Archive for the ‘Social Media’ Tag

How to Poorly Represent for Your Brand in 140 Characters or Less

Today, I went to BestBuy with my 15 year old daughter to look for a digital camcorder.  She wanted something that did HD and we found an interesting model for $149.  I suggested that we go back home and read some customer reviews  before buying it (plus, she had neglected to bring her money).

She did her research and in doing so, discovered that the camcorder was on sale for $99 on BestBuy’s website.  I looked at the offer on the website to make sure it wasn’t a “web only” deal.  It wasn’t.  She started to order it online for in-store pickup but noticed that a photo id for the credit card holder would be required.  She doesn’t have an id yet, so we jumped in the car and headed to the store.

At checkout, the camcorder rang up at $149.  My daughter, who doesn’t like confrontation and doesn’t yet earn her own living, was more than happy to pay $149, but I was not.  Moreover, as a 23 year veteran of the Consumer Electronics industry and someone who was familiar with BestBuy’s issue a while back regarding web/in-store pricing, I wanted to be sure that they honored the online price.

I told the cashier that it was $99 on the website.   He started to point me to a makeshift kiosk that had been set up to allow customers to do on-line price checks, but then actually walked over to it himself and looked up the item on BestBuy’s website.  Sure enough it was still $99.  He did a price override and we completed the transaction.

BestBuy has received lots of praise for their innovative use of social media, both internally and externally.  As someone keenly interested in retailers’ use of social media, I naturally follow them on Twitter. I am also very much a Customer Experience aficionado, so when I got home, I started an exchange on Twitter with Best Buy’s Chief Marketing Officer, Barry Judge.

bestbuycmo exchangeAs you can see, Mr. Judge’s first reply challenged the idea that prices should be the same.  Now without taking a big detour into the intricacies of multi-channel pricing strategies, I’ll say that there are absolutely situations where prices can and should differ.  Between physical markets (and sometimes stores in the same market) prices can vary based on the competitive environment.  Between online and in-store for a chain like BestBuy, it gets a little more complicated.  They have to compete with on-line pure plays (e.g. Amazon), but not cannibalize their physical stores, especially if their strategy is to have the two channels compliment each other. In this case, given that it was not a web-exclusive offer and their own price guarantee says they will match BestBuy.com, I replied that they prices should be the same.  Otherwise, it can only lead to a bad customer experience like the frustration of finding that you should have received a lower price and having to drive back to the store for a refund.

I made a few other comments including pointing out that the cashier handled the situation well.  When I suggested that customers don’t care about the different “value propositions” that Mr. Judge had cited earlier; that what matters to the customer is the experience they have, the “tone” of the conversation shifted dramatically.

When I told him that I was well versed in multi-channel retail complexities, I was shocked by his reply.  Not wanting to assume a meaning, I asked him to clarify.  At that point he abruptly ended the conversation.

Of course, that didn’t end the conversation.  I posted a link to the exchange on Twitter and asked for people’s opinions and the replies and retweets have been coming at a steady pace.  It used to be that if you shared a bad experience, 100 people would hear about it.  In the world of social media, those numbers can increase exponentially (ask United Airlines).  With that being one of the fundamental facts for companies to understand about social media, I was really surprised that the Chief Marketing Officer for BestBuy would engage with a customer former customer in this way.

What do you think?  Was I being out of line?  How could this conversation gone differently?

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Social Generosity

image courtesy of www.aolcdn.com

image courtesy of http://www.aolcdn.com

As the popularity of Social Media has risen over the last couple of years, so has the assertion from some  “experts” looking to sell their “expertise” that organizations must start using these tools or be left in the dust.  Of course, real value of Social Media has been much more difficult to demonstrate using traditional ROI approaches and, as with most emerging technologies, once touted concepts as Corporate Blogs, Public Virtual Worlds and the universal catch-all term “Web2.0” find themselves smack dab in the Trough of Disillusionment.  Newer technological innovations like Microblogging Platforms (eg. Twitter) can also be found in Gartner’s 2008 Hype Cycle.  As they are newer on the scene, they appear to be around the “Peak of Inflated Expectations”.  If you’ve spent any time listening to the Social Media “guru’s” on Twitter, you’ll probably agree with that assessment which means the Trough of Disillusionment can’t be far behind.

Companies are flocking to Twitter to “engage with their customers”, often with the same mixed or difficult to demonstrate results as with earlier attempts.  A Social Media strategy is not going to be effective for every organization and many simply don’t understand how to approach it.  One area that seems to be a natural fit for these communities is Social Causes.

Perhaps it’s a perfect storm of changing attitudes and technology adoption, but it seems to me that there have been some very newsworthy examples of people helping people through Social Media in the last few months.

  • Domestic Diva pleaded for help in finding a kidney doner for her daughter and received an enormous response from her community.
  • Tweetsgiving raised $11,000 for a classroom in Tanzania.
  • David Armano leveraged his network and his reputation to help a family in need.
  • Facebook’s Causes is the third largest app on the platform with 14 million users.   It raised $2.5 million for 20,ooo charities in it’s first year.
  • The wide-ranging response to Marcus Brown’s “I Care” request to show support for a dying mom in Germany.
  • Social Media 4 Social Change raised $20,000 for victims of domestic violence.
  • This week, over 180 cities around the world will host Twestival events to raise money for charity:water

Some of these have been focused on a single individual or family while others are much broader in scope. Either way, they have succeeded by leveraging relationships between real people and that seem like the biggest takeaway for other organizations.  Just as these communities are coming together to help others, the degree to which you show your “Social Generosity” will be the biggest factor in how your organization is is embraced by these social communities.

