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For this SocialMedia.org member profile, we sat down with Ed Nicholson, Tyson Foods’ Director of Social Media and Community Relations. Ed is one of the pioneers of social media for big brands, and we’re lucky to call him a member since 2008.

Ten years ago, before social media ROI, Twitter metrics, and Facebook strategies existed, Ed Nicholson joined Tyson Foods as their PR guy. He also helped out with community relations and ran their CSR program for hunger relief.

Even though it wasn’t in his job description, Ed quickly became known as Tyson’s “de facto social media expert.”

According to Ed, it all started with blogging — not about Tyson Foods — but about his weekend hobby as a musician.

He says he became a convert in the mid-2000’s when people like Chris Brogan were talking about how social media (particularly blogging) was going to change the way we communicate.

“I sort of bought into that,” he says.

As far as getting Tyson on board with social media, Ed had been there long enough to build up the credibility and trust he needed to get the go-ahead and some flexibility. “Which was great,” explains Ed. “It really let me develop those channels in a way they’re supposed to be developed.”

Ed focused their early social efforts on hunger relief causes — not marketing.

He began blogging for Tyson and working with a community of hunger relief advocates.

“I’m really proud of the way we’ve used the channels to create awareness for the issue of hunger in our country, and how we use them to support that community of folks who are doing some really important work and helping people who are less fortunate. I would have to say that’s a big accomplishment we’ve had in using social media. ”

“The huge potential in these channels has always been about creating communities,” Ed says.

Since then, Ed’s social media job responsibilities have gotten more official (and more widespread). In addition to working with PR and hunger relief programs for Tyson, he now leads a social media team of three, which he admits is “small for a $36 billion company.” Ed calls their approach a “hybrid model,” as they source content from agencies while doing a lot of the community management and engagement themselves.

But if you ask him about a typical day as Tyson’s Director of Social Media, he’ll tell you there are none.

“I’m a news fanatic. I still have to touch some newsprint every morning for my day to start right. And I usually manage to spend some time at the start of the day personally engaging in social channels, which is how I usually end the day, too. In addition to my own Twitter and Facebook accounts, I also help manage some corporate accounts. So I’ll connect in one way or the other early in the day, usually before I get to the office. Once I arrive, I’ll go over media reports, maybe get through some blogs, if there’s time, and from there it can vary.”

The rest of his day might be dedicated to traveling, talking with national hunger relief organizations, working with Tyson’s governmental relations in DC, and dealing with the daily challenges of social media management.

Running social at a big brand comes with both internal and external challenges.

Ed says, “It can be challenge to work for a big company in a time where there’s some distrust of big companies — distrust of big anything. My team tries to help people understand that behind that big company there are people who really care, and they go to work every day and want to do the right thing. That can be a big challenge, and it’s one that I enjoy a lot.”

But consumer distrust is only part of the difficulties that social media executives at big companies face. Ed says that some of his job’s challenges are internal problems, like silos.

“We’re all incredibly busy, and it’s really easy for one hand not to know what’s going on with the other. That can be a challenge.”

He says other difficulties come from trying to help people understand that even when social media doesn’t paint a perfect picture for ROI, it’s still worth doing.

But Ed has hope for quantifiable metrics in social media.

“I think we’re going to see measurement of social media activity perfected, and more importantly, accepted by those who may have discounted it a few years ago,” he says.

Ed’s also excited about growing their team and finding bigger and better ways to add value to their company. (In fact, they’re hiring.)

Want to know who inspires him? Ed’s roster of thought leaders includes Chris Brogan, Charlene Li, Jeremiah Owyang, Valeria Maltoni, Brian Solis, and Beth Kanter.

“Recently, I’ve really been enjoying Mitch Joel’s blog and podcasts.” Ed added, “I really like the way Mitch thinks, and he’s really a fantastic interviewer. He has some great guests, and he leads them into some really provocative conversations.”

Stop by Ed’s Twitter to say hi, talk about the latest in Tyson’s hunger relief partnerships, and ask about his band.


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