Is this how to handle customer complaints on social media? Really?

There’s an old adage about how

“a happy customer tells one friend, and unhappy customer tells everybody”

I have a bad habit of telling the world (well, 1500-odd people on Twitter and a few thousand more via my blog) when something doesn’t work out for me and, over the weekend, it was Three UK (3) whose inability to supply me with a password to access my account online resulted in this tweet:

Ineptitude just cost @ a customer. Can't view bill except over 3G on iPad; can't set password for web access without visiting store
Mark Wilson

I’m certainly no celebrity and I don’t expect every company to roll over when I act like a petulant teenager, but they could at least try to address my issue. Couldn’t they?

To be fair to Three, their online team @ThreeUK (which is clear about its online hours: Monday-Friday, 9am to 5.30pm) responded but their response simply bounced me to another Twitter account operated by the company:

@ We have a CS team on Twitter too, @ - it may be worth a tweet.

They also responded to another tweet of mine arising from a discussion about the issue with one of my Twitter contacts:

@ We do care! I hope are CS tweeters can assist you.

Ignoring the grammar, if you care about customer service, what happened to owning the customer’s problem and managing it to resolution?

Clearly Three have (at least) two Twitter accounts operated by two teams: marketing and customer service. That’s OK, but they don’t seem to be able to take a problem inside the organisation to work out the best approach – they simply bounce me from one to the other. Oh dear.

So I got in touch with @ThreeUKSupport

.@ Would be interesting to see your comments on (@ seem to be marketing-focused)
Mark Wilson

and a reply came back soon enough but it merely repeated what I already know – that their process is broken…

@ I'm afraid currently you can either view My3 via your iPad or you need to put your sim in a phone that takes a micro-sim to...
@ able to receive the text message

…absolutely no response to my issues:

“My issues here are: having to pay to speak to a customer service agent and being kept on hold for a while; getting poor advice from the agent (unless Three can tell me how to drag and drop my bill from their portal to my email, on an iPad); and not getting an answer to my problem. Visiting a store is simply not worth the effort (20-odd mile drive, pay for parking, an hour of my time) – but could well lose Three a customer.”

I even threw them a lifeline:

@ Thank you for responding... even if both you and @ have failed on the customer service front...
Mark Wilson

Nothing from @ThreeUK, and a “yeah, whatever” (I paraphrase) from @ThreeUKSupport:

@ You're welcome. I'm sorry you feel we've failed you.

Now, I know that implementing social media for large corporates is bloody hard. I tried – and there is a lot that we can do better where I work too… people in glass houses and all that… but this is me, responding as an individual, not as an employee, so hear me out, please.

  • Firstly, if you want to operate a corporate Twitter account (or any other “social” account), be ready to deal with complaints. For support, be ready to direct people to official channels but for customer service issues, then a little more tact and diplomacy might be required.
  • Secondly, if a customer outlines multiple issues to which they would like a response, it’s OK to ask them to supply some contact details so that you can get in touch and investigate further.
  • Finally, if all you do is provide stock answers then you’ll annoy a customer who is already unhappy with your company’s service.

For whomever is responsible for social media at Three, there’s a really good book I can recommend: it’s called “Empowered” and it’s written by Forrester analysts Josh Bernoff (@jbernoff) and Ted Schadler (@TedSchadler). The book talks about groundswell customer service and provides real-world examples of how innovative leaders and their teams use technology to solve customer problems… it’s definitely worth a read. And Forrester released a report yesterday entitled “Twitter: the public forum for your brand”. If you don’t have access to the report, it’s author, Melissa Parrish (@melissarparrish) has some great blog posts about the use of Twitter too.

Incidentally, Sainsbury’s, another company that recently incurred my wrath on Twitter after failing to follow up on a customer service email about the quality of the groceries they had delivered a few days previously deserves mention for fixing my issue. Their social media team took action to get my enquiry dealt with and compensated me for the problems I had experienced. Arguably, that is how to respond… Three’s example is how not to…

I started this post with a quote, so I’ll finish with another:

“Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.”

[Donald Porter, British Airways]

[Update 16 January 2012: Three have been in touch and would like to make it clear that they do care about their customers on Twitter. I’m still disappointed about how my calls and social media follow-up were handled, but it is good to know that they are at least attempting to improve the experience that their customers receive via social media.]

