Jun 4 2009
There’s been no greater use of social media during a crisis moment than GM”s use of these tools during the past week. GM’s head of social media Chris Barger took some time out of his incredibly busy week to answer some questions on GM’s efforts this week, and moving forward.
GL: You used social media as part of your larger integrated campaign to communicate through the bankruptcy. How did it work as a crisis tool?
CB: I think it was a critical piece of the strategy – because it was the one set of media where we could *respond* to people and answer questions, and listen to their thoughts. We had a lot of information to get out and we certainly used social media to help convey it, but the real value for us as a crisis tool was in the ability to interact, explain and go deeper with audiences.
I would like to think they got more out of interacting with us than they would have from just hearing the messages delivered through traditional media. I also think that there’s now an expectation — of companies in general, but especially those in our situation, accountable to the us taxpayer — that we should/will be engaged in social media conversations… Had we not been, i think it would have been deemed a failure — so some of the “crisis tool” value was actually in heading off potential other criticism.
GL: GM is used to the negative voices. I am sure you heard some positive, hopeful voices, too. Did the social web detract or empower GM employees this week?
CB: This was the most unexpected thing for me of the whole week — and was a wonderful surprise. I expected that we would get ‘killed’ out there and that in engaging in Twitter, FB, blogs, etc., I had my team set up to personally bear the brunt of people’s anger. Instead, we largely found the opposite to be true.
People seemed to like that we were out there trying to be genuine, trying to answer as honestly as we could; people seemed to respect the individual courage it took for our people to be out in the social web this week. Most people — even the ones who are really angry at gm or at what’s happening right now — were very kind to us, sent us public or private encouragement…
We in the social world always talk about how social humanizes an organization, but the converse also took place for us this week: it humanized the audience. The encouragement we received genuinely kept us going; when even many detractors were polite and even gracious about engaging with us, it really made everything easier to go through. This grace and courtesy we saw from 90% of the audience was the most wonderful and appreciated surprise.
GL: One thing that became apparent during the outreach was GM’s focus on team social media as opposed to a singular voice. How does that different approach empower GM?
CB: On a purely practical level it enabled us to better engage this week; there was no way that a singular voice or ‘brandividual’ could have taken part in all the conversations that we needed to be in. However, many conversations one person can be in at once, a team can engage exponentially.
More importantly, it avoids the concern of too-heavily associating your brand with an individual — and mitigates the danger of that individual leaving the company. Robert Scoble’s audience follows him wherever he goes; they didn’t automatically stay with Microsoft, for example. It is absolutely vital that gm be more human in our interactions, rather than ‘hiding behind a blue box’ logo. But we have more than one human, with more than one set of passions, more than one area of expertise. As much as my ego might enjoy being “Mr. GM in social media,” I think the company is better served in the long run by being represented by a platoon of voices, eventually even an army (It’s what I still admire about IBM’s approach.).
Most important of all, however, is this: the more pervasive a company’s use of these media, and the conversations and relationships that develop from them, the more genuinely responsive we become. All the learnings that i get from interactions online… Add my team and we multiply that benefit and those learnings by 6. Add in the extended team we built this week, and our learnings increase by 20x.
How much more responsive, customer-focused and better attuned could we be if we had 100 highly active people in social media? If we had 200? 500? 1000 or 5000? It would be an #epicfail on my part if i focused all those learnings and affinities on myself (or any single individual) and then relied on individuals’ power of persuasion and personality to imbue them in the organization; rather, i’d say that the more people gm plugs into conversation, the more genuinely connected and responsive we’ll be.
You can read Part II of this interview on the CRT/tanaka whatcanbe blog. Chris answers questions on whether detractors were correct, which social tools were best used in the crisis, and what’s next for GM on the social web.