Best Buy's Boss on the Lessons of Social Media

A few years ago our chief marketing officer asked me to get into social media. He was ahead of the curve in realizing that a cultural transformation was happening. Best Buy (BBY) has 180,000 employees, the majority of whom are 24 years old or younger—and so a lot of workers were on MySpace and other sites. I asked him how we could control it, and his answer was: You can't. You engage with it.

Soon, I began talking to employees and customers on Facebook every night at 10 o'clock. It was difficult to get over being self-conscious, since just tweeting about something I saw in a store opened myself up to vulnerability. The hardest part, though, was that once I decided to allocate the time to this, people started weighing in all over the place without context. Then, at one point last year, my Twitter account was hacked and one of my tweets basically said I'd been having a lot of great sex lately.

I felt violated, but it didn't diminish my enthusiasm. I learned a couple lessons along the way. I can engage for 5 or 10 minutes and get a great sense of what's going on in our stores. But when I encounter someone online who's having a problem, I want to reach out and fix it myself. I did that once early on and suddenly I was inundated by others. I'd set myself up as an answer center, and that's not my job. We'll have more than 1.5 billion customer interactions this year, and we have great processes for helping customers. I realized the best thing I can do is point them to the resources. The same goes for my employees.

In my office, I now have a large monitor of all the activity where we're mentioned. I want to know what's out there. I don't have to respond to all of it, but I write everything on my Twitter and Facebook accounts myself—and I'm the one who's posting. I'm responsible for what I say online, and I expect the same of my employees. The only guideline is that they act within our values. You can engage with social media and get comfortable with the messiness of it. We're past the tipping point. You have to be where people are.

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