Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Social Media Mavens - An Interview with Kodak's Tom Hoehn

Welcome to the third interview in the Social Media Mavens series, where I talk to some of the top minds in corporate social media, and learn how their companies are crafting their social media efforts. Today's installment features a recent chat I had with Kodak's Director of Interactive Marketing and Convergence Media, Tom Hoehn. Tom has also been a driving force behind Kodak's social media efforts, which includes the stellar A Thousand Words, which is one of the best corporate blogs out there.

And as an added bonus, Tom has agreed to give us an exclusive look at the social media participation strategy he co-created for Kodak with Chief Blogger Jenny Cisney, which they call 'Ripcurl'. You can see visuals for how this works below, very cool and thanks to Tom for giving us the scoop!

MC - First, talk about what Kodak's social media strategy is, and what tools the company is currently using?

TH - We love what social media is doing for our business. From the consumer side our products are all about enabling people’s self expression, telling the stories of their lives. Social media is about enabling that as well - seems like a perfect fit to me. On the commercial side it is about making connections to get people answers to questions they may have about our products and services.

We have embraced social media for some time now. Our blog launched in September of 2006 and our Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube presences followed in early 2008. People sometimes think we have a large team working on these things but I want to dispel that illusion in the hopes that it will encourage others to embrace the medium and try it out. The barrier to entry is low enough that trying things is easy.

Relative to tools, we use a blog service (Awareness) and have recently added a couple of new tools. Radian6 is currently being configured to help us more effectively identify and participate in conversations. I would like to think that we have graduated to that level after using a number of free tools like; Google Alerts, TweetDeck, Technorati, etc. Those provided us with a great foundation and a realization of the opportunity at hand. We are adding a photo project community that will expand our existing, and very popular, tips & Project Center on with user generated content.

We are working against a plan that I authored with our Chief Blogger and Social Media Manager, Jenny Cisney (@KodakCB) called the Kodak Convergence Media Ripcurl. Essentially, it defines our path to participation. It would be silly for us to use phrases like “control the conversation” or “harness the discussions.” We look at it as using the energy of social media to help our business while adding value to the conversations happening 24/7/Worldwide about our products, brand, photography, motion pictures, vlogging, and so forth.

Here is a visual describing the Ripcurl. You will note the words, Twitter, blog, Facebook, YouTube, etc. do not appear anywhere on this graphic. It isn’t about the tools it is about connecting with our customers. This helps people within Kodak understand the opportunity at hand without getting caught up in jargon.

(Click Image to see it full-size)

Our proactive (speaking) activities are influenced and informed by our reactive (listening) efforts. When we do it right we will see a variety of results. When we get it wrong, well, we try again and keep moving forward. If we fail, we want to fail faster, makes sense? It helps to have a company culture that is accepting of this approach. We get this encouragement from the highest levels of the company.

This second visual shows more of our tactical activities. It isn’t about a linear engagement and we made the graphic represent that sentiment.

(Click Image to see it full-size)

Content creation, distribution, engagement and measures all come into play. Use the energy to propel your business! If you do this incorrectly, the crowd, your customers, will let you know immediately.

MC - One of the things I absolutely love about Kodak's A Thousand Words blog is that the blog really isn't about Kodak products, it's about photography, and I think this makes the content incredibly valuable to readers. Did Kodak position the content this way on purpose, or did the direction of the content change over time?

TH - From the outset we were intellectually honestly with ourselves and asked; “Does the world really need another blog?” We felt we had something unique to bring to the party. Everyone knows the Kodak brand but not the amazing people that work behind it. The blog gave us a venue to showcase Kodak people. Also, as we transform to a digital company many were not aware of our digital cred. It was time to share some of those facts directly. For example, did you know Kodak invented the digital camera in 1976? We still hold the original patents. We have hundreds of interesting facts like this that were not seeing the light of day via traditional media.

Our posts are most often about the end benefit and not as much on the speeds and feeds. That was also a conscious decision. The importance of photography, pictures really, in people’s lives is the important thing. Here is a link to some top posts from last year that might help Viral Garden readers get a sense of what they will find on our blog.

MC - I've often referred to Kodak's A Thousand Words blog as one of the better examples of a company blog. But I'm sure that comes as a result of a lot of hard work. Give us an idea of how much time your bloggers devote to their daily blogging efforts, and what their schedule looks like.

TH - Why, thank you Mack! From the beginning we knew a few things. For a blog to be successful we had to be:

  • Transparent – It is not marketing-shill speak. It is from real Kodak people, no ghost writing or agency support happens in this vicinity.
  • Publish frequently – we have not missed publishing on a business day since September 6, 2006. This is a fact of which we are very proud. If you go to a blog and the author hasn’t updated it in weeks it sends this message; “They don’t care about their blog why should I?”
  • Share the love. We have a stable of regular contributors and many one-time contributors. We welcome all submissions form Kodak employees. This, quite coincidentally, makes the burden of publishing more distributed.
  • Be interesting. Hard to do consistently but we try.

That being said, we announced a Chief Blogger in April of 2007, Jenny Cisney. (who was just named as one of AdAge’s 2009 Women to Watch – you go Jenny!). We were able to prove the value such that we dedicated fulltime position. We are following this up by creating a Chief Listener position that will use our Radian6 tool. I don’t know of another company that has done this yet. Pretty cool, huh?

MC - How does Kodak measure and evaluate how effective its blogging efforts are? What metrics do you track and where do you place return on your efforts?

