This article is based on the authors’ recently published book, Bust the Silos: Opening Your Organization for Growth, Amazon Booksurge, December, 2009.

Using social media effectively is still elusive for many organizations. The best-practice example below, featuring Microsoft and its advertising agency, will help those trying to understand and apply social media learn how to do so and get optimal results.

Effective use of Social Media requires new processes and a different orientation for effective customer dialogue. Many companies are struggling to understand how to use social media in their marketing mix. This article attempts to address some of the questions marketers need to consider when attempting to understand social media.

  • How can social media be harnessed for achieving customer intimacy?
  • Why is social media different than the rest of the marketing mix?
  • How can listening become an organizational strength?
  • How can companies measure social media efficacy?

Customer dialogue in a silo-free world

For the past 10 years, many management books have focused on customer-centricity. Generally, this has meant gathering customer knowledge and understanding as the first step in the commercial process. Through research and data-gathering by the salesforce, the enterprise receives customer knowledge that it can use in developing its communications and solutions.

Today, more than ever before, businesses can not only listen to customers, they can invite customers to help shape the company activities. Customers have input on which products to develop with which features, how events should be planned, and what kind of meaningful dialogue they’d like to have.

When one-way communications becomes a customer dialogue it changes the enterprise’s demand creation activities significantly. It enlivens, energizes, and stimulates the value- creation network. In addition, the efficiency effect—speed, accuracy, and scale—leverages the communications budget exponentially.

However, to achieve these benefits management must bust the most important silo in Demand Creation —the one separating the enterprise from its customers. Often, companies and their customers seemed to have lived in two separate worlds and at loggerheads, almost enemies. At minimum, they negotiated different sides of transactions and invoices. Salespeople were not viewed as customer advocates; research was theoretical, dry, time-bound and devoid of the emotional understanding that a true relationship requires.

Challenges for new product launches

Customer relationship building is even more critical with new product and service introductions that require customer “leaps of faith.”

Most new product launches have two customer barriers to overcome:

The Functional Barrier: Customers do not know how the product works, are not clear on its benefits, are not aware of its features, or do not believe it delivers superior value. Relevant information, engagingly presented from a credible source, is required to overcome the functional barrier.

The emotional barrier: Customers do not feel right about adopting the new product. They may be nervous about change, they may not trust the new supplier, they may have a relationship with another supplier that they feel should not be broken, or they may have internalized negative information or someone else’s opinion that makes them not believe the new information coming from the new product supplier. Overcoming the emotional barrier requires the building of trust.

The customer dialogue is most critical to obtain attitude change and adoption to overcome these barriers; successful application of network tools can be part of the solution.

Social Media defined

Patricia Seybold, author of “Outside Innovation”, is a forward thinker who assesses and predicts how new and evolving technologies will impact customers. She suggests that the necessity to improve communication with customers requires businesses to completely re-think their contact processes.

“I believe that in order to really understand your customer, you have to know: who they are, what they care about and what they’re trying to do. And that means you have to actually see them in the field. You have to do ethnographic research, and go watch them in their jobs and in their lives. You also, in my opinion, have to invite them in to co-design with you, co-design how they would ideally accomplish what they want to do, how they would ideally do what they want to do…

Really engage with lead customers – the ones who are out in front and very passionate about things. Get them really hooked into your organization, and not just through surveys or user group meetings twice a year. And you can recruit and incentivize them without spending much money. They love to be heard.1

Today we have new “networked organization” tools to do just that. Now far-sighted marketers are experimenting with ways to use social media tools on a Web 2.0 platform such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn. These tools are now proving their ability to increase customer intimacy through continuous customer interaction.

In our research, we identified the Wunderman Agency campaign for the Microsoft launch “Heroes Happen Here” as an effective use of social media. We summarize the campaign below and include the observations of the person who was Wunderman’s account director on the campaign.

Heroes Happen Here – The campaign

In 2008, Microsoft launched the “Heroes Happen Here” (HHH) campaign with its agency, Wunderman. The campaign fulfills Patricia Seybold’s challenge to marketers.

HHH was a 61-city tour event for three server products: Windows Server, SQL Server and Visual Studio – all 2008 editions. Windows Server is the Operating System software. SQL Server is the database software. Visual Studio is software used by developers to build the applications that run on Windows Server or SQL server. Each event is like a big party for IT (information technology) professionals and developers. The common themes include a keynote speech, discussions about the release of the three products, and the power of those products for business productivity and efficiency. Break out sessions provide product demonstrations to go deeper into each of the individual products, depending on the participant’s role as an IT professional or developer. Microsoft experts are there to walk them through hands-on, individualized product tests.

