The Digital Essentials, Part 3
Developing a robust digital strategy is both a challenge and an opportunity. Part 3 of the Digital Essentials guide series explores five of the essential technology-driven experiences customers expect, which you may be missing or not fully utilizing.
Autumn Truong is the senior manager of global social media marketing at Cisco. Today’s post is the transcript of an interview in which Mark Traphagen and I spoke with her to learn about what Cisco is doing in social.
Eric: Can you provide us with a little background on what Cisco is doing in social media?
Autumn: We’ve been doing social media since I started at Cisco eight years ago. The focus back then was really just “How do we establish a presence?” It was all about learning to create a presence across the different social media networks, whether that was Facebook or Twitter. And then of course, starting to develop our blogging platform.
We’ve learned a lot since then, and everything is digitized. Our customers are on social media. This is how they interact with their peers. Our customers are primarily enterprise and service providers, but they’re also interacting with their customers or the end user. I think there is this stat, that somewhere between 76 to 87 percent of the buyer journey is done online before they even reach a company website.
That means we have, as a marketer, a huge opportunity to connect, engage and reach them during that time. So they’re looking at “Okay, what’s great about this solution versus the other?” They’re going into discussion forums, communities. They’re looking at different blogs. They’re following certain thought leaders and influencers on Twitter. So we want to capture their attention and engage with them at that point, and move them into the next journey, if you will.
Mark: What does success look like for you in social media? How do you define success and how do you measure that?
Autumn: That’s the million dollar question that I think all digital marketers strive to answer. It is an evolution, and it will continue to be an evolution. When I started, we were measuring the impact in terms of “How many people liked our contest on Facebook?” We’ve gotten a lot more sophisticated since then. Now if you look at that digital journey for a customer, there’s a lot of different digital touch points.
[Tweet “The digital journey of a customer has many digital touchpoints – Autumn Truong of Cisco. See more at”]
At a high level, there’s a lot of ways that you can measure. For example, impressions. Or, the number of times that your content was viewed. That’s a standard KPI for a lot of companies that do have a social media presence. That gets you the reach, right? Does your content reach your audience? One metric that we’re actually going away from because we don’t necessarily control that KPI is the number of mentions.
That is the number of times that your hashtag, your company product, and other such phrases directly related to your brand are mentioned. You put these keywords in a tool such as Radian6 to get the data.
The problem is that you can’t influence if it’s a news cycle and you’re trying to drive a thought leadership position around a particular technology topic and your competitor comes out with a level one launch or they had a $6 billion acquisition. That’s going to impact the news cycle and the number of times that that company gets mentioned.
It’s a great insight to have, but it’s not a KPI anymore for us because it’s harder to influence because of the news cycle. It’s still an insight that we want to capture, to share back with our business stakeholders, “This is what’s happening in the marketplace.” But we’re not going to say year-over-year we’re going to increase our number of mentions. That’s the same thing as social share of voice.
It’s hard to influence that when it’s the broader news cycle. Whether we’re coming out with announcements, other companies are coming out with announcements, things are happening in the marketplace that are outside our control. It’s also a great insight to have, and we certainly want to make sure that we continue to look at that data but it’s not a key performance indicator on how well we’re executing against our social media strategy.
[Tweet “Your most important KPIs measure things you can actually control or influence – Autumn Truong of Cisco. More at”]
The other metric that we typically track is engagement. So that’s the number of times that someone liked, retweeted, commented on your blog post, etc. Because we can control that. We control it in the way of creating great content.
The other thing that we do have control over is clicks. If you create engaging content, people will want to click onto it, even if it’s a webcast or a whitepaper, right? If you create a nice front door through the content that makes people want to learn more, we’re controlling that. The clicks are certainly something that we want to continue to measure.
More and more, what I’m hearing from my executive when we have a discussion around social, “How do we really move the needle if it’s around a business category where we’re trying to drive some thought leadership and credibility because it’s a new stage for us? Are we really moving the needle in terms of the people that we’re trying to influence?” Then there’s the “How do we drive demand? Is it the X amount of people who registered for that webcast and gave us their contact information? Or did that thought leader who may have 200,000 followers and is a prolific thought leader in the area of cloud, did we make a good impression on him? Did he like our content?” So then it becomes less about the quantity and the volume, but about “Who are the people we are reaching?”
Eric: Yes, as you said earlier, there is the concept of “reach.”
Autumn: They are interrelated but they’re also separate efforts. If we’re measuring it in the way of how many people joined a webcast or clicked on that white paper, perhaps you can make an assumption that the people who did that are people who actually are interested. And they are our buying center audience. Some of them are our potential customers. For the influencer, it’s a little bit different because there are fewer of them. And that requires a customized engagement strategy for each one of them.