12 tips for digital marketers (@allisterf at #digitalsurrey)

In yesterday’s post about marketing in a digital world, I mentioned Allister Frost’s 12 tips for marketers but didn’t go into the details. You can find them at the back of his deck on SlideShare but I took some notes too so I’ve added them here:

  1. Invest in social leadership and social players – it may be you, or it may be somebody else who sets the strategic direction but find people with energy and enthusiasm to make it happen. Do not confuse the two roles: if you’re the social leader don’t play as you’ll lose sight of the strategy.
  2. Invest in tools and expertise – ask tough questions of vendors selling tools.
  3. Develop your social recommendation optimisation (SRO) strategy – optimise everything so it become recommended through social channels. Not to be confused with social media optimisation (SMO) which is short-sighted (too focused on channels).
  4. Listen, then engage – don’t assume you know the answers – understand the channel first.
  5. Answer the social telephone – if a phone was ringing, you would pick it up so treat social in the same way to avoid losing opportunities.
  6. Moderate wisely – if you don’t, your brand can become associated with spam.
  7. Create social objects – think about how they get to customers. May be a video, a white paper, or something else…
  8. Make it better when shared – thank, reward and encourage.
  9. Handpick your interfaces – go and find the channels where your audience is.
  10. Be remarkable – do things that people remark upon.
  11. Show some personality – there is a balance between appearing as the juvenile delinquent or the company robot and you can move – just don’t stay at the extremes.
  12. Fail fast, learn faster – continuously pilot-test (again and again…)

Marketing in a digital world (@allisterf at #digitalsurrey)

Last Thursday was Digital Surrey night and this month’s speaker was Allister Frost, Head of Digital Marketing Strategy at Microsoft.  Allister gave an engaging talk on “doing marketing in a digital world” and, whilst there might have been a couple of things I wasn’t entirely convinced of, I’m not a marketing professional (even if I spend a good chunk of my day in what could be described as marketing) so I’ll defer to those with more experience.

Allister has kindly shared his slides, along with some supporting materials – which makes my task of blogging about the evening a lot easier, but I decided to have a play with Storify for this one:

I’m in two minds about this approach to curating the information from the evening… it took just as long as writing a blog post and all of Google’s (sorry, Bing’s) link love goes to another site… but it was worth a try (and it’s definitely a great tool when most of the content is already spread around the web). If you have any content from the evening that I missed, please get in touch and I’ll add it to the story.

Computer Weekly Social Media Awards 2011

This time last year I was pestering blog readers and Twitter followers to vote for in the Computer Weekly IT Blog awards and I was surprised (and absolutely stoked) to win the Individual IT Professional (Male) category.  This time around I haven’t entered as an individual but I do have a favour to ask…

As part of my day job last year, I launched Fujitsu’s blog platform for the UK and Ireland. Although I handed the platform over to our marketing teams following incubation, the CTO Blog is still my baby and I edit most of the content (although I do try to ensure it’s written by others).

One year on, I’m pleased to say that our CTO Blog has been shortlisted for what is now known as the Computer Weekly Social Media Awards and I’d like to ask for your support again:

  1. If you don’t currently read the blog, please check it out.
  2. And if you like what you see, please consider voting for “David Smith/Fujitsu CTO Blog” in the CIO/IT Director Category.

It’d be pretty cool to win an award again, and a great finish to the year for me at work…

The 2011 Computer Weekly Social Media Awards

Just over a year ago, we launched the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog – written by our Chief Innovation and Technology Officer, David Smith. It’s always been our intention to draw on a combination of external go-to-market and internal IT capability knowledge to produce content that translates IT trends into potential business value but one thing I’m particularly proud of is that we do not use external writers – what you read here is written by David or by one of his team.

QR code for Computer Weekly Social Media AwardsNow I’m pleased to say that we’ve been shortlisted for the 2011 Computer Weekly Social Media Awards so I’d like to ask for your support.  If you appreciate what we’re doing, please vote for David Smith/Fujitsu CTO Blog in the CIO/IT Director category (either by clicking on the link or by scanning the QR code on this post).

Whilst I’m sure that there will be many people supporting us, I’m equally convinced that there are some things we could do better. With that in mind, if you have feedback that might help us provide better insights and add more value through this blog, then please do leave a comment – we really would like to know what you think.

