by Sherry Heyl
What does social media mean to you? That is an important question to ask every stakeholder involved prior to launching a social media initiative. This question not only needs to be asked, in needs to be discussed in-depth, debated, and documented.
There are people who believe that social media is an extension of marketing communications, others who believe it can generate sales, some who see it as a way to provide exceptional customer service and those who see it as a necessity for reputation management.
I, personally, am in the “all of the above” camp. Social Media enables conversations with and about brands. These conversations can be started by the brand, but only if the brand becomes part of a community. Ultimately the conversations will be driven by the community based on what community members are looking for. This could be product information, customer service, exclusive information, or up-to-date news.
From the perspective that social media is about all inclusive conversations vs controlled messages, I have recently found myself faced with a dilemma.
Many emerging and/or larger brands have worked hard to build their brand image, an image that connects with the target audience profile. Style Guides have been created that dictate images that should be used to represent the brand as well as the words and sentence structures that are used when discussing the brand. This works well for marketing and advertising campaigns where there are copywriters and designers that create controlled images and experiences, but it does not work so well in online conversations.
I am seeing a lot of brands trying to force their controlled brand experiences within social media channels and the results are mixed. It seems if the brand is already established and has a significant amount of loyal fans, then people will comment, like, and share the creative copy-written messages. Below is an example of such a great copy-written tweet from Coca-Cola:
“When you open a coke, 12,607 bubbles are born. Happy birthday bubbles!”
But is that a community-driven conversation starter? No. Is it an effective brand builder, especially as it is re-tweeted by the millions of followers of Coca-Cola? Absolutely!
This effort works for Coca-Cola, which has decades of expert brand building behind them. Coca-Cola did not have to start the online conversation, they had to join it. By the time social media even hit Coca-Cola’s radar there were already thousands of conversations happening about them each day as well as one great viral video.
But can emerging brands or even large brands who do not have thousands of mentions within online conversations happening each day create community with only an authorized brand voice, or will they need to empower selected ambassadors to use their real and diverse voices?
Does a strict brand voice have a place in online conversations? I say yes; 40% of the time when social media is used to distribute news or create unique and creative brand impressions, a strict brand voice should be adhered to. For the 60% of the efforts needed to create an online community, such as providing exceptional customer service, offering solutions, requesting fans to share their stories or celebrating the successes and stories of their fans, brand guidelines should be followed only to the extent of how the brand is represented whereas not to prevent brand ambassadors from speaking personally as a means to connect with people as people.
I have witnessed many brands trying too hard to control their message and use only approved copy-written words within social media channels. Typically the community growth and engagement remains stagnant, the return on engagement is very low and the value of social media gets lost in translation.
by Sherry Heyl
As more and more brands embrace social media as an extension to the marketing, advertising, pr or customer service efforts, the line between social media marketing and the essence of online communities continues to blur. However, it is important that these efforts not get mixed up otherwise the purpose and benefits of each effort will get diluted and the tactics and measures of success will become a confusing mess.
Social Media Marketing can be measured by the number of impressions, the reach of the conversation, as well as the number of transactions. Social Media Marketing can have very specific and measurable goals such as increase share of voice, improve brand reputation and/or awareness, or direct sales.
Online communities are much more nebulous. Communities, in general, are a very ancient creation. Communities of people gathered together for interdependent reasons. Therefore community is about the experience of belonging.
There are many benefits for a brand to develop a community, including the ability to scale. If you bring together people with passion and expertise then every person in the community gains tremendously for the small efforts of many. Think of Wikipedia.
Oftentimes efforts to building online communities involve bringing together more people with questions than answers. This makes sense when you are trying to find people with a need that you can fill. That is called selling. People do not become part of a community as a means to be sold to.
If we think of communities like we think of our neighborhoods, then what we are seeking are people with common interests, people we like to invite to our house, people with expertise such as…I don’t know…plumbing. Most importantly we are looking for people we trust.
So how do we build online communities? We set out to bring together people with a passion and expertise to share, we give them tools that help them get to know each other and we highlight ideas and insights of the members.
Building an online community takes a lot of work. Hospitality must be top of mind. Think of hospitality as the welcoming of strangers and offering “gifts” with no expectation in return thus creating an environment of trust and safety.
As your community grows it is tempting to think it centers around you or your brand. It doesn’t. It is important that community members always know that they are appreciated and are often reminded why they are there – what is the benefit to them.
