Michelle Swan is Senior Director of Communications for Appirio, a cloud solutions provider based in San Mateo, California. While leading the public relations, analyst relations and internal communications functions at Appirio, the company has been recognized by organizations such as Bloomberg BusinessWeek, InformationWeek, Gartner and IDC. Appirio was also recently honored as a 2012 Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum, joining a list of the 25 most innovative startups from around the world.
We recently spoke with Michelle about Appirio’s presence at Dreamforce, considerations in crafting an ideal social media policy, and how Appirio is getting every employee to join its marketing effort as brand advocates.
EVIDENCE-BASED MARKETING: Appirio’s party at Dreamforce seemed to stand out in terms of presentation, preparation and customer-focus. What steps does Appirio take to ramp up for Dreamforce?
MICHELLE SWAN: It starts about four months in advance and it’s an all-hands-on-deck effort. Dreamforce is Appirio’s single biggest sales and marketing investment of the year, and we treat it like that. We have a war room where pretty much every person on the marketing team is focused on Dreamforce leading up to it.
In general our efforts are really customer-focused. We put a lot of attention and resources into making our customers feel appreciated. We have an event every night, from customer appreciation events to the big Appirio party, which also helps with overall branding.
EVIDENCE-BASED MARKETING: Were there any key differences this year?
MICHELLE SWAN: This year we had a big focus on guerrilla marketing. We had the opportunity to invest at the platinum level like we did the last two years. Instead, we decided to go down to a gold sponsor and invest on the grassroots side, bringing 100 Appirio employees to Dreamforce. The fact that we went armed with 100 “walking,talking booths” instead of just buying a huge booth on the floor really paid off for us—but it’s still early to see the long-term impact of the decision.
EVIDENCE-BASED MARKETING: How does Appirio go about turning employees into brand ambassadors? Does social media play a role?
MICHELLE SWAN: There are a few different ways. The first thing we do is really engage with employees, listening to them and educating them from the beginning. From the day that they walk into Appirio, they get access to our wiki. There are a whole lot of resources on there to get them up to speed on what our company does and how we’re different [from other companies].
It gives information like our different blogs to subscribe to, our Twitter handle and lots of other company resources. I think 40% of our company is on Twitter now. We have what we call the “internal Twitterati” who are really engaged and have thousands of followers. We also have Facebook pages for Appirio and our philanthropy program called “The Silver Lining.”
Social media is a big area for us, but first and foremost it’s about engaging our employees. We use social media inside Appirio to ask questions, share ideas and communicate information. We use [Salesforce.com] Chatter extensively.
EVIDENCE-BASED MARKETING: Is that what you use primarily for internal communications?
MICHELLE SWAN: It is. Primarily most people are on Chatter. We have a company announcements group on Chatter that every employee subscribes to when they get their Salesforce login. That’s where we post not only press announcements, but cool pieces of coverage, interesting facts and customer deals.
[Chatter] gives people the chance to not only hear about [company news] through an email but also engage. It lets them ask questions like, “is it okay to mention this on Twitter?”
EVIDENCE-BASED MARKETING: Is Appirio’s stance that a strong social media presence actually adds business value?
MICHELLE SWAN: Absolutely! Companies have to have a strong social presence. I don’t think it’s an option anymore not to. But businesses need to have an internal social presence before an external presence. You want to know what people think and feel before you have them engaging externally.
EVIDENCE-BASED MARKETING: Doesn’t Appirio actually help businesses with their social integration?
MICHELLE SWAN: We acquired a company called TRE3 Group earlier this year that’s heavily focused on the social enterprise. Their expertise has infused throughout our entire organization. We focus on issues like how businesses engage with customers and prospects externally, to to just hearing what customers are saying externally, to how companies make internal processes more collaborative and productive. We also help companies create more social products.
EVIDENCE-BASED MARKETING: Susan Beebe, Dell’s Chief Listener, wants to see every Dell employee trained in social media. In fact, Dell already has 10,000 employees certified in social media. What do you think of Dell’s model? Would you like to see every Appirio employee engaged in social channels?
MICHELLE SWAN: I would love to see everyone who wants to be involved get involved. There are some people who aren’t comfortable on Twitter, or who would prefer to keep their Facebook page separate or aren’t comfortable commenting on blogs. And that’s okay. Everyone has their comfort level, and I don’t want to force people if they’re not comfortable. But we want to encourage people who think they can be comfortable. It would be great if everybody at Appirio did it, but it shouldn’t be a mandate.
EVIDENCE-BASED MARKETING: Do you think social media engagement should be incentivized?
MICHELLE SWAN: I don’t know how companies like Dell incentivize [social media engagement]. I think there is a natural incentive to be social; it’s just how people are. So there is a natural incentive to want to build their internal and external social profiles and become brand ambassadors. But it is always good to have some kind of incentive and arm them to be educated.
For example, we have a company pitch program where on Tuesday and Thursday we set aside a half hour to help every employee become certified in giving a five-minute elevator pitch that talks about who we are, why we are different and what we offer. We have a whole resource site set aside where they can see our executives giving the pitch. They can also videotape themselves giving the pitch in creative ways.
As an incentive, we give away prizes every other week for the best pitches.
EVIDENCE-BASED MARKETING: Can it be difficult to sum up what Appirio does in five minutes or even thirty seconds?
MICHELLE SWAN: It is, but since we are a smaller company that’s 100% focused on cloud computing, it’s a little easier for us than for a company like Dell. But no matter what size company, it’s very easy for people to get bricked into their own team. We work with just three primary partners: Salesforce, Google and Workday. If you are on the Google team it’s very easy to be focused 100% on Google and think that that’s what Appirio does. Because that’s the customers you’re working with and that’s the content you have. So bringing them out and showing them a flavor of all the things that Appirio does is really important.
EVIDENCE-BASED MARKETING: Are there any differences between B2B and B2C social media strategies?
MICHELLE SWAN: There are similarities across the board, but also differences based on the type of person you are engaging with. For example, an IT person at a company is going to have different purchasing habits and influence than someone who is making an individual purchase decision. But people are people, and you can’t take the people out of social.