The Home Depot: Our social media road trip — live from BlogWell

4:20 — Kurt Vanderah introduces Nick Ayres, New Media + Content Manager & Corporate Communications Manager, and Sarah Molinari, Corporate Communications Manager for The Home Depot.

4:21 — Nick walks us through the overall social media approach by The Home Depot.

4:22 — Nick: It’s easy to forget that we’re a relatively young company, and we’ve only been in business for about 30 years. We’re still learning as a business, frankly, how to best manage our business, not to mention social media.

4:24 — Nick: In our early days, we had a customer who came in to our store and wanted to return tires, but we didn’t sell tires. The cashier tried to tell the customer that they didn’t sell tires, but the customer swore he bought them there. The cashier called the manager, and he said to go ahead and take them back — and from then on kept the tires behind the customer service desk to remind the staff that they were there to serve customers. Nick says this mentality guides them in social media.

4:26 — Nick says we’ve all heard that you need to listen, and that their caveat to that is that you need to really be prepared to deal with those responses.

4:29 — When it comes to monitoring, Sarah stresses the importance on focusing on how to pull out the content that matters, and to figure out what insights you want to walk away with — because that will draw out what tools you use.

4:32 – Sarah lays out the four buckets they use that involve themes like general commentary, customer comments, and employee comments.

4:33 — Sarah says they started very early on Twitter with deals on their website, and says they had some really great early followers who said they didn’t care about deals because those were already well published. They said they wanted to know about the people behind it all.

4:34 — Sarah explains how they really got going in Twitter during the hurricane season by letting followers know important details on things such as where to get supplies, what stores were open late, etc.

4:35 — Sarah says The Home Depot is not in a race to gain Twitter followers, and shows a chart highlighting steady, modest rise in Twitter followers over the past 20 weeks. She says the importance is developing relationships and connecting on a deeper level.

4:35 — In one example, Sarah shows how they reached out to someone on Twitter who was upset, and fixed the problem — and later, the customer reminded her followers of the great help she received.

4:36 — Sarah’s big point on listening: What are you looking for? Is it actionable stuff? How will you resolve it?

4:37 — Nick says video syndication is another area they spend a lot of time. They realized that people don’t just come to HomeDepot.com for videos, but they also go to YouTube and Google — and since syndicating content on these channels, they’ve had great results.

4:38 — Nick: It’s not just about YouTube. There are also sites out there, like 5 Minute, Howcast — and sites like this that are all about helpful videos that their target audience looks for. Nick recommends remembering the niche sites that the people you’re trying to reach might use.

4:39 — Nick: Really think about content based on what the customers are seeking. With your listening tools in place, you can find what your customers are looking for as well as how to get it to them.

4:40 — Nick: We didn’t do that much with internal blogs and wikis. Much of our stuff, was forward-facing. In retrospect, if we could have started over, we might have approached it differently, because we’re really having to dig down to find internal evangelists.

4:41 — Nick says it’s important to be remember that while you may have short-term wins, it’s really going to take a long time to develop relationships.

4:42 — Nick says you need to work past the reality that some folks just will never get social media. It’s important to work with them, as well as focusing on the people within your organization who do get it.

Q&A

Q: What would you say was the tipping point in getting senior management to realize that social media was important?

A: Sarah: We’re a very entrepreneurial brand, and if someone has an idea, our culture supports them. Nick: It’s probably been a series of moments, and probably around the time we helped with the hurricanes was when execs really saw how we could effectively use a new tool to help customers in real time — it really helped capture a lot of people’s imaginations.

Q: How do you handle staffing?

A: Sarah: It takes passionate people who are willing to do this — whether it’s between meetings or after hours. But also, we’ve had great success with our customer service team — and the idea overall of having our company focus on customer service is what’s helping us be successful. We’ve been able to take some people who were working on the phone who we’ve been able to take off the phone and help with social media outreach and response.

Q: Do you have a policy that allows employees to be online ambassadors for employees?

A: Sarah: It’s been great. We have folks on other teams that have approached us and said, “OK, we need to make some changes.” We’re excited to pilot an internal social collaboration tool, and that’s help some people warm up to the concept. Nick: We swing very dramatically from one direction to another on that issue, and what we focus on is what the bulk of customers expect from The Home Depot — and the reality is that as customers walk in to a store, they expect an associate to help. The last thing we want to do is block that for our associates who are trying to help customers online. We’ve got to think about how our policies at the corporate level affect our associates in the field.

Q: Are the training programs home-grown? Or are there resources out there we can look to?

A: Nick: It’s a mix of that. The Social Media Business Council is a great resource for that — and we’ve been able to leverage our peers for help on how to create these policies. But there’s also some stuff we have to do internally, and stuff we have to create on our own. There’s different degrees of training for say, someone in the marketing department vs. a store manager.

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