Social media, meet Achilles??? – Not So Fast

An recent article written by Jen Zingsheim at Media Bullseye takes aim at the Social Media “experts” who overpromise the value and underestimate the ability to scale.  Several well documented examples of companies using Social Media (Twitter specifically) to monitor for and address customer service issues have many in the social media echo chamber (myself included) urging other companies to “join the conversation”.  And they should because social media provide a low-cost way for companies to learn from their customers and address their issues.

Zingsheim points out that companies engaging in social media requires two things:

  1. An effective monitoring program to quickly identify problems being mentioned, and
  2. Competent people who can resolve issues without being hindered by red tape.

It’s the latter of these two which Zingsheim says isn’t scalable.  In the long run, it probably isn’t, assuming the objective is to respond to every customer individually AND assuming that the company doesn’t make significant Customer Experience improvements along the way.

On the other hand, if companies use SM to learn from their customers and address the root causes of their issues, the Customer Experience should improve over time and the number problems being mentioned should decrease.

Companies Without Conversation: Comcast Gets Twitter; Circuit City Does Not

Comcast and Circuit City have many things in common.

Both companies sell products and services that deliver video and internet to American consumers.  They also share the dubious distinction of consistently scoring near the bottom of their respective industries in the American Consumer Satisfaction Index surveys (see here & here).

With limited competition, Comcast’s dismal rating doesn’t pose as great a risk to their future profitability as does Circuit City’s score, which is clearly reflected in their ever sinking stock price.  Over the last few years, Circuit City has not executed well at meeting customer expectations.  As a result, they have lost a big chunk of their base and aren’t attracting new customers as fast as the old ones are leaving.  Consumer Electronics retail is a commodity industry and customers can buy their CE products just about anywhere. Bringing customers back to Circuit City should be the company’s top priority.  Doing so will require a number of things, but consistently meeting or exceeding customer’s expectations would be a good place to start.

Another good place to start might be engaging with customers within their Social Media channels to better understand where the experience breaks down, and to offer unexpected support for problem resolution.  Interestingly, both companies are also getting involved with Social Media.  Circuit City maintains a blog on its website and both companies have started using Twitter; however, the ways in which they are using it couldn’t be farther apart.

Comcast has been receiving a significant amount of positive press from their use of Twitter. Frank Eliason, Comcast’s digital care manager and the man behind the Twitter account, comcastcares, tells me their   Twitter program started back in March ’08.  Using a number of monitoring tools, Frank and his small team listen to the stream of “Tweets” coming from Twitter looking for comments about Comcast.  When they encounter one, they immediately reply to the person who made the comment, usually asking if they can help.  As of this writing, comcastcares has made over 10,000 updates and has over 2700 followers.  They operate comcastcares like some kind of proactive help desk, contacting customers who have publicly shared that they are having a problem.

Think about that for a minute.

A company that is actively trying to address every complaint made about it on Twitter.  Every problem solved here equates to a customer whose expectations have been exceeded.  Those customers will are going to tell others about their great experience.  More importantly, by listening to its customers, Comcast is learning about the things that are getting in the way of a great customer experience.  It’s a feedback loop that can be used to drive improvements into their operational programs.

Circuit City on the other hand doesn’t seem to understand the basic concept here.  They established their Twitter account, Circuit_City, about the same time as Comcast, but roughly six months later, they haven’t even broken triple digits in Updates. Circuit City isn’t using Twitter to listen for and help frustrated customers or to find opportunities for improvement in their operational procedures.  Instead, they are treating Twitter (and their CityCenter blog) like any another advertising channel.  There is no conversation, just one-way messaging.  There is no “How Can I Help You?”, there’s just “Here’s some more stuff that you should buy”.   Most of the tweets are links to posts on their blog which is focused on products that Circuit City sells.

One could argue that Circuit City does not have as many detractors as Comcast, but there are clearly opportunities out there.

Earlier this week, I saw a Twitter user contemplating going to Circuit City to purchase a wireless card (see the accompanying Twitter thread).  When he tweeted “Circuit City sucks!  Why are they still in business?“, it would have been a great time for Circuit’s Twitter team to step in and try to salvage this experience.

Unfortunately, Circuit City isn’t listening, they are just talking.  Business as usual.

Who Are You Twittering For?

I really like Twitter.  It has connected me with many more great people in the last two years than any of the other Social Media channels I participate in.  A while back, I started using Twitterfeed to send a tweet whenever I posted a new blog entry.  Shortly after setting that up, I noticed that Greg Verdino had a separate Twitter account for his blog feeds.  I asked him why and he told me that it allowed his followers to decide whether or not they wanted that information.  I considered doing the same, but figured that posting a new blog entry qualified for “what are you doing”, so I left the feed as it was.

Recently, I loaded Mobile Scrobbler on my iPhone and set up a new Twitterfeed that listed the most recent song that I had listened to every 30 minutes.  As a music lover, listening to new music is “what I am doing” a lot of the time, so this seemed a natural thing to post to Twitter.  It generated some great conversations about music and connected me with a lot of new friends who also introduced me to some other great artists.

