BlackBerry's Not-So-Secret Weapon: Social Media

Research In Motion, the maker of BlackBerry, hasn't had much fun lately. Its stock is down 60% from its 52-week high, its Playbook tablet is facing poor reviews and recalls, employees are saying all kinds of nasty things in public, and its developer community is upset. Meanwhile Apple's iPhone just passed BlackBerry in its US share of mobile subscribers and its 15 billion app downloads have provided a $2.5B industry for eager developers worldwide with no signs of slowing down.

It's anybody's guess if RIM will regain its technological edge with the next great device or its much-touted QNX platform. With $3 billion in cash and no debt, it has some time. But what's more impressive than the financials - and what could enable a much faster recovery - is its digital presence. In the race for valuable online connections RIM is the clear leader over Apple and most global brands.

In a presentation at the Conversational Marketing Summit in June, Brian Wallace, RIM's former VP Digital Marketing and Media, said BlackBerry is the 2nd most social brand in the world, a top 10 brand on Facebook, and a top 5 brand on Twitter. Where Apple maintains strict control over its online presence with just one voice and a tightly controlled PR department, RIM has openly embraced the social channels for years.

Credit goes to Wallace for his foresight and investment in social media long before it became a popular pursuit. What does this mean for RIM today? It means it can reach 60 million BlackBerry fans online through owned media properties on Facebook, Twitter, the blogosphere and other channels. Rather than publish general content to one passive global pool, RIM took a unique hub-and-spoke approach and created many country-specific communities. On Facebook alone it now has access to 9 million highly engaged fans across 32 country Pages and another 7 million fans on its Blackberry Worldwide Page.

But it doesn't stop there.

"In doing all of this stuff really really well we ended up building what is one of the world's largest content networks," said Wallace. "I wasn't in the business of managing websites; I was in the business of managing an ever-expanding premium content network." RIM's earned media numbers are staggering. With 16 million highly engaged Facebook fans RIM's teams can reach 400 million people through one degree of separation. And here's the kicker: they can distribute and syndicate content to this massive global audience for free.

Social media can't save RIM or boost their stock price. But if a great BlackBerry product is released tomorrow its marketing teams can instantly put that positive message in the hands of millions of fans for free and watch it multiply worldwide. In a consumer industry dependent on word-of-mouth, RIM's massive online communications network is a powerful weapon that can support a rapid comeback.