Unilever Media Comm. Lead: Company’s Size and Corporate Culture Have Hindered Early Adoption of Social Media

[Image via Steve Garfield]

This post was written by Nancy Lazarus, contributor to PRNewser.

The influence and value as well as the trials and risks associated with Twitter were the topics of the day at the 140 Characters Conference in New York on Tuesday.

Digital communications executives across industries offered their perspectives and experience with Twitter.

From the panel ‘How the real-time web is changing the approach to business’:

Jay Altschuler, Global Communications Media Lead at Unilever, is based in London but was stranded in New York this week. He explained that the company’s size and corporate culture have hindered early adoption of social media such as twitter, and then outlined some of their solutions:

Unilever has had a radical transformation and the ship has taken a while to turn. We need to up-skill our employees since the majority of our brand managers are oblivious to social media. We’re giving them digital IQ tests and building digital media labs, because it’s hard to create these tools if you haven’t lived in the space.” He said Unilever is announcing its largest user generated content contest today at the Tribeca Film Festival.

From the panel ‘The real-time web and brands’:

Marc Monseau, Director of Corporate Communications and Social Media at Johnson & Johnson, lamented the constraints that pharma companies face when trying to engage on social media and their efforts to change the status-quo:

We’d like to Twitter like a real person, but we have limitations due to the regulatory environment. So far it’s been a broadcast mentality where all the communications have been vetted. We’ve gone back and forth with our legal group to understand the risk. We’ve needed to re-educate our management and staff about being open versus not engaging, which can cause more problems.

Leslie Berland, Vice President of Online Communications and Social Media at American Express, reported that twitter has been a natural fit for AmEx, where they took a listening approach:

It’s a perfect match for our card members who are part of a community, and American Express has personal, emotionally driven brands. In the U.S. we launched the program “Ask AmEx” and have been engaging card members in exclusive events only available on Twitter. First we just listened in the space, and we didn’t use any PR, we just let the card members learn about it and use it.

Rick Engelberg, Global Digital Director at Nike, spoke about his company’s social media evolution and their commitment to using Twitter:

I looked at our early images where shoes were sold to athletes and track meets and saw that was social, too. Twitter is a good fit for Nike and has been a great success.

Twitter is not a hobby and we need to make sure to have a great voice and persistent micro conversations with athletes. Watching power athletes everywhere using social media has been interesting.

From the panel ‘Twitter and the fashion industry’:

Alexis Maybank, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Gilt Group, revealed her company’s Twitter efforts and showed how they have impacted their bottom line:

We encourage everyone to participate on our Twitter feed, and employees respond directly to inbound messages. They fall into two categories, including customer support and requests and what’s being sold that day.

We’ve even featured two brands on Gilt Groupe that first came in via Twitter. Recently we offered a free shipping day. Within minutes it spread on Twitter to thousands of people and led to four times the usual traffic. Whenever we solicit feedback it is sent quickly and comes back quickly and we use it to help drive business.

From the panel ‘The evolution of emergency communications in the era of the real-time net:’

Major David Faggard, Secretary of the Air Force, Office of Public Affairs, confirmed the importance of Twitter and how it resonated with the military during the Haiti disaster:

Haiti proved that the world cared, and that was felt all the way into the senior levels of the military. Within a day we had the Air Force on the ground there. Disasters like this are nothing new for the Air Force, and we used Google maps during Hurricane Katrina.

From the panel ‘Real-time news gathering’:

Jennifer Preston, Social Media Editor of The New York Times, outlined the newspapers’ recent experiences with Twitter and foursquare:

Twitter lists have been valuable for news organizations. We were able to identify people on the ground in Fort Hood. We put together stories as they unfolded and were able to share them.

We had a successful experiment with foursquare in Vancouver, but it is not always good for journalists in dangerous places for everyone to know where they are.

Eric Kuhn, Audience Interaction Producer at CNN, reported on the popularity of Twitter and how CNN has used it to their advantage:

CNN is a huge organization and you’d be hard pressed to find someone there who is not on Twitter. Our Middle East correspondent, Octavia Nasr, who actively engaged on Twitter, was the only one who called the Lebanese election correctly because of Twitter. With Twitter you can engage with CNN when you’re on TV with your laptop.

Andy Carvin, Senior Strategist at NPR, drew a distinction between using a corporate versus a personal Twitter account and favors the latter:

I saw a shift in opinion in the Mumbai attacks. First I used the NPR Twitter account and asked questions about the terrorist attacks. Then I used my personal account, @acarvin, and I got more as well as better responses, because people have a relationship with me. Large Twitter accounts are good for broadcasts and individual accounts are good for ongoing relationships.