Thank you for all of your support.

[This post originally appeared on the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog.]

From snapshots to social media – the changing picture of photography (@davidfrohlich at #digitalsurrey)

My visits to Surrey seem to be getting more frequent… earlier tonight I was in Reigate, at Canon‘s UK headquarters for another great Digital Surrey talk.

The guest speaker was Professor David Frohlich (@davidfrohlich) from the University of Surrey Digital World Research Centre, who spoke about the changing picture of photography and the relationship between snapshots and social media, three eras of domestic photography, the birth and death of the album and lessons for social media innovation.

I often comment that I have little time for photography these days and all I do is “take snapshots of the kids” but my wife disagrees – she’s far less critical of my work and says I take some good pictures. It was interesting to see a definition of a snapshot though, with it’s origins in 1860’s hunting and “shooting from the hip” (without careful aim!). Later it became “an amateur photograph” so I guess yes, I do mainly take snapshots of the kids!

Professor Frohlich spoke of three values of snapshots (from research by Richard Chalfen in 1987 and Christopher Musello in 1979):

  • Identity.
  • Memory (triggers – not necessarily of when the photograph was taken but of events around that time).
  • Communication.

He then looked at a definition of social media (i.e. it’s a media for social interaction) and suggested that photographs were an early form of social media (since integrated into newer forms)!

Another element to consider is that of innovation and, using Philip Anderson and Michael L Tushman’s 1990 theory as an example, he described how old technological paths hit disruption, there’s then an era of fermentation (i.e. discontinuous development) before a dominant design appears and things stabilise again.  In Geoff Mulgan’s 2007 Process of Social Innovation it’s simply described as new ideas that work, or changing practice (i.e. everyday behaviour).

This led to the discussion of three eras of domestic photography. Following the invention of photography (1830-1840) we saw:

  1. The portrait path [plate images] (1839-1888) including cartes-de-visite (1854-1870)
  2. The Kodak path [roll film] (1888-1990) from the Kodak No. 1 camera in 1888, through the first Polaroid camera (1947), colour film cartridges (1963) which was disrupted with the birth of electronic still video photography (1980-1990)
  3. The digital path (from 1990)

What we find is that the three values of snapshots overlay this perfectly (although the digital era also has elements of identity it is mainly about communication):

Whilst the inventor of the photograph is known (actually Fox-Talbot’s Calotype/Talbottype and Daguerre’s Daguerrotype were both patented in 1839), it’s less well-known who invented the album.

Professor Frohlich explained that the album came into being after people swapped cartes-de-visite (just like today’s photographic business cards!) which became popular around 1850 as a standard portrait sized at 2.5″ x 4″.  These cards could be of individuals, or even famous people (Abraham Lincoln, or Queen Victoria) and in 1854, Disderi’s camera allowed mass production of images with several on a single sheet of paper.  By 1860 albums had been created to store these cards – a development from an earlier past-time of collecting autographs and these albums were effectively filled with images of family, people who visited and famous people – just as Facebook is today!

The Kodak era commenced after George Eastman‘s patent was awarded on 4 September 1888 for a personalised camera which was more accessible, less complex than portrait cameras, and marketed to women around the concept of the Kodak family album.  Filled with images of “high days and holidays” – achievements, celebrations and vacations – these were the albums that most of us know (some of us still maintain) and the concept lasted for the next century (arguably it’s still in existence today, although increasingly marginalised).

Whilst there were some threats (like Polaroid images) they never quite changed the dominant path of photography. Later, as people became more affluent, there were more prints and people built up private archives with many albums and loose photographs (stored in cupboards – just as my many of my family’s are in our loft!).

As photography met ICT infrastructure, the things that we could do with photography expanded but things also became more complex, with a complex mesh involving PCs, printers and digital camera. Whilst some manufacturers cut out the requirement for a computer (with cameras communicating directly to printers), there were two inventions that really changed things: the camera phone and the Internet:

  • Camera phones were already communications-centric (from the phone element), creating a new type of content, that was more about communications than storing memories. In 2002, Turo-Kimmo Lehtonen, Ilpo Koskinen and Esko Kurvine studied the use of mobile digital pictures, not as images for an album but images to say “look where I am”. Whilst technologies such as MMS were not used as much as companies like Nokia expected [largely due to transmission costs imposed by networks] we did see an explosion in online sharing of images.
  • Now we have semi-public sharing, with our friends on Facebook (Google+, etc.) and even wider distribution on Flickr. In addition, photographs have become multimedia objects and Professor Frohlich experimented with adding several types of audio to still images in 2004 as digital story telling.