So how would I build a relationship with a perceived thought leader in the area of the cloud who had 200,000 followers? What do I need to do? We’re starting to look at individual engagement plans for those folks. Is it a PR opportunity? Do we invite this person in for a media tour? Or maybe into our social broadcasting program called #CiscoChat. Think of it more as a Tweetchat or a Google+ hangout, but it’s a single branded program and it’s platform agnostic.
[Tweet “Cisco’s social media team develops individualized engagement plans for different influencers. Learn more at”]
We can use Periscope. We can use Twitter as a platform. We would bring people into the conversation through that hashtag, right? Is successful engagement bringing this thought leader, into a social chat conversation with us, and bringing in an analyst, and bringing in an executive? If we can get this person to engage with
Cisco, does that lend more credibility to what we do? It becomes more of a human-to-human engagement, high touch opportunity. Over time, if we engage more with these types of influencers, that’s a good thing.
Eric: What other tactics do you use to craft and develop those relationships?
Autumn: We have a framework that I developed four to five months ago. I manage a team that leads social media from strategy plan development all the way to execution on an entire portfolio of products and solutions. We have to have some consistency in how we engage and what the criteria are. So we established a framework that allows us to put some criteria around “Who do we define as an influencer?” And that could be a customer. They could be, in Cisco’s world, a network buyer, a chief security officer or CSO, all the way down to a developer.
Then there’s the media analyst. By virtue of the fact that they have a platform that they write for, it doesn’t matter how many Twitter followers they have. It doesn’t matter because they already have a platform and they are credible just based on the association with a news outlet.
A person is influential in that category if they have a blog that seems to be high traffic and it doesn’t matter if they have a lot of Twitter followers or not. Or, they might not have their own blog, but because of the sheer volume of followers they have and the interaction that they are getting through social, apparently, people are listening to these individuals. So they’re considered influential as well.
My team does social media listening on a monthly basis. Based on that, we would target five potential influencers in those categories, and we build out recommendations on how we would engage with them.
If it’s a customer, then we would look at, “OK, if an ex VP of a big company commented on a blog post, what are we going to do with that person next? Do we just let that person comment and then leave it hanging, or do we try to move that person along the journey?” This happened once recently, and we recommended a senior executive respond and potentially follow up. We’ve had other influencers that we’ve targeted, where we actually reached out and asked if they want to engage in a Cisco chat, which is a Tweetchat with us, and that’s happened.
We’re engaging with people who are influential. If this person is influential but they haven’t engaged with Cisco at all, we’re going to try to build and nurture a relationship. We might try to push them content that they might be interested in, etc. But it is very much “High Touch,” where we’re really focused and really tuning in and listening to that individual. We’re assessing “When does it make sense to engage with them? When does it make sense to offer up an opportunity with that person? When does it make sense to move that customer into the next journey?”
Eric: That’s great. How often do you do the tweet chats?
Autumn: We tried the program back in March. We do it quite regularly now. I think the average is once a week. If you go to Twitter and you search #CiscoChat, you can see the conversations.
Eric: That’s a good way to get out there and let people interact with you very directly. It’s one of those oddities where Twitter becomes a major discussion and interaction platform, which isn’t the norm for a tweet stream.
Autumn: Yes, that’s just it. We’ve all attended Tweet chats. What happens is there’s a point in time, 30 minutes, and then the conversation falls off. You spend all this time creating a hashtag, promoting it, people join, and then people don’t know that it exists anymore.
We live in an ADD society where it just comes and goes. Cisco Chat, however, is an ongoing program. So we might have different topics, but we purposely brand it so that you can always tune back. And we have a Cisco.com page that we’re revamping, where we want to be able to pull in live video streams of the chat onto the site. It’s more interactive. But the point is we’re creating our own broadcasting channel, if you will, where the more people join, the more people will be aware that “Hey, I can come back and tune into another topic.”
We’ve done 20 chats since March. And we’ve gotten over 5,000 mentions of the hashtag, 72.5 million impressions, and over 1,800 unique participants and 95 percent of those unique participants are non-Cisco. So to give you a perspective of what that actually means, in terms of the number of impressions, I think it’s three times more impressions than one of our level one launches.
If it’s a technology-related chat, a significant amount of those people are people with the titles that we’re trying to reach. We’ve done, I think, four “Women in Tech” series. And we actually get VP of HR and those types of titles from other companies. So it just really depends on the topic. What I like about it if I’m not interested in a particular topic, I’m not going to join that Tweetchat, right? You know just by people voluntarily coming, that they’re truly interested in what you have to say and who the speakers are.