TH - We look at a number of things:

  • Reverb – That comment we noticed multiplied by the number of followers, fans, friends, BFFs, etc. the person making it has.
  • We are after hearts and minds instead of eyeballs. We feel we have a good story to tell on many levels and it seems to be resonating with people.
  • We of course look at table stakes measures like page views, refers, search ranking, etc. If you don’t do those things by now your head is probably swimming from all of the other information I have shared ;-)
  • ROI is the holy grail we are all chasing but we like to think that return on ignoring (thanks @DavidAlston) is even worse.

We use other measures but I think you get the idea.

MC - What's the 'one thing' that social media has taught you that's affected Kodak's business as a whole?

TH - I find it quite funny that I am having some of the exact same conversations about social media that I had about the Internet in 1996. Replace the word “web” with “social media” and try it yourself. This could be a fun party game! ;-)

  • I don’t have the time to do that stuff! Those people must have no lives!
  • Yeah, but how can help my business?
  • It’s great for kids but I don’t see a fit for and businesses

Today the web is like oxygen and one wouldn’t consider doing business without it.
So, the “one thing” you ask? Social media is already affecting our customers. Over 70 million photos are taken each day (!) with Kodak digital cameras and films. Many of these are used to communicate, share, strengthen relationships, and more. It is our duty to be where our customers are and provide the products to help them. If we don’t, there a bunch of people waiting in line to woo them away. Not on our watch!

Thanks for wanting to know more about Kodak Mack, keep up the good work! If your readers want to see our social media presence they can find it at:

If you liked my answers to Mack’s grilling please honor me with a Twitter follow @tomhoehn

Thanks Tom! Great insights into what Kodak is doing with social media, and loved the exclusive look at Ripcurl and how it guides your participation with social media interactions. Definitely follow Tom and Jenny on Twitter, and make SURE you subscribe to A Thousand Words! Also, you can follow Kodak's CMO Jeffrey Hayzlett at @jeffreyhayzlett.

And if your company would like to be considered for a future interview in the Social Media Mavens series, please email me. Look for the next interview in this series in two weeks!


Alyce Lindquist said...

Hi Mack - fantastic content! wow. Especially the graphics of Ripcurl that really get to the heart of how Kodak works their social media programs. I know I'll keep coming back to this post again and again. Keep it up, these interviews are educational and eye-opening.


Warren said...


Excellent post that really enables us to understand and appreciate Kodak's approach to social media. Thanks for mentioning Radian6 and the small role that we've had in helping Tom and his team.

Warren Sukernek
Director of Content Marketing

Mack Collier said...

I love this quote from Tom:

"You will note the words, Twitter, blog, Facebook, YouTube, etc. do not appear anywhere on this graphic. It isn’t about the tools it is about connecting with our customers. This helps people within Kodak understand the opportunity at hand without getting caught up in jargon."

Bingo! Don't focus on the tools, focus on the connections that the tools help facilitate! Thank you Tom, and thanks Alyce and Warren for chiming in!

Jim DSC said...

Agree with Alyce about the Ripcurl, and the way "design" informs Tom's/Kodak's approach to understanding and talking about Social Media.

Joe Pulizzi said...

Love this from Tom

"Publish frequently – we have not missed publishing on a business day since September 6, 2006."

Bar none, the reason why most companies fail at content strategy is lack of consistency. Delivering great content is a promise to customers. If you stop publishing, you break that promise.

Great article Mack. Tom's Q&A on content strategy is here (

Kami Huyse said...

I just love to see a company that isn't tool-centric and that has a strategy that makes sense to them.

The incredible illustrations are also a great bonus. Everyone on their team can instantly see what the objective is.

I will be referring to this post a lot, count on it. And now to Twitter to let everyone else know, and to follow Tom.

Anonymous said...

Wow. This is instructive content. The graphics are very valuable. It's obvious Kodak's thought through "social media" as a step along the process of strategic planning. How refreshing. (i.e., "ooh, let's do social media…oohh, let's create a whole new silo just for social media…" vs. "it's not about the tools.")


Jeremy Spiller said...

Excellent and fascinating read. Loved the comment about replacing the words social media with the web. Something I've been thinking for a while.


gmesaros said...

"(Social Media Mavens - An Interview with Kodak's Tom Hoehn)
Great content. I especially liked Kodak’s reply to what social media has taught them.
“I find it quite funny that I am having some of the exact same conversations about social media that I had about the Internet in 1996. Replace the word “web” with “social media” and try it yourself.”
The intent is the same: to find new and useful ways to communicate with customers and prospects. The tools, or the “how this is accomplished”, will continue to evolve.
-Greg Mesaros, CEO eWinWin


Anonymous said...

Two words: Awesome.

Kodak doesn't get nearly as many props as they should in the SM space. They were also among the first companies to understand the value of blended avatars: Combination of face + logo to create context.

This is so solid. I love to see companies be so smart and evolved when it comes to incorporating Social Media into their business mix, from engagement to monitoring to collaboration to business development. Brilliant.

Great piece, Mack.

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Traffic Generation said...

I think that social media is a reliable medium (at this moment) that only provides content and promotes articles which people really find useful. Also, most people that have a lot of follower are trustworthy and can be considered authorities in their fields. Of course this is know, if google anounces or it’s observed that the results are influenced a lot by social media, I can only imagine that there will be a lot of quid pro quo’s between users for better rankings which will once again lead to a situation like the one today with link building.