Category Archives: branding

SF Giants Tweetup – Clever Use of Social Media or Overkill?

Apparently, the San Francisco Giants are planning the largest Tweetup at a baseball event in history, which (in theory) sounds like a great idea. I am all in favor of sports leagues using social media to connect with their fan base, build loyalty and all that good stuff.

But I would love to find out how many folks think it’s a good idea to host a “panel discussion with social media experts” at a ball game???

And I guess they got so busy with planning this historic Tweetup that they forgot to tell their fan base about this.

Even if we assume the target audience is actually crazy enough about social media to pay $$ to spend quality time with these unknown “experts” , but what about the game? There’s no mention of tickets to the game and whether those are included in this super-duper deal.

So, out of sheer curiosity, love of the game and of course, cheap beer, you decide to “Buy Tickets Now” (as I did), only to cry foul because there’s no mention of this package with the “extra-special t-shirt” and other goodies.

Whatever happened to the $20 offer? Is that in addition to the ticket price or is the Tweetup included in this final price tag? I am just baffled there are no additional details provided on this offer or is the hope that the fans will be able to figure this all out on their own?

While, I wish the  organizers good luck in their attempt at this historic record, I (along with others) can’t help but wonder if this is a good use of social media.

What do you think? Does SF Giants’ use of social media merit a mention as pure genius or does it deserve to go down in history as a prime example of social media overkill?

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Why Companies Struggle with Social Media Engagement

Here’s one key finding from the recent Brand Engagement study by popular industry thought leader, Charlene Li (Altimeter Group) that caught my attention,

To scale engagement, make social media part of everyone’s job. The best practice interviews have a common theme — social media is no longer the responsibility of a few people in the organization.

I agree wholeheartedly that social media shouldn’t be the monopoly of any single functional group and it should be dispersed across the organization. While cross-functional social media engagement may be a best practice, the reality is that  many enterprises still struggle with this and here’s why:

#1 We are what we do: At most companies, employees are hired for their roles based on their skill set/expertise/experience/interest (Granted, interest is a stretch, given the current economy…). While, there are plenty of geeks/technical folks who are exceptional bloggers but that doesn’t mean every engineer is cut out for social media engagement. As a result, folks who typically end up blogging and/or engaging in social media for their companies are from marcomm or PR because they are the “communicators” by virtue of their role.

#2 That’s not my job: In highly siloed organizations, outside of the traditional marcomm and PR roles, the company culture doesn’t encourage  direct interaction with customers even with traditional channels, let alone social media. So again, it’s left to marcomm and PR team to continue engaging via social media sites/tools as they did with the old media because it’s part of their job. Plus, there’s no financial or other incentive for employees from non-related functions to engage in social media so it’s not all that surprising that they shy away from it.

#3 What’s up with the time, doc?! I had previously blogged about an enterprise social media discussion panel, where in the post-discussion Q&A, Ken Kaplan from Intel emphasized that getting employees to engage in social media continues to remain a challenge. The reality across companies, regardless of size, is that there are fewer people to do the same amount of work.  With the onslaught of harsh layoffs, more is expected of the employees who are left behind. And unless you’re in denial or clueless about social media engagement, it won’t come as a surprise that social media needs significant time commitment. So, if it’s not part of their job description, there’s no motivation for non-PR or non-Marketing employees to spend any additional time blogging or tweeting.

#4 Are you being “social” or slacking off? There’s still a disconnect between reality and perception of social media as a productive use of time. It goes back to #3 – when there are limited resources, managers typically want their staff to focus on their core function. Across companies, there are trailblazers who are passionate about social media and spend hours after work – blogging, tweeting on their own time. It’s great to see the passion but in the long-run, it’s just not sustainable and once the initial enthusiasm wears off, social media engagement also languishes.

#5 Is that my neck on the line? Many corporate social media sites and user accounts have fine print aka legal disclaimer attached to it, that exempts the company from any liability arising from the employee’s social media activities. So in other words, companies have taken advice from the so-called experts in “trusting” their employees to engage but don’t necessarily stand behind them when these employees screw up in the line of duty. Anyone else see a big problem with this?!  

Bottomline: Companies need to start walking the walk when it comes to social media, not just talk the talk. Here’s how smart companies encourage social media engagement across their organization:

– Pro-actively seek out employees who have great product knowledge and/or are exceptional at engaging with customers, regardless of which functional area they are from.

– Team up the SMEs with communicators and PR professionals to create cross-functional cohorts that offer customers a well-rounded perspective not just fluff or technical jargon.

– Assign clear goals for social media activity tied to the business  objectives and make it part of the employee’s role.

– Align compensation with social media goals to recognize excellence in customer engagement.