It also had a downside.  Several people whose friendships I value, stopped following me.   I didn’t know why, so I half-kidding, I asked “was it something I said?”.  The answer I got was that the frequent tweets about what I was listening to was just adding to the noise in their Twitter streams.  In other words, the music feeds were not adding value to these followers.  Curious, I publicly asked my friends in Twitterville whether they liked or disliked the music feeds.  I got about a dozen replies with the opinion split about 50/50.  OK, some some people find it to be of value, some do not, and some of those find it annoying enough to stop following me altogether.

That got me thinking about what I wanted to be using Twitter for.  Before I follow someone, I check out their blog or website and look at their recent tweets.  If I see something that looks interesting I follow them.  Usually, the people I follow are saying much more than just what they are doing.  Meaningful interaction is more important to me than reading a bunch of 140 character status updates. Following over 700 people, it’s easy to miss the valuable tweets because of the noise, so If someone I am following stops being interesting or never interacts with me, I stop following them.

Which brings me to my dilemma.  At the end of the day, it’s important to give your audience something of value or they will just a soon take their eyes and ears somewhere else.  Posting music feeds is clearly a “what are you doing” thing and some of my audience has found it to be valuable.  On the other hand, I can see how it can be noise to someone else and I don’t want to drive away friends who I otherwise have interesting conversations with.   The solution it seems is to follow Greg Verdino’s lead and create a second Twitter account for my music, photo and blog feeds; which I have just done.  I have turned off all Twitterfeeds into my main Twitter account (which you can follow here).  If you want to keep up with the other stuff, by all means follow me here.

Do You Know Your Customers’ Technographics?

I’ve been a passionate proponent for business adoption of emerging social technologies . In my previous role at a major US retailer, I led the charge into Second Life and set up blogs for insight sharing between employees. Spending time in the the Social Media echo chamber can lead to the belief that Social Media’s time is now, but the truth is, the majority of US consumers don’t get Social Media.

Forrester’s Sr. Analyst Jeremiah Owyang shared their Groundswell tool this evening on his blog. The tool allows you to look at the Social Technographics (how people use social technologies) for different segments of the population. This is valuable information to consider when creating a social media strategy. Creating a blog may be of little value if your core customer segments don’t read them. Looking at the different levels of participation across age groups, I’m struck by two things:

  1. Just over 10% of the US Boomer population (45-54) are “Creators” or “Joiners” Over half of the Boomer population falls into the “Inactive” category. This may explain the blank stares I get from friends and business associates when I talk about Twitter or blogging. It also says a lot about the unwillingness of business executives, many of whom fall into this demographic, to allocate funding to social media.
  2. The level of participation by US Millenials (18 24) is off the charts. 62% of this group are “Joiners” and 39% are creating social media content. These people are totally engaged with social media. It’s often their primary means of communication and creating relationships. In a way, their are defined by their online identities.

Owyang asks if this a generational thing. Will Gen Y continue to communicate this way for the rest of their lives? Or is this a life stage experience where only the young participate online. I agree with Owyang that it is the former. This demographic is quickly becoming the target market for most companies making it more important than ever for companies to begin a regular evaluation of their social media strategy. It may not seem important today. The ROI case may not be obvious, but in time it will be. Getting involved now better positions you to compete for these customers later.

Data from Forrester Research Technographics® surveys, 2007. For further details on the Social Technographics profile, see groundswell.forrester.com.

The Digital Playground

Last year, agency execs Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton organized 100 influential bloggers from around the world and produced “The Age of Conversation“. The individual essays taken as a group describe how conversations, enabled by social media technology, are transforming the business marketing landscape and how the various marketing disciplines have to change the way they talk to their consumers to be heard.

This year, McLellan and Heaton decided to do it all aver again with The Age of Conversation 2008 – Why Don’t They Get It? Once again the proceeds from the book go to Variety – the Children’s Charity — which serves children across the entire globe, but unlike last year’s book, this one has more than twice the number of authors, each focusing on one of eight sub-topics:

  • Manifestos
  • Keeping Secrets in the Age of Conversation
  • Moving from Conversation to Action
  • The Accidental Marketer
  • A New Brand of Creative
  • My Marketing Tragedy
  • Business Model Evolution
  • Life in the Conversation Lane

I contributed a page to Life in the Conversation Lane. Here’s a snippet:

“It’s amazing to watch young children on a playground. They interact and develop friendships with kids they don’t know, share new ideas, expand their imaginations, learn new things through conversation and interaction, experiment, innovate, collaborate to build things and to accomplish goals as a team.”

