Companies Enlist ‘Digital Detectives’ for Social Media Programs

At the International Association of Business Communicator’s (IABC’s) Corporate Communication and Social Media Summit on Friday, presenters from Whirlpool, Sprint, and Pfizer discussed how their companies have used social media in a range of areas, from customer service and new product launches to employee and crisis communications.

Whirlpool has given unique job titles and descriptions to some employees involved in social media, according to Brian Snyder, senior manager of corporate communications. He said, “We took our team of ‘laundryologists’ out of the laboratory and put them on Twitter to address customers’ questions.”

“Whirlpool has also assigned ‘digital detectives’ to help distressed customers,” Snyder added. These sleuths search for comments about Whirlpool’s brands on Internet forums. When they notice customer complaints, they try to find the unhappy consumers and contact them to solve their issues.

Whirlpool doubled the number of digital detectives during a crisis in June, when 1.7 million Maytag dishwashers were recalled due to a potential fire hazard. The company also used Twitter and Facebook to distribute information and posted a factual video on YouTube.

Social media has also been instrumental for Sprint in regaining their focus on the customer experience, according to Terry Pulliam, director of communications. “After a merger five years ago, the company had to combine different corporate cultures and brands,” she said. They embarked on several customer and employee communications initiatives.

Sprint established an active user community on that now has 50,000 customers.  They redesigned their newsroom to handle tasks such as product launches. On launch day of Sprint’s EVO, the first handset 4G device, the new product was the fifth highest trending Twitter topic, and they tripled their viewership of EVO’s YouTube demo.

Internal communications is another Sprint priority. They engage with employees on SprintSpace, a company-wide intranet platform where half of their 40,000 workers interact. The company’s efforts extend to their 1,000 retail locations nationwide, and retailers participate via videos, blogs, and photos.

Pfizer has leveraged social media despite healthcare industry constraints. John Santoro, VP of stakeholder communications, said Pfizer has “made some inroads” in social media although they operate in a highly regulated environment. Their social media efforts are aimed at both doctors and patients.

After Pfizer learned from prior experience to go where doctors interact, they introduced “Ask Rx”, an online community. In this “equivalent of a hallway consult,” Santoro said doctors submit their questions to Pfizer doctors and receive answers within 24 hours. Pfizer also introduced a mobile app where doctors can obtain information on specific drugs.

Among Pfizer’s digital initiatives for patients is a ‘Medical safety website’ where avatars help to explain medical labels. In their ‘Clinical trial in a box’ ’pilot program, patients can access a suite of Web-enabled methods from home, such as telemedicines and an e-diary. Pfizer also uses YouTube recruitment videos to enlist patients for clinical trials.

Overall, Santoro said he’s encouraged by the response to the company’s social media programs and by recent FDA and industry trends that he predicts will help move these efforts forward.