So, should your social media efforts focus on marketing, advertising, pr, customer service or community building? That depends on your goals and resources, however, do not confuse community building with marketing or you may find that you create a road map that does not lead you to your goals.
by Sherry Heyl
Last week I reviewed some of the line item costs involved with having an active presence in social media. However, there are also costs related to NOT being involved in social media which include:
- Cost of Ignorance
- Cost of Inefficiencies
- Cost of Sales
Cost of Ignorance
There are numerous case studies about a brand losing lots of money because they were unaware of the damaging conversations happening online about them. The first one that caught my attention was the viral video the went around showing how to unlock a Kryptonite bike lock. That happened waaaay back in 2004. Let me google that for you today (<click on the link). That’s right – the story still dominates the Google Search Engine Results starting with page 1.
More recent stories include:
Domino’s booger sandwhich a result of some teenage employees trying to be funny
United breaks guitar a result of indifference to customer service
Motrin Moms a result of a campaign gone wrong due to lack of connection with the moms they were trying to reach.
Nestle’s Facebook Fan Page Heist a result of not taking in consideration what threats exist prior to launching a social media campaign.
The cost to these brands have been enormous, but they are not unique. When it comes to social media, ignorance is not bliss.
How many of your employees are participating in social media right now?
How many of them are sharing proprietary information without knowing that what they are doing may be harmful? Some may be sharing information out of spite as well.
I see this all of the time when I research social media for my clients.
What I believe these case studies show is it is much more costly to be reactive than it is to be proactive.
Cost of Inefficiencies
How much does a phone call cost? If it is a 5 minute phone call by a customer service representative making $40K a year, that phone call cost $1.60. For $1.60 the customer service representative answered the question of one customer. What if that same representative answered the same question from the same customer on Twitter? The combined actual impressions of that conversation might be a conservative 100. Of the 100 people maybe only 20 ppl cared about the conversation. But for $1.60 the brand received 100 impressions of their customer service in action AND answered the question of 20 ppl.
How much does an email cost? That depends on a variety of factors, but let’s assume a marketing email campaign cost $1 per person. You send out 100 emails and 15 people open it. The other 85 people had other priorities taking up their attention at the time the email came in so they deleted it. The 15 who did open the email deleted it not long after reading it.
For the same $1 the email could have articles that are linked to your blog. The blog that is found by people who are not on your email list yet. The people who were too busy to read the email could find the information again when it is needed by checking and searching your site. The people who did open the email and was inspired by the content could share that content via links on Twitter, Facebook, and beyond.
Technical innovation has always had the intention of increasing efficiency. Proper use of social media can increase efficiently exponentially. The cost of not leveraging the scalability of social media is the increased expense for each communications effort.
Cost of Sales
Most communications by brands are an effort to acquire new customers or retain existing customers. The more you can scale such communications the lower the cost. However, if you are communicating the wrong message, it does not matter how well your message is scaled…no one will be buying it.
Social media has become one of the best research platforms as well as the world’s largest focus group that enables brands to find out what their customers want, where they are currently getting their needs met, and what they think of your brand. Without that knowledge, not only would your sales team (including Marketing and R&D) be shooting in the dark, they may be actively becoming less and less relevant to the people you are trying to reach.
So, the question many people still grapple with is whether or not they should invest in the cost of embracing social media. However, it is very important to also consider what is the cost of not embracing social media.
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It is a debate that has been going around for as long as social media has been recognized as a force; “Who should own social media?”
I recall times when the debates got ugly between mainstream media and bloggers. The question on the table was who should own the news, who was the most credible. From my perspective the answer was not black and white, bloggers vs mainstream media. It seemed obvious that both bloggers and mainstream journalist had a co-dependent relationship and that they often shared an audience and beyond that, the audience often added their voice to the reports.
For a long time I have also seen the debates between PR and Interactive Marketing. PR is in charge of managing reputation, creating buzz, and shaping the message. Interactive marketing is in charge of selling and serving the customer via the various channels on the web. For over a decade most online communications came from one direction. Now, as we all know, customers are talking back to the institutions as well as talking to each other. Through the years 2005-2007 I spoke with several PR professionals who had one question; “How do we control the message?” The answer was that you can’t. But you can manage the message based on how the customer is served and how the relationship is managed. To me that means that PR and Interactive Marketing are now dependent on each other.
Since the reputation of a company is at the mercy of how well customer service is executed, we now have CRM professionals staking their claim on social media. When a company such as United Airlines, makes the wrong person, such as Dave Carroll, feel like he is not a valued customer, amazing things can happen, such as a music deal for Dave and lots of lost revenue and a damaged reputation for United.
