This is a post from my company, SocialMedia.org’s blog. Check it out for more profiles and stories about the people running social at really big brands.
This member profile comes from Ike Pigott, Communications Strategist for Alabama Power Company, a division of Southern Company. We’re thrilled to have had him as a member of SocialMedia.org since 2011.
“When I first came to the company there was no social media role. The hiring manager knew I had social media experience in my background and knew that the company would eventually need it. But I was hired for a completely different role.”
That’s Ike Pigott, Southern Company’s Communications Strategist, explaining his start at one of the largest electricity providers in the U.S. He’s like a lot of other social media leaders at big brands who had to work for executive buy-in before they could have an official social media program.
Ike says earning executive buy-in for social only comes with patience.
“When you’re out doing unofficial monitoring in social media, and you come back with use cases, it’s about figuring out who the right people are to talk to about it. And you’ve got to talk to them at the right time. You’ve got to understand their fears and know how to speak to those. It’s just about patience,” he explains.
According to Ike, cramming social media down decision-makers’ throats doesn’t get you far. He says to maintain credibility it’s better to be very judicial about making social media a part of your strategy.
Ike says, “At a big brand, Fortune 500 company level, you’re not going to get culture change overnight.”
Ike explains how a traditional media communicator works in social media.
He says he agrees with former ABC journalist John Stossel’s opinion that really important news happens slowly. And Ike’s road to becoming a social media leader at a billion dollar brand came pretty slowly, too.
After 16 years in traditional media, he joined the American Red Cross — first as a local chapter communicator, then later as a Director of Communications and Government Relations. He says he learned the ropes in social media, got to know some influencers, and got a good grasp of the business there.
Now, at Southern Company, Ike’s typical day is full of social media and public relations responsibilities. While coaching and advising a social customer service team of six people, he also gathers news about the company to feature in their blog.
Social listening for a big brand is about pulling out what’s important.
“The cool thing for me is — because I always think like a crisis communicator at heart — I see the raw nerves. If I see a trend of people complaining about something, I have the ability to push that to people who need to know. A lot of times, I can give them the information before it’s ugly, public, or makes the media.”
It’s a common skill among social media leaders at big companies: the ability to spot a trend — not just in what shiny, new social channel could be right for their brand, but also customer sentiment. Ike says he’s a part of that every day.
“Being able to be at that nerve center where things get raw and using that for internal intelligence — I don’t know about you, but I think that’s exciting. For an organization as big as we are, to be able to be nimble and responsive to the littlest of things and prevent them from becoming a huge rash, that’s a huge deal,” says Ike.
Ike says the people who do this job are usually homegrown brand evangelists or outside social media experts.
“People who come up authentically from within a company and just happen to have good instincts do a wonderful job in social for their company. They’re good because they were evangelists for that brand for so long,” Ike explains.
But he says brand evangelists like these aren’t easily detached from the company they’ve been advocating.
According to Ike, “When you try to take them out of that environment and put them somewhere else, they lose connection with their mojo. They know how to resize a photo for a Facebook profile image, and they know what a retweet does. But now they’re lost, and they’re not talking about the things they love anymore.”
He says, “The flip side is the hardened, seasoned, raw communicators. They understand social media inside and out, but they may not know your business initially. There’s no perfect solution. But the problem comes from hiring an expert who’s an expert in one business, but not yours.”
When he started out in social media, Ike had to find the right balance of traditional media communications and a big brand PR.
To do it, he went online to learn as much as he could through experience, writing blog posts, commenting, and interacting with other thought leaders.
Among those thought leaders were a lot of folks who were also communicators first, such as Geoff Livingston, Kami Huyse, and Scott Baradell. He says that through these online interactions came a lot of offline meetings and networking — something he’s been able to apply to his current job as Southern Company’s Communications Strategist.
“It’s all about turning all of these things into offline interactions that have meaning and value. Ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to do as a business.”
Ike believes that as a big business in social media, it’s not only about finding the right value in social channels, but also recognizing that your competitors and customers are looking for the same thing.
He explains, “Our customers aren’t sitting there asking how they can get value out of social media, but when they use it and it radically changes their behavior, we’ve got to adjust to that. And that’s where the value comes in for us.”