How to Combine Brand Journalism and Social Media

Ike Pigott, Communications Strategist for the Alabama Power Company, joins the Social Pros Podcast to discuss using brand jounalism through social to trade regional press for increased business.

In This Episode:

Please Support Our Sponsors:

Huge thanks to our amazing sponsors for helping us make this happen. Please support them; we couldn't do it without their help! This week:

Full Episode Details

More Power To Ya

What is the role of marketing when your product is a modern necessity dictated by region and infrastructure? Under these circumstances, it’s easy to let content slip into the utilitarian and lose interest in cultivating engagement.

But even a power company has a lot to gain from social if they’re looking at it the right way.

Ike has moved the needle on the Alabama Power Company’s social media marketing through strategic brand journalism and employee engagement. Catapulting page views from 6,000 to 1,100,000 in 4 years, his tactics are clearly having a lasting impact on the company and, ultimately, the region.

Instead of focusing on corporate development, Ike’s approach is to highlight the state of Alabama and showcase its business potential. The more his press draws people and businesses to Alabama, the greater the demand for utilities such as his. It’s a winning situation for both parties.

Similarly, it’s important to earn the advocacy of employees through active and positive recruitment and engagement. With 6,800 employees, Ike has successfully earned the audience of over 3,000 through weekly, positive email updates.

It’s clear from his success that combining brand journalism, social media, and employee advocacy does wonders for business.

In This Episode

  • How social leads to empathy and patience from your customers during downtimes
  • Why safe recruiting on social means avoiding most platforms
  • How corporate social investment in the community leads to an uptick in your industry
  • Why successful content does not always mean monetized content
  • How employee engagement leads to customer satisfaction and interest

 

Quotes From This Episode

“When it comes to social, most of our touches are now coming from our customer service team.” —@ikepigott

“One of the things that we try to work toward continuing to build is making sure that you’re getting the same thing from our social team that you would over the phone. It’s just typed instead of spoken.” —@ikepigott

Video adds to the emotional impact and helps personalize the people that you’re featuring.” —@ikepigott

“If your HR people are doing their job, they’re not even looking at your Facebook profile until after you’ve come in for your personal interview.”

“We can only grow as a company as well as the state of Alabama grows economically.” —@ikepigott

“We’re trying to communicate the kind of stories and messages that let people know that Alabama is a great place to do business.” —@ikepigott

“One of our measures of success is, how often are we getting placement in their print editions, with the news and the messages and the information that we’re sharing?”

“We have it packaged together in a river of news so that we’re getting more eyeballs on it than we would if it was only stuff we were doing.” —@ikepigott

“We’re fulfilling the mission of getting more people exposed to what we do.” —@ikepigott

“I’m interested in taking our employees and empowering them to be advocates for the company.” —@ikepigott

“The nut you’ve got to crack—no matter what tool you use, no matter which direction you come from—is you’ve got to get your engagement up.” —@ikepigott

We can’t educate our customers about the realities of the business and what the cost drivers are if we can’t get employees engaged.” —@ikepigott

“If our brains have been rewired to interact with something in this tactile way that makes it very personal, then I’m of the mindset that that’s probably where we ought to be putting our messages to our employees if we really want them to be active and engaged.” —@ikepigott

“A podcast is a perfect example of what makes things work. It’s not an anchor who’s speaking things at you. It’s a conversation that you feel like you’re eavesdropping on.” —@ikepigott

 

Resources

 

See you next week!

Transcript

Jay: Welcome everybody to Social Pros, the podcast for real people doing real work in social media. I am, as always, Jay Baer from Convince and Convert, not joined today by my usual cohost Adam Brown. Adam is off today so I am flying solo on the big show, but that’s okay because we have a very special guest, a returning guest to Social Pros. As many of you Social Pros listeners know, we don’t have a lot of repeat guests, but I am delighted to bring back an OG from the Social Pros community, actually one of our very first guests on the show, my friend Ike Pigott, who is the communications strategist, chief tech officer for Alabama Power in Birmingham, Alabama.

He was … Okay, check this out, Social Pros fans. He was on episode 18 of this show. Episode 18. We are now on … Are you ready? Episode 260. It has been five years since Ike was on the podcast. That’s like three or four cohosts ago for me, and now we don’t even have Adam on the show. It’s been so long that now cohosts are essentially unnecessary. Actually, that’s not true. Adam is fantastic, but it has been a long time since we’ve talked to Ike. He’s still at Alabama Power. As many of you know who have listened to the show for a long time, we seem to have a weird kind of crystal ball here at Social Pros, where when people come on the show, they either get promoted or they change jobs. Social Pros is basically the death knell for your current position if you come on the show, but not for Ike. Ike is still doing the same thing, just bigger, better than ever at Alabama Power. My man, welcome back to the show.

