Social media for companies: What's working?

If you want to know whose using Social Media in the corporate world, here is a list of 35+ Examples of Corporate Social Media in Action from Mashable. If that’s not enough for you, here is a further list of 130 Social Media Marketing examples from major companies. Some are surprising, for example even British Airways as is getting in on the act with a Twitter account listing flight specials.

It got me thinking about who is doing what locally. Here’s my own list that I came up with (please feel free to add or let me know of any omissions):



Low take-up so far
It’s interesting to note how low the take-up is on many of the corporate social media accounts and groups that I looked at. Where the numbers are public, such as on Twitter and Facebook, they’re relatively inconsequential. In contrast, however, the blogging numbers are most likely to fare much better. It’s difficult to tell for sure because the blog numbers aren’t public — but if online media blog traffic is anything to go by, blogs are probably the most successful of all the social media tools.

Surprisingly, British Airways’ Twitter account has only around 200 followers — this from one of the world’s largest airlines with millions of customers? It may be a maverick Twitter account that’s probably not being promoted properly. Also, a closer look at the account does reveal it’s set up by a subsidiary, “British Airways North America”.

Locally, Absa Bank has only about 3,000 fans on Facebook, despite being advertised boldly on its well-trafficked homepage. It may be a good start, but paltry compared to their customer base and reach. BMW’s Facebook group is probably the largest and oldest of them all, but still only has around 4,000 fans — a loyal fan base, but a drop in the proverbial ocean? On the other hand, BMW could argue that 4,000 potential BMW sales is valuable. BMW is a brand that should work well in a social media context as it’s a lifestyle brand people want association with.

But why the low numbers? Is it because social media in the corporate context isn’t working? Or could the problem be that it’s not being executed, implemented or integrated properly in some instances? Is it that for some companies a Facebook or Twitter account is not a good fit, whereas a blog may work better, or the other way round? Do we still need to find the magic ingredients, or is it a case of early days and untold potential?

Comments (27)

  1. Dave Duarte wrote::

    I think the issue with a lot of these examples is that the companies are treating the Web as they would just another channel… in other words, set up a site, get someone to watch over it, and promote it in all the usual ways.
    Social Media, however, is just that: Social. I want to know how these companies are empowering their people to connect directly with people over the web – not to own the conversation, but to contribute to the conversations that are happening already.

    Sunday, October 5, 2008 at 9:57 pm #
  2. Chris M wrote::

    I concur with Dave. I also find it so interesting that this article points out very clearly just how much room there still is, in South Africa, for social media!

    Sunday, October 5, 2008 at 11:49 pm #
  3. Rudolph wrote::

    Hi Matthew

    While the list gives some snapshot of companies in SA using new media, I think many people miss what is really happening locally. Companies like Vodacom and MTN have long had a very strong presence on MyBroadband and is as good as any international example of how a company should make the most of online communities.

    In fact: I challenge anyone to try to find any international example that will beat Vodacom’s online community interaction on MyBroadband! A MyBroadband gift pack for anyone with a convincing argument (serious). But before you state your argument, just make sure that your example extends far beyond online as Vodacom’s commitment does 😉

    While some local companies and media houses are trying to figure out how to approach ‘this online/new media thing’ others are already showing great results by embracing it. I personally think that there is such a strong focus on blogging that most people miss what is really going on and what is happing in South Africa. There is much more to the local online space than blogs, a Facebook presence or the like.


    Monday, October 6, 2008 at 2:37 am #
  4. Dave Duarte wrote::

    That’s a good point Rudolph, and I think that their participation on MyBroadband has provided them with phenomenal insight and access to a clued up community who cares about what they do.

    Monday, October 6, 2008 at 9:13 am #
  5. Louis wrote::

    Often these campaigns are launched with a mindset of “it’s the new In-thing & we shouldn’t miss out”.

    I doubt there’s hardly been any real strategic thinking in positioning some of these initiatives.

    What do they want to achieve?

    Case in point, Absa’s Facebook page – you can smell the corporate bureaucracy. What value do they provide their fans?

    Now, put some financial advice on there. Show me how Absa would protect my money. Help save. Get a student loan etc. REAL value.

    Monday, October 6, 2008 at 10:51 am #
  6. Melissa wrote::

    Your post raises some good questions Matt. I like Rudolph’s comment, the interaction with a brand’s community is the most important aspect of SM which is why although Vodacom’s perceived involvement in SM may not be ‘visible’ through blogs and the like but their real response and interaction is high. This is naturally critical also from an ORM point of view and identification of brand champions. Like Dave says however also how are these customer interaction people empowered and armed with the correct responses? This then goes back to the question of where does SM fit in an organisation….cust service, PR, marketing. tech? I still like it’s a standalone issue with skills from the above. Early days though and good progress is being made – plenty of work out there and great opportunities for all 🙂

    Monday, October 6, 2008 at 10:59 am #
  7. Dave Duarte wrote::

    @Melissa I don’t think it should be a particular department that’s empowered to speak for the organization. The silo approach is exactly what’s not working here.

