Integrating Social Media With Corporate Website: How Far Can We Take This?

I had a great time at MarketingProfs’ SocialTech 2010 conference earlier this week drilling into B2B social media for high tech companies. I was particularly impressed by the big-name brands represented at the event, from Facebook to Cisco, Microsoft to Xerox. For what it’s worth, I did not see a lot of large agencies represented.

Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter Group had the opening keynote. Unlike the keynotes from Robert Scoble and Guy Kawasaki later in the day, which seemed weighted more towards bemusement and social media curiosities (not that we weren’t ready for a mental break by then), Owyang kicked things right off with a challenge to improve integration between the corporate website and social media presences. I agree. At Weber Shandwick, we sometimes call the website a “home base” property and social media sites “outposts” of the brand. The two need to work together a lot more than they do today in almost every case. In fact, according to an Altimeter Group survey from earlier this month, social integration onto the corporate website is the No. 1 social strategy objective of 2011.

Jeremiah Owyang (photo courtesy Thomas Hawk, flickr)

It’s a bit of a no-brainer but one challenge is the teams are usually different. And in the case of social media, especially at a larger company, there may be multiple teams all over the place, at the corporate level, at the product or division level, at the country level. Compounding it is the fact that, technologically, social media properties are designed to be agile, radically scalable (most are cloud-deployed), and interoperable, leveraging published APIs. In contrast, a lot of website platforms feel like extensions of the enterprise application architecture, with lots of custom programming and integration to back-end systems.

Fortunately, Owyang shared an eight-step framework to let us get there in stages, learning as a team and evolving our technology along the way.  I don’t have a full presentation I’m at liberty to share but I did find a Slideshare presentation from earlier in the year that does outline the framework (albeit with just B2C examples):

Essentially, we’re talking about moving from no social integration all the way to seamless integration where a visitor doesn’t see a difference between being on a home base or an outpost. Nobody’s really there yet. In fact, most are only one or two steps in.  The problem with being at no integration is that people are having conversations about your brand and your website isn’t supporting those conversations in any way.

A couple interesting examples:

  1. Cisco Support Community is integrating the brand with social channels so no matter where the audience goes, they have a consistent brand experience. You can check out the Cisco Support Community across Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to see what that looks like.
  2. HP Labs is aggregating discussions on their corporate site, which surely would scare some brand owners.  Instead of just having conversations about your brand taking place out on Twitter or Facebook, aggregate those conversations on your website, so the site is the first place your audience thinks to go. Now we’re really making the corporate site a lot more influential and putting supplemental information at the fingertips of our audience without separating ourselves from the authenticity of those social conversations. But it’s a leap to make because there is a loss of control over just what shows up on that site. has been able to do it.

I was talking with Laura Ramos, another former Forrester analyst now at Xerox, afterwards and she pointed out that for many B2B companies where the audience target is known and small, the highest priority may not be seeing how advanced you can get with this eight-stage framework. Perhaps building a dynamic customer community with something like Jive might pay bigger dividends.  But I have one client with a very substantial audience to reach and it’s pretty easy to see the need for improved integration in those cases. Unfortnately, having the organizational structure and governance to head down this path is a challenge. There needs to be a better spirit of cooperation between IT, marketing, advertising, public and corporate communications, sales, and customer service. Wow, has this gotten that complicated?  I’m afraid so – everything is going digital, so all these groups have legitimate stakes in how this integration happens. There needs to be a brand champion looking out for the best interests of the brand, but in my mind that person is a coach and a convener, not a dictator, and someone who can remind all these parties that ultimately  your customer decides what your brand really stands for.

I’m looking forward to keeping the conversation going!

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Aaron Pearson

Aaron Pearson is a senior vice president in the technology practice of Weber Shandwick, a global communications firm. He is also an adjunct instructor at the University of St. Thomas Opus School of Business, where he teaches a master’s course in communications technology. His B2B experience includes industries such as healthcare, manufacturing and agriculture, as well as functional audiences from IT to HR.

4 thoughts on “Integrating Social Media With Corporate Website: How Far Can We Take This?”

  1. It’s funny…just as media relations pros can get so wrapped up in their work they think their goal is getting clips, so too do digital folks that think boosting website traffic is the point. When deliberating between outposts and homesteads, think first about what will get the prospect further down the marketing funnel to a sale. Test the hypotheses and then scale what works.

  2. Hey David, thanks for your comment. Yeah, it’s hard to disagree with you in theory, I certainly don’t think boosting web traffic is the end game. I think the challenge on the B2B side can be that it can be hard to align one specific online action with sales because of the long-term nurturing of a relationship before that sale can happen, so how easily one can test the hypothesis against that criteria might vary. What I do believe is that the more someone engages with you and your brand, the more likely they will be to establish a trusted relationship and ultimately be a customer. But as much as we can do as you suggest, I’m a supporter.

  3. Very much agreed. And that it’s ok if just a portion of direct sales can be directly measured, because the sales prices tend to be higher (versus $1/package of Skittles) and that covers the cost of engagement easier.

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