– Integrate social media into business and organization goals so that it’s not something that employees do on their lunch hour.  

– Provide extensive training to these employees and stand behind them when they make a mistake, not hide behind legalese.

– Last but not the least, encourage employee culture where social media is not just hype or a campaign but rather a customer-centric state of mind.

The Social Media Reality Show

Lately, it seems as though “citizen journalism” in the form of blogging has been replaced with “celebrity journalism”. There are days when you think you’re watching a really bad reality show unfold online and in real time, no less.

Most recently, it was battle of the titans, Michael Arrington vs. Leo Laporte that generated  a great deal of buzz. What started off as a benign review of the new Palm Pre, unleashed a full-blown drama in the blogosphere. The trigger was Arrington’s questioning  of whether Laporte was being forthright about having received the Palm device for free. That line of questioning ticked Laporte off who perceived this as an attack on his his integrity and let off a tirade of expletives before shutting down the show.

Despite the very public “kiss and make up” in form of published apologies, angry mobs descended on the sites to drown out any rational debate. So now that we’ve all had some time to digest these happenings, here’s my take on this very real sordid saga.

First of all, it seems to have become common practice to issue death threats in the blogosphere. Anyone remember Kathy Sierra? Arrington’s brief hiatus earlier this year? And death threats now once again on the TechCrunch blog because of this latest incident. Despite overwhelming public condemnation of the hateful comments, there’s really no reason to believe we won’t continue to see repeat of this in the future.

 Arrington

 

 Secondly, cussing on-air seems to have become acceptable and anything’s fair game as long as you’re a “blogberty”. (On a slightly different note, I recently attended a keynote by a very well-known social media personality who couldn’t stop talking about alcohol and porn. As much as I respect the person in question and the speech was highly entertaining, I am still puzzled by that speech to this day.)

Lastly, the news itself..um what news? It’s a dangerous trend when the people who are supposed to report the news instead become the news themselves. With one-man machinations wielding considerable influence in the blogosphere, the news reporters are competing with the news makers for the headlines.

Although the traffic (driven by morbid curiosity) goes up, overall the credibility of the media goes down and it strengthens the perception that,

– Blogosphere is still the wild wild west, where anything goes and there are no rules

– Personal egos trump professionalism

– Fanatical mobs and trolls rule the social media space

The success of a truly “social” media is dependent on openness where everyone is free to opine but that doesn’t mean a vocal minority should be able to drown out the quiet majority. It also hinders social media adoption and participation if folks have to constantly worry about being drowned out by the mob. Jeremiah Owyang and other experts referred to this “fear” at a recent SNCR summit. Owyang said that people are afraid of speaking up online because they don’t want to be singled out and picked on.

Here’s one suggestion, how about getting serious about comment moderation? Arrington said that he deleted many of the death threats, and that’s a good start. Why give the crazies a forum to spew their hatred and hijack the conversation?!

But that’s just one part of it, these social media/blog celebrities also need to keep their egos (and mobs) in check and take these tiffs offline like most “normal” people do. Public drama may help traffic but it hurts the cause. Companies are trying to build relationships with these influential bloggers because of their ability to influence their customers not for their ability to rally fanatical mobs. 

The challenge is that these are larger than life celebrities with giant egos and while they completely deserve the glory that they’ve worked so hard for but these folks also need to set the right tone for their audience. I am hoping for some leadership to emerge from the early adopters who will hopefully, collectively devise some commonly accepted standards for online conduct. It won’t be easy with every blogberty jostling to be the top dog, but one has to start somewhere.

Case Study: Using Social Media to Drive Business Results in a Large Enterprise

newcomm09-016At the NewComm Forum this week, Zena Weist  and Kevin Cobb, from the Brand Management team at Embarq walked the audience  through a candid and detailed case study on how a large company successfully leveraged social media to solve a critical business problem – negative customer sentiment.

Moderated by Charlotte Ziems, Vice President at Tendo Communications and SNCR fellow, this was a highly interactive session with many questions from an engaged audience. The duo along with their customer service team manager, Linda O’Neill and team member, Joey Harper (on the phone) offered valuable insights for implementing a customer-oriented social media strategy in a large enterprise.

Headquartered in Kansas, Embarq is on the Fortune 500 list of America’s largest corporations company and  offers local and long distance home phone service and high-speed Internet services to both residential and business customers in far-flung rural areas.

Problem: When the company spun off from Sprint in 2006, it had inherited a culture that was extremely conservative. Employees were under a “gag order” and weren’t permitted to interact with customers outside of the traditional communications/customer service channels. Symptomatic  of these underlying cultural and legal issues was a high level of negative customer sentiment towards the company.