    A better approach would be to trust some people enough to allow them to express themselves online – although not in the “spokesperson” capacity, but rather as individuals who care about their work and can express that honestly. So a tech guy could speak on the tech perspective, a finance guy on that and so-on.

    Monday, October 6, 2008 at 11:45 am #
  8. Melissa wrote::

    @Dave I do agree I think the issue is people are trying to pigeonhole it at the moment without completely understanding the range of skills perhaps required.

    I most definitely agree re: individuals as it brings a sense of honesty and enthusiasm which is the key to engaging people and spreading the personality of a brand.

    Monday, October 6, 2008 at 12:07 pm #
  9. Johan Nel wrote::

    Great post.
    There’s some good news coming from these examples, it shows that corporate marketers are trying to understand the industry and this poses a positive future for our local publishers.

    I’m still trying to understand why uptake is so slow, both on the consumer side and the amount of marketers who actually try to get involved. Social media works on more or less the same criteria as viral, there should be no rules and don’t tell social networkers what to do.

    Maybe marketers are missing the final part of the strategy, what does it mean to have a Facebook page ( for example) and how do I use that to interact, attract and retain prospect. How do I truly build a permission based community for my brand? As soon as we have this answer we should educate like crazy….

    Monday, October 6, 2008 at 12:17 pm #
  10. Wogan wrote::

    I don’t exactly operate in this space, but coming from a complete outsider’s POV – social media doesn’t have a bottom-line ROI. In fact, given the amount of time it takes to build a strong presence (and given that time == money), many businesses probably don’t see the value in investing at all.

    Traditional marketing has proven itself time and again, with clear correlations between money spent and money made. And for companies that already have strong presences outside social media, once again, they probably won’t see the value in investing in social media.

    The only real value that social media can offer to these companies is brand image. Unfortunately, in cases like FNB, they’re so large that it seems they don’t really care how they look to the outside world. Social media’s all about interaction, but most large companies can’t even get back to client support emails within 3 days – how can you expect them to have people dedicated to interacting with people online, 12/5?

    If anything, it’s the next-generation startups that should be educated and equipped, since they’re the ones that are more likely to rely on social media to get their initiatives going. I fear it’s too late for the behemoths of this country.

    ~ Wogan

    Monday, October 6, 2008 at 12:56 pm #
  11. FeistyFemale wrote::

    Good questions! My observations:

    Often the decisions makers don’t completely understand the benefits and potential of the medium, let alone how to integrate it. This is still early days.

    I believe that social media marketing only works brilliantly when combined with offline activity and interaction. There is definately something to be said about integrating something “real” and “tangible” The best social media practitioners already know this.

    Perhaps blogging is the less invasive, easier to manage tool in the social media arsenal. Thus the popularity. Staff time can be better managed i.e. You can assign two hours for a blog post but how do you justify a day on Twitter?

    Measurability is still a challenge. At the end of the day it’s all about what’s in the bank account.

    Facebook and Twitter are not always the perfect fit for corporate/consumer environments. I’ve recently worked on an international account where despite our hardest efforts and creative strategies could not get either Twitter and Facebook to perform. Why? Two things: Firstly efforts are applied to mediums and tools that already work and have traction. Secondly, the “power of association” can work against your brand. Sometimes it’s not in the users interest to be associated with a brand publicly – religion, culture, values, social class and standing still form part of society. Pressure whether applied by society or the individual himself in an attempt to “be cool” or fit in will influence their choices online when selecting groups, pages, and even friends.

    Monday, October 6, 2008 at 1:19 pm #
  12. thescott wrote::

    Our BMW SA page on Facebook has been growing quite steadily for a few months now. We’ve managed to have some good debates, assist customers who’ve used the channel as a complaints platform, *build leads* (= gain a little bit of measurable “ROI”), and keep people regularly informed when new stuff is announced.

    From the stats, I’ve seen that our social media optimisation on all our newer campaign work is starting to pick up more and more, with link sharing in Facebook gaining traction as well as decent volumes (still small but decent nonetheless).

    One of the bigger challenges is to convince corporates the merits of SM. “What is it? Another channel for complaints?” (I get that a lot). Unfortunately corporates have specific channels for dealing with customers and the public. They also have a certain tone that is to be used. The BMW SA FB page has flown under the radar in this respect, and all for the better I think.

    How could we make it better? There are a lot of great ideas that aren’t even that difficult to execute. The main problem is that of employee resources – more work for someone else who, A – doesn’t want it because it’s not their responsibility (and therefore resents it == willingness to help (and to be nice) decreases) and, B – doesn’t want it because they’ve got their own work piling up.