Ike: Hey, thanks for having me on. I almost feel like this should be like a Saturday Night Live thing, and eventually I’ll get my five-timer jacket.
Jay: Yeah. You could be like John Goodman or Steve Martin.
Ike: That’s Mr. Steve Martin.
Jay: Yeah. Exactly. I want to talk a little bit about your role in the organization, because it’s a little bit different. You don’t have a whole bunch of social media troops reporting to you. You are sort of counsel to the organization. It’s a really cool job, and I want you to talk about that a little bit.
Ike: Sure. I’m in the corporate communications shop here at Alabama Power, and we have a lot of different elements to what we do. We’ve got a little advertising department. We’ve got our media relations people. We’ve got internal communications people. We’ve got a lot of folks who are assisting and helping with our News Center, which is our brand journalism effort, and we’ll talk about that a little bit later on. We have guys who do event services, audiovisual. These are the guys that go and help set up the staging for meetings across pretty much all the southern company. They do anywhere from 25 to 35 meetings a year, or I’m sorry, a month, all throughout the year. Very, very busy stuff.

But when it comes to social, most of our touches are now coming from our customer service team. We have a team of reps who do online service and support, and they’re the ones who are doing the moment by moment monitoring and engaging when customers reach out to us on Twitter and Facebook. That really frees me up to do some other things in trying to elevate the way we incorporate social into what we do to the next level.

Jay: That’s partially because as a utility, you have a different competitive environment than some other companies who have been on the program. You’re not out there fighting, you know, hand to hand combat for new customers. People are in your territory, and if they want electricity, as most people do, I find, then Alabama Power is their solution. Certainly reputation is important to you, and communication, but you’re not having to necessarily use social for customer acquisition in a classic sense.
Ike: Yeah. We’re not doing typical marketing funnel stuff. We’re not comparing ourselves against a dozen key competitors for daily mind-share. We don’t freak out if somebody else’s post goes viral, because that’s not our business model. Our business model is trying to serve our customers, get them the information that they need, not just to help them save money and be more productive and succeed, but also to help understand the realities of our business, because that impacts them too. We’ve got a number of different communication efforts, and it doesn’t fall along the same lines that your typical consumer-facing brand necessarily would.
Jay: You mentioned that the customer service team is running most of the social media seeds from a service capacity. You have an outage, you have some sort of circumstances, are those people who are using Facebook and Twitter from a service perspective, are they also using phone and email, or are they specialists in the social customer care arena?
Ike: Yeah, so we’ve actually put … They’re capable of doing phone, and they can get on the phones from time to time, but really it’s a small cadre of people, and they take shifts. This is the team that answers email. We try to turn email inquiries around within about 24 hours or so, so they’re processing email a good chunk of the time, but they take shifts where their top priority is, “Hey, if a Tweet comes in, answer it. Take care of it.” Because you can get back on email and that delay isn’t really going to impact things. We found a way to kind of work it into a workflow. We’ve got about a dozen people on that team who tag in and out. It’s kind of fun watching them pass the baton through the day, letting each other know about the interactions that are still pending and who they’re waiting to hear from. Because of the volume of the people that we have, it’s really easy for us to scale up should we have a big storm, and we haven’t had one in a long while, but should we have a big storm, we’ve got the capacity to scale up and handle much larger traffic.

It’s good to have that many people who understand conversational voice and tone. It’s very different transitioning from doing very formal emails answering the customer, trying to take care of their question, anticipate what they want, and respond in a professional way because it’s written, and then you turn around and you’re still typing into a keyboard, but it’s a conversational environment, and that’s one of the things that we try to work toward continuing to build, is making sure that you’re really getting the same thing from our social team that you would over the phone. It’s just typed instead of spoken.

