This is Episode 18 of the Social Pros Podcast : Real People Doing Real Work in Social Media. This episode features Ike Pigott of Alabama Power. Read on for insights from Ike, and our Social Media Stat of the Week (this week: 16% of CEOs are active in social media).
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Huge thanks to data-driven social media management software company Argyle Social for their presenting sponsorship, as well as Infusionsoft, Janrain, and Jim Kukral at DigitalBookLaunch. We use Argyle Social for our social engagement; we use Infusionsoft for our email; Janrain is our crackerjack social integration company, and Jim is our guest host for the podcast (and a smart guy).
Social Pros Transcript For Your Reading Enjoyment, Thanks to Speechpad for the Transcription
Jay: Welcome everybody to another edition of Social Pros. I am Jay Baer, joined as always by my trusty sidekick Eric Boggs from Argyle Social. Eric, how are you good sir?
Eric: Doing fine, Jay. Happy Memorial Day.
Jay: Happy Memorial Day to you, special holiday edition of the show. Joined by Ike Pigott, from Alabama Power, who’s going to jump in here in just a moment. You’ve had a bit of a strange weekend, Mr. Boggs, have you not?
Eric: Yes. Jay asked me what was new during the pre-call, and this holiday weekend I painted my dining room and I stepped on a nail. It’s been an interesting past couple days.
Jay: I got drunk and went to the Indy 500, so I’ll take my weekend over yours.
Eric: Yes, +1 Jay Baer, -1 Eric Boggs.
Jay: I want to start off the show by thanking our kind sponsors, Eric’s company Argyle Social, data driven social media management. Our friends at Infusionsoft, who we use for all of our email stylings, Jim Kukral from digitalbooklaunch.com, and Janrain, providers of social sign-in and all kinds of other crazy stuff. We’ll have them on the show at some point and see what else they are up to.
Interesting week in the interwebs and social, a lot of stuff went on. We’ll talk about Eric’s social media stat of the week in a minute here, but I’d like to talk about something else statistically oriented.
Jay’s Thought of the Week
B2B Magazine, which also has a website, B2B Online, put out a little research this week that said that amongst B2B companies, 33% of them have “fully embraced social media marketing.” That’s up substantially from last year, but if you look at that from the converse, it means that two thirds of B2B companies have not fully embraced social marketing, which strikes me as curious at some level.
Then, when you drill down into the numbers it starts to make more sense. They asked B2B companies, “What was your best social media format? Best network, best outpost?” 30% of them said LinkedIn, 20% said blogging, and 19% said Facebook.
If you’re a B2B company and you believe that LinkedIn is the best possible way for you to deploy your social media self, I think maybe you need to look around a little more broadly. As a B2B company, Eric, what do you think?
Eric: Yes, that’s interesting. LinkedIn certainly has its place, but for us, the activity on Twitter dwarfs that that we see on LinkedIn. I think it really depends on the type of company. If you are a very sales-driven, outbound calling organization, then LinkedIn is a gold mine.
Jay: Yes, but even at that though, wouldn’t it really be at the individual employee level representing the company more so than a company initiative per se in the way we classically think of it?
Eric: Yes, and maybe that’s the question, how do they define embracing social media? If it is embracing social media in the sense of prospecting, or does it mean embracing social media as having a brand outpost on a social network?
Because, that would be very curious, if LinkedIn were the hub, because there’s not a lot of interaction going on.
Jay: Yes, and 20% was blogging. One out of five B2B companies said that blogging was the most effective social media tool in their toolkit. To me that’s particularly curious, because if I was a B2B company, and certainly we advise a number of B2B companies, it seems to me like the first thing you ought to be putting time and effort into is a blog.
It will pay information dividends down the road that frankly other social networks won’t. You have that information annuity both in Google and in other benefits that Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook simply don’t accrue.
Eric: Yes. Another thing with B2B that always gets me is, it’s such a big circle. When I say B2B, I immediately think, “Oh, the company’s just fine, that sells software subscriptions.’
But there a lot of wonky and strange B2B companies that don’t have a clear use case for social media. In which case, I would argue that blogs may be the only outlet.
