Fortune 500 Series: FedEx delivers success through social media

From multiple blogs to multiple service-oriented Twitter feeds and even community sponsorship, FedEx has made social media a priority.

When I first started sourcing my Fortune 500 Series I put out a query on Help A Reporter Out (HARO) to seek out interesting companies and found a bunch. However, one public relations person sent me a nasty email saying that I was "negating the nature of social media" by highlighting large companies instead of small ones. I disagreed.

The importance, and purpose, of this series is to show that even goliaths are flexing to social media. Even if their programs might be raw, they are moving to embrace the model. And if a large company with hundreds of thousands of employees can flex, so can a smaller business. Sometimes, it also helps to know how they did it.

One such goliath is FedEx, a household name worldwide. The company began its trip down the social media path two years ago and has begun a phase of rapid growth. From multiple blogs to multiple service-oriented Twitter feeds and even community sponsorship, FedEx has made social media a priority.

I spoke with Matthew Ceniceros of FedEx's media relations team to find out more about how the giant is reaping the benefits - and staying competitive - with social media.

Q. [Jennifer] How is FedEx using social media? How is your strategy defined?

A. [Matthew] Our general strategy is to form positive perceptions among key audiences by encouraging meaningful conversations about FedEx around the globe. This is done in a variety of ways by different groups at FedEx.  While I sit inside the Corporate Communications organization, my colleagues in Marketing and IT have also used social networks to communicate to both internal and external audiences.

Our specific strategy for the FedEx Citizenship blog is to:

  • Engage in a conversation with key audiences about citizenship
  • Introduce transparency into how, why and what FedEx does in citizenship areas
  • Empower stakeholders to help tell our story for us
  • Build equity and association for FedEx against citizenship platforms

The Citizenship blog (blog.fedex.com) covers the areas where we focus our corporate citizenship efforts: Community & Disaster Relief , Economics & Access, Environment & Efficiency and  People & Workplace.

Q. What tactics are you using? Where are your digital properties?

A. The FedEx Citizenship blog provides insights from our people into FedEx global citizenship programs and the The FedEx Cares Week blog is an internal blog that chronicles the annual global philanthropy event by having team members share their stories about the community service projects. We have an official FedEx Facebook page that allows us to post news and information about the company and for fans and team members to post photos and comments on the world of FedEx. Our advertising group created the wildly popular FedEx Launch A Package app. The week of launch it was one of the most popular apps on Facebook.

Next: Digital properties and Brown Bailout -->

On Twitter, @fedexnews and @fedexblog are used to broadcast new posts from the FedEx Newsroom and FedEx blog. These aren't engagement accounts, they just alert followers of new content on the channels. Personally, I have used my Twitter account @mattceni to discuss corporate developments and activities.  I've had a variety of conversations from media pitching, customer service issues and request for information for businesses looking to start a relationship with FedEx. Also recently used Twitter to engage in conversation around the Brown Bailout issue and correct misinformation. We are currently running a pilot program with two customer service reps @fedexrobin and @fedexdolores to proactively outreach to customers with questions about their FedEx Service.

The FedEx Multimedia Center features our people, operations and activities.  The platform is evolution of the FedEx storytelling channel to reach multiple audiences and provides a media distribution point to be leveraged in other channels.  The Multimedia Center takes the work of our powerful internal FedEx One video and photo network external. The most recent FedEx advertising campaign used online video media exclusively to showcase the company's products and services.  The series of commercials were launched on a FedEx YouTube channel youtube.com/getinfotained.

Finally, FedEx is a proud sponsor of "The World" section in the American Express OPEN Forum. We see this as a way to learn more about the needs of small businesses and share our expertise in areas that can guide them in achieving success.  FedEx executives also provide exclusive content in the form of blog posts on the topic of "Access" in the "The World" section.

Q. How are you measuring the success of this program?

Success for the blog is measured in engagement through comments, link backs and mentions, as well as page views. Admittedly, this is a basic way of measurement, but provides a view of how engaging the content is and the ability for FedEx to become part of the conversation around the areas of FedEx Citizenship.

As FedEx expands its engagement in more social media channels, we are refining our measurement techniques. We are engaged with Visible Technologies and using its TruCast product to monitor, measure and score our progress in the online community space.

