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They All Laughed – The road to becoming a social enterprise

Guest post by Danna Vetter, VP, Consumer Strategies, ARAMARK

People laughed when we began talking about putting resources towards building a social structure for a company like ARAMARK. We heard it all:

The standard –
“We can’t open ourselves up to this kind of risk.”

The mean –
“You’re just trying to manipulate company perception.”

The ridiculous –
“No one wants to read tweets about hot dogs.”

If you don’t know, ARAMARK is a private, $13 billion global company that provides managed services (food, facilities, uniforms, etc) for clients in just about any imaginable environment and industry, including sports and entertainment, higher education, healthcare, as well as other general businesses and beyond. You might know us as the people that run the food service at your kid’s school. Or help manage your stay at a conference center. Or clean your room when you stay at the hospital. Or maybe you just know us from that aforementioned hot dog at the ball game.

In whatever the case, our employees work day and night to meet the needs of our clients and we meet them well. Sometimes we are tested by natural disaster or human tragedy like the trapped Chilean Miners. Or it could be any old fire drill our clients run us through –we are there for what our clients need and we make sure it happens. And as an “ingredient” brand that constantly works to get it right, we blend into our client’s environment and deliver on their mission with service results.

While our level of commitment has never changed nor has the expectations of our clients, what has is the consumer. Providing for the needs of today’s Connected Consumer has turned the service game on its head. It’s unlike any challenge we have ever seen. Sure, our businesses had dabbled in social media. Facebook page here, Twitter account there. But by not having a concerted social media effort and structure, we were striking out with an important segment of our consumers without coming to the plate. Ignoring the Digital Age, which has the consumer connected 24/7, would represent a huge opportunity cost. As Brian Solis often says, Digital Darwinism looms for all businesses. And by not connecting with this new consumer, we would be failing to deliver on those client expectations.

Coinciding with all this is the large, complex structure of our businesses, which are organized by industry segment. We have thousands of client locations and over 255,000 employees that work in different environments to meet different client goals and objectives. To create an enterprise strategy to connect with our consumers through social media would require a very thoughtful approach.

Social media, by nature, is alive, personal, and engaging. Anyone who has worked at a large, multi-business company knows that those descriptors of social media sometimes fly in the face of the more formal corporate culture. We are innovative, sure, but it’s a structured innovation. So, ARAMARK was never going to adapt to social media. We were going to have to adapt social media to ARAMARK.

And that’s what we did. We created a team that leads social media from the center of the organization. Our goals are to connect users managing social, consolidate resources, and share information. As you start to think about how you can fit social into your large organization, here are five areas to concentrate your efforts:


Many of today’s corporations present fewer gaps of need wider than the one of collaboration. Getting internal employees to communicate and share information with each other is essential for success in today’s global workplace. To help champion social media across our organization, we turned to collaboration by creating a team of “social delegates” from across our businesses. The delegate was made responsible for helping draft their business’ social strategy, act as a point person for their community managers (those responsible for managing our social presence at each location) and become a social media expert.

We regularly hold social delegate meetings to discuss what is going on in social media across the company, what big industry issues have arisen, and to just connect and communicate about what we are all working on. To further the communication, we also have workspace on an internal social collaboration network that allows us to blog about best practices and thought leadership, share files and information, and create wikis to build a library of knowledge about this ever-changing media.

By having our social leads in tune with each other, they can work together to help solve problems, come up with better strategies, and learn new and important skills.


Social is not a one size fits all initiative. And a social media strategy, like any campaign effort, needs to be tied back to the business needs and objectives.

We started getting our businesses aligned with this thinking through needs assessment meetings with each of our business’ marketing leaders. As they built their objectives, we had them consider the audiences they are targeting and the goals they’re trying to meet. What comes out of this is the strategies needed to implement a consumer campaign, and then the social channels best capable of achieving success.


Developing social media strategies for all of our businesses made obvious a wide range of learning needs. So you can imagine how difficult it can be to train employees across the dispersed enterprise, considering we’re looking to empower thousands of employees from VPs of Marketing to front line managers, cashiers, cooks, etc. What we did was bucket the organization into three categories: Awareness users, Active users, and Expert users.

Awareness users are primarily the highest and lowest ranking members of the company that need to know the company is using social media and how and why this is becoming a part of the way we do business. Active users are the community managers that will represent the company on social channels. And Expert users are our social delegates, who represent our businesses in social and help develop social strategies.

