NEW YORK: An increasing number of major companies are employing social media tools to enhance their internal processes in areas from advertising to customer service.

Forrester, the research firm, conducted a study to establish which corporations were making the shift towards becoming "highly empowered and resourceful operatives" – or HEROes.

Josh Bernoff, Forrester's svp, idea development, and Ted Schadler, a principal analyst, said this applied to brand owners exploiting new technology to gain an insight into the needs of their target audience, and to solve their problems.

Best Buy has leveraged social media in such a way, with 2,500 members of staff signed up to its Twelpforce on Twitter, responding to matters raised by netizens via this platform.

Alongside offering a best practice case study of how to deal with negative issues as they arise, this model has demonstrated how different departments can unite in order to make the most of Web 2.0.

Barry Judge, Best Buy's cmo, and Gary Koelling, a social media specialist in its marketing group, helped devise the original blueprint for the Twelpforce.

Ben Hedringon, from its e-commerce unit, constructed a cloud computing system enabling multiple users to log on to Twitter at one time, and John Bernier, also a marketer, led the project and overcame any possible legal hurdles. 

"If you are not curious, you won't last long in marketing," said Judge. "You have to have some failures to see that."

"We're almost always in a half-baked mode. Half-baked ideas allow people to give you feedback."

In one example of this, Judge posts Best Buy's TV ads on his blog before they air, and the electronics chain pulled a spot showing how it had assisted a customer in the US military based on the comments it received.

Elsewhere, Black & Decker has utilised the principles of properties like YouTube by arming its sales force with low-cost video cameras and asking them to film their day-to-day experiences.

"Now we get 15 to 20 videos a month – how power tools are used on job sites, feedback on the tools. And the content is already completely edited," said Rob Sharpe, director of sales and training at Black & Decker.

"The training staff can spend a half hour with the product, come up with our own opinions and competitive analysis, and send out [a video] the next day with an assessment."

Results have included cutting down the typical training time from two weeks to one, as well as highlighting weaknesses in its rivals' products and identifying particularly effective sales techniques.

Aflac, the insurance provider, has multidisciplinary teams looking to find novel ways of engaging its key stakeholders, such an through an online community for its 80,000 independent associates, called The Buzz.

It has also established a similar forum, Duck Pond, for the 200,000 billing, payroll and administrative workers from its business clients. 

"We don't want you to think of Aflac as just a supplemental insurance company," said Gerald Shields, the company's chief information officer.

"We want you say, 'Wait a minute – I'm on Duck Pond all the time.'".

Bernoff and Schadler suggested organisations must develop a "safe framework" in which to build their operations in these areas, be open to new ideas, reward success and not punish failures.
"Companies have to respond to customers' escalating power. Their employees are ready to do so," they argued. "The challenge is to encourage HERO-driven innovation without generating chaos."

Data sourced from Harvard Business Review; additional content by Warc staff