Not-so-helpful social media “help”

Social media is big business. And almost every major business to consumer (B2C) organisation has at least one account on each of the major social media platforms (at the time of writing, that’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram but I’m sure it will change over time). 

Unfortunately, there’s a concerning trend starting to emerge – one where the “conversation” is moved to control the brand image. Many brands have set up <brandname>Help accounts for their customer service so that the main brand account is “clean” – pure marketing, untarnished by customers expressing concern about the products and services. Meanwhile, the “Help” account may be operated by a communications agency, simply offering a face and redirecting customers to other channels. 

And that’s where the problem lies. If you want to offer omnichannel support, then you need to meet your customers where they contact you. It’s no good offering “help” on Twitter when all you’re really doing is advising customers to phone your contact centre. That does not help. That’s obfuscation. It’s a blatant attempt to preserve the online image of the brand, whilst offering shoddy customer service. 

So, here’s my plea to brand managers across the UK. If you offer a <brandname>Help account, then make sure it provides real assistance and is not just signposting to another channel. 

I’ll provide an example here, from @KwikFitCS (who responded to my tweet for the main KwikFit account… more on that in a moment), but they are not alone…

Then there’s the issue of the information that <brandname>Help accounts ask for to verify you before they will provide help…

In the example above, @BootsHelp replied to a tweet sent to @BootsUK. And the issue I was reporting was a website problem that was not specific to a single account – the web team could investigate without my personal details. Maybe I should be the one looking for the verification here… not them? That may sound a bit extreme but what’s to stop anyone from setting up a spoof <brandname>Help account and harvesting information from disgruntled customers? (In fairness, the @BootsHelp account has been verified by Twitter, but the @KwikFitCS example earlier was not).

And Boots is not alone – here’s another example from @Morrisons, the UK supermarket chain:

The request went on to a second tweet:

So, come on B2C Twitter. You can do better than this. How about providing some real help from your social media channels? Preferably without requiring a long list of personal details.

Featured image by Biljana Jovanovic from Pixabay.

Weeknotes 18-19/2021: Doubling up

Last week didn’t have a weeknote. I just didn’t get around to it! To be perfectly honest, my weekends are packed with cycling-related activities at the moment and work has been pretty busy too… so here’s a bumper fortnight-note. Even this is delayed because I locked myself out of WordPress with too many incorrect login attempts… but the very fact I managed to post this indicates that I got in again!


There’s much I can write about my work at the moment but we are approaching my annual review. That means I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the last 12 months and looking forward to where I need things to head in the coming weeks and months. It’s not been a wonderful year: although my family has been fortunate to avoid Covid-19 we’re still living in strange times and I really could do with leaving my home office for the odd day here and there. Procrastination levels are certainly up, followed by evening catch-up sessions. That could be another reason there was no week note last week…


I did manage to squeeze in another exam. It’s one of the Microsoft Fundamentals series: Microsoft Azure Data Fundamentals (DP-900) and I used Microsoft Learn to prepare, passing with a good score (944).

I’m also really interested in building a body of knowledge around sustainable IT and I worked my way through the Sustainable IT MOOC from the Institut du Numérique Responsable’s ISIT Academy. Not surprisingly, some of the statistics are French-specific but, in general I found the content interesting and enlightening. Definitely worth a few hours for anyone with an interest in the topic.


I’m a heavy social media user and I’m under no illusions about what that means in terms of my privacy. I often say that, if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. Even so, my wife and I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix a couple of nights ago. Highly recommended for anyone who uses… well… the Internet. So, pretty much everyone then.


After riding England Coast to Coast (C2C) on The Way of the Roses a couple of years ago, I’ve been planning my next big cycling trip.

My eldest son and I were planning to head to the French Alps after his GCSEs this summer but, well, that was before a global pandemic messed up our plans. So we’ve been looking for something a little closer to home. We’re planning on riding the length of Wales – from Cardiff to Holyhead on Lôn Las Cymru

After booking all the hotels, and the train travel to return from Holyhead (5.5 hours, via England, with a change mid-way at Shrewsbury) the biggest challenge was booking 2 spaces for bikes on the train. I had similar issues with the C2C and I’m just hoping that I manage to make the cycle reservations nearer the time. I certainly can’t allow myself to stress about it for the whole 4 day ride up!

