Jack Pate

At SocialMedia.org, we consider the team at Tyson Foods to be corporate social media pioneers.

When someone asks you an authentic question, make sure they get an authentic response.

They were one of the first big brands to branch out in social media, and it all started as a corporate social responsibility effort to support hunger relief. SocialMedia.org member Jack Pate became a part of that Corporate Communications department in 2002. And after a couple years building a social presence and listening program for a casino gaming company in Las Vegas, Jack rejoined the Tyson Foods team in 2010 — just in time for the “pink slime” controversy to hit their industry.

“By the time individual companies saw it as a threat, it was too late,” Jack says.

He explains that before, the protein industry had relied on trade organizations, like the North American Meat Institute and the National Chicken Council, to speak for them. But now, these negative messages about finely textured beef had been re-circulated and re-amplified enough that the issue had begun to filter down to the corporate brand level.

“It revealed a weakness in a lot of protein companies at the time,” says Jack, “They weren’t engaging on the issues.”

Now, engaging on the issues is a significant part of Jack’s role at Tyson Foods.

As a messenger on social media, you have to be prepared to engage with people in their world…

“When you’re a company as big as Tyson Foods, you’re different things to everybody. To one person, we might be a company that makes great chicken nuggets, but to another person we may be a company that stands for animal welfare — for good and bad. We can stand for nutrition, the environment, or social justice issues to others,” he explains.

“As a messenger on social media, you have to be prepared to engage with people in their world, because that might be the only window they have into your corporate brand. Their only insight into your corporation is that issue that they care the most about.”

Jack says you have to have empathy to do this job.

“You need to be able to understand what your critics are saying about you,” he explains, “and be able communicate with them on a value space level instead of just debating about facts or debating for the sake of debating.”

That requires a broad understanding of the issues, lots of reading, subscribing to a ton of lists, using monitoring tools, and communicating authentically. Jack says, “When someone asks you an authentic question, make sure they get an authentic response.”

But that can also be a challenge: separating the cut-and-paste activists and the person with a genuine question about the issue. Jack says communicating authentically begins with the people who choose the job.

“I’m not sure authenticity is something I would want to train,” he says.

“I look forward to more authentic communication.”

That means more targeted messaging — engaging people interested in particular issues and being selective about their audiences. His team is also looking to use more video to tell their story, like in January, when they used Periscope to cover a live #MealsThatMatter event.

Bringing influencers inside their corporate headquarters and ramping up blogger tours are also on Jack’s priority list.

“It’s about explaining our culture, because that’s a difficult thing for the average consumer, investor, or stakeholder to get: What is your company culture? We’re working towards becoming more authentic online with things like video to explain it.”

Follow Jack on Twitter and ask about his favorite place to take a bike ride. Jack’s been a member of SocialMedia.org since 2010, and Tyson Foods has been a member of the community since 2009.


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