By 2008, Abigail Durrant was researching photographic displays and intergenerational relationships at home. She looked at a variety of display devices but, critically, found that there was a requirement for some kind of agreement as to what could be displayed where (some kind of meta rules for display).

Looking to the future there are many developments taking place that move beyond the album and on to the archive. Nowadays we have home media collections – could we end up browsing beautiful ePaper books that access our libraries?Could we even see the day where photographic images have a “birthday” and prompt us to remember things (e.g. do you remember when this image was taken, 3 years ago today?)

Professor Frohlich finished up with some lessons for social media innovation:

  • Innovation results from the interaction of four factors: practice; technology; business; and design.
  • Business positioning and social shaping are as important to innovation as technology and it’s design.
  • Social media evolve over long periods of time (so don’t give up if something doesn’t happen quickly).
  • Features change faster than practices and values (social networking is a partial return to identity – e.g. tagging oneself – and not just about communications).
  • Some ideas come around again (like the stereograph developing into 3D cinema).
  • Infrastructure and standards are increasingly key to success (for example, a standard image size).

I do admit to being in admiration of the Digital Surrey team for organising these events – in my three visits I’ve seen some great speakers. Hopefully, I’ve covered the main points from this event but Andy Piper (@andypiper) sums it up for me in a single tweet:


Social Media, the BBC and Jon Jacob (@thoroughlygood at #digitalsurrey)

Last month I travelled down to Farnham to see Michael Wu’s talk on the Science of Gamification at Digital Surrey. Despite a hellish journey home*, I enjoyed the evening and met some great people, so I decided to come back again last night for this month’s talk. I may feel like an interloper from “analogue North Bucks” – and it would be fair to ask why I’m at an event for networking amongst the Surrey digerati – but my first two experiences of Digital Surrey have been great, so it looks like I could become a regular, if they’ll have me!

Last night’s talk was from Jon Jacob (@thoroughlygood), a BBC writer, journalist and producer – who was at pains to point out he was speaking on behalf of himself, and not the BBC. Actually, Jon has a post about his own performance, which is worth a read.

I took a lot of notes in his talk, which included his reading test on LBC whilst being constantly heckled by Sandi Toksvig, but I think it was best summarised with these points:

  • Jon has used and shamelessly exploited social media to build a “brand” and pursue a career.
  • Social media is at risk of being taken over by dangerous forces who don’t understand it. Many of us like using it, or tolerate it, but more and more people are using social media, including groups that don’t “get it”. Early adopters need to keep an eye out for:
    • Protest-driven people who know technology, bring together armies of geeks and put together massive project management teams to deliver projects in time and budget.
    • People with a little bit of information – they learn how to use Twitter on a Tuesday afternoon and set up as “social media experts” on Wednesday.
  • Social media is a conversation to tap into for stories and sources. More fundamentally it’s a transaction between the author and their own audience. If we post something on Facebook, implicitly we want attention: if we deny it we’re liars! It’s the same for Twitter – about the actor and the audience – not about how large is the audience…
  • If we listen to a radio programme and don’t like then we won’t listen again… it’s the same for TV… if it’s a bit tired we’ll go elsewhere. If that’s how it works for radio and TV, surely it must be the same for social media?
  • It doesn’t matter how many followers you have, the focus is about copy/editorial, not the medium.
  • The secret to engaging copy is that the personality flows through. Be the same person on the medium and in person. Tap into joy rather than avoid it. Exploit everything about yourself in a good way and turn into something (on a personal level or a corporate level).
  • Social media is nothing more than a distribution method, just as TV and radio are.
  • The thing that excites Jon is coming up with ideas and doing things. Maybe people have ideas and feel a bit frightened. Maybe they have ideas and “marketing” didn’t like something. Clearly there are certain laws to follow but it’s actually quite difficult to be that naughty. It’s hard to bring down governments!
  • We need to tap into people with ideas. Don’t just ask them to write a blog post but inspire them, create a delicate ecosystem, get people enthused. That can’t be bottled or put in a book but we’re missing a trick if we’re selling something and have teams of copywriters – maybe we need to do break out of our boundaries and do something different.