Jay: Yes, precisely. I always feel like, and I talk about this a lot in presentations, if there isn’t a lot of social chatter about your company or about your category, which is typically the case for many B2B, then you have to give people something to talk about. Your use of social really becomes more of a content marketing play than a social marketing play.
We’ve said this on the podcast in the past, that content is fire and social media is gasoline. I feel like that’s particularly true in a B2B context.
Eric: Yes, without a doubt. I’d be curious to survey some of those people that are spending so much time on LinkedIn.
Jay: Yes, the other thing that was interesting about that particular study is they said that 40%, 40% of B2B marketers are measuring the ROI of social media. To which I say, “Bull.” No way. True, actual ROI with an actual formula and a calculation in the classic sense where you have true return on investment? No way, no how.
Eric: Yes. I will agree and call shenanigans on that. I want to get back to LinkedIn. Are you a member of any LinkedIn groups, Jay?
Jay: I am. I would not say I’m a particularly active member of LinkedIn groups. I find that Twitter and Google+ serve that purpose in a more public way. Yes, I’m a member of many LinkedIn groups, sure.
Eric: I was curious more around activity. I’m a member of probably 30 or 40 of them, but I don’t know that I’ve ever posted on one.
Jay: Yes, it’s curious, right? It’s like a hybrid of the old school discussion forums. Actually, I’m more of an active member on discussion forums, more around personal interests, right? Barbeque, smoking forums, that kind of thing.
Then, more public things like Twitter and Facebook and Google+ on the other side. To me, LinkedIn is a weird middle ground, but incredibly useful. We advise companies and clients to use LinkedIn groups all the time. It’s just not something I’ve put a lot of time into personally.
Eric: The ad platform’s great.
Jay: Oh, no kidding.
Eric: We’ve gotten a lot of folks on the LinkedIn ad platform.
Jay: I have an ad running on LinkedIn all the time for my speaking side of my business. That ad is only shown to people whose job title is “Meeting Planner.”
Eric: That’s perfect, isn’t it?
Jay: Oh, it’s genius.
Eric: It’s the Holy Grail.
Jay: You can’t do that on Facebook, you can’t do that in Google, you can’t do that in banner ads. The only other place you could do that is direct mail. Literally. Email, but that would be illegal, technically.
What is the social media stat of the week?
Eric’s Social Media Stat of the Week: 16% of CEOs Around the World Are Participating in Social Media
Eric: Stat of the week. Indeed. This one comes from IBM, Big Blue, headquartered out here in North Carolina. Probably five or ten miles from my house actually, in Durham. The folks at IBM conducted a survey, a little over 1,700 CEOs around the world, and found only 16% of them participating in social media.
Their astute analysis shows that this percentage is likely to increase to close to 60% within five years, which I don’t know how much stock I put in that number. Within five years, we’re all going to be in flying cars and eating entire meals in pill form.
Jay: Yes, I’d take the under on that.
Eric: [laughs] Yes. So,16%. I didn’t dig deeply enough to know who these 1,700 CEOs are, but I don’t know that I find anything particularly surprising about that number.
Jay: No, I think when you get to that level of corporate governance you have a tendency to be on the sidelines just because of the risk factor. The rewards don’t outweigh the potential risks. When we’ve talked about in the past, other research, that more than half of all Americans are on Facebook, but yet 16% of CEOs are in social media in general including Facebook.
It doesn’t really surprise me. It would be a fascinating study, and I wish somebody would do this. Do that same study, but at each level of the organization. CEO is “X”percentage, CXO is some other percentage, VP is a percentage, director is a percentage. I would really like to see how that data changes as you go down levels of the org chart.
Eric: Yes. Well, there’s certainly, probably, a generational commentary on there as well.
Jay: Yes, I saw, what was it, last year or so, there was some research, I think it was by Forbes, if I recall correctly. They did that split and said that the line of demarcation was 50 years old. CEOs that were below 50, or younger than 50, were vastly, vastly more likely to be active in social than CEOs above 50. That was the magic line.
Eric: Yes. Maria Ogneva from Yammer was on the podcast last week, and she talked about I think it was either a study or best practice from Deloitte, where with some of their clients, they were actually partnering the senior executives with a lot of the younger management talent in a reverse mentoring relationship, where the younger talent was coaching up the older management people on why this stuff matters and how it works.
