Cisco social chief shares advice on listening, engagement and more.

Debra Donston-Miller, Contributor

February 7, 2013

4 Min Read

Listening and connecting with customers are the keys to social business success, no matter what a company's size or industry. Cisco has been making use of social in these capacities for several years now, and has recently seen some shifts in the landscape. The BrainYard recently spoke with Jeanette Gibson, Cisco's senior director of social and digital marketing, who provided some context and advice based on the company's experience and its plans for the future.

1. Focus On Business Impact And ROI

In the early days of social business, the focus was on marketing and PR activities. That's almost a no-brainer now, and companies should be expanding their social reach and expectations.

"We've seen a shift where a lot of the social engagement was in marketing and PR five years ago, and now it's really around driving business impact and ROI and connecting with customers," said Gibson. "There's even more potential in B2B than there is in B2C because we have so many people who have been loyal to our brand for years. We have people who have made their career on Cisco, so they want information from us. We have a lot of engagement in our communities. Social media is giving us an opportunity to really tie into the depth of relationships that we have and really make them stronger."

2. Use The Hub-And-Spoke Model

Gibson described her organization within Cisco as the social hub, with spokes extending throughout the company. "What's really working for us now is implementing a companywide social strategy that connects multiple organizations across the company -- technical support services, sales, marketing ..."

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This model can enable companies to effectively and efficiently scale their use of social and increase the value they get out of social interactions.

3. Offer Real-Time Communication, With Real Experts

The more -- and more diverse -- staff who can connect with customers, the closer a company will get to meeting real-time social communications goals.

Gibson said Cisco is going through a shift "to emerge as a real-time company that responds in real time to customers," adding that social media listening is key. Cisco uses Radian6 from, which helps the company make sense of the 5,000 to 7,000 mentions it gets a day (mostly on Twitter). Gibson said mentions can include anything from "I'm interested in buying a switch for my business -- can someone from Cisco help me?" to the more general "What's the future of cloud? Why do I need cloud for my business?" In either case, said Gibson, it's important to be ready to route those mentions to staff who are expert in those subject areas and can respond with authority.

4. Consider Content King

Cisco also uses analysis of mentions in the aggregate to determine what kind of content to publish and in what form. "What we will do is put a thought leadership article out there, and pose a question and tweet it. We use it as a way to have a conversation," Gibson said.

Smart organizations have become their own publishing companies, developing whitepapers, videos, blog posts and other content that will draw users in and keep them engaged with the organization. Gibson noted that users often get to Cisco-developed content via social networks.

5. Provide Employee Training

Gibson and other experts note that it takes focus and strategic planning for social business initiatives to succeed. Once a social initiative has taken hold, it takes additional resources and people to make it scale. But not just any people: Relevant and ongoing education is key to ensuring that your company is sending the right message -- literally and figuratively -- on social networks.

"Training is the most important thing any company can do," said Gibson. "Start with one small kind of 'tiger team' to really show that business benefit, whether it's looking at product reviews online or looking at driving traffic to registration using social and showing ROI there. People are talking about your brand whether you're listening or not, so it really behooves all of us to make sure we are listening and engaging."

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.

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About the Author(s)

Debra Donston-Miller


Freelance writer Debra Donston-Miller was previously editor of eWEEK and executive editorial manager of eWEEK Labs. She can be reached at [email protected].

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