It seems that customer service representatives need to be on top of their game more now than ever, and they need to know how to pro actively address customers where they are seeking answers. Organizations like the ACVB currently have their customer service representatives spending time answering questions that are posted throughout the web. Best Buy has established a very active online customer service army.
Advertising has also been very active in looking at ways they can be part of the conversation within social media, how they can track customer interest, and what is the trick to going viral?
Sales professionals have become active in participating in a variety of online networks to identify and learn more about their clients, prospects and competitors.
Human Resource professionals have leveraged social media sites for recruiting and to check the reputation of current and future employees. More often than not Human Resources is also being tasked with creating employee guidelines related to participating in social media.
Considering there are so many departments involved in social media, it seems that the next big tidal wave in the world of social media that is starting to hit is Enterprise 2.0. The use of social software to communicate internally, to be able to react to the market quickly as well as develop unified proactive plans.
This past week I delivered my presentation, Mapping Corporate Goals with Social Media Trends and Technologies, to the International Society for Performance Improvement.
This was the second time I have delivered this presentation and both times it has been very well received. In fact my favorite feedback of all time came from a senior manager that attended the presentation. He said he finally is starting to understand social media, that it needs to be a corporate wide strategy not just a PR or Advertisement initiative. It was a very rainy night that night, but I believe the clouds parted and the stars shined down when he said that.
It took some time, but most people finally understand that social media cannot be controlled. Now if only we can realize it also cannot be owned.
by Sherry Heyl
This past week I faced an interesting challenge that has helped me to confirm my belief that social media will impact every industry and every department within every industry.
Social Media has changed the face of marketing, not by introducing new channels for messaging but by introducing new technical capabilities that have enabled the fusion of multiple customer facing disciplines, including;
Marketing+Sales = Relationship Marketing
Marketing+Customer Services = Customer Relationship Marketing
Marketing+Training = Educational Marketing
I consider these to be the 3 pillars of social media marketing because no matter your industry, these are the 3 disciplines that will impact your bottom line.
Last week I was contacted by the Reusable Industrial Packaging Association. They are hosting their annual conference in New Orleans and considering having a speaker to present how social media can help their business. Tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Blogs and such are now becoming mainstream words, but the exact “hows and whys” of these tools still tends to be a mystery to many people.
The people who will be attending this conference are executives of $5 – 40 million companies that are responsible for industrial reusable packaging such as oil drums. Now for several years I have been saying social media impacts EVERY industry and EVERY department within every industry. But I have to admit, this one stumped me for a moment.
The companies represented at the conference will be:
- Have no or very little PR needs.
- Have no or very little reputation management concerns.
- Have no or very little concern about protecting their intellectual property.
- Are not necessarily trying to grow their client base.
So why would they need to consider looking at social media for their business?
The more questions I asked the more I learned about how their businesses are family owned and rely on their strong relationships with their clients.
I also learned the importance of efficiency and how it is tied to customer service.
Customer Service Marketing
Beyond that I learned that to have a container not in use is kind of like having a hotel room or plane seat not in use; it is not generating money and potentially even costing money. To put these containers in use it is important to keep “just in time” information published about what is available and the costs and benefits of the containers that are available as well as be ready to respond to changing needs.
I explained that tools such as Twitter and Facebook may or may not be what these companies are looking for, but the capabilities of these tools definitely need to be taken in consideration. I explained that social software has the potential of revolutionizing industries such as theirs in much the same way the Just In Time technologies revolutionized similar industries over a decade ago. Together we began to explore the possibilities of illustrating how these companies can become more profitable by becoming more efficient and by communicating information in ways that help their clients become more profitable.
Once again I confirmed, at least to myself, that social media will impact every industry and every department within every industry. I will be delving in to understand the impacts more as I put my presentation together that I will be delivering to the Reusable Industrial Packaging Association annual conference in New Orleans.
by Sherry Heyl
Last week I had to call the post office because some very important pieces of mail are not finding their way to my mailbox. Initially their response was to connect me to my carrier who assured me he is delivering everything that has my address on it. As you can probably imagine, that did not give me any comfort because I know there is mail that I am not getting. So I convinced him to escalate the issue to someone more senior. I finally was able to speak with someone who explained the entire process that an envelop goes through to get from Atlanta to Alpharetta. Together we brainstormed where the disconnect could be happening. We finally decided on a strategy we can work on together to trace where the problem might be.
I realized that the key to that level of customer service was to get me, the client, involved in the process of making things right. When something goes wrong the customer usually feels a loss of control which is very frustrating. But simply giving control back to the customer alleviates some of that frustration and enables the possibility of finding a mutually beneficial solution.