Jay: Yes, that’s digital native versus digital immigrant sort of situation?
Eric: Yes, that’s the exact words she used, “Digital native.”
Jay: Fantastic. Well, somebody who is a digital native but not in what you would typically think of as a digitally native company is today’s very special guest on Social Pros, Mr. Ike Pigott from Alabama Power.
Special Guest: Ike Pigott, Alabama Power
He is technically the spokesman for that noteworthy utility, but does a lot more than just spokes and man. Ike, how’re you doing?
Ike: I’m doing pretty well. How are you guys?
Jay: We are awesome. Eric is awesome, right? Other than the nail in your foot?
Ike: Hey, I got to see Eric last month, and he is pretty awesome. I’ll second you there.
Eric: This is great, guys. Keep it going.
Jay: Like we said before the podcast started, when you get lockjaw and can no longer do Social Pros from the nail in your foot, this may be the final Eric Boggs episode.
Eric: When I did step on the nail, I did read the Wikipedia entry on tetanus and it scared the crap out of me.
Jay: Yes. #tetanus, that will be the new official for the Social Pros Podcast.
Eric: In fact, I still have the Wikipedia page up in a tab in Chrome. If you guys want any fun facts, just let me know.
Ike: Link to the Social Pros Wiki at the end.
Jay: Yes, exactly. Ike, we were talking about LinkedIn at the beginning of the podcast. What do you guys do at Alabama Power on LinkedIn? Is that part of your arsenal? I know LinkedIn isn’t one of the main ones that you put emphasis on, I don’t think it is, but what’s your deal there?
Ike: It really isn’t. Most of what LinkedIn will be used for in our capacity, as a power company, would be on the recruitment end. But we’re finding that our recruiters are really starting to use, they’ve got a careers page on Facebook. We’ve got one recruiter at Alabama Power who’s very active on Twitter.
There’s a sense that individuals looking for jobs aren’t necessarily looking through LinkedIn for entry level type stuff. I find it interesting that we’ve never really developed a great use case to put a lot of time and energy into LinkedIn.
I think it has a lot to do with our business model. For those people who don’t know, Alabama Power is one of the four major operating companies of Southern Company. We serve 1.4 million customers with electricity across the state of Alabama, lower two-thirds of the state.
We are a publicly regulated utility, which means that we answer to government regulators, both federally and within the state of Alabama. We are not in a classically competitive environment. A lot of the things that you see companies trying to do with Facebook, trying to do with Twitter, we just don’t do because it’s not part of our business model.
It was for that reason that Jason Falls asked me to come up to Nashville last month where I got to meet Eric, and he asked me to talk about how to make the unsexy sexy. From a social media standpoint, I’m in one of those industries that you just don’t think about as doing really cool stuff with social.
Jay: Is that because of the regulation, or because there’s no upside from a financial perspective?
Ike: From a financial perspective, we’re not really in the mindshare. Most people think about us only when paying a bill, or one of those rare occasions where the power does go out for some reason. Getting them to think about us more wouldn’t necessarily have a lot of added benefit.
Jay: Yes. You know what I should do? I should turn the lights on more. I should turn on the blender and a fan.
Ike: Here’s the really weird part. Part of what we’re doing, and part of what we do online, is energy efficiency information. How many businesses do you know actively get out and say, “Hey, here’s some ways to use less of our product.” [laughter]
For us, the benefit here is if we can get people to use less power and delay the building of new power plants and addition to what we consider the peak load, that saves us more money down the line. It’s a very strange business model for what people are used to within social, because a lot of the ROI calculations just don’t have inputs.
Eric: Yes. Where do you report, organizationally, Ike? Are you in marketing or communications?
Ike: I report up through a corporate comm shop. I’m in a little tiny unit now called “Strategic Issues and Community Affairs.” I report up through there. As a spokesman for the company, one of several, I have a dotted line to our head of media relations.