Q. What was the purpose of the "Brown Bailout" YouTube video and did it achieve what FedEx wanted?

A. The Brown Bailout program is designed to make customers, Congress and the general public aware of a critical piece of special interest legislation that could have harmful effects to the global economy. The Brown Bailout program, which includes a site, is a grassroots, digital campaign to educate the public.  It uses humor, facts and engagement to counteract millions of dollars being spent in lobbying efforts by the competitor and allied parties pushing this special interest legislation.

Q. When you began defining/shaping your strategy, did you use internal teams or outside agencies and consultants? If the latter, who?

A. We began creating our FedEx social media strategy creation internally, responding to a need by senior management to communicate in a genuine and unique way to prospective customers and other stakeholders we couldn't reach through traditional media channels.  Individual departments created the channel management strategy and with the help of Ketchum, Stromberg and BBDO, created the channels and content.

Next: Stronger brand in a tough economy -->

Q. Do you feel that your social media efforts are helping to strengthen FedEx's brand both externally and internally?  Why?

A. We believe that external use of social media helps humanize the company, by telling stories of events and activities taking place around the company, focusing on the FedEx people involved.  We are working to tell these stories through the eyes of our team members as well as through the eyes of people representing charities and organizations we help around the world.  We are also finding that consumers enjoy having a way to talk to FedEx and get a behind-the-scenes look at what we do and the decisions that go into our actions.

Internally, we find our blogs growing in popularity across the organization. Team members pick up perspective from others in organizations they don't often encounter. Team members enjoy reading, hearing and seeing the perspectives of their executives and colleagues. We're also finding that because the majority of our team members are in a plane or drive a truck all day, their families are reading the blog and watching videos and informing the team member what's going on in their company.  This is huge in building and maintaining a strong culture.

One blogger, a vice president, walked into a facility and an employee approached her and said, "before you were just a name on an organization chart, but now I know you're Sheila."

Q. Speaking of the bailout, it's been a tough market all around last year. Do you feel that social media has helped FedEx through in terms of helping people chose business with your company?

A. Using the transparency of the blog, customers have been able to experience the tough decisions being made at FedEx to help steer us through these tough times. Having our customers see FedEx executives talk about the decisions being made and the way our team members continue to give and serve their communities gives these customers a window that shows a fuller picture of FedEx as more than a delivery company.

The activity on Twitter has helped save and gain new customers because of the proactive outreach. We've been able acquire customers who ask what shipper they should be using and we've been able to acquire customers who have expressed bad experiences with competitors.

Q. Are there any parts of the business that have surprisingly grown through social media?

One interesting example of this is the FedEx Office Free Resume day that took place March 10.  The free event can partly be attributed to a comment left on a blog post entitled "Leaving a Place Better Than You Found It." The comment:

Tom, You got me thinking with this... "something as simple as helping someone who desperately needs a job spruce up his or her resume" Have you seen the recent Hyundai auto ad that's made the news for it's inovative marketing tactic? That company is vowing that, (with the current economic climate's uncertainty in mind), if any new owner of a Hyundai loses his/her job within a year of the car's purchase, it's owner can return the car to the dealership, hassle free. This was covered by seemingly all the major news outlets, and you can see the ABC News article covering this ad, can't FedEx Office use a similar strategy, and show that we're all in this together, by advertising free/discounted resume layout or prints?? This would be current and topical, and would automatically get people talking. Not to mention help fulfill FedEx's commitment to community. And the best result might be simultaneously helping to improve upon the company's reputation and potentially grow more business by getting people in the centers! Just a thought! -Seth Dist 83

Q. What hard lessons have you learned?

A. Building an enterprise-wide social media strategy isn't easy. It takes a lot of face time, collaboration at all levels and patience. We deliver over 7 million packages, host over 15 million visitors to fedex.com and take hundreds of thousands of customer calls a day.  There isn't a one-size-fits-all way to tackle the complexity of our business using social media. We are on our way to some exciting engagement opportunities. In fact, both corporate communications and marketing have established social media centers of excellence to better target and program for this emerging channel and opportunities.