Monsanto: Turning Heads with Social Media

monsanto

Chances are, you’ve heard of the agri-business giant, Monsanto. If you haven’t, you’ve probably read about some of the controversy surrounding their business. After all, they’ve been identified by the EPA as being a “‘potentially responsible party’ for 56 contaminated sites (Superfund sites) in the US1“. Their genetically engineered seeds haven’t exactly endeared themselves to farmers in Europe and their “aggressive litigation and political lobbying practices, have made the company controversial around the world and a primary target of the anti-globalization movement and environmental activist1.”

Young_Glynn-1-1.jpgSo why would I want to write about a company whose director of electronic communications, Glynn Young, says “99% of people online hate and the other 1% think they should?” For one reason and one reason only… they are embracing social media and they are doing it in a BIG way.

I was fortunate enough to hear Glynn speak at The Conference Board’s Marketing Conference last Thursday. Imagine my surprise as I sat there, mouth gaping, as I listened to Glynn talk about the fact that Monsanto (@MonsantoCo on Twitter) has become a poster child for social media. Due to my fascination with this topic and my belief that we could all learn a thing or two from what Monsanto has been doing in the socialsphere, I will try and do a podcast and/or blog post interview with Glynn (and perhaps some of his team) later this month. In the meantime, here are a few of the gems I pulled from his presentation:

  • During the session, I asked Glynn how the hell he was able to pull off the feat of getting Monsanto to embrace social:
    • He found very friendly attorney
    • Got permission from boss
    • Flew under radar for a while until they could prove an ROI
  • Following efforts to fight a particularly tough piece of legislation, Monsanto agreed to write a post for the publication, Crooks and Liars — a publication geared to criticizing companies like Monsanto. Being open and honest helped and the piece of legislation was defeated. [link to: http://crooksandliars.com/%5D
  • Monsanto has an internal community and ~2/3 of employees participate.
  • In spite of having a number of critics, major news media AND all of the PR people from one of their major competitors, Monsanto continues to plug away at their corporate Twitter account (side note: after my numerous conference tweets RE @ Monsanto, I got a couple of nice notes back from the corporate account and a couple of the Monsanto team members on Twitter thanking me for tweeting Glynn’s presentation).
  • Glynn and his team are measuring traffic drivers to Monsanto.com. Facebook and Twitter are now in top 5 in terms of traffic drivers.
  • Monsanto maintains a corporate blog and while they don’t permit profanity and inappropriate behavior, they do allow negative comments (example).

Given how powerful Glynn’s presentation was, I’m going to ask if he will post on Slideshare. If he can’t/won’t, I will be sure to see if he might selectively make it available for folks that want to DM him or me.

Monsanto may be crazy for putting themselves out there when they know how disliked they are but Glynn says that it’s starting to make a difference. The analogy I like to think about is imagine one of neighbors started spreading rumors about you that weren’t true. You could do three things to combat this:

  1. Ignore it and hope it goes away (in Monsanto’s case, that ain’t happening)
  2. Move away (also tough for Monsanto given their international footprint)
  3. Hold a neighborhood meeting and clear the air. This last approach not only lets you tell your side of the story but it also shows that you care enough to get to get the root of the rumors (or semi-truths) in the first place.

So what are you thoughts? Is Monsanto crazy for putting themselves out there? What other companies can you think of that would benefit from “starting a dialog” with their customers and detractors?

1Source: Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsanto

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8 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing this story, I missed your live tweets last Thursday. It’s always good to see companies like Monsanto use social media in spite their criticisms, and are standing tall. I like that approach, it brings a new respect to a difficult situation. It’s always better to stand in plain sight vs. take cover and make people guess what is happening or wonder what a company’s response is to bad press or negative situation. And we need more good B2B examples like Monsanto where they took lemons and made lemonade. Good communication always prevails, even when the stuff hits the fan. Thanks, Aaron.

  2. While speaking at the National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA) Conference in Atlanta last month about social media many folks brought up Monsanto in the same way you are in this post. Having seen some of their presentations and followed them a bit in researching for my panel I’ve been impressed that they are embracing some of these communication paths. They obviously have several challenges ahead of them in terms of transparency, but I think their ability to start a dialog should help them in communicating with the public and ultimately it is a much needed step.

    The issue will arise however when they are asked to detail the actual truths to some of those “rumors” that are actually fact. Will they be able to be completely open about all of that when the time comes? It will be interesting to watch.

    /kff

  3. -Juliann, thanks for stopping by. And I agree, it’s not easy to stand up in the open and take your lumps but Monsanto seems to be doing a decent job of it (nice work on the “lemons to lemonade” analogy.”

    -Kyle, nice that you’ve heard similar things about Monsanto. It will interesting to see how they fair when things do get ugly. But so far, I’m impressed with how their social team is conducting themselves.

  4. I too love to hear about B2B social media case studies like this one.

    I strongly believe that customer engagement will be expected from all businesses in short time and social media will be the primary vehicle for that. It’s good to see progress.

    I wonder though, how well “flying under the radar” will work for most companies, including the future of Monsanto’s social media engagement. I would think as long as the legal department is engaged, and communications can be moderated, then this could be successful for a larger corporation. I would love to see their presentation.

  5. […] Case Study: Monsanto and social media. Aaron shared his experience hearing Glynn Young from the agri-business goliath present about how the company has used social media to turn some of its negative perceptions into opportunity. Aaron has a full recap of the case study here. […]

  6. I am truly amazed that Monsanto would grasp social media. Just goes to show that savvy companies do what it takes to win.

  7. I guess that every wall is a door. 🙂
    Hope they’re really listening and trying to correct their flaws.
    Nice to know such case studies do exist.

  8. Thank you for this great homepage. I am trying to read some more articles but I can’t get your homepage to display properly in my Opera Browser. Thanks again!

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