— blending the mix

December, 2009 Monthly archive

I spent ages writing the usual considered analysis of the Eurostar debacle, only to find that someone had beaten me to it – so be it, but good piece anyway. It’s well worth a read. (one question though – why the hell use posterous to publish such a lengthy blog post…)

To any business out there considering social media – this is your wake up call. Let Eurostar get a kicking for this and learn from their mistakes.

YOU on the other hand can do it the right way. You cannot get involved in social media if you don’t:

1. Know who is already talking about you – for god’s sake if you do NOTHING else, listen to conversations taking place about you.
2. Have your assets protected – make sure you own your brand name on all the places you need to use
3. Get your back office sorted:

  • Assign people – Know who is going to do the listening, where and with what.
  • Triage comments – deal with the most important/dangerous/
  • Define the information flow – know how information will get from the end user to the person capable of answering it.

As much as We Are Social annoyingly name drop work they have done into every comment they leave on the web EVER, they have some bloody smart people working there and I do think they have been unfairly criticised for their role in this – they have gone beyond the call of duty to manage a problem that is not of their doing, nor their brief to sort.

Eurostar it seems, just didn’t want to do it properly (although I’m not sure I would have said as much on my company blog) which is a fundamental problem and one which ties up my previous post about clients needing to place more trust in the agencies they appoint – that they are doing this properly.

Sure, the problems would not have gone away, but Eurostar would have been much wiser to listen to the people they appointed to run Little Break, Big Difference – after all that is a great piece of work requiring a major budget. If they can trust we are social to implement an initiative of this size, then SURELY they must trust them to help them manage their comms in the same channels too?

Emma Harris, Eurostar’s Sales and Marketing Director shows the problem:

“We’re the commercial department and we were kind of ready for social media but the business wasn’t. To start involving crisis communication and disruption messages into social media, we just weren’t ready for it. “

Again, as per my last piece, perhaps there are so many snake oil agencies out there that clients have come to distrust every agency they meet, or perhaps the comms team see social media as a marketing thing…or perhaps marketing see this as a comms thing…whatever, if you learn one thing from this post and the whole debacle:

Customers are platform and stature-neutral – they don’t care about who you are. Find ways to deal with them in their playing field how they want to play.

WAS – good job folks. I think you’ve delivered above the call of duty and given a good account of yourselves.

Update: please read Andrew’s post for an incredibly balanced, considered view! Your life will be better for it!

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thanks to my man Steve for the heads-up…

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Ok, as a proud Yorkshireman, it (kind of!) pains me to write this, but it is for a really good cause.

We’ve just bought a record shop right next to Urbis thanks to the good folks at Forever Manchester. Fo those of you who don’t know, this is an institution which aims to help local and really grass-roots projects that might not otherwise, get funding. They do this with donations by local people who have done well enough to be able to give something back “local people helping local people” if you like.

Anyway, we’ve just bought our lovely little record shop right next to Urbis…check US out, we’re almost cool…

You can get deckchairs, advertising boards, fashion shops…I think you can even buy the massive Beetham Tower for a tenner…well there is a recession…

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Clay Shirky is one of those guys that you might never have heard of before, but will never forget once you have heard him speak.

For the uninitiated, Clay is one of the world’s most respected commentators on the societal changes that are taking place on the web today. He is a writer, consultant and teacher on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies NYU and author of “Here Comes Everybody”. He also speaks at TED, one video of which is below.

Clay approaches social media from a background of science which helps him make one of the most compelling cases for social media you will ever hear.

In fact, one of my favourite quotes from Clay is this:

“A revolution doesn’t happen when a society adopts new tools. It happens when society adopts new behaviours…”

In the video, he also touches on something also very interesting, the idea that society doesn’t change its habits until the technology becomes boring enough to take for granted – which is why the Obama campaign did so well. The barriers to entry to getting people to use MMS, Video and the Web are now so low that everyday people can genuinely make a noise online.

Some interesting lessons here:

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…or rather “why we should actually beging to start trusting agencies a bit more now”.

OK, so this is a bit of a schizophrenic post – it goes all over the place, but stick with it for a while! Hopefully the comments will be more interesting!!
So, reading through one of e-consultancy’s latest (again, quality) blog posts, they covered 16 social media guidelines issued by brands who are already pretty well known for their social media initiatives.

I have no issue with any of the recommendations – they are all sound, considered and safe…and that’s pretty much it – they are bloody obvious.

The comments were gushing “best post I’ve seen in a while”, “this post just became mandatory reading”…but for god’s sake…most of this is just COMMON SENSE.

Imagine if you, as an agency bod, stood in front of a Board of Director’s trying to explain what or how the company should adopt social media and the best you could come up with is:

  • Don’t “broadcast” messages to users.
  • Try to add value.
  • It’s a conversation.

Why does everybody seem so damn gushing about these dull statements of the obvious, JUST because they come from a brand?

Do guidelines from brands make their activities any more successful than an agency’s activities? No. Brands have as many failures in social media as agencies (perhaps more), and are widely lambasted for not having “got it” or “done it properly” when they do get it wrong.

So why then don’t agencies, many of whom DO “get” social media” and who ALSO practice what they preach and who also have HEAPS of experience, and who KNOW how to integrate social media into a wider digital strategy and who HAVE got case studies from other clients, get a fair crack of the whip too?

