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BlogWell preview: A conversation with Tyson’s Ed Nicholson

4 min read

Digital Technology

Some of the biggest names in global business will gather next week at BlogWell to share tips and strategies for making the most of social media.  Smartbrief is a co-sponsor of the event, and Senior Editor Mary Ellen Slayter recently talked to one of the presenters, Ed Nicholson, director of community and public relations for Tyson Foods, to learn more about how companies can use social media tools to promote their philanthropic ventures.

MARY ELLEN: Tyson Foods is successfully using social media to further its philanthropic goals. How did you decide which tools to use to that end?

ED: Our goal has been to create awareness of the issue of hunger and of the work being done, both by Tyson and by others in the fight against hunger. We want to be a contributing part of the community that’s already engaged in this issue. We started late in 2007, with our hunger relief site, which is a blog with a feature built onto it wherein readers can nominate and view Hunger All-Stars, people and groups they believe are doing great hunger relief work in their communities.  Since a lot of our content involves storytelling, with visual impact, we use Flickr for image-sharing and YouTube for video.  I had been communicating some of our activities via my personal Twitter account, when we decided to start the @TysonFoods account last summer.  Other than the blog, which was custom-built for us, we’ve used tools that are readily available, and widely used.

What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve faced in implementing your vision of social media’s role in your company? What steps have you taken to overcome it?

I’m pleased to say we’ve not received any internal resistance whatsoever. The department in which I work also manages other external stakeholder communications, so we had a great deal of internal support and trust going into the project.

Externally, I think some people naturally suspect motives in corporate philanthropic involvement, and we did see a bit of that skepticism as we first started participating in online communities.  However, we’d been actively — and I believe I can say authentically — engaged in hunger relief for more than seven years before we started using the tools. We’d donated almost 50 million pounds of food to hunger relief to that point. This is not a “campaign” for us, where we’re in today and gone tomorrow. We have a track record. And we have friends, partners and supporters in the hunger relief community who were quick to vouch for us when that kind of criticism arose.

How do you measure the success of these efforts?

By both the volume and the quality of the discussion occurring as a result of our engagement: blog posts, re-tweets, traffic to and comments on our own site.

Here’s an example:  We’ve done some “comment for food” efforts wherein we’ve posted blog entries about hunger in specific communities (Austin, Boston, the Bay Area and New York), and the great work being done by the food banks in those communities.  We’ve then offered a 100-pound donation to the food bank for each comment to the post.  In the Bay Area, we received more than 2,100 comments, the overwhelming majority of which were very positive. See

What advice do you have for other companies, both large and small, who want to tap social media to promote philanthropic goals?

First off, get to know the media.  Participate and engage yourself; don’t depend on your agency to do it all for you. If you want to be perceived as a thought leader within philanthropic issues, you can’t do it by proxy. Don’t assume the community is going to come to you. Sometimes you have to be the one who initiates the connections and the conversation.

It helps to have a track record that extends beyond marketing engagement.  Cause marketing campaigns are very beneficial to the nonprofit organizations who, in this economy, need them more than ever before. But by themselves, they’re not effective in community building.  I’m a firm believer that the best cause-branding occurs when people in the company are themselves actively and authentically engaged in the issue and in the online discussion.

Social media tools should be used in the context of well-constructed overall communications strategy.
Use your communications resources to add value, not simply to broadcast your key messages. Talk about the issue or challenge. Point the spotlight to people outside your company who are doing great work.   You’ll look better in reflected light.

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