By the way, I found Jon’s talk to be completely engaging (thoroughly good, one might say). I saw some negative comments and sure, maybe he went off in a few seemingly random directions, but at all times I was completely switched on to what he was saying. There’s not too many presentations where I can say that!

*OK, so “hellish” is a slight exaggeration but the Highways Agency did close 5 out of the 6 lanes on the M1 northbound where the M25 filters in, at around 10pm, to lean a ladder up against an overhead gantry. I’m sure the resulting queues were just for their own amusement.

Can we measure online influence? And should we even try?

One of the challenges with managing corporate a social media presence is understanding the impact that you’re making. It’s notoriously difficult because there is no “one true way”. Indeed, if there was a simple way to assess online influence, I’d say that its inventor could clean up.

What we do have though is a number of indices – and two of the most common are:

  • Klout “the standard for influence”.
  • PeerIndex “understand your social capital”.

OK, so we have algorithms to generate a number, but I’m not convinced they are really measuring influence. Klout in particular seems to be swayed by volumes of online activity– I went on holiday for a week and tweeted less often, then my Klout score fell – no surprises there then; but did I really become less influential because I dropped out for a week?

Earlier this week, I wrote a post calling for “brands” to engage and not to simply use social media as a marketing tool to broadcast their own message (or positive customer feedback).  But there is another side to the story – what if you are a brand?  How do you target your limited resources effectively? How do you assess the influence of a social media renegade and decide whether they warrant a response or not?

I’m not sure that we should be trying to. Does it really matter whether a disgruntled customer is influential or not? If they are disgruntled, then they deserve help – even if that help is simply pointing them in the direction of the appropriate channel to get an appropriate resolution.  It’s interesting though to see where influence engines meay head in future (and, indeed, how they might be monetised).

At a recent Digital Surrey event, I was chatting with Simon Cast, Head of Product at PeerIndex. He sees a time when systems such as his will become integrated with customer relationship management (CRM) systems (like For a business, that’s valuable – when I call their customer services team, not only can they see details of my transactions with them, but they can also see if I’m influential in a broader sense (i.e. could I damage them if they don’t fulfil my request?).  And, not only will they see if I’m influential in general terms, but if I’m influential on a specific topic. A car manufacturer might not be too bothered if I’m influential in the world of telecommunications, but what if I could potentially affect people’s car purchase decisions?

I guess an analogy to the social capital-CRM tie up is a credit score. My credit score not only affects the financial services products that are available to me (and how much they cost) but it (along with other metrics) might be used to tell my bank how valuable a customer I am, and may influence the way that they interact with me (e.g. sending my call to a UK-based call centre instead of an offshore one). Online influence is a logical equivalent for customer service organisations, but it sounds like a risky strategy to me.

Just to recap on my earlier statement:

“[…] I know only too well the challenges of monitoring and measuring social media activity; the resources that are required; and I completely understand that it’s not always possible to respond to every mention of your company’s products and services.

Even so, I’ve heard of organisations that consider whether to respond based on the apparent influence of the user. That sounds dangerous to me – someone may only have a limited online audience (for example, a handful of followers on Twitter) but their influence could be much wider. Perhaps a journalist/analyst has a personal and a professional Twitter account (or a blog), one with just a few followers, the other much more influential? Maybe the aggrieved/frustrated consumer is also a CIO, or a stakeholder in the business services purchasing process?

We’re all consumers, but many of us have responsibility for business purchases too – and it’s unrealistic to expect that poor experiences as a consumer won’t prejudice business decisions […]”

So can we really measure influence? Maybe we’re getting closer, but I don’t think we’re there yet. And should we even be trying to? There might be some benefits, but beware of the risks too…

Social media: don’t forget the social (it’s time to engage)

Many readers of my blog will know that I’m a heavy Twitter user. I’m also very un-British when it comes to complaining about poor service and, for those organisations with Twitter accounts, I do have a tendency to copy them in on my frustrations.