Jay: Yeah, absolutely. You have been doing this a long time, and I suspect that one of the things that has changed most dramatically in the five years since you’ve been on this show is the rise of a video in social. How much have you kind of gotten into video at Alabama Power, or even live video, the way some brands are starting to use live video in a crisis scenario, in an outage scenario, to communicate to customers across the board? Is that something that you’re working on, that you’re thinking about?
Ike: We’ve got the capability. What we have not had, again, knocking on every available wooden object in this room … What we’ve not had is the big storm. We had a massive tornado outbreak in April of 2012. I think we talked about that back on episode 18 in the olden days. The playbook for that really hasn’t changed all that much, but you’re right. The capacity of being able to do live video and to update people about what you’re dealing with, it’s never going to reach the level of being personalized. This is no Gary Vaynerchuk fantasy of instant Snapchat directly to the customer relating to what’s pertaining to their outage. But if we’re facing significant challenges and difficulties in restoring service to a particular area, being able to show that off in a 3-D way, showing that substation that has been completely flattened by oak trees, kind of sets the expectations that, “Oh my god. It’s not that …”
Jay: “This isn’t going to be a quick fix.”
Ike: Yeah. “This isn’t going to be flipping a few switches or restringing a wire. This is … They’ve got to fight their way to create a road to get to the area where they can make the fix.” We know that live video is going to be important for us in that regard.
Jay: Even drones, right? Even drone stream footage would be really interesting in your world, in that kind of a scenario.
Ike: Yeah, and to the credit of the FAA, they’ve really kind of stepped back and made it a little bit easier for us to do that. A lot of folks don’t realize, you can go out and buy a drone, put a camera on it, and do all the Christmas videos and everything that you want, but the moment that you’re a company, the moment that you’re a corporation and there’s a financial interest involved, there are many restrictions around what you can do. For the longest time, we couldn’t even do that, but now there are some guidelines about ceiling restrictions, and who can pilot the drone, and certainly getting that kind of video is important for us. It gives us a different view of the things that we need to fix.
Jay: Sure.
Ike: There are many ways that we would love to use drones in the future in that regard. But again, you know, a lot of what we’ve seen with video has actually been going over on our News Center site. Many of our stories are accompanied by videos, because we’re featuring entrepreneurs and people making a difference in their community, and as you know, video adds to the emotional impact and helps personalize the people that you’re featuring. That’s been an important component of that.
Jay: Do you use social to track sentiment around the brand, or is that an unnecessary or unlikely metric because most people are not Tweeting positive things about their utility? Like, “Hey, I flipped the switch and the lights still came on.”
Ike: Yeah. You know, there’s kind of an adage in the industry that, on average, if you do your job, your customer thinks about you for six minutes out of the year. Approximately 30 seconds every month when they open a bill and they’re not happy about having to pay it, and then god forbid there’s an outage, and they suddenly forget about the 364.8 days per year that you’ve delivered flawless service. It’s the old man standing in the lawn shaking his fist, wanting to know what’s wrong with us. The difficulty in tracking sentiment is, I relate it to snark, to irony, because some of the trackers that I’ve seen in the past would pick up a Tweet like “Way to go, Alabama Power” as a positive. You kind of have to take that with a grain of salt.
Jay: It’s a challenge.
Ike: Fortunately, when we have gone back and done manual counting after smaller storm incidents, we’ve seen a similar pattern, and we don’t expect this to change a great deal, is there is frustration. Typically, it’s frustration with the circumstance, not necessarily with us, and then for the most part there’s gratitude about the people who get out when it’s nasty, when it’s dark, when it’s cold, and do what they need to do to get things on. But in terms of trying to assign a two decimal point number to that and compare it year over year, there’s so many variables, different parts of the state getting hit, different circumstances. It’s not a meaningful enough statistic for us at this time.
Jay: Yeah. I completely understand that. How much, if at all, are you using social from an HR and recruiting standpoint? You have a large number of employees. You’ve got to get new people all the time, for I’m sure a multitude of roles. Is that something that you use social for, or is that part of the Alabama News Center as well?
Ike: We don’t have a specific recruitment play as part of News Center, and the way our company is structured, a lot of the HR and recruiting functions are done out of Southern Company as opposed to strictly Alabama Power. Now, we have a couple of recruiters assigned to filling needs at Alabama Power, and I know they use social media. They use LinkedIn aggressively. They’ve pulled employees that were hard to find out of Twitter. They’ve pulled them out of Facebook, but I will say that there is also a sensitivity around that, particularly with regards to employment law. Many of our HR people aren’t even on Facebook, just because they don’t want to trip across anything that they’re not supposed to see. Many folks don’t realize if your HR people are doing their job, they’re not even looking at your Facebook profile until after you’ve come in for your personal interview. The reason for that is that there are things that they can glean about you from your profile that you are not required to put on a job application, with regards to race, and gender, and ethnicity, and age, any of which can be used to discriminate.
Jay: Marital status.
Ike: Our folks have been pretty mindful about that and staying within the lanes. One of my best HR consultants that I talk with about social stuff all the time, she told me just the other day she deactivated her Facebook profile, because she did not want to put the company in a bad position. Yeah, things are really interesting about …
Jay: That’s good. We should do a show on that. That’s a cool angle. We should bring somebody on the podcast.
Ike: Yeah. Employment law regarding social media is a very, very big deal, and different companies have different reasons for going the directions they do. Maybe I’ll help you line up somebody on that.
Jay: Let’s talk about the Alabama News Center. We’ve mentioned it a couple of times. It’s one of the great brand journalism efforts I think in the United States, where AlabamaNewsCenter.com is an online digital magazine about all things Alabama. It’s not necessarily about you per se, but about a much larger set of topics that are of interest to your customers. Let’s talk a little bit about what it is and how you create that much content, and what your cadence is, and how it kind of fits into the overall communications strategy.
Ike: Sure, and this is actually where we would invite people to go back through the archives on Social Pros back to episode 18, because we actually talked about the granddaddy of Alabama News Center.
Jay: Yeah, and it was going to happen …
Ike: There was a news and notes page that we created back when Posterous was around. We wedded an old URL that we had for defensive purposes, AlabamaPowerNews.com, and wedded it to our Posterous site. It was originally kind of a blog for our media relations team, to be able to share things that were too big for a Tweet and not monumental enough to warrant a PDF news release. Over time, we just started doing more and more things with it. We eventually migrated it to a WordPress platform, and back in 2015, we really decided to put a lot of effort into it. I’m sorry. We were already kind of a daily cadence on publishing, but we said, “You know, there are a lot of things that are of interest to us and our business, and being a power company, we can’t just go and build new substations and say, ‘Okay, now all these people are going to suddenly show up and use power, and it will make that investment.’ We can only grow as a company as well as the state of Alabama grows economically. When there are more jobs, when there are more people, when there’s more industry, then more people are using power. We want them to use it effectively and efficiently, and as productively as possible, but for us to grow we need more people using electricity in smart ways.”