Then I’m also the spokesman for the Birmingham division, which is one of six divisions that we have across the state. I have a dotted line to that VP. I like to tell people that I’ve got one limb on every color of the corporate Twister mat. [laughter]
The nice thing about this is it gives me a perspective, both organizationally from a corporate end as well as within one of our divisions, that a lot of people don’t have. As such, particularly with what I’m trying to build within the social media program, it gives me buy-in across a lot of different levels. It has made it a little bit easier to implement some of the things that we do.
Jay: You do have a blog for the company that’s actually fairly active. We were talking about blogging earlier and B2B companies and things of that nature, less classic examples of blogging. Can you talk about that approach and what you’re looking to accomplish with the Alabama Power blog?
Ike: Yes. One of the things that we try to do is make sure that everything that we got into, we could scale. I intentionally stayed off of Facebook for the company for a long time, because I knew that we didn’t quite have the machinery internally to be able to turn that kind of content. You want to be able to put things out there every day.
The blog that we use, we actually backed into it. We regularly go and register screennames for the company. As such, we grabbed alabamapower.posterous.com. About three years ago as a defensive measure, we went ahead and grabbed alabamapowernews.com, just to make sure that if there was ever a crisis, nobody could jump out and pull a Leroy Stick on us and start spoofing us.
Little over a year ago, right about the time of the deadly wave of tornadoes that came through on April 27th of 2011, right in the middle of that week, Twitpic changed its terms of service. Right in the middle of the week, and essentially said, “Hey, whatever pictures you upload, we own them, we get to do whatever we want with them.”
As a corporate citizen in corporate America, we looked at that and said, “We don’t like that very much.” We started shopping around instantly for some other ways to host our pictures. Looking at Posterous’s terms, I said, “Hey, these are pretty good, actually.” It’s very friendly for us as a company.
We married the alabamapowernews.com URL to our Posterous site. We backed into having a blog. It’s not a full-featured blog, we’re not running sidebar stuff, we’re not throwing content on there every single day, and we disabled comments. Again, that was something that we knew we weren’t going to be able to scale up to ten on a regular basis.
What it essentially became is a place for us to put the stuff that doesn’t fit anywhere else. Doesn’t necessarily fit on our regular website, we can post several pictures or videos uploaded directly from an event where we are, highlighting green technology or highlighting solar panels on the roof or whathaveyou.
The other nice thing is we can create private links. You can put up unlisted posts on Posterous, and from time to time when somebody asks a question on Twitter that’s going to take a while to explain, we’ll post it to that site and then tweet the link to them.
Jay: Oh, great.
Eric: That’s useful.
Ike: Over time, we’re going to build this nice library of frequently asked questions that will not appear on an FAQ.
Jay: Nice. One of the things I thought was interesting is that on your Twitter account, it says right there… not your Twitter account, but the Alabama Power account, it says that it is not the designated customer service vehicle, that you should call this 800 number, that kind of thing.
Yet there is some back and forth there in customer service language. How do you handle that? How do you say, “Look, we realize that some customers are using Twitter as the new telephone, but we’re not going to necessarily use it the same way that we’re using a telephone,” and you’re trying to funnel them back into legacy communication modalities. That seems to me to be a challenge, and increasingly so, for a lot of companies.
Ike: We’re trying to scale up to that. Obviously what you’re seeing on our Twitter bio is a way to try and manage that expectation a little bit. That just because you have Twitter doesn’t mean you’re on it 24/7.
We actually had a local social media consultant who tried to blast us after a storm for essentially not having customer service on 24/7. Do you know how corporate America works? You don’t just turn it on overnight.
We’ve got a great team within customer service. We have a task force actually that’s working on building it in. The thing that folks have to realize is that social media for customer service is a very different animal.
Customer service is the same no matter what, but every interaction that we have with our customers has always been initiated by them. They either walk into a physical business office, they send us a letter, they send us an email, they pick up the phone, they call us, it’s always initiated by them.
The thing that you have within social that you’ve never had before is the choice about whether you’re going to engage. If somebody mentions us, or just off-hand says, “Wow, I wish Alabama Power would get their act together and get the lights turned on,” now there’s a question. Is this something where we can reach out to them, or do we just let it go? Are they just venting?