    Social media is the new kid on the streets who, although may be a superstar in the making, still needs to prove itself in the ring against the heavy-weights (who have the added advantage of positive perception).

    Monday, October 6, 2008 at 3:02 pm #
  13. Justin wrote::

    I was under the impression that almost all the corporates listed above are currently using some of the local social media companies to help them refine/revise their campaigns?

    Why is there such a small following?

    I’m not sure why, however these corporates have spent a whack of cash, gotten consultants in to help them with their SM…and know I wonder what their ROI will look like? Imagine the CPA ?

    34 people following Standard Bank on twitter? Half of those are probably Standard Bank employees.

    @Ruldoph, I agree 100%.

    Monday, October 6, 2008 at 3:39 pm #
  14. Neil wrote::

    Social networking as a marketing medium = FAIL
    Social networking for public relations = WIN

    Monday, October 6, 2008 at 3:41 pm #
  15. thescott wrote::

    @Justin one of the great things about the current set of social media tools such as Facebook is that it’s very easy to set up and run with no help from outside. Our (BMW SA) total expenditure on social media to date = R0.

    Monday, October 6, 2008 at 4:13 pm #
  16. Matt dear, @bizcomdigital is not and I have no idea who is behind it. If anyone knows, please inform me!

    Anyway, we have three blogs: editorial (, sport ( and entertainment (

    We’re also on Zoopy ( and Facebook ( Don’t forget I run around on Twitter as @SimoneBiz.

    But most importantly, in my opinion, is that we’ve had the ability for readers to comment on Bizcommunity content (editorial and press office) for years and years. And we have forums.

    Monday, October 6, 2008 at 4:18 pm #
  17. Wogan wrote::

    @thescott vs. the amount of time that could have been spent on other activities with greater impact on revenue? Time being money and all that.

    Tuesday, October 7, 2008 at 10:11 am #
  18. thescott wrote::

    @wogan The problem with business these days is that there’s not enough time being spent on experimenting and innovation. We’re all too busy trying to keep afloat of what we already have in front of us.

    As far as what we’ve learned about our fans, as well as the general experience gained in this form of media, I think it has been time very well spent. In fact, we probably don’t spend nearly enough time interacting on FB.

    Tuesday, October 7, 2008 at 10:33 am #
  19. matt wrote::

    Just saw this, that also may be pertinent to the discussion:

    Analyst: Half of ‘social media campaigns’ will flop

    Adam Sarner, an analyst with market research firm Gartner, has projected that over 75 percent of Fortune 1000 companies with Web sites will have undertaken some kind of online social-networking initiative for marketing or customer relations purposes. But, he added in an interview with CNET News, 50 percent of those campaigns will be classified as failures.

    Tuesday, October 7, 2008 at 7:15 pm #
  20. thescott wrote::

    @matt – I think it comes down to how you (plan to) measure/determine whether your social media campaign is a success or failure?

    I think the answer will be different in each corporate’s case.

    Tuesday, October 7, 2008 at 7:42 pm #
  21. JAYNE MORGAN wrote::

    Having some time now introducing some parts of the corporate world to social media marketing in the form of podcasting (thanks for the mention, Matt – I notice even the M&G podcast didn’t make it on to the list which is quite ironic give that you started it), I have learnt some things and had others, which I instinctively believed, proved true (which was something of a relief).

    1 Real content – This is the very top of the list and always has to be. Content – real content – is king and anything else will fail dismally. Trying to build an instant relationship based on nothing sounds like those poor bloody pairs of radio presenters (one black one, one white one) forced to try and recreate the rainbow nation on every station in the country just after 1994. These things only happen (and they don’t happen for certain) over time. You have to give people something they genuinely want – are interested in, find astounding or knicker-wettingly funny. I see blog after Facebook group after podcast posing (as so much traditional media content does) as content and doing so sounding like your parents trying to get on with your friends at the beginning of a party. One of the reasons new media has been so passionately embraced by a lot of people is that it is supposed to be a press release, PR stunt, veiled mouthpiece free zone. However, give people real content (and that means real opinion and real debate by real people) they want and, preferably, cannot get elsewhere. Then you might be on to something. So…

    2 PR it is – … what you’re on to is that they like you and we hope, might buy your thing the next time they want a thing like that. Neil is spot on – it is squarely in the PR zone. PR is about creating the best possible environment in which to sell. It is not, in itself, selling. As such, it is also @Wogan not possible to record any kind of ROI (and don’t get me started on idiot PR companies who try and wow clients with the some kind of monetary value calculated by mulitiplying column inches or airtime minutes by advertising rates – that is simply insane). I spend my life preaching this gospel. You would not use a chain-saw to pick your nose. This is a tool and it has a specific use. It is about communication, conversation and enlightenment. It is about the ringing of bells not the ringing of tills.