The new book should be out later this summer. In the meantime, check out the individual blogs of the other contributers:

Adam Crowe
, Adrian Ho, Aki Spicer, Alex Henault, Amy Jussel, Andrew Odom, Andy Nulman, Andy Sernovitz, Andy Whitlock, Angela Maiers, Ann Handley, Anna Farmery, Armando Alves, Arun Rajagopal, Asi Sharabi, Becky Carroll, Becky McCray, Bernie Scheffler, Bill Gammell, Bob Carlton, Bob LeDrew, Brad Shorr, Bradley Spitzer, Brandon Murphy, Branislav Peric, Brent Dixon, Brett Macfarlane, Brian Reich, C.C. Chapman, Cam Beck, Casper Willer, Cathleen Rittereiser, Cathryn Hrudicka, Cedric Giorgi, Charles Sipe, Chris Kieff, Chris Cree, Chris Wilson, Christina Kerley (CK), C.B. Whittemore, Clay Parker Jones, Chris Brown, Colin McKay, Connie Bensen, Connie Reece, Cord Silverstein, Corentin Monot, Craig Wilson, Daniel Honigman, Dan Goldstein, Dan Schawbel, Dana VanDen Heuvel, Dan Sitter, Daria Radota Rasmussen, Darren Herman, Darryl Patterson, Dave Davison, Dave Origano, David Armano, David Bausola, David Berkowitz, David Brazeal, David Koopmans, David Meerman Scott, David Petherick, David Reich, David Weinfeld, David Zinger, Deanna Gernert, Deborah Brown, Dennis Price, Derrick Kwa, Dino Demopoulos, Doug Haslam, Doug Meacham, Doug Mitchell, Douglas Hanna, Douglas Karr, Drew McLellan, Duane Brown, Dustin Jacobsen, Dylan Viner, Ed Brenegar, Ed Cotton, Efrain Mendicuti, Ellen Weber, Emily Reed, Eric Peterson, Eric Nehrlich, Ernie Mosteller, Faris Yakob, Fernanda Romano, Francis Anderson, G. Kofi Annan, Gareth Kay, Gary Cohen, Gaurav Mishra, Gavin Heaton, Geert Desager, George Jenkins, G.L. Hoffman, Gianandrea Facchini, Gordon Whitehead, Graham Hill, Greg Verdino, Gretel Going & Kathryn Fleming, Hillel Cooperman, Hugh Weber, J. Erik Potter, J.C. Hutchins, James Gordon-Macintosh, Jamey Shiels, Jasmin Tragas, Jason Oke, Jay Ehret, Jeanne Dininni, Jeff De Cagna, Jeff Gwynne, Jeff Noble, Jeff Wallace, Jennifer Warwick, Jenny Meade, Jeremy Fuksa, Jeremy Heilpern, Jeremy Middleton, Jeroen Verkroost, Jessica Hagy, Joanna Young, Joe Pulizzi, Joe Talbott, John Herrington, John Jantsch, John Moore, John Rosen, John Todor, Jon Burg, Jon Swanson, Jonathan Trenn, Jordan Behan, Julie Fleischer, Justin Flowers, Justin Foster, Karl Turley, Kate Trgovac, Katie Chatfield, Katie Konrath, Kenny Lauer, Keri Willenborg, Kevin Jessop, Kris Hoet, Krishna De, Kristin Gorski, Laura Fitton, Laurence Helene Borei, Lewis Green, Lois Kelly, Lori Magno, Louise Barnes-Johnston, Louise Mangan, Louise Manning, Luc Debaisieux, Marcus Brown, Mario Vellandi, Mark Blair, Mark Earls, Mark Goren, Mark Hancock, Mark Lewis, Mark McGuinness, Mark McSpadden, Matt Dickman, Matt J. McDonald, Matt Moore, Michael Hawkins, Michael Karnjanaprakorn, Michelle Lamar, Mike Arauz, Mike McAllen, Mike Sansone, Mitch Joel, Monica Wright, Nathan Gilliatt, Nathan Snell, Neil Perkin, Nettie Hartsock, Nick Rice, Oleksandr Skorokhod, Ozgur Alaz, Paul Chaney, Paul Hebert, Paul Isakson, Paul Marobella, Paul McEnany, Paul Tedesco, Paul Williams, Pet Campbell, Pete Deutschman, Peter Corbett, Phil Gerbyshak, Phil Lewis, Phil Soden, Piet Wulleman, Rachel Steiner, Sreeraj Menon, Reginald Adkins, Richard Huntington, Rishi Desai, Beeker Northam, Rob Mortimer, Robert Hruzek, Roberta Rosenberg, Robyn McMaster, Roger von Oech, Rohit Bhargava, Ron Shevlin, Ryan Barrett, Ryan Karpeles, Ryan Rasmussen, Sam Huleatt, Sandy Renshaw, Scott Goodson, Scott Monty, Scott Townsend, Scott White, Sean Howard, Sean Scott, Seni Thomas, Seth Gaffney, Shama Hyder, Sheila Scarborough, Sheryl Steadman, Simon Payn, Sonia Simone, Spike Jones, Stanley Johnson, Stephen Collins, Stephen Cribbett, Stephen Landau, Stephen Smith, Steve Bannister, Steve Hardy, Steve Portigal, Steve Roesler, Steven Verbruggen, Steve Woodruff, Sue Edworthy, Susan Bird, Susan Gunelius, Susan Heywood, Tammy Lenski, Terrell Meek, Thomas Clifford, Thomas Knoll, Tiffany Kenyon, Tim Brunelle, Tim Buesing, Tim Connor, Tim Jackson, Tim Longhurst, Tim Mannveille, Tim Tyler, Timothy Johnson, Tinu Abayomi-Paul, Toby Bloomberg, Todd Andrlik, Troy Rutter, Troy Worman, Uwe Hook, Valeria Maltoni, Vandana Ahuja, Vanessa DiMauro, Veronique Rabuteau, Wayne Buckhanan, William Azaroff, Yves Van Landeghem

Social Media Wars

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Todd Feldman, a former colleague from Circuit City, wrote a post earlier this month at his blog which included this humorous video from Current TV.

