“Social is important, not just for marketing, and not just for pushing messages. It’s just as important, or even more important, for actually learning from your consumers,” says General Mills Social Media and Marketing Strategist Aaron Miller at SocialMedia.org’s Member Meeting in Los Angeles.
That’s why he says General Mills had a problem. With over 110 social channels that were almost all run by agencies, their social programs were becoming inconsistent at best, and disconnected at worst. Adding to the chaos, each brand was “doing it’s own thing.”
“We saw from our competitors that if you’re going to be a successful marketer and a successful brand, you need to be using social media and digital tech well. But with the current structure, we were really isolated and fragmented.”
With that in mind, Aaron set out to take back ownership of their brands’ social media channels from the agencies running them.
The goal: Build social community managers who would act as the voice of the brand.
The new plan would use agencies as an extension of their strategy, not their whole team.
Aaron says that by letting agencies run their social channels, General Mills was essentially paying agencies to develop their skills in community management instead of developing their own internally. With in-house community managers, General Mills could learn directly from their consumers while providing more connected and personal customer service.
“We’re building our own institutional knowledge, which I think is important. We, as a company, firmly believe that is not going away. The ability to be successful in social media is imperative for building strong, successful brands.”
To start building this team, Aaron had to make the case for community managers to General Mills.
He started by showing them how much more cost effective community managers are compared to paying for agencies — as he puts it, the “dollars” part of his “dollars and sense” argument.
“That’s an easy story to make, but one that is obviously important for an organization who is very conscious about costs. The harder part was talking about why this made sense for General Mills. We had to explain that when you have community managers who are actually General Mills employees — they sit with the Yoplait team, they sit with the Cheerios team — they feel a bigger connection to that brand.”
Community managers are not there to sell more Cheerios.
Aaron explains, “They’re there to build brand equity, to create preference for the brand, and to raise awareness of the brand. They’re not there to push marketing — they’re there to learn.”
Aaron explains that community manager responsibilities can be relatively diverse. Some of them include:
- Learning the best way to use each social channel
- Creating content
- Building story arcs
- Protecting the brand reputation
- Translating what they’ve learned into actionable ideas
Aaron’s job is to keep them all connected.
“If we bring in community managers, my goal was to not lose them to their divisions where you never see them again.”
Instead, he has meetings with them every week. According to Aaron, it’s important to let the community managers create a strong connection with the individual brand while staying a part of General Mills as a whole.
But as Aaron admits, there weren’t a lot of people with community manager experience on their resume out there.
They weren’t looking for people with social media on their resume.
Instead, they looked for people who could be strategically creative: They needed to be able to write, to manage issues, and to work well with other people.
“Do they have a website where I can go look at their work? Because I want to see how they use social media for themselves. It often came down to their qualities — their creativity, their writing ability — more than their actual job experience.”
That’s why Aaron hired community managers with diverse backgrounds: poets, a psychologist, agency talent, and a non-profit worker. They were hiring community managers for their qualities, not their experience.
Going forward, they’ll be working on cultivating a team culture.
Aaron says they’re trying out new tools, working on more agile content development, and looking into (what some social media executives call the Wild West) international cohesion.
You can stop by Aaron’s Twitter to say hi or learn more about his community management team from his Member Meeting presentation below.