FedEx helps benchmark best practices in social media

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Updated Nov 29, 2010

Companies are using social media to change the way they communicate with their employees and customers, indicating a convergence of external and internal communications, according to an in-depth study of more than 60 of the world’s most recognized companies. The study, conducted jointly by FedEx and Ketchum, also found that generating word-of-mouth advocacy and addressing customer care issues are among the most common objectives for corporations’ social media use.

The study examined social media programming, team structure and budgeting in regulated and nonregulated industries. Participants in the study fell into three distinct categories based on the sophistication of their social media approaches: leadership, participation and observation.

“We’ve gained tremendous knowledge about which companies aspire to a leadership role in the social media space, as well as the structural changes being made within organizations to respond to the unique challenges and requirements of being active in social media,” says Bill Margaritis, senior vice president of global communications and investor relations for FedEx Corp. “The discussions with participants provided interesting perspectives on whether leadership should be the gold standard for all companies in the space or if, in some cases, being a participant is more appropriate. As we heard from one interviewee, ‘sometimes it’s okay to be a close follower. It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve.’ ”

If part one of the corporate social media revolution focused on connecting with customers and influencers, then part two may center on engaging employee audiences according to study participants. In fact, half of the participants plan to redesign their intranets in the next one to two years to include greater social media capabilities.

“As social media increasingly dominates the way people communicate outside of the workplace, it makes sense that workplace communications should follow suit,” says David Rockland, Ph.D., pPartner and managing director of Global Research at Ketchum. “FedEx and Ketchum Pleon Change found that organizations are quickly mobilizing to better facilitate knowledge management, innovation and culture building via internal social media applications.”

The study also reveals other trends among leading companies and identifies key learnings for others such as the seven steps to developing a social media program; tips for companies in regulated industries; ideas for building stronger blogger relationships; and considerations for building a social media policy.

Study participants also provided insight into the budgeting process, with most estimating that they spend between 5 and 15 percent of their overall external communications budgets on social media. Not surprisingly, most also predict budget increases for social media in 2011, although some programming budgets may be offset by investment in talent with specific social media roles.

One area of social media that continues to present challenges for study participants is measurement. While most monitor for online mentions and activity, participants generally agreed that there is no consistent, reliable approach to measuring ROI and that looking at metrics like “followers” “friends,” or “views” is not sufficient.

“This study provides a behind-the-scenes look at how some of the most renowned global brands are approaching their participation in social media, organizing their corporations to respond to opportunities and issues, and allocating budgets,” Rockland says. “It also reaffirms the desire companies have to improve the way they assess quality of online interaction, level of user engagement and ultimately business impact.”