CI Interview – State Farm’s Social Media Team

by on May 21, 2012

altThis interview originally appeared in the Spring 2012 Issue of Consulting Insights.

Over the past several months, Corporate Insight has been hard at work developing a new, quantitative way of evaluating companies’ social initiatives. Our third publication on the topic of social media since 2008, the Social Media Leaders report uses our proprietary formula to rank financial services firms on four different types of social properties – Facebook pages, Twitter profiles, proprietary communities and blogs. We applied this formula to the 90 annuity issuers, banks, brokerages, credit card issuers, insurance companies and mutual fund firms Corporate Insight tracks through our Monitor services.

In addition to our quantitative analysis, we also spoke with social media decision-makers and team members at a number of firms to better understand the development and evolution of their social media strategy, as well as the structure of the teams who manage these efforts. Among the industry leaders we contacted was State Farm. We spoke with two members of the firm’s social team – Kelly Thul, Director of Business Information Technology, and Matt Edwards, Senior Public Affairs Specialist.

Corporate Insight (CI): What were your initial goals when you first started to develop your social media strategy?

Kelly Thul (KT): Ultimately, we’re a company about relationships. That’s what we do. [Social media] is a framework and a capability that’s not so much about the technology; it’s about the relationship. So it felt like a very  natural and appropriate place for us to figure out how we can extend our relationship activities in the social environment.

CI: Can you offer any insight into what the State Farm social media team is like and how that has evolved over time?

Matt Edwards (ME): Well, of course with a company the size of ours, everyone wants to have input.  Our lawyers and compliance team will weigh in where necessary but the core social team spans our public affairs department, marketing department and… our business/technology solutions group. From a marketing and public affairs standpoint, social forced us to work closer and understand each other’s worlds more than we ever had to before. There were some growing pains in the beginning, but we’ve come a long way and collaborate much better today than we did three or four years ago, at least in terms of social media.

CI: So working on your social media campaign caused State Farm to become a more social company, internally, because of the challenges you faced?

ME: Yes, it was a necessity. We have to understand each other; we have to know each other’s goals so we can help each other achieve those goals. Otherwise, the whole thing will fall apart.

CI: As you started to develop your social strategy, how was the concept of social being introduced? Was it being brought to the forefront by individuals within the company, or, as the company started to realize this was something that made sense for you, did you look to external resources to help develop your strategy?

KT: Initially, I would say the majority emerged internally. We had some pretty strong social expertise at that time… from personal use of the platforms. These were people that really understood how they worked and how you would execute in there. Now that said, we certainly worked with a lot of partner companies, whether it was a marketing partnership or a PR firm or a technology group. We certainly welcomed their input and their take on social, but it was and has always been driven by State Farm resources.

CI: Is there pressure from executive management to show results from your social initiatives or are you given more leeway in terms of things like measuring ROI? Also, are you actively measuring ROI? What kind of metrics do you pay attention to?

KT: We definitely pay attention to metrics. For anything we’re doing, we try to identify what would be the measure of success. The question is always, do those measures of success directly relate to ROI or not? A powerful ROI result out of a program would always be welcome and there’s increasing interest to explore when we can identify those opportunities. But at the core, when we define what our measures of success are, they will tend to be increased awareness and higher levels of engagement. It’s not just the idea of who can get the most likes, because you can have a huge fan base but if they don’t interact with you, you’re not using social effectively at all. So we really want to blend those two together. We want to continue to grow and have more and more people with connect with, but the people we connect with we also want to interact with.

CI: Back to ROI for a moment, it sounds like there’s no silver bullet for your company but it’s something you’re striving to address?

KT: Absolutely. As we continue to explore opportunities, the key will always be to respect people’s privacy and maintain… the appropriate behavior in social. But if we can point to better retention with the customers we interact with socially versus customers we don’t, there’s strong interest in getting a better line of sight to some of that.

ME: In today’s business world, ROI aside, some platforms like Twitter and Facebook – large corporations can hardly afford not to be out there. That’s partially why we got into these spaces. The conversations [about State Farm] were happening there and we wanted to take part in those conversations. So granted, you do need some ROI to justify the resources and time you’re putting into [these campaigns], but at the end of the day, the core of it is, the consumer expects you to be there.