John Cass & Zane Safrit on corporate culture and social media @ NewCommForum

This session comes out of work done as part of the Society’s best practices committee on corporate blogging.

The conversation is focused on how Conference Calls Unlimited as used blogging and social media successfully.

John started by asking about the corporate culture and its abandonment of advertising. Zane said they didn’t abandon advertising but that advertising abandoned them. They don’t advertise because it doesn’t work for them. It’s a largely commoditized industry and not a very sexy one.

Because advertising doesn’t work they stopped doing it four years ago. They redirected their spending away from advertising, direct mail, viral, etc. At his previous company, Telegroup, they managed – without advertising and marketing – they managed to grow to more than $250M. Two years later the company was bankrupt. Why? The company stopped communicating.

Zane started blogging because he had no choice. He was looking for a way to communicate in an effective and unique way. Pay-per-clicks were going up. He wanted a way to give customers a direct and personal experience.

Church of the Customer was an inspiration for him. Making the customers happier was his goal – encouraging communication between the company and its customers, prospects and community was the brand. The only way to have a real conversation with the customer, he believes is to have it yourself. Not through an agency, an assistant or a consultant.

While Zane didn’t really understand all of the ins and outs of blogging, he understood the value. He made mistakes but got help from bloggers all over. When you look at all the crap and clutter in the market it makes sense that blogs are an effective tool to cut through. He also sees blogging as being a CEOs responsibility.

Everyone in the company has a passion for communicating with the customer. This passion is driven by regular encouragement from Zane, who makes it clear that this is critical for the company and the brand.

Zane takes a very hands on approach to his employees communications and blogging – to the point that he rewrites their copy. This seems antithetical to his earlier statement that one has to write in their own voice.

When he first exposed the fact that he was blogging and encouraged them to blog, he met with resistance. The issue, it turned out, was the idea of having to write every day. The company set up each employee with a TypePad account and asked that they all try it for a while with the understanding that they could stop or continue as they wished.

Zane has no blogging policy. He sees a blog as a conversation and trusts that people wouldn’t blog about things they wouldn’t want to discuss in person. The only issues that are off limits are pay, partners and cost.

While some people stopped, a few continued and that has led to the adoption of wikis by the company. Blogs are used for internal communications in some cases; but for more involved topics a wiki is used. This approach keeps the conversations open and transparent. It took some time, but everyone has now adopted the idea of open communications.

Without the wiki – and the insistence be out in the open – CCU couldn’t operate as quickly. Zane believes that the open communication has raised the level of trust among employees and gives them a voice and opportunity to participate.

Zane was asked how he would convince a reluctant CEO. He’d start by letting them know that he had concerns when he started too and then ask them why they were worried and where they wanted the company to be. He’s also point to how it impacted the company’s marketing model and its performance.

The company uses social media to build customer relationships. They started using some of advertising budget to send customers to events and seminars to help them to be successful. The thinking behind this is to increase loyalty, help them grow and to get them connecting more effectively.

Zane knows that the adoption of social media has worked in his company because he hears employees checking themselves – and each other – to use these new tools.
The story of CCU’s use of social media – while small in numbers (there are only eight employees) – is deep and thorough in practice. Zane isn’t committed to any specific social media tool or application – he’s committed to the idea that they represent and the impact they are having on his employees, customers and the company.

[tags]John Cass, Zane Safrit, corporate culture, social media, newcommforum, SNCR [/tags]

3 thoughts on “John Cass & Zane Safrit on corporate culture and social media @ NewCommForum

  1. Thanks for the post, I also think the conference calls story is compelling even if the company is currently small but growing.

    Also, I did not see this post on technorati. Is your feed getting picked up. I ping technorati from the technorati login every time I post now because it never picks up my posts. I don’t know if its typepad or technorati.

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