Cargill: Global thought leadership on a shoestring — Live from the Brands-Only Summit

Coverage of this session by Kristen Platt of Connect with her by following her on Twitter.

2:50 —'s Jeff Casale introduces Cargill's Maria Lettman.

2:51 — Maria: I'm here to bring hope to thought leadership with virtually no staff and no budget.

2:51 — Maria: Cargill is probably the oldest (150-year-old) company you've never heard of.

2:52 — How can the world feed 9 billion people by 2050. This idea is called food security. That's where Cargill comes in — we're a provider of food, agriculture, financial and industrial products and services to the world.

2:53 — Maria: Our social media challenge: Food security was deemed number one company priority. There were promises that were already made, so we needed to focus on this NOW, with no staff, and no budget.

2:54 — Maria: The first thing we set out to do was set up our monitoring tool and get good data. We tracked hunger, trade policy, rural development, farm productivity, sustainability, and climate change mentions on not only social media, but also on traditional media as well.

2:56 — If you're going to do thought leadership of any kind, i urge you not to skip this step of researching data before you jump in. It's crucial, especially with limited staff and budget.

2:57 — Next, we had to gauge what Cargill's actual appetite for this goal really was. We had to get the agreement. Lead the conversation; Pros: biggest play, longer-term impact; Cons: requires most resources, subject expertise, and most social media skill. Focus on specific topic, audience or geography; Pros: May be able to tap into existing company knowledge, resources and less to do, measure; Cons: Leaves other niches open for the taking. Amplify our events, content, people; Pros: Easiest to fit into existing jobs, channels, plus quick wins; Cons: Doesn’t set us apart.

2:59 — Maria: Get some more agreement: The goal was to become a meaningful voice in the online conversation.

3:01 — Starting with the “who are we trying to reach?” What do we want them to do? Where is the conversation happening? How do we achieve the goal?

3:03 — Maria: How we handled no staff… we put together this list:
1. Knowledge:
• Subject matter expertise
• Broad knowledge of Cargill and how subject matter relates to our businesses
• Knowledge of social media and the web
• Understanding of online behavior

2. Qualities:
• Agile
• Sense of urgency
• Not frustrated by constant interruptions
• Cool under pressure
• Thick-skinned, polite and friendly under fire
• Fearless but careful
• Likes to help, contribute

3. Skills:
• Provoking conversation
• Talking like a human
• Making split-second decisions
• Writing and writing fast
• Addressing nuanced topics in a simple way
• Managing difficult conversations
• Self-editing

4. Availability:
• Can’t regularly be offline when audience is online
• Can check social media at least every 10 minutes
• Able to drop everything when needed
• Able to work nights and weekends

3:04 — Maria: How we handled no budget: We created complicated search strings to bring in specific online conversations into our monitoring tool and that created our new content engine. We realized that was our secret weapon! You can do the same thing.

3:06 — We launched @foodsecureworld and tried to build our new community one by one. We wanted to offer the best content that wasn't shared by other people every single day. We offered that valuable to key influencers and and slowly built these new relationships and grew our community.

3:07 — Maria: We also held highly visible events that helped build awareness.

3:08 — And it worked! We got retweets from very high-profile stakeholders at our company.

3:09 — The no staff part didn't fully work out, because it turns out community management for this global of a topic isn't possible by only one person. So we eventually added more staff.

3:10 — The United Nations called Cargill specifically because of what we were doing on Twitter… now THAT's a win for social media!

3:07 — Maria shares some final takeaways:
1. Patience, patience, patience.
2. Curation is not just for losers. It's better to be in the conversation everyday when your audience is than to wait until you put together some organic content of your own.
3. For events, “before” matters more.
4. The path to influencers may be indirect.
5. Stick to prime time.
6. Don't make people regret the click!


Q: When does your community management take place?

A: Maria: Our window is 6-9am, so our engagement dives after 9am. The point is to know when your audience is interested and available to connect with you and your content.

Q: How did you address internal buy-in about you sharing certain content?

A: Maria: A lot of the PR, Marketing, Communications department listened to our goal and what our audience wanted to hear. We tied our content and strategy back to the original goal that we had all decided on prior to started this initiative. Sure, there was push back, but once we brought back successful results, they were on board.

Q: Have you considered other platforms to share content besides Twitter?

A: Maria: We went there because that's where our audience was based on our initial research. That's where the conversation about food security was already happening, so it was more natural for us to join the conversation.

Q: Where do you get the insights for finding the content you shared?

A: Maria: Don't just look on Twitter for content because people have already shared that. Pretty much 100% of our content comes from our monitoring tool.

Q: Why are you only sharing from 6-9 AM?

A: Maria: Because we want to be first to share the content. It's essential to be the ones offering this new content otherwise it's wasted. Plus, our audience is just waking up and checking their feeds first thing for news. This time also helps us with managing the time zones.

Q: In your initial research, did you debate whether this thought leadership was coming from your company, or from specific individuals/leadership?

A: Maria: It was a company initiative and goal, so we embedded this thought leadership within our company. It doesn't help us much if everything was attached to an individual and then something happened to this individual.

Q: What about now? Do you get any more staff or budget for this program?

A: Maria: I think it's built an appetite for more thought leadership, but ultimately it's not about us. We've established ourselves in the space, so the next step is to attempt becoming thought leaders in another related subject.