Posted October 15, 2009 12:27 pm by with 7 comments

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Kent HuffmanAs Internet marketers and social media users / practitioners we are always digging and trying to find out more. Since most of what is related to social media is happening on the fly the innovation comes more often from good intention rather than good planning. One common theme that occurs, however, is the apparent lack of understanding of social media and its business impact in the upper levels of most companies.

In particular, the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) gets the brunt of the complaints of “They don’t get social media!” or “They are afraid of what they don’t know!” This is true in a lot of cases. That is changing, though, with the help of people like Kent Huffman, CMO of BearCom Wireless. Haven’t heard of BearCom? You’re not alone but that is changing through Kent’s efforts on Twitter and his campaign to bring the CMO to the social media discussion before his / her average 23 month tenure expires.

I spoke with Kent recently about his campaign that aggregates CMO’s, marketing professors and marketing authors on Twitter, his own personal experience with social media and how it will change the C-suite for marketers moving forward.

Frank: Kent, you are not new to the marketing game but your efforts on Twitter are just a little over 6 months old. Can you tell us about the shift?

Kent: Well, you’re right about me not being new to the marketing profession. I’ve been involved in that game for about 30 years now but have seen the winds of change shifting much more rapidly over the past year or so with the escalating popularity of social media. That trend has begun to dictate how marketing practitioners need to adapt and evolve to ensure they stay relevant and continue to be effective at their jobs.

Albeit a late start by some measurements, I became active on Twitter in March of 2009. As a busy executive, I didn’t think I would have the necessary time to devote to Twitter to be successful, but as I grew more comfortable with the process, I realized that Twitter offered a unique opportunity to connect with other marketers that I probably wouldn’t have the chance to meet otherwise. In addition, the ability to develop real relationships with others through Twitter — rather than just a shallow networking effort — was very appealing to me, and that became my motivation to invest the time necessary to make it work.

Frank: How did your list of CMOs using Twitter start?

Kent: Almost immediately after I posted my first tweet in March, I began searching for other CMOs to follow, with the thought that we could share ideas, inspire each other, etc. I soon stumbled across Paul Dunay’s list of C-level tweeters, which numbered in the hundreds and included about 20 CMOs. Since I was really more interested in finding only CMOs, I decided to drill a little deeper by doing some basic research on Twitter to try to locate all the CMOs who had at least two or three hundred followers. After assembling those names, I decided to publish them as a list on my Web site to make that information available to other marketers who might be interested in finding and following those same folks. I saw that as one way I could contribute some value to the social media space.

Frank: What types of C level marketers are on the list currently?

Kent: As of today, there are 52 CMOs on my list, and they represent a broad range of brands and company sizes. Some of the more widely recognized names include Jeffrey Hayzlett at Kodak, Barry Judge at Best Buy, Nigel Dessau at AMD, Jeff Hennion at Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Steve Fuller at L.L.Bean. And there is a nice mixture of B2C and B2B types all the way down the list.

Frank: Of the C level marketers you have seen, who is using social media the best to build their brands and their reach in the marketplace?

Kent: I think Jeffrey Hayzlett at Kodak does a fantastic job of keeping his followers interested and involved with the Kodak brand. He is very approachable on Twitter and provides a lot of compelling content. Some would say he has become the face of the Kodak brand in the social media space, and rightly so. Other CMOs who represent smaller brands but have a big voice on Twitter include Ted Rubin at e.l.f. Cosmetics, Gail Nelson at BurrellesLuce, Sam Mallikarjunan at American Health, and Alex Romanovich at Social2B. They are setting a great example for marketers at all types and sizes of companies.

Frank: So, what has this experience done to help you as a marketing professional?

Kent: Great question. The personal and professional upsides to my involvement with social media have been nothing short of tremendous. I’ve been able to develop a number of strong relationships as a result of the time I’ve invested in Twitter, not only with CMOs but a lot of other first-rate marketing professionals, too. I’ve learned a lot from those people in the past few months, and hopefully, I’ve been able to also help them along the way.

There have been a number of benefits for my employer as well, although my approach has been somewhat different on that front. For BearCom Wireless, I tweet under the moniker of Wireless Woman, a comic strip character that my team developed three years ago in connection with our corporate magazine. In addition to enabling us to find new customers and partners, Wireless Woman’s presence on Twitter has no doubt also helped to build awareness for the BearCom brand in the B2B world.

Frank: Let’s back up a little bit. Did you set out with a plan of sorts?

Kent: I wish I could say that I mapped this out from the beginning and knew exactly how it would all turn out, but that’s not really the case. Twitter is big, it can be confusing for newbies, and it’s much like a maze — you have to bump into a few walls as you navigate your way through it before you can get to the prize, so to speak.

Initially, I had no real strategy other than experimenting and trying Twitter on for size. But about 30 days into it, I began to see a lot of retweets of the first CMO list, and then the inquiries started. I quickly realized that there could be a bigger picture — something untapped and of real value.

As the popularity of the CMO list grew, I decided to create two other lists that would help round out the view of the marketing profession. So I started mining Twitter for the top marketing book authors and marketing professors. I thought the unique perspectives of those individuals would lend some very useful insights and knowledge to any marketer who would take the time to follow them, listen to what they have to say, and truly engage in discussions with them.

Once all three lists had been developed and published, I decided to take advantage of the collective brainpower and creativity of all the people featured on the lists by asking them to give me their definitions of the term “marketing.” The result of that experiment became my fourth list and is arguably the most interesting one so far.

Frank: So where do you go from here?

I have no doubt that my “top Twitter” lists and the involvement of the social media marketing community around them will continue to grow. I’m also working with a few of my Twitter friends on another project that will take this approach to community building to another level. Although I can’t divulge very many details yet, I can tell you that this unique initiative will officially launch in the next 60-90 days and will be announced on Twitter. You don’t want to miss it!

Frank: So will MP have first shot at telling the world exactly what you are planning when the time is right?

Kent: Absolutely. Right after my followers on Twitter!

Thanks to Kent Huffman for spending some time with us to show that the C Suite is not afraid of social media. In fact, there are progressive marketers that see how the business landscape is being reshaped by this movement and the impact it can have on their efforts.

Follow Kent on Twitter at @KentHuffman. His lists of top CMO’s, marketing authors and marketing academics are a great and growing resource for everyone in the space trying to figure out this social media thing.