Interview: EMC Does Social Media From The Inside Out

Recently I had a discussion with a client about doing social media “inside out” – starting with leveraging collaboration tools and focusing on using social tools inside the walls before engaging customers.  I was quickly reminded that storage technology and services company EMC has taken that approach and embarked on a journey with employees, customers and partners worldwide.  I reached out to Len Devanna (a good friend, a former client years ago, and Director of Social Strategy helping lead EMC‘s social media efforts to the next level), and asked if he’d answer a few questions about it.  Turns out it was a timely ask.

Q. How did EMC start on their social media journey?

LD: We formally embarked on our social journey back in 2007. At the time, we saw the world around us changing. The emergence of the social web was big in BtoC, but had not made significant strides in BtoB. Regardless, we saw the trend as a game changer – one that would fundamentally change the way brands engaged with their audience. As we embarked on our journey, we made a few key decisions that, in hindsight, were spot on…

We decided to take an inside-out approach as we wanted to focus on our own internal proficiency with social before taking the conversation beyond the comfort of our firewall. To that end, the first major step in our journey was the launch of EMC|ONE – An internal community platform for our global employees.

Over the years, EMC|ONE has proven to be an invaluable tool and has helped us build an incredible degree of social proficiency across the global workforce. Many of our public bloggers, as example, honed their voice and refined their blogging skills on EMC|ONE before going public.

Not only has EMC|ONE helped build that proficiency, but it’s also fundamentally changed our company. We’re proud to share that the EMC|ONE community consists of over 30k active members while our overall employee population is around 48k. That 30k is active members, so it’s safe to assume the vast majority of the delta are passive consumers. Suffice it to say that EMC|ONE is at the very epicenter of enterprise collaboration at EMC. It’s simply changed the way we work.

Q. Do you think companies benefit when they start with internal social initiatives? Why or why not?

LD: I sure do. I’m of the firm belief that there’s a need to understand ‘social etiquette’ in the digital realm. Many of the ‘common sense’ behaviors that we take for granted in the physical world apply to the digital world as well.

I often joke that, if you’ve been invited to a party, you don’t show up – barge in the door and start shouting about your new puppy dog. Rather you walk in, get a sense of the conversations at hand, and emerge yourself in the relevant discussions. Despite being a no brainer in the physical world, how many countless tweets have we all seen along the lines of ‘I’m eating toast!’. Bottom line, I believe our inside-out approach has helped us better understand such behaviors, and ultimately made us more effective through our social engagements.

Perhaps more importantly, social introduces new ways for us to work and collaborate with one another on a global scale. Much like the arrival of email way back when, these are ‘new’ behaviors that must be learned. EMC|ONE has taught us a great deal about how to work differently with one another – and has literally changed how we collaborate amongst one another on a global scale.

I literally cannot imagine EMC without an ‘EMC|ONE’, and suspect the vast majority of the internal community would agree.

Q. What’s the one key takeaway from EMC’s social media journey you’d want people to remember?

LD: Openness and transparency are key. What I find most fascinating about social is that it forces us to change some rather long-standing behaviors in ourselves.

Specifically – anytime someone wants to start a new community on EMC|ONE, they always want a private area with hand-selected members (be it their workgroup, their business unit, geography, etc). In fact we’ve avoided the notion of silo’d discussions, and rather encouraged open dialogue for all global employees to participate in.

Without fail, community managers come back thankful that we steered them down such a path. What they learn is that a discussion is infinitely more valuable when you bring in diverse perspective. We’ve seen countless examples of employees in different business functions and geographies coming together to collaborate on meaningful topics. That would never happen without an open approach.

Openness was perhaps one of the more difficult notions to sell – but the rewards and lessons learned have been simply invaluable.

I hope the bits above help others along their journey. Thanks for letting us share our story via your blog, Adam.

Thank you LD – this is tremendous insight and I’m grateful you shared EMC’s story here.  I’m even more enamored with the video EMC produced to tell the tale.