If you spend time in Social Media like Todd and I do, the things spoofed in the video are pretty funny, but I wonder of this is what Social Media looks like to people outside of the social media echo chamber. I know a few people with the word “Chief” in their title who are responsible for making decisions about how their company messages its brand to the world.  Most of them perceive social media much like it is presented here. If this is what social media looks like to them, then we as evangelists need to get busy.

What has you experience been with executive decision makers? Do they have similar perceptions? How do we change that perception?

Top 10 Reasons for Monitoring Brands in Social Media

Yesterday, I was having a conversation about Social Media with a guy responsible for a major US retailer’s e-commerce site. His position was that nobody has figured out how to monetize Social Media; therefore there’s not a compelling reason to invest in it. I argued that the point is not to use Social Media to generate Revenue directly, but rather to drive engagement with the Brand and to use it as part of a Sense & Respond mechanism. In a timely turn of events, someone on Twitter pointed me to a post over at Online Marketing Blog titled: “Top 10 Reasons for Monitoring brands in Social Media“. Written by the Marketing VP at Radian6, a company that coincidentally provides Social Media monitoring tools, I think this makes a compelling case for convincing organizational leaders of the need to wade into the Social Media pool and start monitoring and participating in the conversation. I have included the entire post below….

[Editor’s note: We’re excited to share this next guest post from David Alston of Radian6. A fast emerging leader in the field of social media measurement, Radian6 (a TopRank client) provides social media monitoring tools to hundreds of leading PR firms, ad agencies and brand marketers.]

David is VP Marketing at Radian6 in New Brunswick, Canada with previous experience at several tech startups in the interactive advertising and the video over IP space. Most recently, he was partner and VP of Marketing at PR firm, Revolution Strategy. His blog is TweetPR.

Social media has simplified the art of the soapbox shout. Information is shared with the masses now using easy-to-use Web 2.0 tools and is recorded and cached for infinity. A shout out loud in social media has no geographic boundaries and is not time-limited. These two points make the non-stop monitoring of social media an important to-do for any brand owner. And monitoring social media does not just mean blogs. It should include video and image sharing sites and microblogging sites like Twitter, along with opinion and discussion forums.

As a provider of the tools for monitoring hundreds and even thousands of well known brands online, we’ve found a multitude of reasons for paying attention to what’s being said in social media. Here are the top ten:

The complaint – Watch for posts complaining about your products or services, company, and staff. Catching something early means getting a chance to show how responsive you are. A complaint is an opportunity to demonstrate problem-solving abilities. A posted complaint may also draw out other comments from people with the same concern, which provides an opportunity to reach out to them as well. And who knows, impressing customer with great customer service may generate some positive posts about how you resolved the problems.

The compliment – Compliments can come in many forms. It could be a congratulations message about a recent award. It could be a customer raving about the experience they just had with a product or with customer service. Social media compliments are the online equivalent of those old school references or testimonials of days past. Create a delicio.us account or use another social bookmarking utility and save all of these compliments in a list for future use. Potential clients looking for reassurance on a purchase decision would love to see what others think of your company and products.

The expressed need – The best way to watch for expressed needs is to look for keywords often used to describe those needs. People shout out what they are doing and ask the general public for advice occasionally when they are about to make a purchase. Both of these situations provide an opportunity to reach out with an offer of assistance or a free demo for example. While this may seem intrusive at first glance consider that great retail clerk who offers to help when you are trying to locate a pair of shoes in your size. A social media poster often appreciates that someone is listening and does not mind an offer of assistance expecially if it’s done in a helpful way.

The competitor – If you are watching your industry and the keywords used to describe it you will probably be the first to know when a new competitor appears on the scene. From a competitive intelligence perspective you may also wish to be alerted any time a competitor’s name is used. Knowing this may highlight opportunities to reach out to potential customers who have indicated they are trialing a competitor or dissatisfied with a competitor’s product or service. You may also discover which industry players are advocates for competitive brands giving you the opportunity to reach out and see if they are interested in knowing more about what you have to offer. Competitors will also often talk about subjects they are strategically interested in and being able to stay on top of those discussions allows you to anticipate potential future moves.

The crowd – Topics will often pop up online that draw huge crowds from a page visits or commenting perspective. There is a lot to be learned in discussion threads especially when they have the potential to affect your brand. Following the swarms can give you a better understanding of current sentiment and thinking towards a certain topic and who the players are that have opinions on it. It also may point out a topic that you will need to monitor going forward. Tracking a topic’s viral nature and how long it lives can give you an idea of its relative importance. You may also decide to participate in the crowd discussion thread early in the process, giving your company exposure to those currently involved in the discussion and to those yet to join.

The influencer – Influencers within a space can carry a lot of weight. They gain there power either from the number of times they post on a topic, the number of people who link to their posts on a topic, the number of people gathering to comment and how engaged visitors to their posts become. The hive that forms around an influencer helps spread an opinion on a brand faster and that opinion express potentially carries more weight. Often an influencer’s post appears prominently in a topic’s Google search results thus affecting the views of even more potential customers. Knowing who these influencers are and their opinions of your brands helps you determine who to reach out to for help as advocates or to understand why they currently hold a negative view.

