#140Cuse: How major brands connect through the real-time web

What do an outer space program, a worldwide technology corporation and a family-run grocery store have in common? You might think not much, but in the realm of social media, NASA, Cisco and Wegmans are in fact quite alike.

Also at this point, you may be thinking, “Duh, Sara. Social media connects everyone.” Yes, I know. But surprisingly, it took a road trip to the #140Cuse Conference in Syracuse, N.Y. for me to fully comprehend the concept of connectedness within business.

As my colleagues Bethany Latta and Amber Rinehard previously shared, the conference revealed the emotional and inspirational connections created through social media. Though, I think what struck me most were the diverse ways that brands are engaging with their audiences digitally. NASA, Cisco and Wegmans are very different companies with very different business goals, but all three ultimately want to connect with a specific audience – and they can do so through social media.

So, how does each one engage their target audience?

For NASA, digital engagement is all about bringing their audiences on a rare journey. Because unless you are Lance Bass, chances are slim that you will be blasting off into space anytime soon. Therefore, after meeting Twitter founder Biz Stone, Beth Beck realized that NASA could share these rare, once-in-a-lifetime experiences with everyone through social media. The transfer of the Discovery shuttle to the Smithsonian presented such an opportunity: By using the hashtag #SpotTheShuttle, NASA took what would have been a localized event and transformed it into a nation-wide experience.

For Cisco, digital engagement means driving audience behaviors through gamification. Most wouldn’t expect a technology solutions provider to be focused on gaming, but as Deanna Govoni stated, Cisco is not afraid to take chances, take risks or innovate. Thus the Cisco Social Rewards program was created as part of an overall strategy to reward loyal followers and to drive new behaviors on the company blog. Points and badges are assigned through a console that tracks each person’s activities, such as commenting on a post or interacting with other users. Understanding that people want to be publicly recognized, top earners are then featured on Cisco’s Facebook page as a reward for participation.

And for Wegmans, digital engagement entails new methods for communicating with customers, the people who matter most. Erica Tickle and Aaron Thompson (who are, by the way, my newfound social media heroes) discussed how Wegmans has translated its core values – care, respect, high standards, make a difference and empower – into digital form to better serve customers. Twitter, in particular, has helped Wegmans to directly receive feedback on products, answer customers’ questions and engage new customers. Standing by the philosophy, “We’ll go where our customers need us to go,” Wegmans carefully considers a community before joining, rather than hopping on the latest social media bandwagon.

Now that my “duh” moment has passed, I have new outlook on digital engagement. I think it is essential for any brand to – first and foremost – find out what their audience is most interested in, and then determine the best social media tool or platform for projecting that information. NASA, Cisco and Wegmans are just a few great examples of how to go about doing so. But now I would love to know – what does digital engagement mean to you or your client? How are you finding the right channel for communicating a message?

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