But more important than the events themselves were the digital conversations with the individuals who were in the target audience for the events. Wunderman applied social media and associated targeting and tailoring tools in an innovative way that resulted in an increase in market participation in the events, and an improved dialogue between Microsoft and its sophisticated IT professional users.

What is most significant about this story is how the new social media tools provide an opportunity for innovation in dialogue and personalization with the customer. Microsoft, through the campaign developed Wunderman, is leading the industry in the use of social media in customer dialogue.

We spoke with Wunderman’s Michael Joseph, the account director for the HHH campaign, and discussed how social media tools can be used to enhance customer dialogue and build brand equity. We asked Michael to describe the major changes in communication with clients using social media to reach target audiences. Specifically, we highlight the HHH campaign as an example of innovation in communications. The campaign highlights how Microsoft is taking a marketing leadership role in offering, “relevant messaging.”

Michael Joseph on social media:

“Paradigm shift is probably an over-used term, but change is real as customers are truly empowered now through tools on the Internet. Companies can no longer just push their message out and merely measure gross rating points or cost per impression to determine effective reach as success criteria. Consumers are actively gathering information to really determine— no matter what a company may say or how a company might position itself—what a brand and offering are all about. There always has been the power of referrals and peer-to-peer word of mouth. But technology just makes it much easier and more scalable for opinions to be formed quickly and perceptions to be influenced. Social media, developed through web 2.0 products, now redefines customer communications.

Social Media defined and utilized

The HHH campaign began with an intense “listening” activity to understand what the target audience was saying—positive and negative—about Microsoft. By tracking the conversations taking place on the Internet using tools such as Visible Technologies’ TruCast, Wunderman can determine the actual language customers use, plus the volume and tonality (or sentiment) of conversation taking place on certain topics, such as what IT professionals were thinking about the upcoming new version of Windows Server. The tool also maps the blogosphere to uncover who the most influential conversationalists are, so that those bloggers could be closely tracked and engaged in order to gain scale.

That insight is then applied to the development of marketing campaigns. While the positioning strategy had been developed for HHH prior to commencing the conversational monitoring, the insights uncovered by the listening tools did inform a targeted engagement strategy for reaching key influential bloggers and the development of social network activities.

By engaging with different types of social media—from blogs to social networks to user-generated content aggregators, Microsoft was able to enter into conversations that shifted perceptions and changed behavior. What we found during the HHH campaign was that when a message or content resonated, social media enabled the rapid spreading of that message and content.

In this age of the Internet, customers are reaching out rather than merely waiting for companies to approach them. Consequently, discoverability is essential—a company and its offerings need to be able to be discovered with ease.

In addition to making sure that a company is “discoverable,” today’s best marketers are embracing the full spectrum of how people consume information and make buying decisions. Audiences are consuming media in a different way—whether through TIVOs or Twitter updates. They have more control of when, where and how they encounter engagement with companies. As a result, the landscape for marketers is undergoing dramatic change. At the same time, technology has also enabled relationship marketing to become even more effective.

Wunderman Holistic Campaign Strategy
With permission from Wunderman

As illustrated in this campaign strategy chart, building a relationship-based marketing plan should map and integrate all engagement vehicles to enable a focused and seamless user experience. Such a plan should make sure that all the channels work together to advance prospective customers to an end goal. Each channel has strengths and weaknesses; the map addresses those so that the customer can advance from awareness to consideration to purchase and use so that they become advocates for the brand. For instance, “search” gets a lot of credit for being a low-cost purchase or — in the case of more purchases involving multiple decision makers — other prospective customer action, such as downloading a case study or webcast. Yet studies show that when you don’t also employ complementary tactics, such as online banners, in addition to search, your search response rates are not optimized.

The HHH Campaign is a good example of B2B use of Social Media

While much attention has been placed on how social media is used to promote consumer products, less attention has been paid to business-to-business uses of social media. Microsoft’s HHH campaign employed social media as a key component of the campaign by reaching its target audience where that audience carries on conversations about technology matters.

The campaign was also based on the insight gleaned from research pointing to the way today’s companies make technology purchases. Namely, technology purchase decision-making is very much a collaborative process, with multiple decision makers and influencers. The campaign embraced this insight by offering interaction with the myriad of individuals in a target company. As a result, the right people in the organization learned about Microsoft’s upcoming product launches and encouraged the hands-on assessors to try out betas and trial versions, while communicating the business value of those products to others, depending on their role in the organization. In other words, super hyper-targeted messaging to generate qualified sales leads to Microsoft’s sales organization.

