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Mon, May 23, 2011

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Worth A Thousand Words: How Kodak Learned to Listen to the Social Media Conversation

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If there were ever two mediums that could be categorized as distinctly visual experiences, photography and social media would have to rank pretty high on the list.  That’s why, at first, Eastman-Kodak Chief Listening Officer Beth LaPierre’s role may seem something of an anomaly.

MonsterThinking recently spoke with LaPierre to get the bigger picture of Kodak’s social media strategy, how those processes developed into best practices, and  how one of America’s most beloved brands recreates that experience of a moment in time in real time, all the time.

MonsterThinking: Your title is “Chief Listening Officer” for Kodak.  What’s that job description look like?

Beth LaPierre: Good question.  Pretty simply, I think of myself as kind of an air traffic controller.  Except where an air traffic controller manages air traffic, I manage the flow of social media data: the strategies, processes and technologies that are part of our social intelligence and analytics program.

The social intelligence program is primarily a research and strategic function, where analytics are more tactical: ‘What are we doing and what’s the return ?’ ‘Are there any issues we need to resolve?’

In terms of social intelligence, we’re doing everything from product development to market research.  There’s over a quarter million mentions of the word “Kodak” each month, and that’s in addition to our products, services and people, so that’s a lot of data.

We really look to our customers to improve our product, whether that’s through online discussions, augmenting traditional market research and business intelligence with the voice of the customer that we find and engage with online.

So, it’s not replacing any of these elements; it’s just augmenting them with social media.

MT: When you first started your program and utilizing social to listen to the voice of the customer, did anything surprise you in terms of brand perceptions vs. market realities?

BL: The market reality when we first got started in social media is that Kodak was widely perceived as this very old company whose days were limited, because how were we ever going to survive this shift to digital?

But when we started listening to our customers, we realize that for consumers out there, they have very strong feelings for Kodak.  We have such brand affinity, such brand loyalty, we were really able to come in as a reassuring voice at a hard time.

So often, particularly with social media and particularly with consumer electronics companies, we only really hear about the negative stuff, the criticisms, those are the things that always seem to rise to the top.

Our social teams are really advocates whose work really highlights the positive things people are writing and talking about, the good things that our customers are saying about our brand.  Being able to provide that positive feedback about what we’re doing well, that was really the surprise: we had a lot of very vocal cheerleaders out there.  And those cheerleaders were our customers.

MT: What do you look for in talent when you hire new members for your team?  What do you think are the most important attributes someone needs to succeed as a social media professional?

BL: Here at Kodak, we look for a “T-Shaped” person, which is how we describe someone with broad brand/marketing experience and deep social expertise.  For example, I have a brand strategy background, having started my career in user experience and design then shifting to interactive marketing and social media.

For social media, having that kind of broad brand background and expertise, whether it’s in brand marketing, brand strategy or market research, is really important to know how to answer the most crucial questions in social media: “What’s the point?  Why are we doing this?”

I think being a social media expert is something of an oxymoron, because this world is changing so much, if you’re an expert one month, you might not be an expert the next month.  That’s why it’s so imperative for social media professionals to never stop learning.

For employers or managers that are hiring, you want somebody who’s a practitioner, not an expert.  You want someone who’s not a manager of social media but someone who’s writing and formatting blog posts, who’s logging into a content management system and publishing content, things like that, so when they start building teams, they understand how the tools work and what it takes.  Someone who knows more than the theories, but also, how to put them into practice.

If we’re talking more on the listening and analytics side, I’d certainly say research analytics background is good, but you don’t want an analytics expert, necessarily, or somebody who’s used to traditional research, because I think in this space, you need to look at this with new eyes.

If you try to shove social data into a structure where it doesn’t fit, you won’t find those needles in a haystack, those really important things that you’re looking for in these analytics.

MT: Who’s responsible for social media at Kodak?  Is it owned by a dedicated team or is it a decentralized function?

BL: Within my team, we have around 12 dedicated employees who serve as leads for our interactive group, of which social media is only one component.  We do have a distributed function for social media; particularly the distributed publishing model we’ve got in place for creating content, which has been really great.

Kodak’s social media policy isn’t about putting up a bunch of rules and regs for employees.  It’s our job to remove points of friction; it’s not about showing employees what they can’t do, but what they can do.  A lot of times, if there’s nothing in place, it’s a free for all, so our social media guidelines are more about sharing our best practices, not telling employees, “You can’t do this.”

The biggest part of our job, instead, is providing the training, on-boarding and sharing expertise with our own internal teams here at Kodak.  By positioning ourselves as internal thought leaders and subject matter experts, it’s become easier to demonstrate the value ,and validity, of social media as a communications tool.

This is important because we find that the real experts are the people in our product groups, the engineers, the R&D folks, the product managers.  They live this stuff.

So while we can try to write a blog, you know, or create a video or develop whatever content we need to, but our most popular social assets aren’t those created by marketers; they’re from the people who work in our product groups.

MT: What tactics have you found successful for getting product groups and other internal teams actively engaged in your initiatives? What are some things you’ve done to get this level of buy-in and support within Kodak?

I think tying it to traditional metrics and measures, as well as established systems and processes, has been key.  Most companies, for example, have an established business research function.

So we don’t look at how social can become this ancillary arm of social intelligence, it’s really about how we can plug social into things that already exist, because the data is going to have much more power when it’s talked about in a language that people understand.

You can’t get support talking about ‘share of voice,’ or ‘influence,’ or things like that.  You’ve got to speak in their language to get them to listen and if we can align with our established metrics, systems and processes, we have a much better chance of getting people to take note.  The data’s more powerful that way.

At the end of the day, though, it’s really all about making this reporting actionable.  You can have a ton of charts and a thousand power points, but if you can’t do anything with the data, it’s worthless and you’re wasting your time.

About the Author

Beth LaPierre: As the world's first Chief Listening Officer, Beth LaPierre is responsible for Eastman Kodak's Digital Insights and Analytics programs. As CLO Beth develops, implements and evolves the strategy, process and technologies that handle over a million conversations a month. Active in social and interactive marketing since the late nineties, Beth has spent the last decade in brand technology.  A rare combination of brand and analytics expertise have allowed her to translate data into insight, insight into action. When she's not in front of her computer, Beth can be found in her studio or on her snowboard.

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  • Gary Franklin

    Interesting but hardly credible is it? I shouted loudly via Twitter wanting someone from Kodak to contact me to discuss the chunk of plastic you call a printer. Weren’t listening then were you? Yet someone else at Kodak did but didn’t followup and ran screaming to a dark room when she realised it was an unhappy customer.

    I shouted loudly again, you weren’t listening then either were you?

    I wrote a blog about your numerous failures and zero quality customer service, someone even wrote a song about it. Both are online, you know on the Internet? You weren’t listening then were you?

    The blog linked throught to my LinkedIn profile page. You weren’t listening then were you?

    I sent emails to your customer services via the web site as well as directly. You weren’t listening then were you?

    Instead of doing interviews proclaiming how good you are maybe you should actually be doing your job and really listening. If you respect the value of your brand so much don’t talk about doing it and expect customers to applaud you, just get on and do it because I know you haven’t been 

    Chief Listening Officer? Use of Social Media for customer feedback? Don’t kid yourself love. 

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