    3 Take-up – Often the take-up is small for three main reasons:

    – often (and I think this is probably the biggest reason) the social media stuff isn’t promoted properly. Old Mutual’s Success Stories podcast was bloody brilliant (if I say so myself) but they did bugger all to promote it so it didn’t do nearly enough for them. Woolworths Making Friends With Money has a big button on their home page and is starting to do really well (relatively). People who had never downloaded a second of audio in their lives became listeners and told us how much they loved it. And talking of PR and how these things work. It got Woolies a monthly , hour-long radio slot on 702 and Cape Talk, all branded Woolworths financial services podcast for …. nothing. That’s got to count for something in the ROI stakes.

    – right now, there are simply not that many people consuming this kind of stuff (its easy to get carried away in our little tiny world and think that there are)

    – it’s not real (see 1 – am I getting the point across.)

    3 what’s taking so long – It is taking time for companies to see the value. AND playing around this space can be quite scary. It has to be for real, you have to let people really have their say, you have put yourself out there. The rewards can be huge but most corporates are used to the cosy, PR padded world and tame media who are so freebied out they’re like pussies who’ve been at the catnip all morning. When I started doing this, it was like pushing a really huge stone up a hill – for all kinds of reasons. Now, it is like pushing a medium sized jelly into a smaller bowl. Bits do go in quite easily but some bits then come out and others fall over the edge. We’re definitely on the ‘it’s the in-thing and we should be doing something about it but what, for pity’s sake, what?’ stage (which is good for people like me). That’s why we’re seeing all this half-baked stuff. What we don’t really have yet is a case study that has had a huge impact, delivered a huge audience and really pierced the mainstream consciousness with its runaway, social media success. That will happen (and it will probably happen via mobile phone) but that really fantastic idea hasn’t quite emerged yet (I’m on to it, I’m on to it).

    Tuesday, October 7, 2008 at 10:35 pm #
  22. matt wrote::

    @thescott — agree with you. I think BMW in particular is the right kind of brand (as a lifestyle, aspirational brand) for social media campaigns. Also agree u should not stop experimenting, especially if it comes at virtually no cost. Need to add the low numbers dont nec point to failure of the SM space — but point to potential, and a need to keep experimenting to hit the sweet spot. At the same time companies should be realistic about what they want to achieve and how they present themselves in the SM space. Different rules apply.

    Talking about experimentation: Diesel a while back did a campaign where they did a spoof hack of their own site… it was way out but hugely successful in terms of the traffic and publicity.

    Tuesday, October 7, 2008 at 10:39 pm #
  23. matt wrote::

    @JAYNE MORGAN — mea culpa. I forgot the podcast. The podcast that was conceived one lunch at the Grill House in Rosebank. I also forgot to mention our “events social network”, Yiza, which struggled to get off the ground. Will correct!

    Tuesday, October 7, 2008 at 10:42 pm #
  24. Mandy de Waal wrote::

    Hi everyone – I would love to write up an article on this – some really interesting thought and debate going on here – let me know if you are keen to participate. Thanks.

    Tuesday, October 7, 2008 at 10:46 pm #
  25. JAYNE MORGAN wrote::

    @ Matt – hey, life wouldn’t be the same without me whinging about you not giving the M&G podcast the right amount of oxygen. Just making you feel at home in a new city.

    Plus – you raised two important points there. The numbers everywhere are low but there weren’t many cars to being with either. PLUS, the interaction and take-up you do get is of a really high quality. People are with you for longer and are much more genuinely engaged. AND (3 points obviously), the costs are tiny in comparison to making a big, tossy TV ad and the value much greater, I believe.

    Tuesday, October 7, 2008 at 10:57 pm #
  26. JAYNE MORGAN wrote::

    @ Mandy – always keen to go on a lot about corporates and new media – contact me any time.

    Tuesday, October 7, 2008 at 10:58 pm #
  27. oneafrikan wrote::

    I like Dave’s comment at the beginning, Jayne Morgan makes some good points too.

    My experience leads me to believe that you have to look at things from the users “WIIFM” (what’s in it for me) perspective… otherwise people just don’t care.

    A Twitter account announcing specials is a great idea, but looks like it’s not being used in the right way…

    A blog needs to have good, relevant content. A podcast needs not to be boring. A wiki needs to provide the incentive to add content. A Facebook group… well, how many times have you returned to a facebook group in the last month?

    I guess we all know these things instinctively – but how do you get the mainstream to think along the same lines…? More to the point, success breeds success, and no one follows better than sheep – so thanks for doing this list Matt! 😉

    Thursday, October 23, 2008 at 11:54 am #

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  1. […] on at the moment on Matthew Buckland’s blog, the debate is as a result of his article titled ‘Social media for companies: What’s working?’ (Matt’s blog has received insane traffic and as a result I think his blog fell over so if you […]