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Talking Innovation: An Interview with Gary Spangler from DuPont

Joe Pulizzi talks to Gary Spangler, emarketing manager at DuPont, about how big brands go social while minding critical ethical and legal obligations.

Joe Pulizzi: Tell me about your role at DuPont.

Gary Spangler: I work to steer DuPont’s efforts around social media marketing, and do it in a way that’s transparent, honest and complies with the ethics and the growing legal requirements of the space. 

J: Which social channels are you focused on?

G: I look at channel descriptors and think, “Where do my content assets naturally fit?” You have to think, what can my business do best? Are we collaborative, such that networking or blogger outreach works? Do we have many photo assets, such that Flickr makes sense? You really need to pick social channels that fit your own organization.

J: What advice would you share with those just getting started in social media? Are there some missteps you made that others can learn from?

G: Well, the place we started, and the place I still advise people to start, is with the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. WOMMA is the trade association for word-of-mouth marketing; because social media is really the heavy lifter for online word of mouth, WOMMA has embraced social media marketing. If you look at WOMMA, they’re the ones that early on developed ethical guidelines for word-of-mouth and social media marketing. They worked very closely with the FTC, so I believe they have the best understanding of the legal requirements around those strategies. Because we relied on the guidelines from WOMMA, we really did not misstep when we launched our early social pilots. In fact, the reviews of our early work were very complimentary about how DuPont had thought through its execution of social media. 

J: I hear from a lot of so-called social media experts that say social media is inexpensive. Your thoughts?

G: We oversold e-marketing in the early days, giving the impression that it’s cheap. Because marketers in their personal lives know how easy it is to put up a Facebook page or create a Twitter account, they think they can get away with that in business—and of course they can’t.

When you participate in a social media tactic like blogs, Facebook or even Twitter, you have an obligation to keep “funding” those sites with content. You need a process for ongoing, up-to-date content and so resources are a big issue. If you don’t have the resources inside the company, then you need to hire those through an external agency. It’s  either out-of-pocket dollars or allocated resource dollars inside the company. Now, there are social media sites that I call more “passive” sites—document-sharing sites Flickr or YouTube. I don’t think there’s a real expectation that I have to put a video on YouTube every day. But the networking side of social media requires a well-thought-through plan, an editorial calendar and resources to generate new content.

J: Who owns the content in your organization?

G: The content is owned by the business and generally it’s created within the marketing communications function, or marketing. So marketing and marketing communications really own the content and then the eMarketing side facilitates deployment of the content, facilitates channel distribution and coaches on content format. We might have a press release that needs to be reformatted into a blog post and a tweet, right? We coach the businesses and say, “Hey, at the same time you’re creating a press release, why don’t you reformat it into a couple of other formats for social media in case we need to use it that way?”

J: Sounds like a lot of your social media planning starts with education.

G: Yes, and WOMMA has a number of case studies and guidelines about how you do this. They also have a legal affairs committee where the legal department folks actually get on the forum and they talk about the legal aspects of social media marketing. And on that point I’ll say another thing: For any social media project, you need to be closely aligned with legal because marketers are held accountable now. If we go out into social space, we need to be transparent and honest about who we are and what we’re saying. The social public has high expectations about how you deploy your content ethically in social channels. That’s just not the case when you’re writing web content.

J: It’s amazing the number of companies that still don’t have a social media policy.

G: A lot of companies just don’t know they need one. And trying to do it on your own if you really don’t understand the ethical and legal requirements that have grown out of the past couple of years does not make sense.

Gary Spangler has worked for DuPont for 30 years, currently managing social media marketing for the world’s third-largest chemical company by market capitalization. Gary is a member of WOMMA’s board of directors and he leads WOMMA’s Brands Council. He’s a frequent speaker and his opinions have been written in Information Week, NPV Marketing Magazine, Brand Week Magazine, BtoB Magazine and Marketing Sherpa. Gary was nominated for the DMA’s Direct Marketer of Year 2007 and his “DuPont Science Stories” word-of-mouth marketing video campaign was a national finalist for Online Media Marketing’s Association’s (OMMA)Best Campaign in Social Media for 2007.