The Flip Side

Perhaps the failings of agencies though, is that they are always trying to sell stuff – show me a seminar and you’ll see endless rows of agencies talking about case studies they have done.

Why can’t they talk about what they KNOW, or give an opinion about what they think, show where their heads are, what trends they think are emerging instead of spouting off about the one case study that has (to their surprise!), been a success.

What do you think? Are agencies hindered by the way they have always worked – the need to shout about their work being the only thing that gets them noticed? Do brands have that credibility that comes when they have no commercial benefit to gain from talking about their work or are they as susceptible to failure (and therefore as deserving of a hammering) as any agency?

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One of the reason i’ve not posted quite so often is that we’ve been lucky enough to be working on major social media strategies two clients these past few weeks and I can’t get the idea of customer service as the new marketing out of my head. If social media does anything, it is to put representatives on social channels right in front of where customers are. This has led me to ponder:

Is good customer service the ONLY objective when engaging with social media?

When we develop a strategy, having digested the brief or once we have defined it, one of the things we allow ourselves to do it spend a bit of mad time to get the silliness and excitement out of the way.

As is typically the case, we end up going around the houses, considering the mad, wrong and downright ridiculous, talking tactically rather than strategically – “we could do this”, “what would be brilliant is if we could do that”. “How would we use Facebook, what would a Twitter account look like, how could we “…and breathe…you get the idea. You probably do it yourself 😉

BUT, once we have the daft stuff out of the way, we bring it right back down to earth and always end up asking ourselves this one question :

How will this activity add value to the person being exposed to it?

The easy route is very much to say we will have a blog, but what value would the blog bring to a customer? What would we say in it that adds value to a customer? Do we talk about the issues that they are talking about and respond accordingly, do we talk about our product development in a way our website cannot, do we share the experiences and problems other customers are having?

If we are going to consider Twitter, do we use it to stem a flow if dissatisfaction before it becomes a flood, or do we jump into conversations that we feel we can help someone out?

What about Facebook – the great “fish where the fish are” social network. Do we invite feedback on our products, give exclusive previews to customers because they have joined our Page – or do we send targeted messages through an application simply because we have access to that person’s profile information.

In almost every case, there is a strong element to customer service in this, disguised as a social technology. Problem solving, receiving and providing feedback, offering help, providing information of interest etc.

Which takes me back to my original point. If social media is anything, surely it is about customer service.

Considering our clients, one (Client A) has legendary customer service as a major selling point, the other (Client B) has innovation in technology as a major selling point.

Now, for Client A, it is obvious that social media allows an extension to their existing customer service strategy. Social technologies would allow us to be there as soon as problems arise, provide channels to convey important and timely messages to customers, provide support, guidance and advice around technical issues when we have understood that this is what they are talking about.

A very smart colleague calls this “customer service amplification” using social technologies to provide exactly the type of customer service the customer expects, but in a far wider reaching way.

But what of the company that prides itself on technical innovation? Surely the best way they can use social media is to tell people of its genius? Why wouldn’t they use social technologies from a customer services perspective to help people understand why their technology is different/better?

To consider why customer service should be everybody’s social media goal, wikipedia (no surprise), has an interesting summary:

Customer service is the provision of service to customers before, during and after purchasing a product

Now, let’s consider how social media can achieve all these goals:

BEFORE: Pre-sales
Brands could provide multiple touch points to help customers understand what the product is, does, why it is different – help them make the choice where they want to look for it instead of making them come to you.

Why not include many more shareable product videos and images than the standard catalogue shots – if you have nothing to be ashamed of, let people see more of the product and let them share it with others to ask for their peer’s opinions. Integrate user-reviews at your multiple touch points to help potential buyers understand what it looks/sounds and feels like, where is it stored from existing customer’s points of view. Use brand advocates as trusted, honest and neutral advice providers.

DURING: Active product use
Again, brands need to provide multiple ways to help existing customers reach them. Has the brand provided a way for that customer to derive maximum utility from the product? Why not publish recipe ideas for your new blender and invite people to add their own recipes, show people how best to use the vacuum cleaner on hard floors…facilitating collaboration and involvement and making the content portable allows customers to show others, it also means that you are not taking people away from their “places of play” to help them.

AFTER: buying is only the beginning

Are we there when things go wrong? Do we have multiple, customer-convenient ways for the customer to contact us and report problems? Are we there to help continue a customer’s pleasure from our product? Do we have multiple means that would allow the customer a way to tell us how they would like us to improve or change the product, what did we do well, poorly…social media channels at this stage are all about feedback, being seen to be listening and ensuring that the purchase of the product is only the start of our relationship.

So, albeit briefly, we have considered a few way that social technologies can be used in wikipedia’s definition of customer service, but, irrelevant of definitions, tactics and tools…when it comes to customer service, owe should focus on 3 things:

1. How can our social channels help us better inform the potential customer in the most convenient way for them?
2. How can our social channels help customers use our products to their full potential?
3. How can our social channels continue to provide benefit for our customers once the purchase has been made?

Buying a product is the best excuse in the world to have a conversation with customers, so make sure you ask yourself this one question about anything you decide to do:

How will this activity add value to the person being exposed to it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is customer service the only real way to describe what social technologies are about?

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