Then you have the indirect mentions, where they say, “Hey, Alabama Power, way to go.” Well, now they are kind of talking to us, you can hear it in the tone, but it’s not an @ mention.
What we have are these gray areas where we’re having to feel around and say, “Okay. Is this somebody where we can make their day better? Is this somebody who we can provide an answer for and leave them with a better overall impression of the company, or is somebody who’s just giving us a profanity laced tirade and is venting?”
That’s what we’re trying to come to terms with. The way we’ve done it is we’ve actually set up a private forum just for our task force. When we’ve had mentions on Twitter or Facebook, over the course of several months, we would throw them in there and create discussion threads.
Over time, we let the customer service team come up with the protocol that felt good for them. Right now we’ve got a supervisor and we’ve got three folks who are taking shifts. They take half-day shifts during the day, and they do the monitoring for us. They will jump in and they will engage with customers where they think they can improve the relationship.
Over time, as some of these employees get shifted around to other shifts, we hope to be able to push to 7:00 to 7:00, and then maybe a little bit later into the evening, and let it grow organically from there.
Jay: You mentioned that you’ve got the Posterous set up and some other things set up so that if in fact a crisis occurs, you already have a place to post that information, etc. I imagine, especially given your background at the Red Cross, that you have a social media crisis plan put together for the company?
Ike: We do, we do. What we tried to do is we really revamped the entire corporate crisis plan. As somebody whose bread and butter was in crisis communications, I’ll just say that if you have not looked at your company’s crisis plan in the last three years, you need to do it now. Don’t wait, because so much of the landscape has changed.
What we tried to do is we tried to approach it from the mindset of how are we going to get our information very quickly? We’ve got faith in our leadership, we’ve got faith in the people who are making the decisions strategically for the company. What we didn’t have was a good way to make sure that everybody would be able to weigh-in in a timely fashion.
You can have the greatest message in the world, and if it’s three hours too late, it’s not going to be any good.
Jay: Or to say it another way, three hours is too late.
Ike: Exactly. We came up with a protocol that gets the right people together, identifies them every day, because it can rotate from day to day, and gets them in the same room. Should we need to have some type of approval process for messaging, that we’ll be able to do it.
We’re not talking about approving every tweet and Facebook post, but essentially answering the questions. What do we say for the next two hours, what do we say for the next eight hours, and what do we say for the next five years? Making sure that everything falls in line with that.
Jay: A really good point there. I just want to make sure that listeners heard that. Here is a highly regulated utility that says, “We don’t have to approve every tweet and every status message.”
Ike: Oh, exactly. Over time, we’ve developed some pretty good protocols. I’ll say that the best thing that could have happened was on the day of those tornadoes, April 27th of last year. That was the day that I was made an official spokesman for the company.
Not because of the storms. It was already in the works, but what happened is now instead of me asking permission to steer within these very narrow lanes of only tweet numbers, we were able to get out and be a little bit more strategic.
What we were able to show quite frankly is that every tweet that you do can fit a strategic purpose. Once the folks within our organization saw it at work and saw how it, it’s like, “Oh. That’s what you want to do with this Twitter thing. Go do more of that.”
It’s now part of our plan. We know that if something really bad happens, that we’re going to have to feed that beast, and we’re going to have to do a mixture of original information, classic safety information, re-tweeting people, engaging with people.
That was one thing that we had to overcome, too. There were folks early on who were concerned that once you start talking to customers, you have to talk to every customer. That’s not true. You can’t talk to everybody, but you have to make it seem like you’re willing to talk to anybody. Once you understand that distinction, it really frees you up to do a great job.
Jay: Awesome. I like that a lot.
Eric: One thing I wanted to ask you earlier, Ike. A couple minutes ago, you were talking about customer support?
Eric: When you envision this world in which you’re scaling up socially based customer support, are you guys going to be running that through a separate platform, or do you have an existing system that manages all of your customer interactions that your existing customer service team is using?
Ike: Yes. We actually have a homebrew customer service platform that handles all of our interactions and handles the case history with each individual customer. As such, it is ridiculously expensive to just go in and add a field.
I asked early on, I said, “Hey, can’t we just add a field for people to put in their Twitter handle or their Facebook ID so we can verify those?” It’s not that easy at all.
