How Cisco successfully integrates social media into their organisation

Home How Cisco successfully integrates social media into their organisation

If 2010 was the year in which companies started to believe in the power of social media, then 2011 will be the year of structural implementation of social media within the organisation. It became clear that social media are more than just a new marketing channel; they can become the pivot of the modern organisation.

Let’s be honest: it is a challenge. Many companies are currently facing a tough job, especially the larger (and often more sturdy) organisations where change is not always received with great enthusiasm. But even if it’s difficult, you can get there, as long as there is the will to do it.

At the moment I am interviewing several social media managers in international companies, together with my colleague Steven Van Belleghem, so that we can learn how they strategically integrate social media into their organisation.

A few weeks ago I spoke to LaSandra Brill, social media managerof the American company Cisco.It was an inspiring conversation; here’s what I learned from their approach:

1. The ‘centre of excellence’determines the general strategy; departments turn it into a local approach:

At Cisco the coordinating strategy for social media is determined by a team of ten – a centre of excellence. They ensure the elaboration of the general approach, write guidelines and advise. They manage the corporate social brand, gather knowledge and analyse metrics.

The translation of the general approach for the specific target groups is done by the people responsible in each department. Their assignment is to change the standard philosophy into a local strategy for specific projects. An effective method, since they have the best knowledge of their target audience.

2. Structural training for anchoring social media in the entire organisation:

Ciscoemployees can choose between more than 30 workshops to learn about the power of social media. Once they finish the training, they get a certificate which is taken into account at the yearly evaluations and which is a must-have for occupying certain positions in the company.

The training ensures that everyone in the company knows what ‘conversation management’ is all about. By creating support in the entire organisation, the impact is increased.

3. A motivating conversation guide with tips, rather than an authoritative policy:

At Cisco, the social media policy is not a mere enumeration of what employees shouldn’t do. On the contrary: it’s a document to motivate employees to leverage conversations and it provides clear advice on how to do so. The basics are simple: use your common sense, always be transparent and use the correct tone of voice. Via this link you can consult the entire document:

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4. Top management support: the CEO sets the right example and inspires the rest of the organisation:

An important lesson learned at Cisco is that social media has to make its way into an organisation top down. All too often it makes its way in via the bottom layer – young people who know about social media try to make colleagues enthusiastic and launch small projects. This is a positive thing, but it is important that social media are integrated on a strategic level. This entails the need for budget, time and people.

And don’t forget, you will face critics within the company. In order to get a good start to success, the top management’s support is vital. At Cisco, the CEO, CTO and other executives are active bloggers and often initiate conversations. They show the way to other employees and inspire them through their personal story.

5. A culture where experimenting is key for stimulating the entrepreneurial mind:

Fortune favours the bold. At Cisco, employees are motivated to try new things, to take initiative and to organise actions. LaSandra:‘At Cisco it’s okay to fail, as long as you learn something from it.’

This creates a dynamic company culture where fear is not overpowering. In large organisations people are often too afraid since different departments (such as legal) have to give approval. Everything is checked in threefold before being launched, which obviously curbs all dynamics and flexibility. It is important to have a good understanding beforehand, so that a comfortable space can be created. Try to facilitate your employees in their creativity and stimulate their entrepreneurial mind.

6. Internal platforms to avoid silo structures:

Cisco is a very big organisation, which doesn’t always make implementation of new strategies easy. According to LaSandra, it is tough to completely avoid a silo structure; it is proper to organisations of such a size. In order to make sure that departments collaborate as much as possible, there is an intensive usage of internal communication and collaboration platforms and tools.

This enables efficient spreading of information as well as the creation of a culture of collaboration, where ideas are born across departments.

7. An internal consultancy team offers project-based support:

Sometimes basic knowledge is insufficient for integrating social media into a specific project. Or you simply don’t have the time or manpower available. That’s why, at Cisco, you can always appeal to an internal team which offers professional advice to make a specific project ‘conversation-ready’. A smart approach, since you collaborate with people who have great knowledge of internal targets and brand values to boost your project via social media.

8. Specific rewards for encouraging conversations:

Employees who actively contribute on social media are rewarded for it at Cisco. People who contribute to the conversations are mentioned in the internal newsletter (which is quite an achievement in such a large company) and receive personal congratulations from the coordinating team. They also give out annual awards to key contributors and active participants in social media. In addition to individual rewards there are also rewards for best team actions. This stimulates a positive competition, boosting creativity.

9. Interaction with clients and prospects as a yearly evaluation item for employees:

My colleague Steven often refers to the current company paradox: companies think every client is incredibly important, but when it comes down to it, they will do anything to save as much as possible on their customer service. Focusing on the consumer is one thing, acting upon that is a much bigger step. By including interaction in conversations as a KPI in the employees’ yearly evaluation, Cisco underlines their philosophy. It is not a mere theory but what is expected of every employee.

10. Specialists from the fan group are stimulated to help:

Cisco’s product is very technical. The people monitoring the conversations are not always the ones who know all the technical details. Questions from the community are sent through to experts in the organisation, in order to get an adequate answer. But this is a time-consuming process.

Therefore Cisco increases its attempts to include its own fans in the technical support. Cisco is trying to experiment with a badge system, where active fans in the community get a special title so that others recognise them as ‘specialists’. It’s a win-win system: Cisco is helped by fans who get recognition in the community for their expertise.

11. Strong belief in video to activate conversations:

Cisco really believes in using videos to activate conversations. Internal results show that videos lead to a much stronger interaction, to a larger spreading and to a more frequent viewing than textual blog posts for example.

Furthermore LaSandra adds some other important advantages which make video so powerful for the organisation:

Personal:the viewer is being addressed as a person, it’s a one-on-one story.

Credible & Authentic: the viewer knows 100% sure that it is the CEO speaking, for example, and not a ghost-writer who quickly wrote a text for the CEO.

Human connection:you show the person behind the organisation (how he/she behaves, thinks, talks…), which makes a company much more human.

12. Always keep an eye on the ball:

In our current society where everything evolves so quickly, Cisco thinks it is extremely important to rapidly and proactively react to new trends. Many companies have only just started the implementation of social media this year, whereas consumers have been engaging in online conversations for years. A huge amount of missed opportunities! Even if the number of users of certain channels (e.g. Foursquare) or certain appliances (e.g. tablets) is still rather limited, it is important to increase your company’s preparation speed to the possible implications.

LaSandra points out what is currently happening with ‘mobile’:‘Most companies don’t see the evolutions.Companies are dealing with mobile like they did with social media 3 to 4 years ago; no budgets, no strategy – only ad hoc initiatives, and lots of consumers are basicallyliving inside their smartphones. We have to invest much faster in trending evolutions to make sure that we can cope with the ultra fast moving consumers.’

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Hopefully the Cisco approach will be an inspiration and you will find ways to translate this within your own organisation. Feel free to share more examples in the reactions or via @dadovanpeteghem on Twitter.