The crisis – Discussions happening in social media can serve as an early warning system before an issue goes mainstream. By using advanced tools you can observe new words popping more frequently about your brands. If you were an airline, as an example, the sudden appearance of the word “cancellations” along with the words “bad” and “customer service” would immediate trigger a need to drill into the posts driving them. Tracking these “crisis” words over time on a go forward basis would also then help gauge the effectiveness of any outreach campaigns to address the underlying issues.

The ROI – There has been a lot of buzz lately on how to successful measure online marketing and outreach campaigns. Much of the focus has centered around the topic of engagement. While a universal engagement metric has yet to be agreed upon there are still a number of effective ways to measure engagement and ROI in general. Track the mentions of a brand in user-generated content before, during and after a campaign. Isolate positive words associated with a particular brand and gauge the number of times they were used over a period of time. Alternatively, you could sort all posts mentioning a particular brand or topic by number of comments or views to uncover the top 50 discussions where potentially engagement was the highest.

The audit – A brand is the sum of all conversations and is no longer completely controlled by the corporation. By analyzing social media a corporation or agency can score a brand’s overall user sentiment, determine which words are commonly associated with it, understand which competitors rank closest in buzz or online mentions, uncover which sites are advocates, and rank which social media channels contain more discussion versus others. By isolating which sites are discussing your brand or a competitor’s brand, an audit can also help pinpoint possible ad placement opportunities for reaching the most valuable and engaged audiences.

The thread – With so many social media channels to shout out on, conversations often become splintered. A discussion can start within one channel and quick leap into another making it rather difficult to follow. Following discussions using keywords associated with it can help bridge the thread across all types of social media. This thread would then appear as a connected conversation for easy analysis.

Customers, prospects and peers are discussing your brand, your industry and your competitors right now in social media: with or without you. Unfortunately, choosing not to listen doesn’t make those conversations go away. Actively listening means protecting brand reputation, discovering opportunities, staying competititive and avoiding runaway crisis’.

Study:Majority Use Social Media to ‘Vent’ About Customer Care. Are You Listening?

An recent study commissioned by a Burlington, MA-based provider of voice-recognition solutions found that 72 percent of respondents used social media to research a company’s reputation for customer care before making a purchase, and 74 percent choose to do business with companies based on the customer care experiences shared by others online. The online study of 300 volunteer respondents doesn’t qualify as statistically accurate, but it is informative from a directional standpoint.

59 percent of the respondents said they regularly use social media to “vent” about their customer care frustrations. Readers of this blog know that I occasionallyventhere and so do many others that I follow. Michael Arrington’s recent Comcast experience is a high-profile example which has received a fair amount of discussion in social media circles. If you haven’t heard the story, ends up with an executive at Comcast contacting Arrington because of a Twitter post that he had made about how frustrated he was with Comcast.

Two thirds of the study’s respondents felt that companies don’t take online complaints seriously. Think about that for a minute. Empowered by the powerful online search capabilities, customers have grown accustomed to instant access to information and have developed increasingly high standards for customer service. They no longer need to be tied to a company. Add in Social Media, where the customer has a global voice and you now have citizen marketers who can potentially impact a company’s reputation for good or bad.

Nick O’Neill over at Social Times recently asked if a large brand like Walmart could monitor all the comments made about them on Twitter and contact people that had a poor experience in their store. After measuring the volume of Tweets pertaining to Walmart at around one every half hour, O’Neill suggested that the answer is Yes. Of course, companies are skeptical about the need to participate in social media. How much of a difference will reaching out to a couple dozen irritated customers a day (most of whom are nowhere as influential as Arrington) make? I would have to say that today it’s probably not as impactful as many of us in the Social Media Echo Chamber would like to believe.

On the other hand, intercepting and satisfying a pissed-off Michael Arrington can go a long way in preventing a social media comment from escalating into a much larger public relations issue. Moreover, as Millennials. for whom social media is a typically a natural extension of their lives, move from consumers to customers, it’s going to become increasingly important for companies to be listening and engaging in these channels. These customers aren’t going to be letter-writers like their parents were. They are going to be vocal about their experiences, expectations and frustrations as customers publicly and on-line. Companies who learn to listen and engage now (and I don’t mean using Social Media as another one-way marketing vehicle) will be better positioned to compete for these new customers in the future

<via ClickZ>

Blogger Social ’08

The Blogger SocialitesIt was billed as a weekend to remember and it clearly lived up to expectations. Over eighty marketing bloggers from all over the world jumped at the opportunity to go beyond the confines of their social media tools for one weekend and have face-to-face conversations with their peers. After months of planning, CK & Drew threw the most incredible party this past weekend in New York City.

Social Media is all about building relationships. Those who don’t participate in Social Media sometimes have trouble understanding the real, meaningful relationships that can develop through Social Media interaction. Social Media removes the barrier of distance making it easy to connect and engage with like-minded people who share common ideals, interests and passions. From that interaction, virtual communities evolve to share ideas, offer support and encouragement, and to do good things.