This is what the technology that powers social media has enabled; the ability for the customer to remain in control, whether a company wants to give it to them or not.
Customers have the ability to compare options, not just through marketing material or sanctioned talking points, but by seeking out peer reviews and subject matter experts. In many ways this has shifted the marketing strategies and customer service approach of many companies. As opposed to appealing only to needs and benefits, companies now need to educate the consumer and be involved with their evaluation process.
This starts by listening to what customers are saying, not just about your brand, but about their needs. So many times I see social media monitoring efforts that are only focused on brand mentions, which is great if you are only looking to nurture existing customers and manage your brand reputation. But if you are looking to grow your client base and to keep your competitors from stealing your current clients, you need to be monitoring for terms related to services you offer and problems you solve. You need to pro-actively guide the Do-It-Yourselfers.
To do this you need to:
a. Be involved in the online conversations.
b. Make sure your content is easily distributable by community members.
c. Make sure you show up when people are looking for your services.
This same process can and should also be applied internally. In a production meeting this week for a training video we were discussing how all of the data shows that people want to learn at their own pace and they want the training to be interactive. The DIY culture wants to be able to be involved in solving their own problems, and internally that means interacting with their peers, easily finding relevant content and staying involved with changes that impact their jobs. Although social media technologies empower this level of interactivity, it is vital that a company establish a social media roadmap to ensure the success of such an effort. This roadmap would include;
- A vision statement that directs, aligns, and inspires actions on the part of the key stakeholders.
- A clear compelling statement of where this is all leading.
- Identification of information silos within the organization that prevent collaboration.
- Vulnerabilities due to unauthorized use of social media. Strategic recommendations for implementing social media technology that meets the organization’s need.
Ultimately, social media technology has empowered the DIY culture and they are not waiting for permission to get involved. They are moving forward with or without permission or involvement. It is important to be aware but also perhaps even more vital to get involved.
By Sherry Heyl
This past week I had several opportunities to be part of conversations with people who are making great strides in their social media efforts. However the main focus of their efforts have been to get their message to their audience. They sense there is something missing, benefits or opportunities they are not tapping into and that is why I was brought to the table.
There is a common theme I am hearing more and more which is that social media belongs in the realm of customer service. There are many case studies out there that show the damage a disgruntled customer can do to a brand through social media. More and more brands are monitoring social media sites to put out fires before they spread and a few are pro-actively reaching their customers to say thank you or offer additional information.
So what is missing?
One of the companies I met with this week was struggling with getting their customer service group to participate in social media. The challenge that they face is one that is common across all companies I have met with; the belief the social media belongs in the marketing or communications department. The problem is that social media contains conversations, and those conversations span across all departments from sales leads, to customer service opportunities, to consumer generated ideas for new products and services to technical collaboration to influential discussions about financial projections and so on and so on. How can one department filter and appropriately respond to all of these conversations even in a reactionary way, much less work to be part of these conversations in a proactive way?
The answer is to encourage and guide each department to make involvement in social media part of their daily responsibility. Of course for those who feel they have enough on their plate already that may seem simply overwhelming, not to mention many people still do not see the point.
So how can an organization motivate their teams to join the online conversations? Show them the value.
For a customer service team who goes through the day responding to concerns and issues, answering the same questions over and over again, show them the value of being able to build a community where frequently answer questions are discussed in detail, challenge the community to provide suggestions and ideas that make the conversation multi-directional as opposed to the team always answering customer questions. Finally invite the customer service team to the executive table to share the insights they have gained from their interaction with the customers.
Featured Case Study: What Can You Do In Atlanta?
Visitors coming to Atlanta have many choices of where to get information about the city, from various sites like TripAdvisor and Travelocity to bloggers and peers they are connected to in social networks. However the authority of what to do in any city has traditionally been the Convention & Visitors Bureau.
If you call 1-800-ATLANTA you will be direct to an employee of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau whose job is to be able to give you the most informed advise on where to stay, where to dine, where to book your event and what to do in Atlanta.
The growth of social networking sites that address these questions proved to be an opportunity for the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau to better serve their residents and visitors. By training and encouraging their staff to participate in these communities they have increased their reach, added alternate perspectives to community conversations as well as been able to continuously keep their finger on the pulse of the city.
If active participation in social networks is designed to help your team do a better job and contribute to the overall direction of the company, more people would be willing make it part of their responsibilities and in the end everyone, from the customers, to the employees, to the owners of the company, will benefit.