Developing a social media strategy can seem pretty daunting even for a small to mid-size business. Now imagine managing it for a $60 billion company with 125,000 employees and hundreds of manufacturing and dealer locations across the globe. Brian Stokoe, social media strategist for Caterpillar Inc., seems up to the task.
Stokoe spoke this morning to a large group of attendees at the Social Media Breakfast of Madison, an ongoing lecture program organized by a group of social media enthusiasts from businesses in and around Madison, WI. This particular breakfast sold out in a couple of hours, and was attended primarily by representatives from manufacturers and other companies seeking to learn from the construction equipment giant's experiences.
After sharing a bit of Caterpillar's background with attendees, including its extensive portfolio of brands and broad customer base, Stokoe discussed how a company of this size and complexity approaches social media. Its solution is an integrated approach.
Stokoe joined Caterpillar in 1999, holding various marketing roles before becoming the company's first dedicated social media strategist two years ago. Since that time, the use of social media by CAT customers has grown exponentially. "In 2011, Caterpillar's social media 'relationships' with customers grew by 300%," he noted. He attributes this to a cultural shift as a generation of "digital natives" who expect social media engagement.
The social media team's role is to act as "strategy owners" and consultants to help put best practices and resources in place. The team is part of the brand management organization, and also works closely with the dealer development group. The result is more seamless messaging across all business channels.
The social media strategy extends beyond brand messaging to focus on building relationships with customers. Stokoe pointed out that every physical activity, or "touch point," involved in a customer's purchase decision – from researching a product, to being issued a sales receipt, to after sale support – can have a corresponding social media component. The trick is to determine where, and what, social media fits in.
Basis of a strategy
Caterpillar's strategy centers around some common "themes" that pundits agree are necessary to develop an effective social media program:
Your customers are talking and you need to be listening. "What are they saying about your company or your brand?" he asked. "If you don't know what's being said, how do you know how to react?"
You need to be prepared to answer that social media "telephone" and engage in the conversation. "Don't let opportunities [to interact with customers] fall between the cracks," Stokoe emphasized.
For Caterpillar, this means positioning itself to respond quickly and effectively. It will soon be staffing social media inquiries 24/7. It has already converted some call center teams to be able to interact via social media; over time, the same strategy will be replicated with teams across the globe.
"We have teams monitoring what's happening who take actionable items and get subject matter experts involved," said Stokoe.
Be open and transparent. Stokoe admitted it can be difficult for a company like Caterpillar to be completely open in every situation. However, it's important to control the message being presented to your customers on social media sites. "It's better to participate," he stated. "Present your stance because if you don't say anything, the rumor mill will say it for you, and that can be far more damaging to your brand."
The organization has to be empowered. Depending on the size of your company, it may be necessary to empower different divisions or departments to manage their own social media program. For example, Stokoe's team works with 30 different groups within Caterpillar. "There is no way a central group can manage social media for the entire organization," he stated. As such, the various groups manage their own social media using a common platform and approach.