One thing I find very interesting is the variety of reactions that I receive. As part of my job involves helping to develop the social media strategy for a major IT systems and services company, I know only too well the challenges of monitoring and measuring social media activity; the resources that are required; and I completely understand that it’s not always possible to respond to every mention of your company’s products and services.

Even so, I’ve heard of organisations that consider whether to respond based on the apparent influence of the user. That sounds dangerous to me – someone may only have a limited online audience (for example, a handful of followers on Twitter) but their influence could be much wider. Perhaps a journalist/analyst has a personal and a professional Twitter account (or a blog), one with just a few followers, the other much more influential? Maybe the aggrieved/frustrated consumer is also a CIO, or a stakeholder in the business services purchasing process?

We’re all consumers, but many of us have responsibility for business purchases too – and it’s unrealistic to expect that poor experiences as a consumer won’t prejudice business decisions, so I’d like to call out some good, and some less good, reactions to online interaction:

  • First up, Dell. The company has been used as a case study in just about every social media training course since Jeff Jarvis’ “Dell Hell”. The story goes that they took Jeff’s comments and acted, before implementing a much broader social media strategy – one which now acts as a major revenue stream too. My personal experience was that, after blogging about a difficult purchase, Dell contacted me and gave me the technical pre-sales advice that I needed, and shipped the cables that I required. That was pre-Twitter (for me at least), but it was almost certainly as part of the company’s reaction to Jeff Jarvis’ highly publicised experience.
  • Another example, was Biffa – after a near miss with one of their drivers on a zebra crossing earier this year and a cathargic blog post by me, their PR agency picked up my comments and passed it to one of their directors. After I provided more information, the company tracked down the driver and took appropriate action (although the promise to replace my broken iPhone headphones seems to have fallen down a crack…).
  • On Twitter, @iPass were very responsive to issues using their service on Virgin Trains until they respectfully advised me to follow their support route (that’s fair enough). On the other hand, @VirginTrainsseem to monitor feedback but on respond selectively. To their credit, I tweeted about a rattling train window and they were straight back to me for details of the service and the carriage (to get it checked out) – I guess that could have been a safety issue. They also responded on my comments re: overcrowding/the need for more standard class seating (longer trains on the way) but apparently ignored many other items of feedback (like the issues with their on-train Wi-Fi).
  • @LondonMidland is more responsive. When I had issues following a change of mobile payment provider for their station car parks, they got back to me and even offered to help if I was unable to make payment before catching my train. When a train was cancelled and 150 people (I guess) were left waiting just a few miles from it’s original destination so that the driver could end his shift on time, they explained that there were ongoing issues in their relationship with the railway driver’s union.
  • @O2 responded to a tweet/blog post about their poor account management processes and at least managed to retain me as a voice customer, even though my data had since been transferred to Three. @VodafoneUK is pretty responsive on Twitter. Meanwhile @3uk is missing a trick…
  • @BTCares responded to a tweet I wrote about their poor service (I don’t recall the details now), but I got the distinct feeling that it was about appearing to be responsive, rather than caring (@BTDoesntCare doesn’t sound quite so good!). My friend Garry Martin’s recent conversations with @BT_UK would seem to back that up – first he couldn’t even get a response on the BT Infinity delays in his city, then @BT_UK replied with what was effectively an online shrug of the shoulders.

I’m sure I can list many more examples (both good and bad) but I think my point is becoming clear. As Jeff Jarvis wrote six years ago (quiting from a book published in 1999!):

“This is a story of customer relations in the new age – an age when, to quote blogger and Cluetrain Manifesto co-author Doc Searls, “‘consumer’ is an industrial-age word, a broadcast-age word. […] Now consumers don’t just consume. We spit back. We have our own printing presses.”

[Jeff Jarvis, “My Dell Hell”, Guardian 2005]

Even so, eConsultancy reported that 25% of retailers are unresponsive on social media. Sure, retail is just one part of the overall B2C market but that sounds pretty low to me in this day and age.

It seems that many companies are creating Twitter or Facebook presences (just as in the late 1990s we were all setting up corporate websites) but there are some fundamental differences with social media:

From Silicon Roundabout to the world over breakfast (just one event from #smwldn)

Last week was Social Media Week and, here in the UK, there were several events to mark the occasion (using the Twitter hashtag #smwldn). I was pretty late to the party and I’m sure I missed some events that could have been incredibly useful but I did get along to one event, looking at the implications of using social media to take a brand into a global marketplace.