To that regard, we were actually the first utility in the country, back almost a century ago, in establishing an economic development department. We have maintained it ever since, and that’s one of our missions. If you go to Alabama News Center you will find across the top navigation a pretty good description of our buckets. One of our big buckets is business and industry and the economy. Major stories about manufacturers coming in. We’ve got a Mercedes plant here. We’ve got Airbus. We’ve got all kinds of great things happening that people wouldn’t necessarily know about. When those secondary suppliers have a huge job announcement, that deserves to be trumpeted. We have an entire section on business. We’ve got another section on community. This relates to quality of life issues. You know, culture. You’re going to see a lot of articles about food, and about wellness, and about people making a positive impact in the state. The thrust of this site is about getting people to understand that Alabama is a great place to do business. It’s a great place to locate your business, and if you’re in Alabama, it’s a great place to stay. You don’t necessarily have to go to Boston or Austin or anyplace else to fulfill your dreams.

Jay: To that end, do you partner with economic development organizations in the region, or is it just…?
Ike: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I’ll get to that in a second here, just because that’s an important component of this play. The last big bucket is innovation. We’ve got a lot of really great science and technology and research. UAB is one of the top research hospitals in the world, University of Alabama, Birmingham. We have a UAB researcher who got like a million dollar genius grant. I think it was a MacArthur Genius Prize. Her name is Sarah Parcak. She’s the researcher who uses satellite photography to do archeology from space. She’s able to look at different parts of the globe under different wavelengths and then tell people where to dig. It’s like, “Oh, look, there’s a structure right there, and nobody’s noticed it for years.” She’s in Birmingham, so we’ve got a lot of really great things happening here that people don’t know about, and when you consider that the traditional media has kind of pulled away, they’re not telling us many of these kinds of stories, we’re not just trying to rush in and fill gaps, but we’re trying to communicate the kind of stories and messages that let people know that Alabama is a great place to do business.

Now, when it comes to populating all of that, we’re doing I’ll say roughly a third of that content is original content that we’re producing for various reasons and for various publications internally. About a third of it is coming from freelancers, so we have some very specific things that we want and niches we need to hit in order to either help build traffic or tell certain stories. But a third of it is coming from partners, so we actually partner with the Economic Development Department at the State. They’ve got their own site called MadeinAlabama.com, and we have a content sharing agreement with them. We’re using their content, they’re using our content. We have the same deal with many of the universities around the state. They’ve got wonderful resources where they’re publishing great stories about the things that they’re doing that just aren’t getting the traction, so we become a conduit for publishing it and putting that stuff out.

Then the last piece that really makes this work is that we’re not putting any advertising on it. We’re not trying to monetize the site, per se. We have then made every bit of our content a free resource to any media outlet in the state that wants it. There’s a lot of community newspapers, a lot of weeklies around the state that are starving for content, and one of our measures of success is, how often are we getting placement in their print editions, with the news and the messages and the information that we’re sharing?

Jay: Interesting. You’re like the raw materials for them to take it and make their own content.
Ike: I think we talked about this before. You know, the whole idea of, going back 10, 12 years ago, the social media news release, was that you put out the news release and then you put out the raw components so that they can put the stories together. Well, all brand journalism is is putting the stories together for them, and now we’re just kind of letting them take it. I mean, just about every imaginable play that you can think of in content marketing slash brand journalism, we’re doing. We’re producing content, we are aggregating content, we are sharing content, we are encouraging the sharing of the content, and all of it is kind of built around this narrative of, “Alabama is a great place to be and a great place to do business,” which supports us even if there are a lot of stories on there that have no direct Alabama Power component.

What I can tell you is, is that last year five of our top 10 traffic stories were the kinds of things that you would expect a power company to be writing about. Energy efficiency, telling people how to prepare for storms, so I mean, we’re not skimping at all on the things that you would say that your utility must be communicating to you about. It’s just that we have it packaged together in a river of news such that we’re getting more eyeballs on that stuff that we ever would if that was the only stuff we were doing.

Jay: That’s really fantastic. Make sure everybody goes to AlabamaNewsCenter.com. We’ll link it up in the show notes as well at SocialPros.com. Of course, you can get all the episodes of the podcast at SocialPros.com including this one and episode 18, when Ike joined us the very first time.

I want to take a minute to recognize this week’s sponsors of the show. Thanks as always to our friends at Salesforce Marketing Cloud. They have a really interesting ebook that I’d love for you to download. You can get it at bit.ly/salesforceads. That’s bit.ly/salesforceads, all lowercase. It’s called The Future of Ads, and it’s all about comparison and contrast data about social media advertising by channel and by location. If you want to know, “Hey, what’s a good sample click-through rate for Facebook ads in the US versus Brazil, or this industry versus that industry?” It’s all there, plus a lot of tips and tricks on how to do paid better. Check it out. It’s useful stuff. Bit.ly/salesforceads.

