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Social Media for Corporations and how Cisco sees it

Yesterday I had the pleasure to interview Jeanette Gibson, Director of New Media Communications at Cisco about Social Media in general and Cisco’s activities and future plans in that field.

The interview turned out to be very interesting as Cisco seems to be quite far ahead compared to many big companies in this field. I was surprised to hear that they are doing that much already in either blogs or virtual worlds. Other companies should be able to learn a lot from them. The most important part is actually what she says in the end:

The landscape has changed and companies must adapt as far as social media is concerned. Companies have to get used to the idea that they are no longer in control. The consumer is and their brand is impacted, created, defined by a larger set of influencers.

But make sure to read the complete interview:

mrtopf: what is Cisco actually doing in general in the social media realm?
Jeanette: We are doing quite a bit, actually communications and collaboration is a big emphasis for us, so social media is a natural path internally. We have collaborative technologies we use, we acquired webex, for example and we are innovating with that platform. We have made a few other acquisitions in the social media space for our customers.

mrtopf: Do you mean as a business providing it for others or also keeping in touch with your customers and community?
Jeanette: Keeping in touch with our customers, as far as that we use our blogs a lot and we have blogs across our major tech areas, about 100 executives blog there. On our official blog platform we are also big users and proponents of video. We are video blogging as much as possible. We use blogs to communicate with our customers and partners. We believe that if we reach a specific customer then it is a success.

mrtopf: How is the communication strategy within your company then? I know many companies who are afraid of letting everybody talk on their behave. Is everybody at Cisco allowed to blog?
Jeanette: a core value for our communications is openness and transparency. We have a blog platform internally where all employees can blog. This is a good way to practice, get used to the behavior change. We have about 1500 or so employee blogs internally now. For external blogging we have an engagement process. You need to be approved by your manager and deemed approprriate business dicsussion. After that folks just review our policy and are a go. We have 65,000 employees right now and you can imagine in such a big company using twitter, facebook, blogs, wikis, etc. help us stay in
touch and collaborate gobally. On facebook, we are recruiting college students for our sales force. This is very successful.

mrtopf: So are there some rules which you need to follow if you want to blog for the public?
Jeanette: Yes, our policy is posted on our blog. We’re open about that. Basically we respect our employees and
let them be free to blog.

mrtopf: I guess that’s quite important to feel a bit more connected to the rest of the world?
Jeanette: Yes, that’s a big deal for us. In Second Life for example, I can meet with teams in Europe and feel more connected to them.

Jeanette Gibson / Cisco

mrtopf: How does that compare to e.g. video conferencing, phone conferences etc.?
Jeanette: I’d say that Second Life is better than a phone call or webcast. You get the sense of physical proximity. But it’s not as good as our Telepresence technology that is virtual meetings, you can see the real person. With globalisation this is so critical, having many ways to reach people.

mrtopf: Telepresence though is a bit too expensive for many right now but it looks impressive.
Jeanette: yes, it’s for large businesses now, companies that have many branch offices and need to connect, it’s $100,000 -$300,000. But someday we’ll have telepresence in our homes.

(as a sidenote: John Chambers said in the Q&A the day before that this might take only 12 months to bring it to consumers)

Jeanette: We are also working with service providers to help enable their innovations to consumers and we have Scientific Atlanta that is in the home with set top boxes.

mrtopf: To change the topic a little bit: How to you use virtual worlds? And do you only use Second Life or other worlds as well?
Jeanette: We do trainings with our customers in Second Life. This program is very successful since our channel partners and VARs and IT managers can come and learn about our vision and technology. I also meet with colleagues to discuss new ways to use Second Life for communications. Many groups at Cisco are coming to me to do new projects. Healthcare and retail are big.

As for other virtual worlds, I’m looking into Kaneva and but we have no other formal presence yet. I’ve seen more development in the 2.5 D space too. Cisco has a 2.5 D space for our channel partners called Cisco Partner Space (see a video). We are doing development in that and briefing customers. Second Life is in the continuum of collaboboration for us.

mrtopf: Do you also use Second Life for internal meetups?
Jeanette: Yes, some of our sales teams in Europe, for example meet up weekly since they are all in different countries. Nice way for them to catch up. We like doing 3D simulations of products and ideas. Second Life is a good place for that. For healthcare, our sales engineers will talk to a customer and design something. I’ve also had our workplace resources folks meet to design our real world campus buildings in Second Life first so employees can check out the build and gives them instant feedback while still
in the planning stage.

We use our employee island for education w/employees as well. For example, our green initiative: We put information first in Second Life and employees could calculate their carbon footprint, learn more about our energy programs, etc.

Cisco Live

mrtopf: How do you see the future of this whole space? Social media in general? Where are we heading and what should com
panies do to make good use of it?

Jeanette: Yesterday john talked about our greenhouse gas reductions. Virtual worlds help companies stay in touch with global partners without having to psycially travel. I see many companies using more 3D. For example, in a workspace like webex, being able to have presence information about where you are, being able to have your avatar move between difference environments.

The landscape has changed and companies must adapt as far as social media is concerned. Companies have to get used to the idea that they are no longer in control. The consumer is and their brand is impacted, created, defined by a larger set of influencers. So being open and transparent is key. We are a large, public company, so if we can do it, others can. We started small and grew from there. I tell people to find champions in the company and use that as a case study to grow and get more people engaged.

mrtopf: Thank you for this interview!
Jeanette: You’re welcome. thanks for coming to our events.

You can also follow Jeanette on Twitter.Technorati Tags: , , , ,

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