Chaired by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) at The Design Council, and chaired by Dr Aleks Kratoski (@aleksk), UKTI’s New Media Sector Champion but also well known for her broadcasting work with the BBC and the Guardian, the event took the form of a panel discussion with:

It’s difficult to distill a panel discussion into a blog post, so I’ll concentrate on some of the key points that I picked up in the event. It’s important to comment that these are my notes – they are not direct quotes (and any additions in [ ] are my personal views, provided to add context).

  • WT-W: Twitter helped Moonfruit to move into the United States.
  • AC: Nokia and many other brands find themselves in the same situation – social is evolving and they’re still discovering.
  • MC: Microsoft has engaged in social media for about five years, initially via blogs and forums but use has exploded with Twitter and Facebook – platforms that enable bigger networks. Microsoft doesn’t sell much 1:1 but relies on partner network – social media has allowed communication with customers. It’s important to enthuse the passion and to do so it’s necessary to understand rich media, mobile, gaming (wherever the audience is) and use that data to make products better and more fulfilling.
  • WT-W: Facebook, Twitter and others are platforms upon which others can build a business – they have fundamentally changed how technology businesses work – and can affect others too.
  • AK: Web 2.0 is doing for the web what it should really have done to connect people in the first place.
  • AC: Social media presents an opportunity to rewrite the rules. New technology can appear and revolutionise the marketplace in a heartbeat (e.g. the Apple iPhone) [and organisations need to be agile in order to respond – somewhat ironic coming on the day of press coverage re: Nokia CEO Stephen Elop’s (@selop) “burning platform” memo]
  • AK: It sounds like the answer is to leverage other platforms rather than creating new?
  • MC: Blogs play a huge part in Microsoft’s social media strategy – as does Windows Live – so it’s not a conscious decision not to create their own platform, more that it’s necessary to invest effort into communicating on a platform where people are already working. Remember though that email is still a social platform – albeit private. Same for instant messaging. There are open and closed networks – digital marketing needs to be involved in them all.
  • AC: Some businesses think people should pay to come – or that they own the brand. Ultimately community is the brand. This can this make you reactive rather than proactive, but it’s just as important to experiment and learn. Some mistakes will be made along the way but if organisations understand consumer sentiment (listen via various platforms) and use this insight in product development it can be turned to an advantage. Social media has a massive part to play in this – even labs need to be more transparent and open – become part of society to understand what’s coming next.
  • WT-W: Distribution is key – how can people hear about a product without spending millions on marketing (which is also imprecise)? You have to use social media to understand how it works (Twitter is an example) – and have to learn to use it properly – you can’t just throw out a message. Moonfruit ran a competition but the community started to take the mickey out of the brand (what’s that? A gay astronaut!), in doing so, they built brand awareness. It can be tough for big companies to let go of their brand but Moonfruit found it got them a lot of coverage, they rose in the Google ranks, and enjoyed massive returns as a result – they could not have paid for that type of coverage. Maybe they got lucky but what have they learned? Respect social media – look after you Twitter followers, hire a community manager – and make Twitter and Facebook an extension of any internal communities. Moonfruit is using Zendesk to tie channels together so users can search across wider social networks.
  • MC: Microsoft is looking to expand its communities into Asia – breaking out of the English language. Using analytics (it’s important to measure) they can see how to expand. Often, there are parts of an organisation that says “We want to get onto Twitter and Facebook!” and the next question should be “Why?”. Often the answer is “Because everyone else is” and it’s necessary to have a plan? (not just to start using these platforms). Brands need to understand their goals, research their audience, know the way that people access information, etc. and tailor, rather than just reworking existing United States-based templates! Also be careful about picking and choosing appropriate networks – and taking baby steps to learn as you go. Play with your own (personal) account and then apply that experience to the company.
  • AK: In the far east, it’s necessary to deal with linguistics as well as specialist social networks compared with India, where people jump on to existing, established English-speaking networks such as Facebook, etc.
  • MC: Linguistics are even important in Europe – whilst the Dutch will RT English with a localised view, the French will not!
  • AC: Brands will embrace global messaging (generally in English) but need to work on their corporate policy for conversations at a local level. Campaigns need to give a reason to want to engage with them – just as at a dinner party, you need an interesting menu [and sparking conversation]. Although internationalisation is an important element, it’s necessary to consider the global view.
  • WT-W: The UK is leading in entrepreneurial design – and Apple has shown [globally] that a good design and user interface [arguable] will appeal to consumers. The iPad paradigm shift has opened technology to both young and old. The Chinese come to the UK to learn how to design, then they go back to China and emulate using the skills they have learned.
  • AC: Due to its location and geography, Great Britain as an island is a barometer for change. Nokia looks closely at its own business and the wider industry in the UK and finds that it’s possible to see trends coming and go quickly, compared with the US, where things stick around a while and take a different form. British people also tend to be forthcoming with a straightforward, honest response.
  • MC: Microsoft Advertising has been helped by being London based, driving global strategy in a US-based company (enforcing that it’s not just about the United States).

