by David Kirkpatrick
, Senior Reporter
One of Cisco’s "major marketing opportunities," according to Kathleen Mudge, Social Media Marketing Manager and consultant, Cisco Systems, is Cisco Live, its annual conference. The most recent event included over 17,000 attendees.
The yearly event created a high level of enthusiasm for the company and for the networking marketplace in general, but all that excitement tended to fade once the event concluded. The marketing challenge Cisco faced was finding a way to maintain that engagement with the company year round.
"After the event, we don’t have the same connections or communications and channels to meet and discuss as we do [at the event]," Mudge explained.
The solution was to implement a social media marketing strategy based around engagement with prospects and customers.
She said, "Social media provided the opportunity to keep the conversation going, to keep connected with our attendees, to keep our brand loyalists excited, and to create more brand loyalists."
This case study looks at the steps Cisco took to create that engagement with its Cisco Live community on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, creating a 236% lift in clickthrough rate and increasing the social media community across all three platforms.
Discussing the overall goals of the effort, Mudge stated, "Social media provides opportunities for us to connect to individuals and to connect with individual discussions and conversations throughout the year."
Mudge said before she came on board, Cisco did not have any social media outreach connected to the Cisco Live event.
Step 1. Create the social media presence and publishing schedule
To launch the social media outreach effort, Mudge took a number of immediate actions:
- Created a presence for the Cisco Live communities on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
- Began managing the conversation on each platform
- Developed a plan for providing information
- Asked for community input for nurturing conversations
- Connected experts with the community to solve day-to-day work problems brought up in community discussions
Mudge said the idea was to tie all this community involvement with the yearly user conference, and to foster year-round interest and excitement in the engagement that event creates between Cisco and its customers and prospects.
Social media was also used to ask community members what subject areas they want addressed at the next event, as well as speakers they want to see.
Creating a schedule that fostered this level of communication on each social media platform was a key element in the launch. Mudge added it was important for the communication be a true two-way conversation.
"My marketing plan within each channel would focus on getting information from them, as well as delivering information," she explained. "We can keep the communications going, and I schedule, like with Twitter for instance, how many informational outbound messages we should have."
Another aspect of scheduling was utilizing analytic tools to uncover what sort of information community members were seeking from Cisco.
This data analysis included monitoring participation within the community to find individual campaigns that were more successful or relevant with end users. The analytic tools were also used to schedule all the communications going out to the different platforms.
Step #2. Determine the frequency of messaging for each social media platform
Beyond the type of content distributed, the frequency of messaging for each platform was a key element in scheduling.
Mudge said she looked into case studies and research information that was available to create an initial schedule of message frequency.
Each platform was approached differently:
- Twitter had up to ten outgoing messages each day
- Facebook had three or four messages a week
- LinkedIn had as few as two messages a week
At times of "high energy" in the community, she said Facebook might have up to seven messages in a week, but that level of outgoing messages created a downside in drop-offs and end user fatigue from too much information and updates from Cisco.
Mudge stated, "On LinkedIn, the more information that I post, the less is self-generated by the community, so it’s a fine balance."
She observed that providing multiple updates -- four or more -- in one week quieted the LinkedIn posts from attendees to zero.
Even with a framework for message frequency in place, Mudge continued to tweak the process.
On Twitter, she began repeating the same tweets up the three times per day at different times to reach Cisco’s global audience.
"I want to make sure I am not hitting the same target three times, but displaying the tweets at different times in different time zones," Mudge said.
Using the analytic tools and tracking clickthroughs, Mudge found that repeated tweeting of the same message at different times of the day had no negative impact on engagement.
She added that after setting the basic frequency of messaging for each social platform, she continually monitored engagement and actively adjusted message frequency based on the data tracking, particularly with engagement.
Step #3. Provide different social media platforms with different types of content
Mudge said understanding that all the people engaged with Cisco are not necessarily engaged on all three channels meant that any major announcement or important information was presented to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. At the same time, content pushed to each platform provided end users with content types specifically tailored for that platform’s strengths.
Mudge said that Twitter was best for just getting information, mostly in the form of links, out there to people, particularly people who might not even follow the Cisco Twitter account. Using hashtags can bring in "a huge number of eyeballs."
"In LinkedIn, that’s where I can be the most technical because I can provide a deeper explanation, or a little deeper blurb in starting a conversation. (End users) can respond in kind to the community without that character limit they have on Twitter," Mudge stated.
She continued, "Higher-level and less technical information is easier to put on Twitter, and then Facebook is kind of in between, where you do have more characters. So, I can put more information (on Facebook), but they are more about having a conversation. It’s kind of fun on Facebook. They are not as inclined to get into any technical discussions."
To provide an example, Mudge said to spark a discussion on BYOD (bring your own device), she would post information to LinkedIn rather than Facebook.
Mudge explained, "When I post something on Facebook, the response from any community member is normally no more than a sentence. In LinkedIn, there are no character limitations, and the community platform fosters a more robust response and flow of discussion of attendees."
Along with platform-specific content, each social media platform was also provided an overall strategy:
- Provide frequent updates
- Engage in the conversation
- Nurture the community
- Product Twitter "chats"
- Regular updates to the community
- Opportunity to share video and photos with community engagement
- Polls allowing voting and discussion on topics
- Soliciting engagement from direct questions resulting in focused responses
- Provide opportunity for group member discussions and easy connections to targeted participant’s profiles by follow group members
- Keep conversations business and event focused
Step #4. Monitor each platform and facilitate two-way conversations
One challenge is to keep track of social media platforms while also actively encouraging and nurturing conversations since end user participation in social media is essentially 24/7, especially for a global company like Cisco.