We are working towards a comprehensive online library of “101” modules that focus on general social media and the primary social channels that make sense for our company (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc). Our initial module, Social Media 101, was used as introductory training for all members of the company. More in-depth training, including live sessions, is developed based on the individual strategies and needs of the business. But we try to sustain the materials we create and use as much content across the enterprise as possible.


For a large segment of our company, social media was something they wanted to get involved in – they just didn’t know where to start. As we formed our center-led team, one of our primary goals was to provide the tools and resources so that the businesses could concentrate on doing their job, specifically creating the content that was going to help drive engagement within social channels.
We created a handbook on how to use social media for the organization, developed guides to build a social voice, and also put together a listening framework that identifies and manages conversations from the top to the bottom and vise versa.

We also got an enterprise license for a social media management system that allows our businesses to publish content, access analytics, and simultaneously manage multiple social channels. For the businesses, this really helps them manage their social users and campaigns. For the community managers, it allows them to operate their social channels in one place as well as share content, develop content calendars, and work within a hierarchical structure.

But the key theme here is rather than having multiple businesses in our company create their own resources and purchase their own licenses, we are able to centrally develop sustainable tools and resources that everyone leverages.


In a large company, you may only have one chance to prove a new idea is worthy. If it doesn’t meet or exceed expectations, that may be it. And as social media constantly evolves around us, getting it right is that much harder. At ARAMARK, we are a big believer in testing through pilot programs before larger rollouts. It’s not just the technology or the strategy that you’re testing out – it’s how your employees are able to adapt and implement those strategies with those technologies.

Once you find the right people to test with, create the goals and benchmarks that will give you the information that will demonstrate you met or fell short of success. And when the pilot is complete, you need to document your learnings and make adjustments to your strategy before you’re ready to launch.

That’s just a quick overview of the way we approached tackling the difficult process of organizing social media for a large company. We’ll go deeper into each of those five targeted areas in future posts here.

Always remember, if it is the right idea for your company, there’s a way to make it happen; no matter how crazy the idea or challenging the environment.

Follow Danna on Twitter

Building image credit: Shutterstock

25 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “They All Laughed – The road to becoming a social enterprise”

  1. Kimberly Edwards says:

    Great advice, thanks!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi Danna, we’re on the same journey here at IBM and appreciate your post and the ability to connect with you as you are also driving change for a large brand with multiple business units and industry segments. Will you be at the WOMMA WOM-U in May? I’ll be there and would like to connect with you if your are planning to attend.

  3. Terence Chan says:

    Thanks for sharing this Danna. Are you targeting this at the b2b market i.e. your clients? If so are there any pitfalls one should be aware of?

  4. David Cho says:

    Great to see a guest “Speaker” Kudos Danna for a great message. Thanks Brian for having her.

  5. Steven Weiss says:

    Well done Danna!   Truly an important and meaningful accomplishment!

  6. Bill Whitman, Jr. says:

    Danna, congratulations on leading this effort for ARAMARK. Sounds like you’re making great progress in creating a more innovative and collaborative culture via social media tools and resources. Continued success!

  7. danna vetter says:

    Thanks for all the comments. This was a huge team effort and many contributed their time, energy and insights to this initiative. They are all still working hard on this journey. I am so thankful to the talented team at Aramark. Collaboration and teamwork have been the key ingredients. An effort of this magnitude requires different perspectives, the more diverse the group, the better.

  8. Becca says:

    I think the most
    important aspect of social media is that you need to benchmark, test and
    verify the results. Most people probably don’t know how good social media can
    be for their business, and many don’t realize how effective social media is.
    Without a way of measuring the success of social media, they are blindly
    using that form of communication without realizing the effect it has with
    their customers.

  9. Christine Bond says:

    Nice job Danna!  So glad you are leading this initiative!

  10. zaneology says:

    As a person who loves to “think on” how to build vibrant communities around brands, I very much appreciate this post. Great guest posting by Danna. 

  11. Pamela Dean says:

    This is a great snapshot of how to develop and implement a social media strategy in a very large, very,  complex and diverse organization. Danna is right, social is not a “one size fits all initiative.” Sounds like the Aramark team was able to come up with a benchmark “many sizes for to meet many needs approach” while still helping the company speak with one voice. Hat’s off to the Aramark team.

  12. Anjula Ram says:

    This is a great post,  thanks and well done Danna! It’s great to really grasp the bigger picture. As I read I get the feeling of real teamwork and collaboration. I love your statement ‘We created a team that leads social media from the center of the organization’. This is so inspirational! 

    Social media is alive, and the five areas of concentration you have shared are quite informative, I look forward to reading more on Tools and Resources. Thank you!


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