3M’s Tribal Advantage

As one of the world’s largest conglomerates, it would be easy to assume that 3M is full of data silos and communications blind alleys. Yet the global brand has been able to keep its high-tech and data-driven outreach relevant to the entire business because of its tradition of internal cooperation. “We have a unique culture. We’re very tribal, and we like to huddle around a table and solve problems,” says Greg Gerik, 3M’s social media leader. “That lends itself to two huge advantages: Our culture is collaborative, and we have the  mind-set of integrating the voice of the customer.”

Although the company defines itself along five major brand lines, leaders from each brand continuously provide input and insight to the rest of the company. 3M was a strong and early adopter of intranet forums to distribute insight more effectively across the entire enterprise. “We’ve always had a social fabric,” Gerik explains, “so what’s happening now is nothing new—just new technology.”

That dedication to strong, continuous communication has helped 3M avoid the split personality that can affect brands when only certain divisions or certain campaigns are backed by comprehensive and coordinated customer insights. Every stakeholder in the company is empowered and encouraged to take part in the flow of social data information coming into 3M through its many listening posts. “Many companies look at social in the enterprise as a function of communications, or IT, or marketing. The way we look at it, everybody should be concerned about the customer,” he says.

Instead of tying social data to a single department, part of Gerik’s mission is to ensure that all of the company’s stakeholders can participate in discussions and understand what customers are saying about the brand. That means providing accessible insights not only to PR, communications, and marketing, but also to research and lab teams, sales, brand managers, and product designers. “We have more demand in our organization for digital and social data than we have the capability to handle right now, so we know our people want that information,” Gerik says. “It’s just a matter of providing it fast enough.”

3M’s efforts have already been able to accelerate positive results for customers and the brand alike. For example, after launching a new dish-cleaning product that 3M’s design team felt was a winner, the company noticed a surprising number of negative reviews on third-party sites. Digging into the problem, customers consistently noted that soap would leak from the dispensing button. 3M’s internal teams shared the reviewers’ comments and reevaluated the product.

The teams quickly determined that although the design was sound, the manufacturing plant was building products outside the specification. It took just three months to resolve the matter entirely, from the first social red flag to the correction at the plant and replacement of customers’ affected products. Without the instantaneous insights from social channels, Gerik estimated that the problem could have lingered for several months longer.

More important than fixing a leaky dish wand is the 3M lesson that without a cultural commitment to open and unencumbered sharing, all the data warehousing and analysis in the world is meaningless.

“We don’t have the tensions other companies have,” Gerik says. “For us, social is everywhere, and belongs to everyone.”

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