Also, this week the show is brought to you by our friends at Yext, the leaders in location data. I wrote a white paper with them recently that I’d really love for you to take a look at, and let me know what you think. Just send me a note. Jay@JayBaer.com. Let me know what you think. Go to offers.yext.com/reviews. That’s offers.yext.com/reviews. It’s called How to Win Digital and Real-World Traffic With Local Reviews. It’s all about the importance of local ratings and reviews now, how it helps people in search, how it helps people make decisions, creates foot traffic, creates loyalty advocacy. It is the whole primer on local ratings and reviews. More and more important all the time, as I talked about in my book, Hug Your Haters. You’re going to love that. Thanks, as always, to Yext.

Now Ike, I want to ask you about how you promote some of the stories at the Alabama News Center. Are you able to do an employee social advocacy program at Alabama Power such that people in the organization like yourself are asked to share content with their own social networks, or is that something that you don’t feel comfortable with?

Ike: We’re kind of building it from a couple of different directions. We’ve been piloting now for a couple of years internal advocacy by recruiting employees to do it, but then we just decided to go, “Let’s go blunt force with this and build some additional traffic out.” We’ve got about 6800 employees. They’re getting a weekly email on Thursdays or Fridays that just kind of highlight, “Hey, here’s some of the great stuff that we had on News Center this week.” We want them to be aware of it. We want them to read it, and obviously we want them to share it. Now, we’re not necessarily optimizing those emails for sharing like you would in a typical advocacy program, but I did want to say, you know, we’ve got … You take those employees getting that, and we’ve had over 3,000 people who have just in the last year subscribed to that same weekly email update. We’re starting to see some traction from that. Overall, I don’t think we talked about the … You mentioned the cadence of News Center. We do anywhere from four to six, sometimes seven, fresh pieces of content every day, and that does not count the weather posts.
Jay: Wow.
Ike: I don’t want that to get lost on it, that this is a big effort. We’ve got a lot of folks who play a little piece here and there. We have some former journalists on staff, but very few of them are working full time just on this. We’ll have people in PR that were never journalists, who when they find out that something is going on in our transmission department that might make a great story. We’ve got people helping us on the discovery end of things. We’ve got people helping us with the actual production of the stories, and then we’ve got people helping us on the publishing side. Overall, 2016, we had 1.1 million page views. We had 673,000 visitors. This is a replacement for what would have been in the old days, this is where your PDF graveyard would be on your site.
Jay: Well said. Yeah.
Ike: In 2000 and … I think 2012, our PDF graveyard had 6,000 visitors for the entire year.
Jay: Yeah.
Ike: Yes.
Jay: Now you’re 100X.
Ike: We’re fulfilling the mission of getting more people exposed to what we do, but now kind of back to that whole advocacy end, I’m interested in taking our employees and empowering them to be advocates for the company, advocates for our position. We’ve long known that if somebody, one of our customers, knows somebody who works in the company, that they’re more likely to be open and amenable to our position on a number of things. How do you go about turning your employees into employee advocates? The nuts you’ve got to crack, no matter what tool you use, no matter which direction you come from, is you’ve got to get your engagement up. I mean, employee engagement is always a huge deal from a human resources perspective. That’s one of the things that they track, sort of internal sentiment over time. But you really have to get the fire lit on an individual basis where they realize that, “Hey, I play a role in this company in my little silo, in my little niche, but it’s important that I be conversant on a number of things, or at least open enough that if somebody starts a discussion and I don’t know, that I know what resources I can turn to to find out, or I know where I can point them to help answer their question.”
Jay: How does that happen? Do you have a series of workshops with people, and explain to them sort of the big picture here and how to get them excited? Or is it just organic, you’ve got some hand raisers and some banner carriers inside the organization and they naturally pull the people who are on the fence along with them?
Ike: Well, the difficulty is trying to figure out which tool is going to allow us to educate our employees about the things they need to know about our business. We can’t educate our customers about the realities of the business and what the cost drivers are if we can’t get employees engaged. If you’re a company, no matter what the industry is, and you have a company internet page that is slow, and it’s clunky, and it doesn’t allow for engaging content, and it’s not dynamic, and it’s not updated frequently enough, and you don’t have the proper churn, then you’re not getting the eyeballs on it, and the people aren’t engaging with it, and it may be that 80% of your page views of your company internet portal are simply because your IT department made that the default home page and nobody’s stopping on it long enough to read it.
Jay: Yeah, or people are checking the cafeteria lunch schedule or something that’s not really strategic.
Ike: Yeah. We’re actually even doing an internal survey right now asking, “What is your preferred method for getting information from the company?” I was kind of joking, it’s like, “Well, we need to put a link on the internet portal that says ‘Click here for a chance to win a free iPad,’ and then when you click in, it’s like, ‘Enter your email address, and remember, don’t tell your coworkers, because it dilutes your chance of winning.'” Just to see how many people actually enter, you know?
Jay: Right. Yeah. I love it. Great idea. Well, and increasingly they might want to get that information through something that’s not web-based. It might be SMS. It might be something else, right? It’ll be fascinating to see how that turns out. Let’s talk a little bit about the podcast that you’re launching, because that may be an adjunct to what you’re doing at the News Center, and how you’re kind of telling your message. It’s going to be the Alabama Power Podcast? Is that right?
Ike: Yeah. It’s actually going to be an internal podcast, and like you were alluding to there, this is just an extension of everything that we learned about social media externally. That audiences are fragmented, they have more power to choose their venue, they choose their entertainment, they choose which channels they’re going to live in, and you have to have messages that can seek them and find them wherever they happen to be living, whichever niches. From an internal communication standpoint, you’ve got the same problem. We have email. We have our internet portal. We have Yammer. Some people have experimented with Slack Channels, but we’ve got a lot of young employees who Facebook Messenger is how they keep track of their … They stay in touch with their family and their friends and whatever else. You need to try and have a kind of system where you allow them to choose which venues that comes to.

