Seagate uses social media to 'humanize' storage devices

It was about two years ago that storage device company Seagate realized it had to get into the social media game. The company's initial strategy was to listen, build community and learn.

It was about two years ago that storage device company Seagate realized it had to get into the social media game. The company's initial strategy was to listen, build community and learn. So, the communications team set up a presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and so on, and strapped itself in for quite the ride -- and learning experience. Today, the company's social media efforts are a much more strategic component to its overall marketing mix.

I spoke with Rich Harris, who is responsible for the overall social media effort for the company. This encompasses Seagate's corporate blog strategy, social platforms, ROI measurement, a bit of video and content creation, and in-depth analysis of analytics/reports as they pertain to social media initiatives. Harris discusses the company's redefined strategy and use of social media to reach a broader audience

"Seagate has just scratched the surface of where we think we can take our social media vision and roadmap," Harris said. "I think you will see a much wider scope of content and engagement coming from us, ideally on a global level."

Q. [Jennifer] How long would you say that Seagate has had a social or digital program in place? A. [Rich] As far as the full social media program goes, it's really been just about a year. We put the framework together about 18 months ago, but up until July of 2008, Seagate primarily focused on building relationships in the blogosphere, but had yet to fully embrace social media tools as a communication platform. Pete Steege, a Seagate marketing manager, started the first official Seagate blog called "The Storage Effect” in 2007. So, you might say that launched us into it. We built from there adding online properties and a blogging platform. The response has been very positive. It’s an exciting opportunity for the company

Q. How big is the team? How does this team interact with other divisions within the company? A. Seagate's social media team is currently made up of one senior manager directly responsible for the overall strategy, planning and implementation, and a support team of 6-7 internal contributors that blog and assist with editing/packaging of the various social media content that we push out there - video, audio, and market segment focused blogging.

Q. When considering new programs, what are your first steps? A. Our first steps are to look for a marketing/content gap that needs to be filled for our customers. Alignment with our global marketing and corporate priorities is always top of mind. And we closely monitor feedback on Twitter, Facebook, as well as SocialMention.com and other various analytics tools that we have in place to see what the people out there are saying. Resulting programs could be anything from viral videos, contests, to sponsoring events where storage is a key component of the lives of the audience involved.

Next: Impact of the economy and measuring ROI -->

Q. What bearing has the economy had on your social programs? A. The economic downturn has had a profound impact on every part of the business. The challenge is that companies, still need to market themselves, their brands, their products and their services. Social programs are highly cost effective for companies like Seagate to augment more traditional marketing and communications campaigns. So, given the budget tightness across most industries, this is an important time for companies to sink their teeth into social media.

Q. How do you measure the ROI of your social programs? A. Different tools are used to measure the success of the different sites that we manage. Most of the social sites like Flickr, Facebook, and YouTube have their own basic stats built into the accounts. If we are doing a promotion on one of those sites, we'll leverage all the other sites to send traffic to that site and then monitor the changes in activity. When providing links to our blog posts, press releases, etc. via Twitter, we use tools like bit.ly to track our efforts in the micro-blogosphere. Our internal bloggers all write content for http://media.seagate.com. We measure the effectiveness of our blogging effort by using web analytics tools and monitoring that data as campaigns are run, new company announcements are released, and as general industry related topics are discussed on our blogs. When it comes to social media, there is so much overlap and fluctuation in stats across all sites that it's really important for a company like Seagate to understand its multiple audiences on these sites and what is going to work for each niche.

Q. Please provide one example of a program gone right? A. One successful campaign was a Twitter-only contest during the SXSW 2009 Music/Film/Interactive Festival, held in Austin, TX. Basically we had one of our team members out there on the street, over a span of a few days, with a backpack full of hard drives, hitting up various events and locations within the festival. We would let people know exclusively via Twitter where he would be next, what he was wearing, and the first few people to show up and find him could get their free hard drive if they proved they received the tweet on their phone. The goal was to drive awareness and buzz within an audience that may not typically be familiar with Seagate even though they’re likely using our products everyday. It was hugely successful and we received lots of positive feedback from the show goers and participants at SXSW. Doing this promotion resulted in hundreds of re-tweets and new real quality followers on Twitter. This actually helped to intrinsically boost our followers on Facebook, YouTube and our other sites. People expressed that it was nice to see a company like Seagate out there with them, able to have fun and having an understanding of how our product is important to them. It was thumbs up all around.

Q. There's a balance to social media. In your role, are you more behind the scenes or are you an official Seagate spokesperson? A. I guess I'd say both. As a spokesperson I'm usually out there more as an evangelist for storage as it pertains to the lifestyle/consumer crowd. I spend most of my time I'd say though behind the scenes making sure everything goes smoothly when it comes to getting all the fresh and exclusive content we need edited/published and distributed accordingly. I also do a lot of the tactical work spreading all the news and content that comes from other internal sources as well as content that may come to us from outside partners who are running their own Seagate campaigns or programs.

Next: Large company approach and lessons learned -->

Q. What do you think is the best approach for such a large company? A. I believe that for a large company the approach tactically is not as important as the approach the company takes culturally. Marketing has always been marketing, regardless if you are sending out faxes or posting to Twitter... However, social media is very new and a very fast-moving and ever-changing environment. To get the most out of it, it’s best if companies are flexible and open to new out-of-the-box ways of thinking. Companies are already comfortable with B2B and B2C. . Now you have C2C developing it's own culture and highly influential mix of people. Look at it this way: web marketing -- pre-social media -- was to create one-way communications and direct people back to your mother ship website to pay for your product or service. Now, with sites like Facebook, Twitter, and FriendFeed, consumers have learned to empower each other to make better purchasing and brand preference decisions. There is more value in that approach for them since they are the ones spending the money at the end of the day. To be successful in this model companies will have to be a bit more transparent and nimble.

Q. What hard lessons have you learned? A. You need to be as excited about the lessons you will learn from your failures as you are about the successes you have in social media. Social media is volatile, yet exciting. It ebbs and flows sporadically and is as powerful as it can be fickle because every consumer is human and therefore emotional. I would also say that the audiences companies are trying to reach in social media are less likely to pay attention to one-way communications. They love being part of social networking because it engages them and validates them. A company's social media strategy should focus heavily on engaging and validating your customers personally as it pertains to your products or services.

Q. What is your, or Seagate's, general philosophy on social programs? A. Personally, I believe you have to be honest, transparent and pay close attention to what your audiences are saying. Be fueled by the lessons you learn and use those lessons as catalysts for getting as close to your customers as possible. The closer you get, the better you can serve them. Conversations and information will spread about your company genuinely, quickly and effectively if you stick to this. As you drive brand awareness and ultimately preference, you will hope that it converts to sales at the end of the day. In that scenario, everybody wins.

Photo credit: Bill Pennington

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