Meeting your digital friends in person is an unusual and somewhat surreal experience. You recognize them from the pictures they share on-line and you know some things about them from their writing. When they walk into the room, you get that “Hey, great to see you again” feeling, only you’ve never really seen them, spoken face to face, exchanged a handshake. Nevertheless, the conversations start up easily as if you are old friends. Prior to this weekend, I had experienced this only once before when I met three Valeria, Geoff & CC for dinner last fall. That meeting was wonderful, but with 80+ digital friends in attendance, Blogger Social was an emotionally overwhelming experience.

Digital friendships can be can be very strong, but lack a sensory component. I can read a post, watch a video or listen to a podcast, but that just can’t compare with hugs, dinner conversation, silliness, jagerbombs, shared laughter, cigars, hearing a voice for the first time, karaoke at 4:00am……. Blogger Social was all that and so much more that it’s virtually impossible to adequately describe. Many others have tried this week and do it much better justice than I do so check out their posts.

If you are a more visually-oriented person, check out the Blogger Social Flickr group. With 1300+ and still growing, that’s worth about 1.3 Million words, which is still not enough to really describe that Magic that was Blogger Social.

Don’t Get All In a Twitter Trying to Explain Twitter

Fellow Blogger Socialite Greg Verdino shared a new video explaining Twitter from the Common Craft gang. This is a great way to explain your Twitter Addiction to your friends and co-workers.

If you are already on Twitter, you can follow me here. If not, what are you waiting for? It’s fun and if you are worried that others won’t understand it, send them the link to the video along with an invitation.

Companies Without Conversation

This past week gave us several great examples of companies demonstrating their obliviousness to the changing world around them.

scrabble_v_scrabulous.jpgHasbro / Mattel

You know Scrabble. Created in 1933, the classic wordplay board game has been a favorite worldwide for decades. So when Calcutta-based developers Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla created a Scrabble knock-off application called “Scrabulous” for the social networking site Facebook, people started signing up like crazy. As of today, Scrabulous has 600,000 daily users but that’s only a quarter of the number of people who have signed up to play it. You’d think Hasbro & Mattel, who together own the world-wide rights to the game, would see an opportunity here and find a way leverage these social media passionistas to further promote their product. Sadly, they don’t see it that way and have issued a cease and desist order trying to get Facebook to take the game down.

From a legal standpoint, Hasbro / Mattel are well within their rights and in fact, as Shel Holtz points out in a response to Matt Dickman’s excellent post on this topic last week, companies must consistently go after intellectual property infringement cases to make future charges stick. Moreover, if the Agarwallas had simply printed a copy of Scrabulous and sold it as a board game, there would be little controversy about whether it constitutes a copyright violation.

Back in the days before consumers had a voice, there were really only two parties to consider in these types of cases: The IP owner and the IP infringer. The lawyers would shut the infringer down and that would be the end of it. Unfortunately for companies like Hasbro / Mattel, the world has moved on and, as demonstrated by the Scrabulous case, the consumers now have a seat at the table. They can’t impact the legal outcome of the case, but they can make the PR fallout into a big deal. Hasbro / Mattel either didn’t see that coming or felt it was not as important as defending the IP. What I and many other observers are suggesting is that a little creative thinking between the lawyers and the marketers could have resulted in an outcome that both satisfied Hasbro / Mattel’s legal requirement and managed to tap into the 2.5 million potential evangelists playing Scrabulous. This case is far from being closed and it will be interesting to see where it goes.

Target

Amy Jussel is a blogger focusing on media & marketing’s influence on kids. She sent a letter to Target’s Corp Communication dept regarding a billboard in Times Square that some people have found offensive. The good news is that target responded. The bad news is that this is what they said:

Good Morning Amy, Thank you for contacting Target; unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with non-traditional media outlets. This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest. Once again thank you for your interest, and have a nice day.

target.jpgTarget “does not participate with non-traditional media outlets”?? Huh? Then what are they doing on Facebook and what’s that Rounders program all about???? And just who do they think their “core guest” is. I shop Target at least once a week and I bet millions of other people who “participate with non-traditional media outlets” do too. Perhaps if Target understood who their “core guest” really was, they would know that some of them can be quite vocal. Word of this “policy” spread like wildfire through digital communities and bloggers like Julia Roy quickly responded. With one sentence to one person, Target managed to offend an important segment of their customer base. What’s astonishing to me is that Target, which portrays its self as being cool and hip, is apparently clueless about how to engage with the “non-traditional media” segment of their customers. They don’t understand the brand evangelism opportunity that can be had from engaging with them (and I don’t mean in a Rounders sort of way). There will likely be some PR backpedaling on this one, just as there was just a few months ago with the Rounders debacle, but whether Target will make some fundamental changes in their approach is yet to be seen.

In a follow-up to his post on Scrabulous, Matt Dickman wrote about engaging with “non-traditional media” types. He asked:

When you look at your brand’s social media universe, are you looking for criminals or evangelists?

I think the first question for many companies should be Are you looking at your brand’s social media universe?

Education In The 21st Century

One of the best things about social media and Twitter in particular, is the great content that my digital friends share. A few weeks ago, Mike McAllen shared a powerful video created by Michael Wesch in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University. I meant to blog about it, but with my hectic travel schedule, I just forgot about it. Fortunately, another Twitter friend, Shashi Bellamkonda mentioned the video again and that served as the kick in the pants that I needed to share it with you.