Moving on to the questions from the audience:

  • MC: [On the question of companies that still think they can control who comes to them on social media?] Try to get a feel for what people like, read listen and learn – they will leave comments! It’s a two-way conversation so, taking the dinner analogy, you can suggest menu and a venue but can’t control the conversation. You can plan for it though: react; turn negative into positive through a reply/response. Take baby steps – don’t dive in too deep too soon. Demonstrate success at each step on the journey.
  • WT-W: You can’t gag social media – the more you try, the more it happens – so have an open conversation. An example is Nokia’s Stephen Elop talking about the white elephant in the room – taking the leaked memo and reacting. [at this point the Nokia Exec looked confused – he should learn to check social media before going on stage in a panel presentation!]. It’s OK to say “We’re sorry, this is what happened, this is what we’re doing about it, and this is how you can talk to us” (e.g. when Moonfruit suffered a service outage).
  • MC: [On ensuring that the whole company is “on the same page” and engaging in the same way] Microsoft has mechanisms internally to alert/escalate? There are also guidelines from their legal team but ultimately it boils down to two words: Be smart.
  • AC: [When asked don’t leaks make organisations more secretive?] Social media is not about building stronger walls – be proud that people are interested!
  • MC: [On how to value an investment in employing people to take a message to a global audience in a downturn] Getting into markets in a downturn amounts to piggybacking the competition when we come out the other side… it’s valuable because all digital – conversation is out there – we’re all on social media and know the ways and means to discover, reading about other customer experiences and using to our advantage. Ultimately, it’s about driving traffic back to your own properties (from social networks back to websites) – driving sales, generating revenue – but not about locking people in to a particular platform.
  • AC: [On how to incorporate social media into a large organisation’s crisis/incident management strategy?] Social media provides more opportunities to expand awareness – you can apply a policy for social behaviour but everyone is a social expert in their own right. Nokia has seen sales teams creating their own profiles and starting conversations with customers – this is impossible to manage on a local level but can be encouraged. [I disagree – organisations need to make a clear separation between official and unofficial channels but I think the point here was really about global vs. local (in country) accounts.]

Until now, the conversation had felt a little business-to-consumer (B2C) focused and I was interested in social media from a business-to-business (B2B) context but, thankfully, the last question (asked by someone else) was the one I had been waiting to ask!

  • WT-W: [On the question of B2B vs. B2C use of social media and what works well?] The company profile is still important – the more known the company is, the more PR it gets and the Easier it is to do deals. But building real relationships is key – B2B is still conducted in person – although you can make touch points/build reputation on social media.
  • MC: Don’t get freaked out by low numbers – start with a plan and expect 100s, 1000s visitors not millions – B2B brands can’t compare with Starbucks or Zappos. Indeed, low numbers allow organisations to focus on their audience in a market where even one sale could be significant. Spend time on developing relationships, talking about each others’ businesses and translating to find niche relationships and make them fruitful.
  • AC: There is both opportunity and danger in how best to support social media in a B2B context. Social CRM is an important aspect but data is freely available and unregulated. Different countries may have different reactions and this will affect the communications strategy.

In all, this was an interesting discussion but I really felt it just scraped the surface: it was a bit light on hard advice; and concentrated more on the experience of the three organisations on the panel. Still, at least it gave me a chance to verify that the steps my own organisation is making are taking us in the right direction!