Mapping outreach

To engage in social media, it is important to know where the relevant conversations are taking place, what is being discussed in those conversations and who are the most influential conversationalists. To gain that understanding, Wunderman conducted what is called “influencer mapping” of the social media ecosystem. By analyzing the conversations by keywords, such as “Windows Server” or “developer software tools,” we were able to find out where the relevant conversations were taking place and identify the influentials, i.e. those blogs and other social media having large followings. By further analyzing the data, we could determine if the conversations taking place were generally positive, neutral or negative in their sentiment toward Microsoft. Armed with that information, we could then proactively engage in those conversations in a scalable manner by focusing on the important conversations rather than trying to pursue all conversations.

Identify and then engage

Proactive engagement in social media is tricky. It requires full transparency, i.e. identifying yourself and your company affiliation. In this instance, it always required explaining that the person entering into the online conversation was either a Microsoft employee or a representative of Microsoft. Companies that have tried to be deceptive in social media—pretending to be someone other than they are—generate negative reactions, often extreme ones.

Transparency merely required a simple acknowledgement of who was joining in the online conversation: “Hey, I’m from Microsoft, I hear you’re talking about this. Here’s our point of view.” Or, “We see you had a question about the technology. Here’s where I think our technology fits in.”

Our goal was not to merely change perceptions about these products, but also to begin conversations with key influencers, in order to alert our Microsoft clients about the negative influencers for future targeting purposes. For instance, the map indicates who is talking about Microsoft or its competitors. As you read through the posts and comments, it is possible to ascertain customers’ changing hot buttons—what are the concerns, and how can Microsoft reflect those concerns in subsequent communications, messaging or content?

What we saw over and over in the subsequent online posts was that people embraced Microsoft’s joining the conversation. They wanted Microsoft’s point of view.

We also were careful not to enter into any online conversation with our campaign for the launch event as our agenda. If we engaged in a conversation that didn’t have a natural and immediate connection to saying, “Hey, there’s this HHH event where Microsoft is launching its products,” we wouldn’t bring it up. We’d just enter in the conversation and participate based on what people were talking about.

We found that by gaining the respect of those in the conversation, we could later bring up the event when the context was right. As a result, we were able to meet our campaign objectives by driving awareness and attendance at the events, or at the very least, have a positive effect on the overall Microsoft brand by clearly showing that Microsoft was involved, that it cared and that it was “human.”

How to measure engagement

One powerful metric used for this campaign was the CAR (continued action rate) that measured our tactics through to registration. In most campaigns, paid search tends to be one of—if not the—lowest cost vehicle for CAR. But in testing our social media outreach program against paid search, we found that our social media outreach program outperformed paid search by almost two to one. In addition, we tracked the increase in volume in conversations about the three new products and the sentiment improvements for each over time.

The ultimate focus group

Monitoring conversational media and social networks can be extremely valuable for marketers. By listening into all of these blogs, user groups and social network conversations, we gain insights from the equivalent of one, gigantic focus group of thousands. And in many ways, the comments online are even more candid than those expressed in focus groups because the conversations are raw and not moderated. By using sophisticated analytical tools, we can map those conversations to uncover important insights that are then applied to messaging and positioning strategy and even media strategy, by focusing on where the conversations are taking place.

The insights can also be applied to sales, product development and customer service. For instance, you can plug insights into the design of your product or your marketing message. You may find out that everyone is talking about some feature, but you have not included it within your paid search buy. You can add that keyword into your subsequent buys. Because you know people are talking about it, they are probably searching and trying to find information on it. This can optimize communication.”

Microsoft used a whole chain of innovation in HHH:

  1. They listened and actually put sensing mechanisms in market— true use of social media and monitoring tools.
  2. They used what they learned to then inform the paid media execution. They learned how sentiment and tone were shifting in market. It actually helped to form content for their events and the way they thought about their messaging and paid media.
  3. They were able to leverage their subject matter experts in a very new way. Instead of pulling customers into their facilities to engage with the subject matter experts, they were able to take the subject matter experts to the customers in the environments where they were comfortable. They engaged in very deep conversations, which they know measurably improved their response rate in terms of event registration and the likelihood of purchasing products.


  • Social Media tools can provide a new frontier for innovation in creating a real- time dialogue with the customer.
  • The reward is increased credibility; the risk is decreased control of the message communicated.
  • Social media can be one of the most cost effective marketing tools
  • The target customer can be brought in more effectively in dialogue through Social Media tools. The result is a better, more effective marketing effort.

  1. Conversations with Marketing Masters, Mazur and Miller, John Wiley & Sons, 2007, p 186-191