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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
www.corning.com 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 fastest-
growing. 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 www.wefollow.com. 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.