GM taps social media to engage consumers

The days when corporate communications meant pushing out information to the public are numbered. As social media continues to permeate consumer culture, companies are trying to learn how to engage consumers in two-way conversations through blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other tools.

“A customer is a precious thing. No matter how much you think you’re listening, you’re really not,” says J. Christopher Preuss, vice president of communications at General Motors. The company operates several blogs that allow people to comment on developments in the company.

I spoke with Preuss about managing GM’s brands: past mistakes, lessons learned about communicating with consumers and the company’s recent effort to combine design, marketing and communications under Vice Chairman Robert A. Lutz.

Preuss was among five panelists who spoke at a conference on communications strategies on October 20 along with Anita Larsen, director of media relations at Unilever (UL); David Steel, senior vice president and head of strategic marketing for North America at Samsung (05930.KS); James E. Whaley, vice president of corporate affairs & marketing at Siemens (SI); and Jack Leslie, chairman of Weber Shandwick.

Panelists agreed that the challenge now is finding creative ways to engage in continual dialogue—through their own Web portals and experts’ blogs, for example—rather than organizing one-off campaigns to grab attention. They must also learn to react quickly to the huge quantities of information and opinion people distribute on the internet. Though panelists acknowledged the importance of cutting through clutter to reach overloaded consumers, in these early days, best practices are still developing.

The takeaway: According to Samsung’s Steel, securing brand equity in the recession requires investing in innovation and communicating about these activities. Even in this climate, smart companies will listen to consumers’ needs to keep their brands from slipping.

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