We have a process or a toolkit on how we program this so that it is a well-oiled machine. Because I don’t have a massive team, we have to be able to scale this, but for that reason we put together a toolkit. I have a lead that manages it. But essentially, it’s self-service, where we get requests for content topics and we prep them and say “Here’s the dos and don’ts. Here’s how you get started. We will help promote the Cisco Chat through our social media channels. We’ll archive it through Storify, but you’ll lead it with your subject matter experts.”
We can help provide some light training, but the individual teams who are looking to do a chat, once it comes through the door, we just arm them with the right tools and resources to do it themselves. And we provide the promotion engine. We’ve gotten a lot of interest internally, and we’ve managed to go from once a month to once a week.
Mark: OK. You mentioned social listening a few minutes ago, and that’s something that’s been brought up by a lot of our interviewees. How do you do your social listening and what do you get from it?
Autumn: We need to be better with it. We use Radian6, but there are limitations to all the tools. They’re good for typing in a keyword and you might get a word cloud showing what words are generating the most interest. Who’s talking about that topic? Are your competitors talking about those topics? Who are the potential influencers talking about those topics? We appreciate those insights, but we need to get more sophisticated than that if we’re going to go from insights to something that’s actionable, right?
Those insights are great and you can develop a social media plan as a result. We do a lot of listening to assess the opportunities. Before we launch or announce or go out with a big initiative, we do listening to understand where we are in the social landscape.
That’s just table stakes. The listening that we’re trying to evolve and do more of – and this is a pilot right now for us – is to develop real social audience insights. That’s actually the name of our program. It’s going from the insights that I just shared with you, to “Let’s get deeper analysis and information on all of our customers. Who are they? Which channels are they on? What are their personas like? What do they like? What do they don’t like? What’s their sentiment toward Cisco?” and be able to target them with better content. And to be able to determine, even if it makes sense to run paid social against it.
[Tweet “Cisco uses social media listening to learn more about its customers. Find out more at”]
If you have great content, you might do a promoted tweet. One goal is to aim for lots of impressions. Let’s maximize our reach. If we want reach; we promote it on paid social. We get lots of likes and lots of retweets. What we want to do is get more targeted.
At the end of the day, as marketers, we want to drive awareness and demand for our product with people who are actually going to buy it. So if we know who these people are, we can put paid against a targeted list of those people. So you’re getting higher quality versus higher volume.
Eric: Do you ever have any situations where you can get some real-time information that might drive some immediate content creation? Such as in response to a market event?
Autumn: Yes, we do that all the time. However, we definitely want to use it judicially. For example, if an airplane crashes, we don’t want to market our product during that time. This actually happened seven years ago. There was an airplane crash and we actually had our TV spot running during that time promoting our collaboration solution, and the spot had to do with a business executive getting on a plane. So we had to take that down immediately and we had to do some damage control on social. A couple months ago when the Supreme Court ruled on same sex marriage equality, we just wanted to be a part of that community and so we created a graphic celebrating the historical moment with our community.
Eric: How many social media people do you have working at Cisco?
Autumn: At Cisco, we want everyone. We want to empower everyone to think digital, right? It’s more about empowerment. Yes, there is a corporate model still in place. In the organization that I sit in, social media and marketing, we have the governance, the policies, the management of all of our platform licenses, the overall social media strategy and execution for our brand, and our portfolio, our problems, and solutions where we invest and continue to pilot different things.
But truthfully, there are social media practitioners across the entire company. It’s increasingly a skill that is needed for a lot of different roles. Think about HR, think about corporate social responsibility. Think about PR. You can’t really be a PR person and not understand social media.
Mark: Do you seek out and encourage individual thought leaders in the company, and do you give them any support toward building their own social media presence? The larger question is do you see building their expertise, their personal brand, as being a benefit to the Cisco brand overall?
Autumn: Absolutely! I also lead our overall digital training and certification program, and that’s for the entire company. We offer coursework that employees can get credit for through our internal training tool. We have different paths to training, so we have the ability for an employee to get certified so that they can go from a specialist strategist all the way to a master certification. Their coursework includes not just social media but it also includes video, mobile, and web, all the things that encompass digital. You can choose from a menu of courses. We have digital live training sessions where we would seek out social media practitioners within the company, to share best practices on things that they’ve done through a broader audience.
We also have a track that’s specifically for directors and above, our executive mentoring program. We know they’re busy, but executives want to know how to be on Twitter, too. So we have a track for them. We also have a formal program called the Cisco Ambassador Program, where we seek out individuals who have gone through training and/or have an interest, because they already have social media expertise, to be an ambassador and represent Cisco within their role and the scope of what they do. We bring them in and we share content and best practices and give them the tools they need to represent the company.