Fortunately we do have some other tools at our disposal. We’re looking at a couple of products right now, that if you’re not in the industry you probably wouldn’t recognize. eGain is one of them. There’s another one.
What it’s boiling down to is the pace of a social media, customer service interaction falls somewhere between the live chat and email. The turnaround time on email’s expected to be 24 hours or less. The turnaround time on live chat is five seconds ago.
Social media customer service falls somewhere in between. It turns out that we already have dashboards and tools that allow us to internally assign messages within this team and keep track of interactions. They have social capabilities.
We’re in the process right now of figuring out which of those we’re going to end up going with. One of them’s RightNow, the other one is, like I said, eGain. The nice thing is that more of our employees are already familiar with those interfaces, so now you’re just going to have comments and feedbacks and other messages popping in from other social channels in a dashboard you already recognize.
Eric: Very cool.
Jay: Ike, you have some Social Pros shoutouts for us? Things or people or stuff that inspire you in your journey?
Social Pros Shoutout
Ike: Social Pros Shoutouts? I’m going to start with Kami Huyse. Kami’s been around a long time in the social game. She’s now with Zoetica. She’s one of the very first people who saw me commenting on things years ago, 2004, 2005, and encouraged me to keep speaking out and to keep bringing my perspective. Big shoutout to her.
One name that’s not going to appear on any of your radars except as a guy at Alabama Power, Jamie Sandford. Jay, you might have tripped across him, I’m not sure where. Jamie, he’s like the second half of my brain. He works in our marketing department, and between the two of us we can figure out a lot of stuff from social channels.
He’s had so many wonderful ideas over the years we’ve been working together. I’ve got to give him a shoutout. He deserves some sunlight.
Jay: Well, that’s why we do the Social Pros Shoutout. That was perfect. You were talking about expanding your channels, everybody who knows Ike knows that he’s one of the most thoughtful, interesting, reasonable minds in social media. Yet you don’t write on your own blog very much, Ike. You’re always doing company stuff and not enough from Ike. What’s up with that?
Ike: I’ve got to be careful. As of the 27th of last year, I’m an official spokesman for the company. Like it or not, you can put the disclaimer out there that says, “Hey, this is my own space. It does not necessarily reflect the views of my company,” but the way people look at you, if 10% of our customer base conflates me with the company, I’ve got to be careful. I’ve got to be reasonable about that.
Years ago, I had this nice little blog about crisis communications where three or four times a week I was deconstructing statements other people were putting out during the course of a crisis. Sometimes I was harsh with the way they did it and their strategy.
Then when I got promoted to a regional job with the Red Cross, where I was a communication director for five states, I wasn’t asked to shut that down, I just knew to shut that down. The last thing I want to do is criticize some poor PR guy from IBM and then suddenly the Red Cross doesn’t get that quarter of a million dollar donation.
Nobody had to tell me to do it, and nobody told me to do it from an Alabama Power perspective. Most of it, if you want to be honest, is that I’m just really busy. I’m finding now that when I do have something to say, it’s really a counter-punch and I can do it in a comment.
When I’m occasionally tripping across people’s blogs and commenting, I may share a short little link with some commentary on Facebook. I want to write more, I really do. I just wish the stuff that goes zipping through my head made it to my Evernote quickly enough that I could have some writing fodder.
Jay: Well, when Eric invents the telepathy app, we will make you a beta tester.
Ike: Hey, I’d love it.
Eric: I’m working on it. I should have an alpha ready in the next few weeks.
Ike: Just don’t be too scared of what you see.
Jay: It’s a frightening world in the mind of Ike Piggot who joined us this week on Social Pros. Thank you very much, good sir. Thank you to Eric with nail ensconced in foot, and also to our sponsors, Argyle Social, Infusionsoft, Jim Kukral at Digital Book Launch and of course the good folks at Janrain.
He is Eric, I am Jay. We will be back next week with a special live edition of Social Pros. We will be interviewing the aforementioned Jim Kukral as well as our friend Scott Stratten. We’ll be doing a debate here on the show on whether you should self-publish your book or use a major publisher. Stay tuned for that. Thanks, everybody.