Understanding that Your Company is a Media Company

social-mediaAt 3p, we’ve long held that all companies would be wise to start thinking of themselves as media companies. I originally learned this concept from Tom Foremski of SiliconValleyWatcher who has been talking about it for years. He means it quite literally, regardless of what kind of widget your company actual sells.

Why? Well, to quote Tom from some years back:

“I realized that every company is now a media company. It doesn’t matter if it makes network gear or diapers, every company needs to publish to its various communities, its customers, its staff, its neighbors. It needs to know how to produce compelling content, great video, podcasts, etc. And now with this emerging two-way Internet it also needs to learn how to listen, how to get involved in online discussions, how to behave on Facebook or Twitter. Every company needs to master the media technologies of RSS, blogging, and more.”

We love to extend this concept to corporate social responsibility and sustainability because authentic engagement with stakeholders is the cornerstone of any remotely functional CSR program. It’s also the cornerstone of communication in general, customer service, public relations, and pretty much every other public-facing aspect of a company.

Yesterday’s BlogWell conference, put on by SocialMedia.org in Santa Clara, strove to emphasize all of the above. While not explicitly about sustainability, the lessons and case studies at the event are nonetheless applicable. Specifically, we heard from folks at Coca-Cola, Xerox and Whole Foods who had worthy things to share…

First up was Coke’s Manager of Digital Communications and Social Media, Ashley Callahan who walked us through Coke’s editorial front page, “Journeys.”  The standalone website was crafted from day one to be deliberately separate from Coke’s corporate home page as a “big re-think” of Coke’s online presence. The purpose of the site is to engage with Coke’s stakeholders in a ways that are not explicitly about drinking Coke, although a lot of the content is about the company and there remains heavy  branding on all pages.

Nonetheless, the Journeys site is a great example of a company going full speed ahead on media production and working to create genuinely interesting content that, although ultimately self-serving, is far more engaging than a bunch of press releases. Coke even devotes channels to sustainability, obesity, and water.

Xerox, being a B2B brand, has taken a more hands-off approach to their health care media strategy by launching HealthBizDecoded.com, a standalone web magazine published by an independent editorial team and community of guest authors which functions more like a trade magazine with limited Xerox branding and influence.

Jay Bartlett, Xerox’s Vice President of Global Social Marketing, explained that the purpose of the site, which avoids direct articles about the company two-thirds of the time, is to establish the brand as a credible source of thought leadership and news within the healthcare sector. So far, with 7,000 unique weekly readers on the site since their April launch, it seems to be rolling along nicely.  The company has even taken to Twitter with an invented hashtag, #SimpleHealth.

Finally, Natanya Anderson, Director of Social Media & Digital Marketing from Whole Foods Market raised a very interesting conversation about the challenges in balancing a massively de-centralized media company with one central brand but hundreds of free thinking stores with their own unique marketing strategies and needs.

Going “local” is a key priority for Whole Foods who seeks to ensure each of their 360+ stores is empowered with most of their own marketing decisions. The result is that each store manages their own social media platforms. Things simply wouldn’t work otherwise. Anderson explained, “if you can’t trust your local people to have their own control then it’s not going to work.”

The key to success, says Anderson, is finding the appropriate roll for the global brand. In the case of Whole Foods, that’s been creating a general lifestyle channel on social media – promoting fairly predictable things like recipes and health tips. The rest – with a heavy emphasis on sales, events, and interesting local information, falls to each store individually.

That’s not to say it’s all grassroots. Some store managers might take more naturally to social media than others, so Anderson is working on creating a social media academy to train and inspire stores in the basics of social media and to put measurement techniques in effect so efforts can be continually tweaked.

Ed Note: SocialMedia.org was kind enough to comp my ticket to BlogWell

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com

TriplePundit.com has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

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