Autumn: We may find someone that is a subject matter expert in, let’s say, the area of ad or security. My team may want that individual to be a spokesperson for us. Or we might say, “We’ve built up your profile and we think that you’re ready to do a Cisco chat with us,” or “We’d like you to join this community and represent Cisco and engage on this particular topic.” The more employees that embrace social and digital, the better informed they are, the more knowledgeable they are at how to engage in social media in the most appropriate manner, the better. It’s a win, win.
[Tweet “Cisco has training programs to help employees become thought leaders on social media. Learn more at”]
Eric: That’s a good progressive program. A couple of the other companies we’ve talked to have similar things. More and more companies are recognizing that the power of the employee base to amplify your brand is quite significant.
Autumn: Sometimes we can get very U.S. centric, but we are increasingly striving to make sure that we’re incorporating coursework that represents the needs of our global employees, too. Twitter is very big in the U.S. and certain other countries, but it’s not necessarily of interest in China. So how do we incorporate more of the social media channels that are actually being used in some of those countries into our training program? So we’re identifying training ambassadors for us in the different regions, to provide input on what course topics would make sense for their countries.
Eric: Are you dealing with sharing in multiple languages?
Autumn: We’re in our new fiscal year that just started this month, and that’s definitely something we want to look at, too. We haven’t had a challenge, up to this point, with language being an issue, because it’s really with our employee base, not necessarily customers but employees. For the most part, it seems that English only makes sense. When you talk about a language translation, that becomes a budget discussion, so we have to prioritize what we can do with our resources, unfortunately. But we are looking at that as well.
Eric: It doesn’t matter how big the company gets, the resources are still limited. Small business people are always jealous of how many resources that large company has, but it usually doesn’t feel like that inside.
Autumn: If there’s one social media person for a 2,000 employee company and you’re at a 70,000 employee company, you need a little bit more to really scale. I think it’s a ratio thing.
Eric: It seems, from my exploration, that the main presence is YouTube, Google+, Twitter, Facebook. Are any other social networks large to you?
Autumn: We obviously have a presence across all of those, but we have to be thoughtful as to how we use it. I think sometimes when brands first start off in social media, there is a tendency to check off all those boxes. They think they need YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. They push all of our content on all of these channels, and hope that they get a lot of people engaging with that same piece of content. We just went through an assessment of all of our channels and how we want to leverage them.
The challenge with YouTube is that people aren’t going there to search for B2B content. They’re not going on there to learn more about Cisco networking. The ability to post natively on Twitter and Facebook allows us to reach our audience there. As a result, we probably still want to host all of our content on YouTube but we may not want to drive people there since we have the ability to bypass an additional click if people can watch it on Facebook or Twitter.
Twitter is where our audience is. That’s where we can drive a lot of great opportunities. On Facebook, because we established our presence there so long ago and we built up a huge community, it’s harder to know who’s engaging with us. That’s the challenge with Facebook. It’s much easier with Twitter and LinkedIn. Slideshare, we really, really like because we know that’s where our target audience goes and we’re able to drive up offers.
We get a little bit of information on who these people are when they download the content. We’re exploring different features on LinkedIn. For example, there’s a feature where if your content is really good, you can promote it, and people can fill out a form to access the content. It’s great to have the reach and the volume, but ultimately, we’re going to be measured on how many customers we get.
That’s always the balance. There are times where driving a perception of thought leadership is critical. And then there are times where we have a number to hit. We’re exploring SnapChat as well. SnapChat is interesting because we know it’s a younger demographic, but it’s where our younger talent is. There are a lot of new engineers and software developers that are graduating, and they are bringing SnapChat into the workforce.
They’re on there, and they’re potentially going to be a business decision-maker at some point, if they’re not already. The same thing is true with Instagram. We don’t have an Instagram account for each of our product areas, but we are selective in terms of where we establish an Instagram presence and with what platform.
We have to have the ability to be very thoughtful and selective as it aligns back to our overall social media strategy for that particular business or solution area.
Eric: It’s always good to see inside the thinking of large brands and how they’re viewing social media strategies.
Autumn: I’d love to think that we’re still up there in terms of being a pioneer. I’ve been at Cisco for eight years and we were one of the first companies to really create a significant presence in social, and we continue to try to push the needle and continue to innovate and think differently about how we use social and digital.
See more of our interviews with social media and digital marketing pros!
About Autumn Truong
Autumn Truong, senior manager of global social media marketing at Cisco, oversees multiple teams responsible for leading social media efforts that propel the overall brand, its portfolio of products, solutions, and services. With her finger on the pulse of cutting-edge platforms and technologies, Truong leads Cisco’s company-wide digital training program and is a renowned expert on influencer engagement and audience targeting.