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Social media is a hot topic among companies right now, from startups to the Fortune 500. Should we do it? What does it take to do it well? And where do I start?

Kodak has invested people, energy, and two years of dedicated effort into building its social media program—with great success. This summer, Chief Blogger Jenny Cisney traveled to The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, armed with her Kodak Digital Camera and her laptop.

Jenny posted to the Kodak "A Thousand Words" blog each day to detail her experiences and share her photos. Her posts covered everything from the opening ceremonies to Beijing culture to how Kodak produced hundreds of thousands of accreditation badges for the Games.

While many Olympic-focused sites detailed event results and medal tallies, Kodak's blog provided readers a behind-the-scenes look at the people and a human perspective on the Games.

This month, I spent some time with Kodak Corporate Media Relations Manager Krista Gleason and Chief Blogger Jenny Cisney to find out why their social media program is so valuable to their business, and how they've defined success.

Q: When did Kodak make the decision to make social media part of your corporate strategy, and why?

Krista: We launched our first blog—"A Thousand Words"—in September 2006 and have engaged in other social media since then, including podcasts, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and Delicious. Our social media activities are part of our overall communications and marketing strategy. We use social media to connect with our customers—communicate, listen, interact, engage—and share information about our company and our products and services.

Q: Tell me a little bit about the three blogs you have, and how and why each one is important to Kodak.

Krista: Kodak has three blogs. "A Thousand Words" features stories from Kodak employees on a variety of topics but with a focus on photography and imaging. "Plugged In" features stories about Kodak products and services. "Grow Your Biz" features stories from Kodak's Graphic Communications business. Together, they reflect the breadth and expertise of our company—traditional (photography and film), digital, and print.

Q: How did blogging enhance the 2008 Olympic experience for Kodak, both as individual staff members, and for your company as a whole?

Jenny: Our blogs demonstrated to readers how Kodak products, services, and technology were being used at the Olympics, from services for photojournalists, to printing accreditation badges, postcards and newsletters, to digital photo services for fans. It also showed how the Games and Beijing were captured using Kodak cameras. Photos and video taken onsite were shared with tips on taking pictures when traveling. It's all part of communicating how Kodak can help you "make, manage and move images and information."

Q: What kind of impact has blogging and social media had on your company culture? Your customer relationships?

Krista: Internally, blogging has opened up opportunities for employees to share their personal stories, thereby helping to boost employee morale. Kodak employees are passionate about their work and their company and the blogs give them a chance to communicate that passion. We currently have over 70 employees who blog (including international bloggers) and new employees continually expressing interest.

Jenny: Externally, our blogs give customers and readers (from over 100 countries) a better understanding of Kodak—from how our products and services can help them do more with their pictures to how the company's innovations are impacting our world. Our blogs also give Kodak a human face, and customers appreciate us listening to them.

Q: How do you hope to build on the success you've had in social media, and involve it in your future communication plans?

Krista: Kodak is focused on growth and we are always looking at new and innovative ways to communicate, share information, and build relationships with customers. Our participation in social media gives us the opportunity to spread our message to a larger audience. Our focus going forward is how to best integrate all these tools in our communications. For example, when we do a traditional press release, we also consider a companion blog post, we twitter about the news, we post to Facebook and Delicious, we might do a podcast, and we join the conversation in other blogs and forums.

Q: What departments and staff members are involved in social media at Kodak?

Krista: In April, we named Jenny Cisney our chief blogger and she is responsible for overseeing all our social media activities. As chief blogger, Jenny also covers tradeshows and events (like the Olympics) and represents Kodak at social media conferences. Tom Hoehn is our director of brand communications and convergence media and also plays a lead role. We have an internal blog council that meets regularly with representation from our film business, consumer business, graphic communications business, and technology office.

Jenny: Our employee bloggers represent virtually all aspects of the company, including technology, R&D, product development, branding, marketing, and online. It's easy to find people in the company who are passionate about what they do and about Kodak products.

Q: Kodak does a great deal of sponsorship and events; have you found social media to be a valuable part of these efforts?

Krista: Yes. A great example of this is our announcement of the Kodak Challenge—part of our new partnership with the PGA TOUR. In addition to the traditional press release and press conference, we also had several blogs about the Kodak Challenge, podcasts that were also posted to YouTube, and several people twittering, including Jenny and our chief business development officer, Jeff Hayzlett, who made the announcement. We also posted photos to Flickr and Facebook, and news on Delicious.

Q: How do you define your "ROI" from involvement with social media?

Krista:

  • Feedback from readers and customers via the blogs and email
  • Invitations to speak at top-tier conferences, including BlogWorld and BlogHer
  • Links to our blogs from other blogs and online articles
  • Recognition from social media experts, like Mario Sundar and Debbie Weil, and traditional media, like Business Week
  • Awards: Earlier this year Kodak won three awards for our blogs—the PRSA Bronze Anvil, American Business Award (Stevie Award), and an Interactive Media Award

Q: What advice do you have for other companies contemplating getting involved with social media?

Jenny: If you start participating in social media, you have to be dedicated to it. You cannot leave your blog untouched for weeks. Make sure you listen to your customers and take their feedback into account. Be sure you get back to them in a timely manner. And remember, your blog doesn't have to be like other company blogs. Tailor your social media to best suit your business.

* * *

So, what can businesses learn from Kodak?

Social media is a long-term investment that should be tailored to your business. Like true business development, participating in social media has to be something that a company commits to and works hard at in order to reap all the rewards. It's about building relationships, building your brand, and making people want to learn more about you.

By finding an internal team that is passionate about the work and letting them share that passion with your customers, you'll foster enthusiasm and brand evangelists. These are the things that drive revenue for your company over the long term, even if it's an indirect path.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Amber Naslund

Amber Naslund is principal of Altitude (www.altitudebranding.com), a social media and marketing consultancy. She blogs at The BrandBox.