Their goal was to do a proactive outreach to customers and prospects on social media networks, typically within 24hrs, to resolve their issues, answer their questions, and change their perception of Embarq. They used pilots to test their theories before rolling out full-fledged programs, this helped in minimizing the risks, getting buy in, and ensured that their programs had higher likelihood of success.

Challenges:The Embarq team faced multiple challenges that they had to overcome in order to break away from their legacy of minimal engagement and reinvent their internal culture as they tried to meet their customer service and (re)branding objectives. Here are the 4 key challenges that social media marketing practitioners in large enterprises across industries are familiar with:

  • Lack of Social Media Awareness
  • Conservative Culture
  • Technology Hurdle

Lack of Social Media Awareness:As in any other large enterprise, the lack of awareness and knowledge about the new media fuels fear of the unknown and Embarq was no different. In order to build awareness and reduce the fear of engagement as well as build internal support for their social media strategy, the tteam started by listening to customer conversations for over 6months. Going through this intensive listening process helped them to surface the issues and questions that their customers were asking. It also helped demonstrate the value of direct engagement as well as get buy in from the internal stakeholders including the executive management.

The team didn’t use any fancy tools or complex technologies for their listening process. They started off with some free tools and started using those to monitor social media conversations, some examples: – Google and Yahoo! Alerts – Google Blog Searches – BlogPulse – DSLReports.com – Complaint boards – Technorati Later on, they added more sophisticated monitoring tools, one of them being Radian6. Once the information started trickling in, the internal stakeholders started pushing for a response to the issues they were hearing.

Conservative Culture:The Embarq team started their social media cultural revolution with people within the company who were already participating in social media. They identified the champions across the organization and leveraged their knowledge to set the plan in motion. They identified about 10-15 people out there and invited them in to join their initiative. They made the individual the focus of the activities, which helped break down the traditional silos in the organization. They empowered the customer service team to reach out to the customers directly.

When asked about any friction between the traditional CS channel and the social media outreach efforts, the team explained how they made a clear differentiation between the #800 customer support  team vs. what their team was tasked with. The outreach team was reaching out to customers who chose to vent on a public/social media forum such as Twitter or Face book where the traditional channel didn’t have a presence.

Technology Hurdles: The team started their listening and research by using very manual search and react processes. As they got going, the team started leveraging the existing communication and software tools without requiring many resources. Scaling their process while staying flexible was critical because they were regionally based and were engaging in fairly long-tail conversations. They tested several different pilots to see which ones would work before they rolled it out so that also minimized the investment and increase likelihood of success for the programs that were rolled out. The presenters said it was easier to implement social media outreach because it doesn’t cost that much and mainly required human resources. That’s primarily how they managed to eliminate and avoid any additional IT investment or involvement.

Results:

The ROI question invariably comes up in every enterprise social media/web 2.0 discussion and it is a fair question. The team used a two-pronged strategy where they combined short-term wins with long-term strategic initiatives.

embarq-2The team kicked off  their rebranding and education strategy with a with highly viral video contest “48 seconds” designed to create buzz around their high-speed internet service. The team invited video submissions from contestants, which was a hugely successful campaign that also got picked up by the news media.

The presenters emphasized how relevancy in messaging was the key to their success so the campaign wasn\’t just clever but also highlighted the benefits of using their offering.

They followed up on their short-term campaign by rolling out series of short but highly effective “how-to” videosthat addressed their top 10 customer service issues. This is where the team superbly demonstrates the value of listening to the customers by basing topics on information gathered from their online outreach and call center data. Not surprising, these videos became highly popular with their customer base and also demonstrated that the company was being responsive to their customer\’s needs.

They not only managed to meet their education objectives but also their branding objective of creating a presence in an online community where customer and prospects are already engaged. Over an  one-year period, the team saw a 81% success rate (Dec 07 to Mar 09) on their social media outreach initiatives. They also found significant increase in the number of customers self-correcting their negative posts and subsequent increase in the number of customers likely to recommend their service.

Most importantly, they were able to connect their social media outreach efforts directly to orders placed. Overall, this was an excellent case study in how social media can be effectively used to drive business results and chockfull of insights for social media practitioners in other larger enterprises.

This was an outstanding example of innovation by breaking down organization silos and leveraging social media to drive business outcomes. Couple of things that stood out for me in this case study were: Listening played an important role in formulating the strategy, trials and pilots were used extensively, and clear definition of objectives, and tied it all back to the bottom line.

I want to close this post with an insightful quote from the presenters that highlights their practical, yet thoughtful approach to social media:

 “It (social media outreach) doesn’t stop the telephones but it gives you an opportunity to resolve the situation and change their experience.”

You can look at the detailed slides from the Embarq presentation on the NewComm Forum site.