If I’m going to make any headway in trying to build up employee engagement, I’m probably putting my eggs in the basket where I know that people engage with technology. That’s going to be mobile. There’s something magical and tactile about touching something and moving it around on a screen that engages the brain. Even some of our older executives, you know, when I’ve been pitching this, I’ve kind of got them on the idea of saying, “Okay, so when your alarm went off this morning, was it like on a clock, or was it on your phone?” Increasingly, it’s on their phone. I said, “Okay, so your phone is the first thing you touched today. Did you check the weather by turning on the TV, or did you check an app to tell you how to get dressed this morning?” “Touching an app.” If our brains have been rewired to interact with something in this tactile way that makes it very personal, then I’m of the mindset that, damn it, that’s probably where we ought to be putting our messages to our employees if we really want them to be active and engaged.

We are developing a couple of podcast apps. We’re not calling them podcast apps, because only a small percentage of an employee base is going to know what a podcast is, and I don’t want to spend my day all day taking phone calls from people wanting to know how to configure the feed for their particular app. We’re doing dedicated apps that have our feed already baked in, and we’re going to distribute it through our security measures to make sure that our employees get it.

Jay: A mobile app, or a web-based app?
Ike: No, it will be a mobile app, for Apple and for Android, such that the feed’s already there. They download it. They install it. They’ll get a little notification that says, “You have a new episode available.” And we will be able to do engaging interviews with company executives, with company innovators, with some of our internal entrepreneurs, with people across the company doing really cool things that you ought to know about.
Jay: It’s so funny. Everything old is new again. When I was a kid, one of my very first real jobs, I was the marketing director for Arizona and Southern California for Waste Management. I was a trash man. I was a trash marketer, and we had what would now be a very similar program called News You Can Use. It was, I think, twice a month if I recall correctly. Updates from corporate, same kind of thing you’re talking about. Interviews with key team members. You know, what’s happening in the industry, but they sent it out to everybody, get this, on a cassette tape. That’s how old I am, but you would actually get a cassette tape, like, in your mailbox. Not your email box, but your actual physical, like, piece of wood where your letters came in the break room, and then everybody got one.

Now I think back, I’m like, “Damn it. They must have spent a bunch of money on cassette tape duplication back in the day.” Because this is like, they had 50,000 employees at that time. That’s a lot of cassette tapes to ship around, but the same concept, right, as like, “Hey, not everybody wants to read your newsletter, nor is it perhaps the most visceral or impactful way to communicate.” I think it’s terrific what you’re doing. It’s awesome.

Ike: First of all, get off my lawn, kid. You’re right. I mean, we have always tried to innovate and communicate in different ways. I mean, 90 years ago, we were trying to get people excited about using electricity and signing up for our services by sending mule-drawn trailers with displays on them to county fairs. You know, we always try to innovate and stay on top, but if I want to make the case that we should be communicating to our employees in a mobile way, I’ve got to get some data behind it. We’re going to track the number of installs of the apps. We’ll be able to track the number of downloads and how far people get into the episodes, give us a sense of what that real engagement is as opposed to what they tell you on a survey.

This is the thing that really kind of shocked us. I went into it saying, “Yeah, I think we could do a good proof of concept.” Well, out of 6800 employees, we had over 5500 of them who had at least one device registered with our device management provider, which is a lot. Then we’ve got another 1,000 employees who don’t have a specific device just under their name, but they have access to a shared device in a crew truck. That’s really fertile ground for getting in, and yeah, it’s close to everyone.

