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What’s the payoff for brands involved in social media? Some use it to increase awareness of products and services, others to improve customer service and still others to gather innovative new ideas for their business. A likely scenario is using social media for a combination of these things. That being said,  many companies are still trying to figure out how to measure success in the social space.

This much was evident from the presentations and conversations happening at BlogWell Seattle last week, hosted at the Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour.

BlogWell brings together people interested in social media for business to learn from big brands that are part of SocialMedia.org’s exclusive club – and from each other. Each event follows the same format. Eight brands present case studies, with time built in for questions and unstructured networking. The event in Seattle featured locally based companies Boeing, REI, Itron and Microsoft, as well as Clorox, Quaker, Cargill and Deluxe.

Boeing’s Bernard Choi talked about how he reached fans and media with updates from the Paris Air Show. He used Twitter for key announcements and links to Flickr photos that provided a sense of what was happening at the show for people who couldn’t be there. A key lesson for him was how much more popular photos and videos proved to be than written stories about news from the show.

Itron, a global technology provider in the utility industry based in the Spokane area, focuses much of its efforts on gathering intelligence about industry trends. It also takes advantage of social tools to engage its employees. The company built an internal platform for developing ideas to transform its business and breaking down silos within the organization. To get buy-in, Itron made sure top executives were engaged. The focus on helping people do their jobs and improving the business encouraged participation too, according to presenters Michelle Jung and Dawn Shrum.

Microsoft is using social media to improve its business as well, integrating marketing, sales, customer service and product development. Nestor Portillo said a major challenge is accountability. How do you close the loop to let customers know you’re using their feedback? And how do you respond when there is no solution to a customer’s problem? Portillo is working on influencer-engagement programs to reward and activate the people most connected to Microsoft’s brand and products. The key there, he said, is trying to have more consistent engagement with influencers over time and create a real community.

The final presentation I attended, by The Clorox Company’s Social Media Architect Greg Piche, covered the company’s efforts to forge a co-creation community – think Threadless or Local Motors – that rewards people with cash for their best ideas for new Clorox products. None of the ideas generated so far have entered the production pipeline, Piche said, but he’s hopeful for future developments.

During the question period after each presentation came the inevitable question: How do you measure the ROI? The answer is different for each company, depending on its business objectives. What’s your answer? For many of the brands presenting at BlogWell, the answer was, “We’re still figuring that out.”

Video from the event should be available soon. To see live blogging from each presentation, see the SocialMedia.org blog:

You can also read more on social media measurement from Weber Shandwick Seattle’s resident expert, Margot Savell, in her recent series on this blog.

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