Social Study: When it comes to engaging online, sorry, but a sound byte is too trite

From Jennifer: One of the things I love best in this industry is the amazing people I’ve met along the way.  And one of those amazing people is today’s guest columnist, Cindy Droog, Senior Public Relations Specialist at Amway Global.  Every time I get to Grand Rapids, MI, I try to make a point of seeing her.  Her perspective about social media for this industry is refreshing, and she’s incredibly smart.  I’ve enjoyed working with her at Amway a few times, as that long-established company continues to put into place a world-class social strategy.

I’ve been asking Cindy to write a column for us for a while, because I really value her perspective for our industry, and I’m thrilled that today she was finally able to do so.  She writes today about WHO companies should be using to share the message, and how the sales force can take advantage of those messages.  Enjoy!

Social Study: When it comes to engaging online, sorry, but a sound byte is too trite
by Cindy Droog

Cindy Droog

My career in public relations nearly came to an abrupt end in 1995, when the minor league hockey team I was working for had a crisis. On opening night, our team mascot made a huge blunder while cameras were rolling – appearing to be assaulting a female on ice. In reality, he couldn’t see what he was doing; it wasn’t intentional; and no one was hurt.

But that’s not what it looked like from the stands. Fans demanded an explanation. They stood in line to return merchandise with the mascot printed on it. The news media wanted an interview – from someone in the front office – immediately.

I’ll never forget the tense feeling as the front office staff sat in that war room, looking at one another, coming up with reasons why the spokesperson should not be them. It was the professional version of the childhood game “hot potato” and the person left holding the weight was about to have a very long night.

In the end, we landed on me, but not for the reason you might think.

Sure, I was normally the team’s media spokesperson. But in this case, I was the highest-level female in the organization. We felt that the misperceptions created by the incident would more deeply hurt our female fans – the mothers, daughters, wives and other women who needed to know our stance on violence and domestic abuse. Coming from a sport in which fighting can be par for the course, it wasn’t an easy position to be in. Within 24 hours, two prominent women’s organizations called – publicly – for my resignation. Simply for telling our story.

Social media wasn’t around then. But I’ve stayed up many a night wondering what would’ve happened to the team, and to me, if it was.

The lesson in this story is this: choose the right spokesperson, especially online where their comments will live forever, to represent your brand, your product, your viewpoint, and in the case of a crisis, your side of the story.

Amway is a very large organization with more than 13,000 employees and three million distributors worldwide, and we all try to be brand ambassadors. But the bottom line is that not all of us can as effectively connect with our audience as others. In fact, we have learned that some of the people stereotyped as quiet are the ones audiences want to hear from the most.

For Amway, that’s the 500-plus research scientists that work here.

This realization came to me about two years ago when Amway launched a pilot community called (now defunct) to test and learn what managing, growing and fostering a passionate online community was all about.

As one of the community’s bloggers and designated discussion-starters, it didn’t take me long to realize that the most engaging posts, comments and stories came not from our “writers.” They came from our scientists and market researchers. One of my favorite stories is of a researcher who blogged on the site about “skinny fashion,” clothes proven to make us look slimmer. I had no idea this was her hobby! Another was a scientist who I’d always known was an expert on Asian skin care, but who I had no idea was so passionate about the bad behavior of women in their 20s that would impact their skin health forever.

Further proof came when Amway’s Yammer site launched about 18 months ago. That’s where I “met” two gentlemen, scientists for our vitamin and supplement brand that work in California. I have yet to meet either of them in person, but I could tell by their posts that their passion and knowledge would (and it has) translate to online discussion forums in their areas of expertise.

This isn’t a revolutionary idea. It’s as easy as asking yourself, “If I had a question or a concern with how stress is impacting my brain function, would I want to hear from a marketer, a PR person, or a scientist who’s presented his research on this subject?”

In this case, you don’t want a sound byte. You deserve the answer that respects your ability to seek and process information. But sometimes, professional communicators just want the message to be memorable. To take 30 seconds to explain. In truth, many direct selling companies sell products that go in and on our bodies. These aren’t decisions to be made lightly. It’s not unlike when my husband and I had to make a decision about what to give our son for his lack of human growth hormone. We didn’t want memorable messages from marketers. We wanted real science and stories from people who have been there – even if they were ten pages long.

As direct sellers in the field, I encourage you to ask your company to do a better job using scientists, researchers, and other behind-the-scenes experts in their social media efforts. It’s not easy. They’re some of the busiest people in the company. But taking the insight they’ve likely shared with their industry journals and putting it into the limelight is an important step.

And if they are doing it, take advantage of it. Ask your company to tell you when experts get involved online, because it’s easy for you to link to and repurpose that content. When Amway was able to get one of its clinical exercise physiologists – who also happens to be a product formulator – interviewed by, it gave our distributors access to content they couldn’t normally get. Access to share with customers!

Whenever I question myself about who should speak for Amway online, I keep in mind a Forrester Research study, called “Marketers: Stop the Abuse!” which came out about this time last year. It summarized why consumers, over time and all over the world, have lost trust and patience with marketers. The report recommends that every single contact with a customer should demonstrate deep – let’s say that again, deep – knowledge of customer challenges and options for solving them.

And most times, that just can’t be done in a sound byte.
Cindy Droog enjoys being with her two young sons, making her community a better place, and doing her job as senior public relations specialist for Amway, where she assists the company in its blogging, community management, and proactive and reactive response efforts in the digital environment. She led the formation of the Amway Social Media Business Council, a cross-functional team that provides guidance, processes, measurement standards and training across the Amway enterprise, including to employees, global affiliates and distributors. Cindy is a lifelong writer and former business columnist with a journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School at Ohio University. She holds her APR certification in public relations, and serves on the Board of Directors for aimWest, a Grand Rapids, Michigan-based organization that brings marketing and technology professionals together.

5 Responses to Social Study: When it comes to engaging online, sorry, but a sound byte is too trite
  1. Brett Duncan
    June 23, 2010 | 9:50 pm

    Wow, excellent insights here. I’m always pleasantly surprised at the level of detail distributors want to dig into the science and story of the products. But man, they love it. And they obviously need to hear from doctors about it. Of course, the key is finding a scientist who can also connect.

    Along those same lines, I’ve really struggled finding the people who serve best as a spokesperson for our brand. It’s hard to find that person who is knowledgable and interesting but who also has a firm grasp on the brand standards and boundaries. I’m still working through that one ….


  2. Carl Mogridge
    June 22, 2010 | 9:00 pm

    Social Media (in my mind) is about creating value for customers and what better way to do this than to put the customers in touch with the creators. This invaluable connection really does create a sense of belonging for customers and would certainly lead to positive brand image, reputation and ultimately repeat purchases. I don’t know a business out there that wouldn’t adopt the notion of interaction mention in the article above – great ideas!

  3. Barb Orozco
    June 22, 2010 | 12:48 pm!!!! Absolutely excellent article…. excellent points!! Made me realize that every time my company’s Dr. Mark Mizen writes or speaks on photos issues, digital or otherwise, and all things related to photos, I sit up and take notice. Thank you for helping me see that I do AND understand why it’s happening. I’m going to make MUCH better use of his expertise!
    Jennifer, I can ALWAYS count on you for terrific, leading-edge information. Many thanks,

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