In case you hadn’t heard, GM announced in March that they are moving half of their $3 billion marketing budget, to third largest in the United States, to digital and one-to-one initiatives (GM Changes Game, Puts $1.5 Billion Online). That’s a full $1.5 billion dollars, a sizable portion of which will likely end up on the web.

It’s my curiosity on how enterprise money is being spent that led me to attend a discussion on Social Media and the Enterprise with panelists Natalie Johnson of General Motors, Chris Reid of Yamaha Motor Canada and Jenny Bullough of Harlequin Enterprises Ltd., and moderated by Michael O’Connor Clarke. Michael’s mere appearance on the stage resulted in a dramatic hush coming over the room.

Following pleasantries and introductions, Michael kicked off the discussion with a quote from The Cluetrain Manifesto:

“…companies so lobotomized that they can’t speak in a recognizably human voice build sites that smell like death.”

Harlequin enjoys strong brand reputation. This means that there’s a community built on decades of publishing books that appeal to a specific and demanding niche. In fact, Harlequin publishes 120 new books each month including electronic selections of their back catalog based on user demand through their website. Also interesting is that Harlequin still accepts unsolicited manuscripts.

One of Harlequin’s greatest successes is a series of meet-the-author podcasts that connected aspiring authors with potential readers and meet-the-editor podcasts which educated aspiring authors on the Harlequin approach.

Nathalie talked up General Motors’ social site imsaturn.com (though her way of saying I M Saturn was confused by the entire room to be I Am Saturn which led us to the website of a hip-hop musician). Another initiative that connects their customers with the organization is IGotShotgun.com which features behind the scenes videos. The greatest challenge to moving to the social web has been securing the support of the upper ranks and steering the corporate culture of 266,000 people in a new direction.

Yamaha brought in an outside expert to educate senior management on the value of social media for brand value and online reputation. Chris described how he could see the lights go on during the session and that having an outside expert added credibility to the campaign, that he alone would not have had the same impact despite the fact that he is the in-house expert.

While each organization has corporate blogging policies, each approaches participation in online communities by employees a different way. Harlequin’s multi-page policy comes down to ‘don’t be stupid’; don’t blog about authors, don’t blog secrets, etc… The brand is well defended by a large and passionate community. This means that Harlequin watches as the community responds to negative comments. GM allows employees to participate in online communities provided they are transparent about their employment. They moderate comments for foul language and offensive remarks. Otherwise, they allow negative remarks and criticism in order to be transparent and to learn from the community. Yamaha only allows internal blogging and does not permit employees to represent the company online.

When the panel was questioned about their organizations’ commitment to social media, Michael noted that the panel represents a new environment in which companies are dedicating full-time positions to social media engagement.