Jay: Yeah. Almost everybody.
Ike: But we’ll be distributing … We’ve already done … I think I’ve got 12 or 13 episodes already in the can, ready to roll as soon as we get the apps finished and developed, and as soon as we launch our internal campaign around it. Hopefully, it will not only be enough of a proof of concept, but about halfway through I’ll be able to start scheduling interviews with other entrepreneurs and others throughout the company to be able to kind of continue it. Then it can be the data that lets us jump onto something else.
Jay: As social media and content marketing and communications have become more multimedia oriented, audio like the podcast you’re launching now, video like the videos you’re doing at Alabama News Center, and beyond, how much do you feel like your background in television news helps you more than ever?
Ike: Oh, it’s huge. It’s huge, because telling stories either in audio or in video is a very different thing. In fact, we started this series with our executives that were doing this campaign. It started as video, but then I realized that when you get people on video who are not comfortable necessarily being on video, it kind of beats the humanity out of them, because everybody wants to be perfect. Everyone wants to be perfect on video. Now we’re going to end up talking for over half an hour, and there’s going to be a couple of stutters and “ums” and “ahs” and we don’t care, because in audio, it’s all engaging and it’s all personality-driven.

This podcast is a perfect example of what makes things work. It’s not an anchor who’s speaking things at you. It’s a conversation that you feel like you’re eavesdropping on. That’s what makes this medium really exciting. In an effort to make it engaging, in an effort to humanize the people that we’re talking to and really bring it into a personal level, it was a fantastic venue for it. Not everybody has a sense of what makes things personal or engaging, or how to draw that out. One of my fears is, is that if you have too many people who say, “Video is the thing. Video is the thing.” It’s like, well, you can do video. There are a lot of people who can do video. Doing video well enough is difficult, so there’s kind of a line you’ve got to walk there. If you don’t do video well, you’re not going to get any results from it.

Jay: I also alluded to, at the top of the show, that you have been with Alabama Power certainly since the first time you were on this show five years ago. I think you had been there a couple of years before we even had you on the show, so I think you’re up almost nine years.
Ike: Yeah. I’ll be nine years this summer. Yeah. Nine years this summer.
Jay: Yeah, nine years. That is unusual, certainly for Social Pros guests. I think it’s safe to say somewhat unusual for anybody in a digital tech coms kind of role. Talk about that a little bit. I know I’m sure you’ve had many opportunities to go do something else for somebody else, but you haven’t, and that has given you an interesting and unusual opportunity to really take an organization through several change cycles in technology. Talk about that a little.
Ike: Sure. You know, I didn’t get into social because I thought social was the greatest thing ever. I sort of stumbled into social because when I was working on the non-profit world, it was a really cheap way to provide a solution for a difficulty that I had. That experience at Red Cross certainly helped me get my position at Alabama Power, because the manager at the time who hired me in was looking for somebody who could be an advocate for those things, and help chart the path. But I never wanted to be the guy who was selling social media internally like it was some kind of snake oil. I didn’t want to be the guy who was associated just with social media, because again, my interest is where technology and communications and strategy overlap. Social media fits in there, but there are a lot of other things that fit in there too.

I would just say that, you know, being an advocate for a particular technology without being an advocate for the components that make up that technology can be really limiting for you. One of the little paradigms that I’ve used in talking about how corporate America embraced social is, we’ve been through this before. Years and years and years ago, we had these plastic telephones made of Bakelite that sat on a desk, and there were these big square buttons, and you only had four lines to choose from. Eventually we got these PBX systems, and there was a huge internal debate. You know, you and I were probably too young to be in the room for these debates, Jay, but there was a huge debate about whether you should let every employee have their own phone extension, because they might call overseas, and that’s expensive.

Jay: But I remember when we got email at my first job, when we actually got legitimate email, and people were losing their minds. It was like, “Wait, so customers can email us whenever they want instead of calling the front desk and leaving a message? That’s great.”
Ike: Well, you just got to phase two of my paradigm, because 30 years ago it was, “Do we let everybody have a phone extension?” 15 years ago, “Oh my god. Should we let everybody have an email address? They could click and open something from anywhere.” Well, now we’ve got this social media thing, and I’ve joked that it’s almost going to be like the fax. Five or 10 years from now, people are going to use social media just like they would use a fax machine. You don’t have a special fax department. You don’t have to take the fax to somebody to get the fax approved before it goes out into the company letterhead. You just send a fax, because it’s a technology, and people know how to use it.

Social networking obviously …

Jay: It’s too bad. I wish we did have a fax department. That would be incredible.
Ike: I actually have the domain Faxinars.com.
Jay: We need to find somebody who sets up a fax department to put their social …
Ike: A friend of mine thought about doing something at one point, but the notion is that, is that it’s more than just a particular technology. It’s the way in which several technologies all sort of combine and congeal, and yeah, I can’t tell you if Twitter or Facebook are going to be here three to five years from now, but I know that whatever replaces them will have certain functionalities built in to it that meet people’s expectations. I will be able to choose who I connect with. I will be able to share some form of currency, whether it’s a photo, or a link, or a piece of information, or a clip of audio. There will be ways in which that I can engage with that that can be impersonal, like a thumbs up, or a heart, or a like, to directly personal, to direct messaging.

I mean, all these component things are expectations that we have for how we’re going to communicate with each other, and that’s why you’re going to see those features built into the next Snapchat or the next whatever that comes along. Whatever that next whatever is is going to have its own differentiating value proposition, and as somebody who’s interested in helping my business from a technology and communications standpoint, I want to step back and see it for what it is, and for how we can use it, and for how it impacts people, rather than just seeing it as, “Oh, it’s such and such. It’s the next big thing. Let’s all sign up for Ello.” You know?

