Small business corporate culture fits social media

I began my last morning at NewComm Forum with a session by Zane Safrit and John Cass on The importance of corporate culture to the success of social media programs.

Safrit is CEO of Conference Calls Unlimited, a small business in the phone and web conferencing business.

Safrit indicated that CCU abandoned traditional advertising in favour of social media.

He saw cost of paid search engine marketing increasing substantially at a time that he was cutting prices and costs. So, they pulled out of traditional advertising, including pay per click on Google and Yahoo.

They did not make a considered entry into social media. Instead, they were driven by necessity. Safrit was looking for a way to convey the unique attribute of his brand – the company’s employees.

He came across Seth Godin and was impressed with the potential of blogging for having conversations with customers. He tried it and learned through experience “There is nothing that cuts through that clutter like a blog – like a CEO’s blog.”

Safrit characterizes his corporate culture as “a band of creative control freaks. … Our brand is that little bit of space between the customers and everyone in the company. … I’ll do anything I can to give them the tools they need. … What everybody began to understand is that for us to be successful when we come to work we need to communicate very well.”

The IT Department can be a problem for this type of program. But it is essential to ensure that IT serves the strategy and doesn’t try to set it.

Safrit began his blogging as a personal project. And he did it this way for about a year. He moved it into the company strategy only when he felt comfortable that it would work for the group.

He then proposed to each of the company’s eight employees that they begin blogging. And he encouraged and guided them in their efforts. Some found that it wasn’t for them. Others thrived. And as the social media took hold, Safrit made social media the focus of the company’s marketing

Now, the company’s online press room features their employee bloggers front and center. There are also RSS feeds for the company newsletter and the Safrit’s CEO blog.

CCU also uses a Wiki for internal collaboration and discussions. Safrit encourages everyone to contribute, freely and openly, to the discussion. And he posts his own ideas on the Wiki. And by doing this, he believes that he sets a standard that encourages employees to feel comfortable to communicate honestly. It’s taken about a year for people to begin to feel comfortable that they can participate in this way.

Safrit believes that training is very important in introducing blogging into a corporate environment. “You have to tell people how it fits into the overall plan at the same time as you help them to learn how to use it.”

“I want something back from my investment in this. What I want back is participation.”