Why Level 3 Is Guilty of Listening and Smart Storytelling

Continuing our exploration into community management I’d like to share another story with you.

My view from the jury box in the Hatton W. Sumners Courtroom during the Socialmedia.org Dallas Blogwell conference made it seem like Level 3’s case study was on trial.

And the good thing about this big brand social media trial was that Level 3 was guilty on all counts of taking the “blah out of corporate blogging.”

After seeing my fare share of lackluster corporate blogs get launched with little to no strategic thinking beforehand and then fizzle out and flop, it was refreshing to hear how Level 3 made their Beyond Bandwidth corporate blogging story a success by defining clear objectives, listening in the right way to their community and empowering remarkable storytellers.

 Asking The Right Questions = Smart Corporate Blogging

The first thing that stood out to me about Ben’s story was how his team asked themselves the important questions right from the start.

Being strategic and smart was a part of the plan from the get go. They wanted to improve their search results and be more human and connected better with customers. Those goals made since to their business so they moved on to execute on them.

After defining their objectives it was equally encouraging to hear that they didn’t force the wrong executives or employees to blog if it wasn’t their passion or the right communication channel. They decided to wisely seek out people who naturally love to tell stories and transform those inspired folks into successful bloggers.

“When choosing who will blog for your company, search for storytellers, not job titles. Look for people who write long, articulate emails and tell great stories at happy hours, or people talk to customers the most and do what the customers do more than anyone else at your company.”

I loved that part of Ben’s talk because that message is so important, but rarely executed on corporate blogs.

You can’t force someone to be a storyteller or a prolific blogger.  It’s far more effective to empower the right storytellers within your company to who WANT to passionately and creatively share their stories and experiences.

And when you do give those folks the freedom to express themselves and share their stories, you’ll unleash the power to humanize your brand both externally to your customers and internally to other employees.

During Ben’s talk I thought how at Walgreens in our internal community we have one executive who is a natural storyteller and his blog continues to be a success because he’s a natural storyteller and his style resonates with our employees.

Like many of the bloggers at Level 3, our executive often writes posts about non-business, real-life and even deeply personal and spiritual topics. That said, I’m not at all surprised that our employees love to read and respond with gusto in the comments.

And to keep the engagement flowing our executive actively responds to the readers in the comments too. Yes, we might have to guide him a little bit but for the most he sees respond as a naturally extension of the conversation he started with the blog post.

Commit to Building and Nurturing Your Blogger Community

The next thing encouraging part about Ben’s story was how they committed to coaching, guiding and nurturing their employee bloggers at the beginning and as the Level 3 blog developed. Here’s how they did it:

“Train and empower these storytellers to blog. Send them articles about best practices and good and bad example blogs from other companies.

Do group posts. Send out a question to your blogger pool and you’ll get different responses. Combine these into one blog and this will showcase your company’s diverse thinking and talent.

Do “look in the mirror posts”—how are we going to be really transparent, what have we done wrong, and how can we share these learnings with customers in our blog?

Talk about the taboo: death, taxes… and fiber cuts. A single blog tweet got picked up by Telecom News and got them lots of hits. “The 10 Most Bizarre and Annoying Causes of Fiber Cuts”— number 1 reason was squirrels. People loved this, and it showed that not all outages are their fault.

The other reason I want to share the Beyond Bandwidth session with you is because I want corporate blogging and community stories like these to be the norm, not the exception.  And the way to do that is to share the similarities and learn from each other’s experiences. So here’s a little peak in to how we’ve begun to develop our internal community at Walgreens.

Listening to Ben, I thought back to the early stages of how we developed our employee communities at Walgreens.

One of the first things I did when I first started at Walgreens was to listen closely and see who were the natural storytellers in the organization. I wanted to see who were the natural commenters and who were the folks that maybe we’re passionate about social media but at least understood how social tools could drive Walgreens to become a more connected and collaborative culture.

So over the past year, I’ve listened closely to the employees who we invited into our current social intranet pilot.  Before the pilot began I met with each person so we could talk candidly and explore questions that were crucial to gaining their trust and demonstrating how our new community could:

1) What was their Walgreens story? How did they get to their current position? What do they do? I asked them to share what parts of their story, both personal and professional, gave them the most pleasure, satisfaction and frustration.

2) Who in the organization did they wanted to connect with the most and why?

3) What specific aspects of our new community appealed to them the most? Were they most passionate about ideation, sharing, networking or did they just want to gradually I could find the best spot and role for them in the community.

Since our community is a social business community with specific goals, we also spent time talking with and listening to the 1 %, the influencers, about how their contributions are the fuel to modeling how the community can be a valued tool to solving real business problems.

Like Ben explained in his talk we started to explore How could it help them collaborate, connect and humanize both the corporate and store cultures? We needed to ask this questions and begin to answer it because this is the first time that both cultures would be converging online together in a social business space. And to avoid the question would be a big mistake in community building.

I highly encouraged that we take this personal one-on-one approach to building our Walgreens community because I’ve experienced the same benefits by listening to and sharing concert fans stories over the years on Live Fix.

And and I’ve said before, much of what I’ve discovered true for concert fan communities I have applied to building corporate communities.

To listen first isn’t a natural behavior for most people, especially in business. Too often we’re trained to do do do and just crank out results without questioning the norm.

But as community managers and social media leaders at our companies, we must lead by example. We must show that thinking strategically about our community objectives, and taking the time to listen and understand our communities is well worth the time.

You might not be able to measure the ROI of strategic planning, listening and the quality of engagement like you can with other metrics, but I know that every community and social media manager should consider the intangible ROI of those actions when building and growing their communities.

I can’t say it enough. We must show how this new evolution of corporate blogging and community management is done and continue to demonstrate why it’s important. We must show the business value of actively listening first so we can truly understand our community’s needs and eventually solve their problems.

And once we’ve listened we must be ready to empower our employees to tell their stories too and model it for the rest of the organization. Just like Ben did with Beyond Bandwidth.

Thanks again to Ben for sharing the story of BeyondBandwidth and thanks also the other companies who shared their success stories during Blogwell Dallas. And thanks to Kurt and the crew at Socialmedia.org for passing along the courtroom photo.



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