Dr. Mark Derbacher, Siemens
Three-and-a-half years later, social media has the attention of top marketing and communications managers, including the critically important energy sector, one of three global divisions on which the $104.3B-corporation is focused. The company is clearly being influenced by what is happening at this point still largely in the United States and in growing markets like China, and notes that interest in social media is becoming even more widespread in India, Germany and other European countries. However, it's also true that the company has been understandably concerned that its initiatives around social media incorporate the highest levels of integrity and trust.
(Full disclosure: Siemens has been an SMT client since 2009, and is the enabling sponsor of our site TheEnergyCollective. I recently traveled to Munich and to Erlangen in eastern Bavaria to meet with the principals, to discuss our progress with the site and to find out how social media is being perceived by this industrial giant.)According to Michael Rossa, Vice President Market Communications, Siemens AG, the key to Siemens understanding the value of social media has been its support for an event-drive strategy. Because Siemens can see how its spotlight on certain "off-line" events, among others the recent Copenhagen climate congress, has achieved near real-time results through working with bloggers and online journalists, the understanding of the value of social media is increasing throughout the company. Further, Rossa notes that "We welcome the participation of Siemens employees in conversations that are of concern for the company and our customers, and we have set up an environment that encourages employees to explore using social media in their work very early on."
That opinion is mirrored in Siemens' Energy Sector, according to Dr. Mark Derbacher, Vice President Energy Communications, Siemens Energy Sector. "We are in the transformation phase of the electricity economy, and moving towards an intelligent, sustainable system. For example, if we add more renewable energy sources we will need to get electricity to where distribution will take place. The distribution will also be driven by 'smart grid' technology. These are complex issues, and we're pleased that we're enabling intelligent conversation with key influencers in multiple forums like TheEnergyCollective." Again, sacrificing quality in order to compete is not acceptable to the energy sector's objectives. Moreover, the company's focus on sustainability in both its energy and industrial sectors is in line with a prevailing mood in Germany (and around the world, for that matter) that Wegwerfgesellschaft, which loosely means "throw-away society," is basically over, and that sustainability goes hand in hand with quality as a societal and business goal.We continue to learn from our clients, and one of the principals that constantly guide us is transparency, but transparency is not a guideline to all situations. For example, we were asked by Siemens to work with them and increase our presence on TheEnergyCollective at the Copenhagen Climate Congress â€" which was driven by the event focus that Rossa discusses. But critically, Siemens is more concerned than most companies with blogger ethics, and in putting together our plan to both create a branded presence at Cop15, and to create quality and authority in our on-site reporting, was a useful experience for our company. We were fortunate that one of "our" Cop15 bloggers, Marc Gunther, earned his traditional journalist stripes at Time Inc. and elsewhere, and brings a keen sense of independence to his role. One of the things that Siemens is teaching us is the degree to which we can be an honest broker between bloggers, whom they increasingly recognize as important to their communications outreach, and their senior staff.
It's perhaps interesting to note that as the importance of social media increases, the "quality gap" is still looming before us. Real-time communications is all good, but there's still a ton of garbage that gets into the networked system. What will close the gap? Will it simply take time, or will there be ways that trusted "outside" brands, or individuals with strong reputations, will convey quality more quickly? No doubt companies other than Siemens are also concerned with this issue, and the quality gap might be holding back expenditures in social media as much as a supposed lack of ROI. Will social media, as well, need to focus on creating less "throw away," and more quality, to truly capture trust, not to mention significant budget and attention from major, global enterprises?