Jay: Yeah. It’s all an evolution, not a revolution. I’m going to ask you the two questions that we ask every guest on the show as we close this out. I don’t even remember if when you were on the show the first time, if we actually even had these two questions at that point. I should have looked at the transcript from five years ago, but you can go to SocialPros.com and determine that.

The first question we always ask is, what one tip would you give somebody who’s looking to become a social pro?

Ike: This is the advice that I give everyone in our company. Lately, I’ve been doing a presentation externally even called How Social Killed Media, which is kind of fun. The big advice I’ve given everybody probably going back 10 years is, cultivate the network that makes you smarter. Social media and mobile technologies, when added together, just give you this fantastic tool for being ambiently connected to so many people, and the value in it is not that I can look something up really fast, and it’s not that I can go to a bunch of people and ask them, “Hey, I’m thinking about buying a Hyundai Elantra. What do you know about it?” It’s that you cultivate a network that pushes information to you that you did not even know to ask for.

The example I give people is, you know, “How many of you found out that Prince died because you saw these status updates popping up saying ‘RIP Prince’?” As opposed to the people who got up in the morning, logged into DeadorAlive.com, and started punching in celebrity names just to be really morbid, you know? If you want to be smarter about technology, there are networks you can cultivate, and not just following people, but actually engaging with them, asking them questions, developing relationships with them. If you want to find out about economics. If you want to find out about medicine. If you want to find out about cancer research. If you want to find out about the Kardashians, you can cultivate a network that makes you smarter about that particular thing. Every single person using social media does that. I would say that only 6% are cognizant and aware and intentional about the networks they cultivate.

That’s the number one thing I’d say. If you want to know more about analytics, about metrics, if you want to know more about startups, if you want to know more … If you want to cultivate a network that lets you know about the next big thing coming out of Silicon Valley six months before anybody else, you can cultivate that network. You can do it, but it takes time and you have to be intentional about it. That’s the advice I’d give.

Jay: Yeah. That whole idea of being restless and curious, and I guess is really, really well said. Last question for you, Ike Pigott, communications genius at Alabama Power. If you could make a Skype call with any living person, who would it be?
Ike: I might want to pick Zuckerberg’s brain, and the reason is I think there’s an awful lot more going on there than anybody really realizes. We are beyond the point of Facebook moves and changes and alterations to the algorithm, or alterations to the UX. We’re beyond the point of any of that ever being accidental. Let me give you an example of this, all right? Did you see a couple of weeks ago where they said that Facebook is going to experiment with giving you sliders, or giving you something that could alter your mix of content with regards to, say, violence or pornography? And this is a good thing, because Facebook is global, yet we have all these different cultural norms about what’s the acceptable level of violence, what’s the acceptable level of nudity and this, so this would be addressing the things like whether a breastfeeding photo would be considered appropriate or inappropriate.

In my mind, I’m thinking, “None of this is ever for an accident.” I’m going to give you a little prediction based off of this. I’d ask Zuckerberg about this if I could. I think what’s going to happen is, he’s going to do the UX testing on these sliders or dials or what have you, figure out which controls people are comfortable with, figure out which ones get adoption, and then start even with the small number of people who get it and test it, determining which controls lead to greater time on site. Because ultimately, it’s about keeping people on Facebook to be subjected to ads and content and what have you. My prediction is, is that after that is established, you will see sliders or dials that allow you to dial up or down ideological content.

The reason is, is that if you want to see more liberal news or more conservative news, you can set your dial appropriately. Now, you don’t have to worry about muting your aunt Sally or unfriending that guy from high school that you graduated with, because all it’s going to do is dial up or down their ideological content so you can still be connected to them, still be friends with them, still find out when they have an anniversary or still find out when their child is graduating or any of that other stuff. I want to have conversations about that kind of stuff with Zuckerberg, because I want to see what the endgame is. I’ve got some ideas.

Jay: People will react negatively to that on the surface, but you have to realize, that’s the same thing as curating your information via subscription to email or magazine or newspaper, or which TV channels you watch. You’re already doing that.
Ike: Oh yeah, because right now you can mute certain sources. You can mute certain people, but it’s really kind of ham-fisted, and my gut tells me that the reason that Facebook is testing this is that they saw, after this last really contentious election cycle, and in some respects that election cycle still continuing, that fractured relationships and unfriending and unfollowing and everything else has had an adverse effect on people’s Facebook experience, which means they’re not spending nearly as many minutes per month on site as they were before. So yeah, I want to have a nice, deep conversation with Mark and figure out what’s going on there.
Jay: I love it. Great answer. Ike, thank you so much for being back on the show. It was fantastic to have you return to Social Pros. Congratulations on all the great work you’re doing at Alabama Power. Folks, check it out. AlabamaNewsCenter.com. We’ll link it up in the show notes as well at SocialPros.com. We’ll be back next week with myself and Mr. Adam Brown for more of Social Pros.

Close