Because the messages are scheduled based on analytics -- and in the case of Twitter, to get messages out across international time zones -- at times, messages and the resulting conversations can happen in the middle of night for Mudge.
To help ease this pain point, Cisco is in the process of adding staffing to help Mudge with the real-time social media monitoring.
She said for effective monitoring, "You have to be willing to participate completely in the conversation."
And, even though it’s physically impossible for one person to keep track of social media all day, every day, Mudge would use technology like smartphones to track conversations and end user questions during off business hours.
When she would see questions posed over the weekend, she would often try to find an answer before work began on Monday.
"I am actively engaging in the conversation all the time, which is actually very fun, and I enjoy that very much," Mudge said.
This high level of monitoring only really applies to Twitter by virtue of the very high level of outgoing messages.
She said she monitors conversation on Facebook a couple of times during the workday and once a day on weekends. LinkedIn is checked even more infrequently -- only once per day during the workweek.
Although there is no set service-level agreement on responding to social media questions and requests, she estimated that 90% of the time end users receive a response from Cisco within an hour of posting a question.
One major difference in the level of monitoring for social media is during the Cisco Live event itself. Since the audience for all three platforms is a community based around the user conference, Cisco creates a team to react to that community during the event.
Mudge provided an example of community engagement during the conference by citing a Twitter volume of up to 800 tweets per hour, and constant conversations to be tracked and possibly responded to during keynote addresses.
During the actual Cisco Live event, the goal is to respond to end users within one minute.
Step #5. Involve internal experts in social media conversations
When community members would post technical questions, or questions that touch on specific subjects, Mudge reached out to internal experts at the company to answer the question, providing value to the community.
She said the process works in two ways. If the internal expert is comfortable in social media, the ideal response comes directly from that expert in whatever channel the question is posed -- Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. When timing or unfamiliarity with social media prevents this, the expert provides Mudge the response and she posts the information from the brand’s social media handle.
"I love it when I get more of the Cisco subject matter experts engaged in the communications directly because people love to feel connected to the brand," Mudge stated. "It’s great to have (internal experts) accessible. Then, I think people feel more connected to the brand through all these individuals."
To help facilitate these interactions, Mudge said she puts together Twitter "chats" with Cisco experts.
For example, she had a Twitter chat that featured Padmasree Warrior, CTO, Cisco, who has over 1.5 million Twitter followers. Typically, she just cannot interact with that many followers. However, during the chat, she was able to personally connect with some of her Twitter audience.
Mudge explained, "I had someone who was able to ask her a couple of questions during their designated hour, and get responses from her. He was ‘over the moon’ excited as he stated in his tweet. He was so excited and thrilled that he had the opportunity to communicate with her and have that connection."
Step #6. Continue to evaluate the program
About the social media outreach, Mudge stated, "It’s always changing and always evolving. And, I am always evaluating. Now (that) it’s after the big event, that’s when we start the evaluations, and I am looking at, ‘Okay, what am I going to do differently."
Mudge said part of the process is looking over the previous year’s social media messaging to find out what was most successful. Even though this process is conducted month-to-month and quarterly on an ongoing basis, she said there is value in taking stock of the program as a whole on a yearly basis.
One challenge Mudge has found is that hot topics on social media can change rapidly, and what was most successful six months ago might not be so hot in the present. This requires keeping track of end user conversations, understanding the community’s concerns and maintaining the two-way conversation.
"I want to make sure I am sensitive to the audience, and I am aware of their needs, what their discussions are, what their pain points are, (and) what they [are] wanting to know more about," Mudge said. "It’s constant monitoring of engagement and actively adjusting whatever I plan."
In monitoring all three platforms throughout the year, Mudge has found that Twitter creates the most interactivity. LinkedIn provides the second most overall engagement, but during the Cisco Live event, around which this entire social media campaign was created, Facebook passes LinkedIn for community conversations.
Because this effort is part of Cisco’s event marketing, even though it is ongoing year-round and not just during the event, the metrics most important to the internal team are based around the Cisco Live user conference.
As a marketing effort that is active year-round and drives engagement and clickthroughs from the social media messages, the key marketing result is a 236% increase in clickthroughs over the previous year.
Also, over one year:
- The program conducted 18 Twitter "chats"
- Twitter followers increased 100%
- LinkedIn members increased 300%
- Facebook fans increased 200%
The Cisco Live event metrics include:
- 35,000 unique tweets
- 2,052 video blogs by Cisco customers
- 105,000 unique uStream viewers
- Social media became one of the five main revenue channels for the event in 2011, and continues to grow and break new revenue records
- Revenue tracked back to social media channels was nearly $460,000 for the 2011 event alone
"The key learning and takeaway is to always analyze and adjust, because nothing stays the same," Mudge advised. "Always monitor and analyze your data to ensure that you are moving in the right direction."
She said this insight allows social media marketers to best accommodate the needs of the community.
- Cisco Live’s Facebook page (United States version)
- Example of Twitter interaction
- Example of LinkedIn interaction
- Cisco’s relationship marketing vendor
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