The YouTube description says the video “summarizes some of the most important characteristics of students today – how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime.”

I attended college (Virginia Commonwealth University) before the digital age. My computer was a Radio Shack calculator. My social network was whoever was hanging out between classes in Shafer Court. My Digg was the list of articles that were available at the local Kinkos at $.10 a page and a professor lecturing in front of a chalkboard (or with an overhead projector) WAS the way I learned.

Of course, while the video paints a very different picture of today’s educational environment, some things have not changed that much. Like the students in the video, I paid big bucks for my textbooks in 1980 and most of them were never used.  Other realities described in the video remind me that things are much more challenging for students; like the idea that some of their first professional jobs will be in roles that don’t even exist today.

As I watch my daughter approach her high school and college years, it’s easy to see that her generation does virtually everything differently because of the internet and technology. Communication, learning, recreation, everything.  Current college students did experience life before the internet.  Today’s 13 year olds did not.  As suggested by the recent Media Snackers video, their lives are highly fragmented. They get their information from a vast array of sources, not just a teacher with chalk and a blackboard. When they join the workforce,they very well may be doing jobs that don’t exist today, and you can bet that they will work in complex, distributed environments.  Does this mean we should drastically rethink today’s highly structured educational process to better enable tomorrow’s workforce to compete in a global market? I’m no expert in education, but I think it’s worth looking at. What do you think??

Now Is Gone – Helping Companies Leverage New Media

now_is_gone.jpgOn August 11, 2006, at a campaign stop, incumbent Virginia Senator George Allen twice used the word macaca (a perceived racial term) to refer to S.R. Sidarth, who was filming the event as a “tracker” for Allen’s challenger, Jim Webb. Webb’s campaign moved aggressively to spread the video through social media channels like YouTube and blogs. Mainstream media echoed these reports and Allen’s fate was cast. Once considered a serious contender for the 2008 Presidential race, Allen lost his re-election bid and in doing so, shifted the balance of power in the US Senate to the Democrats.

It was a powerful demonstration of the power of social media and the speed with which messages can be shared broadly. It was also the event that convinced Washington, DC PR guy Geoff Livingston that his world had forever changed.

In this new age of the empowered public, organizations have lost control of the conversation. People increasing turn to peers for opinions, news and even entertainment. Empowered by powerful new tools and social networks that are not bound by geography, the people formerly known as “the audience” are now in control. Livingston points out that:

“Businesses are realizing they will be forced to communicate to their customers in the consumers’ own preferred social media forms. Instead of businesses trying to find customers, this time businesses are trying to play catch-up with their customers.”

….and that fundamentally changes the Public Relations game. The problem is most organizations don’t know how to market through social media. Recognizing that opportunity, Livingston, a well respected blogger whose PR firm has real world experience applying social media principles to businesses, has taken the time to distill that experience into a set of ideas others can use.

In his new book, now is gone, Livingston discusses the general strategic principles and major aspects of social network marketing, providing executives a primer to begin their effort.

Start With the Right Attitude

The introduction (written by Brian Solis) does a great job of educating the reader about the new realities of marketing in the age of the hyper-connected, empowered consumer:

PR 2.0 starts with listening and reading, and leads to insight, understanding, and perspective. This inspires respect, which is the critical ante for participation in the social economy.

  • Listening is marketing.
  • Participation is marketing.
  • Media is marketing.
  • Conversations are marketing.

Understand and Apply The Basic Principles

Over the following chapters, Livingston discusses the increasing role of new media in consumers’ lives helps the reader understand the basic principles of marketing effectively using social media. What makes this book so useful is that Livingston uses his background in traditional PR to explain these principles using terminology and strategies familiar to traditional marketers. Those Seven Principles of Social Media Communications are:

  1. Relinquish message control — Command and Control is dead. Businesses will have a hard time with this, but in a conversational marketplace, two-way communication rules. Organizations that refuse to give up control “will be met with anger, distrust and either rebellion or distrust”
  2. Honesty, ethics, and transparencies are a must — No one wants a relationship with someone who doesn’t behave well. This is about “human relations” and applying The Golden Rule.
  3. Participation within the community is marketing — Just putting out content won’t cut it. You have to participate withing the community, reading and commenting on other people’s content.
  4. Communication to audiences is an outdated 20th century concept — Audiences receive one-way messages (as in mass communication). The audience has been replaced by the community and they are talking. You had better be listening and engaging.
  5. Build value for the community — The is about getting to know your community and what they care about through listening, reading and understanding. Then making a conscious decision to deliver content back that they will value.
  6. Inspire your community with real, exciting information — A press release to your stakeholders does not inspire them. Product details don’t get them excited. Leverage you subject matter expertise to build intrinsic value.
  7. Manage the media form with intelligence and you will build a community of people who become very loyal to you — Here’s a concept that shows up everywhere – Make it Easy for your community come back through calls to action, intelligent RSS feeds, a central landing point. Cultivate sustained interest through regular content updates.

Throughout the book, Livingston uses real world examples to illustrate successes and failures. now is gone is a great tool for organizations who are ready to start participating in their communities. Are you ready? Chances are your competitors are. What are you waiting for? After all, now really is gone!

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