Yesterday I attended a mini-conference presented by my friend Andy Sernovitz's company and the Blog Council on how big companies can successfully use social media. When I wasn't feeling like a fly on the wall (surrounded as I was by people from such large corporations as FedEx, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart), I was pretty impressed by the vibe of the event. The general consensus was that companies should not shamelessly shill their products using social media but rather listen to their potential customers and engage with them in ways that add value to them. That's pretty heartening to hear as a consumer.
I was also struck by the degree to which reputation monitoring matters to these big businesses. I wasn't aware that companies pay to have online mentions of them monitored, but they do. (Sometimes to funny results: Debbie Curtis-Magley of UPS told the audience how much of a challenge it was to cut through all the mentions of things like pushups and situps, which happen to contain the letters "ups.") Lindsay Lebresco of Graco told of how social media tools helped the company reach out to and reconcile with consumers expressing negative sentiments about the company.
As a person who tends to gravitate toward small companies and shy away from bigger ones, the conference made me wonder if the large players are starting to get it right more than the small ones. Witness my unsatisfying encounter with shoemaker Earth, in which the company told me that it "would rather not open up the conversation" about its contractors in China.
Big doesn't necessarily equal bad. Nothing's black and white.