(s). Two of the 10 companies do not have a corporate Twitter account. Half of the companies have verified internal blogs. Realization #2: Targeting is key.

The benchmarked companies have different social media presences because they have unique messages for distinct target audiences. IBM and Sun Microsystems want to reach out to customers and technology-oriented consumers, while Boeing is much more interested in investors and the media. Companies that decide to engage in social media should know their target audiences. Social media isn’t about registering for a Facebook fan page or creating a Second Life (SL) island just because everyone else is. It is a proactive method for companies to communicate with certain selected audiences, and it requires both strategy and flexibility. Successful companies have social media plans and target audiences, but they are willing to change and grow when new technologies would help them reach their audiences. For example, as computer technology-based companies, Sun Microsystems and Cisco Systems became involved with SL because they knew customers and employees would most likely be interested in virtual worlds. While SL continues to work well for these companies, it’s not such a good fit for companies like Boeing or 3M that can reach a larger portion of their audiences through tools like blogs and Twitter. Even within a company, different tools will resonate with different audiences. Cisco might use SL to reach tech-savvy employees, but a regularly updated blog is a better tool for a reporter interested in keeping up with Cisco’s latest news. In addition, the same type of tool can have multiple audiences, like General Electric’s blogs. The GE Reports blog is geared toward those more interested in general company news, while the GE Global Research Center blog aims more at the technological crowd. Also, GE and 3M use external social media tools, like Facebook and YouTube, for specific businesses, campaigns, or products, not necessarily corporate-wide promotion. To continue even further, measuring target markets also differs from company to company. While larger business-to-consumer (B-to-C) companies may desire to have as many average consumers read their blogs as possible, B-to-B companies may not be as concerned with sheer numbers. For Boeing, it’s not quantity but quality that matters most. Boeing benefits from having just 25 key journalists and investors regularly reading its blog, and the company currently does not need to reach out to everyday consumers. Realization #3: New media does not mean new values. Although social media is relatively new and has already altered how people receive media, a company’s key messages and principles remain the same, and a company should not change what is already in place and working. The most successful companies researched in this study used social media as a supplement for communications efforts, not as a replacement. Cisco Systems and 3M have media relations employees who use Twitter to connect with media professionals. However, representatives from both companies stressed the importance of maintaining and relying on telephone conversations or meetings in-

person. While these tools help 3M and Cisco Systems communicate with journalists, these companies continue to maintain traditional Web sites and press releases. They know, especially when it comes to building relationships, nothing beats face-to-face conversation. Recommendations First, although Corning needs to become involved with social media, it doesn’t need to feel pressured to jump in too quickly before preparing. Planning how it becomes involved may take time and may be more of an evolution than a revolution. However, as Corning becomes more involved, it should be able to react quickly to participants. Corning should go the route of most involved companies studied and begin testing larger social media efforts internally with employees. At least five of the 10 benchmarked companies have some type of internal blog, and many, like IBM, used social media internally before bringing it to the public. Corning could also increase internal social media opportunities and monitor to see what the company can learn from these experiences before extending outward. It’s also important for Corning to help employees, especially legal and IT teams, learn what’s normal and OK with social media tools. It might also be a good idea to create a social media plan for dealing with negative comments and crisis situations, as some large companies like IBM and Texas Instruments have or are working to create. Externally, Corning’s Facebook page and YouTube channel are a good start, and, because Corning is a B-to-B company, it might want to take a look at some other advantageous, yet relatively low-risk, tools like implementing social bookmarking options, offering more RSS feeds, and creating a Twitter account. When Corning feels comfortable, a company blog could also prove advantageous. A social bookmarking or “Share” option on press releases and within Corning’s Web site could attract friends of those who pay attention to Corning, helping Corning spread the word to and develop relationships with investors and the technology community. Although Corning currently has RSS feeds available for investor information, implementing more would allow those interested in specific topics to receive instant notification when sites are updated or articles are added. More RSS feeds for content is on Corning’s list of improvements for 2009. Out of all social media tools discussed in this report, Twitter is the newest and fastestgrowing. Boeing was the only company with absolutely no official Twitter involvement. While 3M does not have a corporate Twitter account, different 3M individuals and organizations tweet on behalf of their department or product line. Some companies, like Dow Corning, use Twitter exclusively to feed press releases. Most of the companies, however, are learning to master the tool by using it to not only post press releases, but also to share interesting articles and to engage in conversation with media members, employees, analysts, investors, partners, potential customers, and others.

If Corning decides to join Twitter, it should decide if it wishes to join on a corporate level or if it would be better to have employees or business unit representatives tweet in the company’s name. Of course, Corning could always do both like most of the benchmarked companies. Either way Corning decides to go, it is probably a good idea to start slowly, perhaps by following a few tweeple and just watching to see how it all works. Once comfortable, Corning could begin attracting more followers by placing its Twitter address on press releases, the company Web site, the Intranet, company newsletters, or even directory Web sites, like Of course, it doesn’t have to promote the site everywhere; once a few people know it exists, more followers will come. Twitter — and social media in general — is a very grassroots-oriented, organic world where the right idea can spread quickly. An external company blog would be next. It could help Corning appear more approachable to its audience and share interesting stories and points-of-view from those inside — something people can’t often get through news releases. For example, Boeing maintains a blog to provide context and a more-personal touch to its hard news releases, and IBM’s “Inside Scoop” blog allows the world to learn about IBM through understanding people involved with the company. However, Corning doesn’t need to have a serious, hard-news blog; something creative would probably be more interesting, create more buzz, and entice more people to participate. For example, Corning could have an HR blog about why people like their jobs at Corning. Or Corning could have a blog or forum on an element loosely related that would generate conversation, like what people were doing when the Apollo 11 space shuttle, equipped with Corning windows, landed on the moon or how scientists use Corning Life Sciences products to develop new drugs. Also, those concerned about readers posting negative comments need not worry too much; comments can be moderated and can require approval before appearing to the public. Most companies researched moderate comments but post negative comments anyway because they understand certain unwritten ethics exist in the social media world, a world of transparency and openness. So, if Corning received a negative comment, it should probably still post the comment; however, seeing a negative comment before the public would allow Corning a little more time to think before reacting or responding. It’s important to realize communicators can not so much control the message with social media, but if they act properly, they can steer conversations in their own direction. In the end, other companies’ policies and strategies shouldn’t be used as strict guidelines because every company will be different. Corning and its businesses need to determine what messages need to be communicated to the audiences that use social media. Corning needs to go where its audiences are. Upon understanding the target, the real conversation begins — a conversation about the people who work at and make up the company, not just the corporate machine itself.

*Note: Company profiles, works cited, screenshots and other detailed information have been omitted from this report but are available upon request.

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