Anne Plese from Cisco Systems weighs in on her responses to our panel questions from the 3/31 SMCLA panel on Brand Building via Social Media.  Anne’s responses represent the larger and more established brands as she focuses on Cisco’s world-wide go-to-market strategy in the data center market – a US $86B market.

Cisco’s data center blog can be found at:
You can keep up with Cisco Data Center via Twitter (@CiscoDC), Facebook, and even Flickr

What is a brand? How do you define it?
Brand is what people think about you.

YouTube accounts for 10% of all internet traffic. 5 of the top 10 websites are social. There are about 20 new blog posts written every second. How important is social media as a platform for brands?
Very critical – Cisco uses social media in various ways, including:
1.    giving a face to our brand and to humanize the company,
2.    interacting with our customers, partners, competition, press, and analysts in new ways
3.    specific to marketing, social media offers a low-cost way to listen to the market (this is a new and strange behavior – especially for us marketing people because we’re always talking….) specifically neutral and negative threads give us clarity on blind spots to correct (vs. traditional marketing to people – now I can interact with them).

What about employees using the social web? How much does each individual’s personal brand affect the brand as a whole?
Every post, comment on other blogs, tweet, and ideas our Cisco corporate bloggers express in the public domain reflects our brand.  Cisco, like other corporations, invest significant dollars in building a positive brand and image. Our professional bloggers have journalistic rights and have to represent our brand in a responsible way.

The old model for online communications was about driving traffic to a destination site. Now it’s more about going to where people are and participating there. How important are metrics? What kind of metrics do you pay attention to? What do those metrics tell you about the effectiveness of brand building using social media?

This was a fundamental part of my team’s strategy over 2 years ago as we entered a new market.  Our blog was integrated into our marketing mix for one purpose: interact.  No other marketing tactics in the past could give me this value.  It’s not about what Cisco has to sell or what Cisco is saying – it’s about what YOU think about what Cisco is selling or saying.
Don’t build a blog unless you’ve spent time participating in other conversations on blog sites that you have interest in.
Just like physically walking up to a group of people who are having a conversation, listen first, then express an opinion that is original.
Get permission to be in the conversation.  Build equity in you as an individual, be candid and honest – folks with engaging/outgoing personalities tend to be better at this…
Then…build your own presence on the blogosphere – post often and continue the conversations – but now you are driving them.  End every post with a question.  Interact and respond quickly.  Do not market to your followers – be authentic and ENGAGE THEM and challenge them to think differently.
•    $250K = cost avoidance – the amount of money my team saved by writing blog posts instead of a. writing a professional whitepaper; and b. not paying for a traditional business or technical industry analyst to write an ‘independent’ opinion. (the content, instead, was authored by the market in the form of ongoing comments….).`
•    782+ = the number of independent authors writing threads (positive, neutral, negative) about Cisco + Data Center (July, 2008).  Today, it is closer to over 2,300+ folks carrying my marketing message.
•    40% = percentage of professional bloggers who influence the IT buying cycle for Cisco Data Center products who we regularly have conversations with.

What’s different about brand-building on the social web vs. more traditional mediums? Is it more effective? Less effective?

For us, we are still measuring the effectiveness.  It’s really been about influencing the influencers.

How can you make sure that your social media efforts are integrated into the larger communications strategy?

This is a great question.  We focused on this from day 1- this was critical to our success.  The reality?  Most corporations have Press Relations, Analyst Relations, Investor Relations, Employee Relations, etc…For Cisco, we now have Blogger Relations.  Focusing on a growing number of key influencers.

Anne Plese is responsible for developing and executing Cisco’s world-wide go-to-market strategies and for Cisco in the data center market – a US $86B market. Plese holds a leadership role in expanding Cisco’s traditional marketing tactics and strategies around how Cisco’s brings new technology to new and existing markets. This includes integrating creative and measurable strategies around social media, word-of-mouth marketing, and blogging with traditional investments across the marketing mix. Plese launched one of Cisco’s most successful online blog communities today: averaging over 100,000 RSS hits over the past year. Plese originally joined Cisco in 1999, holding senior management positions within Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group and corporate marketing organization. In 2006, Plese became an authorized Duct Tape Marketing coach. Previously, Plese held senior management positions in the high-tech and financial services industries, with over 15 years in the enterprise, SMB, and service provider market segments. Plese graduated from Oregon State University a really long time ago…with a degree in business administration.