The Power of a Tweet


By Kathrin Jansen, PGS Alumna

Published 11.27.12

Photo Credit: Women take Social Media Privacy more seriously than Men do

A few weeks ago I wrote about how NGOs and the Obama campaign successfully utilize social media to build a strong community of supporters. Now that Obama has been reelected, Democrats and Republicans are evaluating and praising the greater effectiveness of the Obama campaign to reach voters and frame messages, which played a key role in helping him to get elected. The lessons are not only applicable to political campaigns, but also to corporations on the use of social media to frame genuine communications with its external stakeholders, many of whom increasingly engage and frame perceptions of corporate brands via social media.

Although every major corporation now leverages social media platforms, employing teams of social media and community managers, two recent surveys reveal that corporations are missing important opportunities to leverage social media most effectively.

Social Media Knowledge & Skills Gap

The first study, conducted by the Stanford University, discovered a large disconnect between corporate executives' understanding of social media and their willingness to integrate it into their decision-making: While 90% of executives claim to understand the impact that social media can have on their organization, only 32% of their companies monitor social media to detect risks to their business activities and only 14% use  metrics from social media to measure corporate performance. Surprisingly 59% of companies in the survey use social media to interact with customers, and 35% to research customers.

A second survey looked more closely at Fortune 500 CEOs and their social media habits, finding that only 19 of Fortune 500 CEOs use Twitter and only 36 have a Facebook account. Only one CEO, John Mackey from Whole Foods, maintains his own blog. For executives making strategic decisions on social media marketing, it's hard to understand the nuance and changing dynamics of the various channels unless you have some working knowledge of them.

Women and Social Media

A recent Harvard Business Review article entitled, "The Power of a Woman with a Meme", describes how women dominate social media networks, which are often safe places for them to share information and converse with friends. This behavioral trend among a key customer segment should, if nothing else, motivate companies and executives to use social media more proactively. From simple purchasing decisions to choosing which presidential candidate to vote for, it is clear that social media is playing an increasingly important role. For corporations and their executives who may be uncomfortable with social media, recent tactics employed by the Obama campaign can provide useful insights:

1. Be personal, have an opinion

Obama's tweets and post are genuine, convey a sense of humor and make people feel they know Barack Obama. Shorty after the election results rolled in, Obama campaign tweeted a picture showing an emotional Obama embracing his wife; the image quickly became the most popular in Twitter history, and was dubbed "a snapshot of a modern, equal marriage" by the Washington Post. Corporate executives need not go that far to demonstrate authenticity but showing emotions and having an opinion is critical to humanizing both the individual and the company the executive represents to foster genuine connection with followers.

2. What gets measured, gets done

Many people shy away from social media since it is highly dynamic, messy, and requires its own language (hashtags, memes, blogging etc.). But with some effort, it can reveal some interesting data. According to the Times, Obama's analytics department was five times larger than during his first election campaign. The Obama team collected new, potentially game-changing data, improving their analytics, enabling them to identify and target voters (customers) never before identified. Like Obama's campaign, corporate executives can also leverage this activity, determining which metrics are most relevant, which external stakeholder audiences to target, and how best to integrate feedback from these audiences into their business planning.

3. Non-traditional marketing

During his campaign Obama went on Reddit for an AMA (Ask me Anything), the first for a Presidential candidate, connecting and deepening relations with young voters—many of whom turned out to vote for him on election day. When the Obama team discovered that women in their 40s are more likely to make campaign contributions when meeting celebrities, they organized a fundraising event with actress Sara Jessica Parker.

Like Obama, if corporations want to increase their brand reputation by winning over important customers groups and engaging critical stakeholders, they have to embrace social media to make genuine personal connections and collect invaluable feedback and data.

"The world has changed, and consumers, employees, and stakeholders now expect to engage with companies and their brands through social media,” says Matteo Tonello, managing director of corporate leadership at The Conference Board.

This article was originally posted on Future 500, where Kathrin currently serves as the Communications Manager. Contact Kathrin via email at

Kathrin Jansen, PGS Alumna

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