Share and enjoy, and feel free to leave questions for Len in the comments.

Photo credit: Facebook

The Brand Factor: Do Established Brands Have It Easier?

Social MediaDo big, well-known brands have it easier or harder than start-ups trying to make an impact and leveraging social media?  Jeremiah Owyang, the well known social media analyst from Forrester Research, recently wrote a very thoughtful post on the current challenges in social media.  I also recently attended Social Media Camp Boston, which had a number of enterpreneurs presenting on tactics they take to leverage social media platforms.  This got me thinking – what types of companies lend themselves to social media?  I see three major factors that can help to answer this question, among others:

1.  "Traditional" Marketing and PR
2.  Budget for Social Media Efforts
3.  Community Leverage

Traditional Marketing and PR

Many large companies and established brands have yet to embrace and understand some of the tenets of social media.  They are unwilling to relinquish control of the message.  They struggle with fears of engaging customers directly and giving them a voice – looking to avoid negative PR instead of embracing customers and engaging customers.  They term "audience" is still used prevalently because of the one-way communication mindset, where "community," "listening" and "conversation" are not words some of these companies would associate with marketing. 

In some ways, this parallels a presentation I attended at Forrester's Marketing Forum called "The Interactive Marketing Maturity Model."  Shar Van Boskirk did an excellent job capturing four levels of maturity in embracing interactive marketing, which I believe also applies to leveraging social media:

  • "Skeptics," characterized by little or no interactive experience and assessing if interactive has value for them
  • "Mavericks," organizations that have a few isolated team members that appreciate interactive and run stand-alone programs but lack support to improve current efforts
  • "Practitioners," companies who have several years of experience and are piloting emerging media, and
  • "Optimizers," who have company-wide support for interactive efforts and are working to optimize multi-channel (including offline) efforts.1

With very few "optimizers" out there in the big corporations, it can be difficult for those companies to bridge the gap and trully leverage social media.  They need to retain talent in the industry, like Ford's recent hire of Scott Monty and Nationwide's recent hiring of Shawn Morton.

On the flip side, smaller startup organizations can be more nimble and have few constraints around controlling the brand message.  A great example of this is Freshbooks, led by chief "magic maker" Saul Colt.  Their entire marketing approach is to build a community of passionate users and embrace their customers with open and earnestly helpful dialog.

Budget for Social Media Efforts

More traditional organizations will ask the ROI question.  As Jeremiah points out, it's difficult to measure ROI on "engagement" and no industry standard exists.  Larger established brands may be less willing to take risks – where startups practically need to take a risk to differentiate themselves.  An untapped, unproven landscape in social media is ripe for startups (even though they may be spending funding rather than profits).  Albert Maruggi of the Marketing Edge, thinks companies need to get past the ROI question, using magazines' spending $14 million to buy a baby picture of Brangelina's kids as an example.

I think it should be easier for larger companies to allocate budget (including resources) to focus on social media due to their scale and the relatively low barrier to entry of leveraging many of these tools.  Sometimes process and a lack of executive sponsorship get in the way.

Community Leverage

Another factor in determining whether big brands have it easier is whether they already have a community to tap into.  Nike's Jordan division is a well known and loved brand – leveraging social media platforms and tools should be easy since there are passionate fans out there who would willingly participate.  For crying out loud, people fight and even risk lives in getting a hold of the latest shoe design. 

Smaller startups need to build communities, one person at a time.  Melanie Notkin has done a terrific job at building a community over months leading up to the launch of, using her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.  It can be arguably harder to build a community than to engage one that exists, but I'd be interested to hear from folks who have more expertise on each before I decide on that one.

So which is it?

Do big brands have it easier or harder leveraging social media?  Are there other factors to consider?  Please take the poll and let me know what you think.

1 Source: The Interactive Marketing Maturity Model, Shar Van Boskirk, Forrester Research, April 9, 2008.
Photo credit: mrwilleeumm via Flickr