5 steps to leading the social pack - AT&T, REI, Whole Foods, LinkedIn share survival strategies #spredfastsecretpanel

Good things come in small packages. That was the mentality behind the Connect Roundtable last week at SXSWi. Amid the oasis of inspiration pulsing through the Austin festival, finding opportunities to hold lengthy conversations can be outright impossible. Uniting social leaders from Altimeter Group, AT&T, LinkedIn, REI, Spredfast and Whole Foods, the private roundtable was born out of the goal to foster more intimate discussion on themes and focus areas for the "fittest" social brands. An exploration in Social Darwinism. But what's a social brand to do when a group of eager learners and doers show up and ask to sit in on the conversation? Invite them in, of course. Just as online dialogues become multilogues when engaged individuals decide to tune in and learn, we broadened the experience by sharing it with others. Even more thrilling was the evolution of in "in the know" hashtag: #spredfastsecretpanel. If you weren't able to join us, we wanted to share some of the wisdom and survival tactics shared by the panel of social fittest.  

Knowing Your (Social) Audience

The six social minds agreed heartily: regardless of company composition, knowing your audience is critical to social survival. The days of "if you build it, they will come" social mentality are gone. Getting smart on what current (and prospective) community members care about, needs they have and utilizing these understandings to decide where and when to reach them provide a strategic advantage. 

Providing Value to Social Communities

Knowing (your audience) is half the battle. The other half is discovering and delivering what's valuable to them. For a retailer like Whole Foods, the value proposition might be clearer: healthy lifestyle information and inspiration. For a brand like AT&T, experimenting with storytelling angles around technology trends and products might be the key. Uncovering and offering this value opens doors to more meaningful relationships. 

Creating and Curating Great Content

Most social communication professionals provide lively responses when asked about the role of content in social. Two consensuses were met at Connect. One: content is and will continue to play a fundamental role in the success of social endeavors. And two: it's no small task. Nor are most companies structured in ways to support increased needs around production, creation and creative. Some solutions shared included curating interesting content, tapping into internal expertise and finding creative, visual ways to tell stories. 

Ability to scale social across the business

The companies in the room comprised some of the larger-scale social programs in existence today. Arguably the most challenging hurdle they face is just that. Scale. Growing social activities from one department or team to become an organization-wide effort is hard. And across the spectrum, panelists acknowledged that making something work once (or in one business unit), doesn't mean it will scale for the future. It takes organization, cultural buy-in and coordination. 

Proving Social Impact

As the conversation drew to a close, the elephant in the room was tackled - proving impact of corporate social. While no two companies had the same approach to measurement, it was because they each shared emphatically that impact is driven by having social goals in place. Between REI, LinkedIn and AT&T, the business goals themselves vary. Having a definition of success allows each brand to track towards impact Most companies today are focusing on engagement, and many are finding ways to tie this to offline activity like sales, customer satisfaction and loyalty.   The Connect #spredfastsecretpanel provided a glimpse into the intelligence, strategy and forward-looking visions of the brands leading the social pack. The five steps exposed during the roundtable will serve as the foundation in the year to come for those looking to survive and thrive in the new world of social communications.

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