“Social media is just a buzzword until you come up with a plan.” – Unknown

With social media, social means social.

You can tell in how a company or brand uses social media if they have yet passed the buzzword phase in their understanding of how to use it by how they are using it.

When I decide to follow a company or brand on Twitter, one of the first things I look at is the recent Twitter feed of those I am considering following. In this, what I look for is how they are using Twitter to engage with their followers and, is that engagement only just them-centric?

For many using social media, sadly they have yet to understand the social part. So, as they think they are being social, they are still simply broadcasting a monologue and only engaging on them-centric discussions. Sadly, this is misguided.

As I travel around the world and teach a mindset to using social media to all types of people within various sectors of industry, I hear a lot of the same questions and concerns regarding social media.

  • What if someone posts something negative?
  • What is the benefit?
  • I don’t have time?
  • I don’t know what to say?

A few months ago, I had an issue with a company. After making a few phone calls, I was not satisfied with the responses I was getting. So, being a social media guy and avid Twitter user… I decided I would take my concerns to Twitter in hopes of resolving the issue.

In this case, I got a response in just 10 minutes and began a dialogue that turned my issue into an opportunity that ended up leading me to a place of satisfaction as a customer. This was a company that got it. I could tell in the very personality of the response I was getting

Sadly, in another case… I didn’t even get a response.

Have you been here before?

* See my recent blog and survey on this question, here.

You can tell how serious a company is about using social media by just looking at how they are engaging the community. This means the personality of their responses, the sensitivity of their responses, and the timeliness of their responses.

For the companies that do, I submit to you that they get it. They understand that with using social media… social does in deed mean social. They understand it is not just an opportunity to one way blast out their information, but that it is a two way dialogue.

They understand as well as embrace that jumping into the fray of social media is an opportunity to shine amidst whatever good, the bad, and the ugly that may come their way via the medium.

As I have said before, social media is a community… not a billboard.

One company out there that I have been impressed with in how they are using social media is State Farm.

So, what does this look like behind the scenes for a company that was founded in 1922? How are they using social media to not only tell their story, but to engage, listen, and respond to all that comes their way via social media?

Recently, I asked the State Farm Public Affairs and Social Media person, Griffin Hammond some questions about their use of social media as a company.

Q. How long has State Farm been using social media?

A. Just over three years ago, we joined Twitter. Slightly less than that for Facebook, and slightly more for YouTube.

Q. What social networking sites is State Farm using?

A. We’re also active on Flickr and LinkedIn, and although we don’t have State Farm properties on other social sites, we monitor as much of the social web as we can.

Q. Does State Farm have a specific objective for what they expect from using social media?

A. Social provides a great listening platform, and unlike some companies that view it primarily as another place to talk about themselves, we see the real value in listening and responding, because those are important qualities for the industry we’re in.

Q. How do you measure social media success for your brand?

A. When the goal is telling a story, we use standard public relations metrics (number of clicks, impressions, etc.) Some things are difficult to measure, but important, like when we stop a negative story from becoming a story, by identifying and correcting misinformation before it spreads, or helping a customer before they become angry. Some metrics focus too much on “being good at social media,” but we consider social media simply a tool or channel, so we strive to be good at using social media to achieve our regular business goals.

Q. How does State Farm respond to negative comments on social networking sites about its brand?

A. This company handles over 32,000 claims daily, and the vast majority are positive experiences, but of course some are not. When problems arise, we want to be available to help however customers would like to communicate—via e-mail, phone, or through social channels. Our social team works closely with our executive customer service team to resolve issues as quickly as possible.

Q. Is there a specific strategy that State Farm is using to get its message out there using social media?

A. As I mentioned earlier, social media is one of many communication channels, so we use it when appropriate to support our messaging efforts. Not every message is a good fit for social. Especially during events like this recent hurricane, we know people turn to social because of the real-time, simple news available, so we posted a lot of messages to help people prepare, understand the situation, and recover.

Q. How has this strategy changed with the onset of social media versus the more traditional methods?

A. Our goals haven’t drastically changed. Our business is to help people, which now we can do through social. Our department is charged with telling the State Farm story. Social gives us another channel to do that, and it’s also a great place to find stories we may not have otherwise heard about.

Q. How important is the engagement part of social media for State Farm?

A. Engagement is the most important piece, which is why our focus is more on listening than talking. We want to build relationships and inspire discussion.

Q. How much time and how many people is spent daily and work daily to manage your social media efforts?

A. In our department, we have a three-person team devoted to social, but we’re a big company, so there are social teams in other departments as well, who support different aspects of our social involvement. We all work closely together.

Q. Has using social media been a benefit to State Farm? If so, how?

A. People use social media to gain insight from the people they trust most. I often see people ask for insurance recommendations, and am happy to see positive State Farm mentions. Social media helps us identify problems early to correct them, relate in a personal (ideally memorable) way with consumers, and showcase who we are. All of these act to improve reputation, inspire our fans, and drive people to tell their positive stories. Going forward, this word of mouth is the key to brand success.

About State Farm:

State Farm®, well known for being a “good neighbor” by “being there” for our customers, was founded in 1922 by retired farmer and insurance salesman George Jacob “G.J.” Mecherle. We now insure more cars and homes than any other insurer in the U.S., and we are one of the leading insurers in Canada. A mutual company owned by its policyholders, State Farm is currently ranked number 34 on the Fortune 500 list of largest companies.

* source: www.statefarm.com