Something that will almost certainly come in useful on that trip are the waterproof socks I bought from Sealskins… they are fantastic:

Still on the subject of cycling, the Trek X-Caliber 9 mountain bike that I bought last autumn is back in the workshop. It’s 6 months old, with just 300km on the clock and the forks have gone back for warranty repairs (and that’s after the headset bearings already had to be replaced because they were not fitted correctly in the factory). More generally, there’s a big problem with bike part availability in the UK right now – partly Brexit-related (inability to buy from some EU-based vendors) but some general supply issues with some parts on back order until 2023.

Meanwhile, I’m finding more and more of my weekends involve supporting my eldest son with his racing (either cross-country or cycle-cross, with the occasional road circuit). One bonus was that the usual Saturday Youth Coaching session was replaced by a pleasurable gravel ride (and pub garden visit) this week due to non-availability of our usual venue.

Random techie stuff

The last few weeks in pictures

Weeknote 6: User group and MVP events; a new smartwatch; ghost trains; and the start of Christmas (Week 48, 2017)

Milton Keynes – Rochdale – London – Leicester. Not quite New York – London – Paris but those are the towns and cities on my itinerary this week.

Every now and again, I find myself counting down the days to the weekend. This week has been different. It was manic, squeezing work in around lots of other activities but it was mostly enjoyable too.

The week at work

My work week started off with an opportunity to input to a report that I find quite exciting. I can’t say too much at the moment (though it should be released within the next couple of weeks and I’ll be shouting about it then) but it’s one of those activities that makes me think “I’d like to do more of this” (I already get referred to as the extra member of the risual marketing team, which I think they mean as a good thing!).

Bills have to be paid though (i.e. I need to keep my utilisation up!), so I’ve also had some consulting in the mix, writing a strategy for a customer who needs to modernise their datacentre.

On Wednesday evening, I managed to fit in a UK Azure User Group (@UKAzure) meeting in London, with Paul Andrew (@MrPaulAndrew) talking about Azure Data Factory – another opportunity to fill some gaps in my knowledge.

Then, back to work on Thursday, squeezing in a full day’s work before heading to the National Space Centre in Leicester in the afternoon for the UK MVP Community Connection. I’m not an MVP anymore (I haven’t been since 2011) but I am a member of the MVP Reconnect Programme, which means I still get invited to some of the events – and the two I’ve been to so far have been really worthwhile. One of my favourite sessions at the last event was Tony Wells from Resource IT (the guys who create the Microsoft Abbreviation Dictionary) talking about storytelling. This time we had a 3-hour workshop with an opportunity to put some of the techniques into practice.

The evening started with drinks in the space tower, then an IMAX film before dinner (and a quiz) in the Space Centre, surrounded by the exhibits. We returned the next day for a Microsoft business update, talks on ethics and diversity, on extending our audience reach and on mixed reality.

Unfortunately, my Friday afternoon was hijacked by other work… and the work week also spilt over into the weekend – something I generally try to avoid and which took the shine off things somewhat…


I’ve had a full-on week with family too: my eldest son is one of six from Milton Keynes who have been selected to attend the Kandersteg International Scout Centre (KISC) in 2019 and, together with ten more who are off to the World Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, we have a lot of fund-raising to do (about £45,000 in total). That meant selling raffle tickets in the shopping centre for the opportunity to win a car on Monday evening, and a meeting on Tuesday evening to talk about fundraising ideas…

So, that’s out every evening, and a long day every day this week… by Friday I was ready to collapse in a heap.

The weekend

No cyclocross this weekend (well, there was, but it clashed with football), so I was on a different sort of Dad duty, running the line and trying not to anger parents from the other team with my ropey knowledge of the offside rule

It’s also December now, so my family have declared that Christmas celebrations can begin. Right from the moment I returned home on Friday evening I was accused of not being Christmassy enough and I was forced to listen to “Christmas Music” on the drive to my son’s football match (the compromise was that it could be my Christmas playlist).

Even I was amused to be followed in my car by a certain jolly chap:

My part in decorating the house consists of getting everything down from the loft, putting up the tree and lights, and then finding myself somewhere to hide for a couple of hours until it all looks lovely and sparkly. Unfortunately, the hiding time was actually spent polishing a presentation for Monday and fighting with Concur to complete my expenses… not exactly what I had in mind…

New tech

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that we now have a teenager in the house and my eldest son has managed to save enough birthday money to buy a smartwatch. He was thinking of a Garmin device until I reminded him how bad their software is when we sync our bike computers so he went for a Samsung Gear Sport. It looks pretty good if you have an Android phone. I have an iPhone and an Apple Watch (as you may recall from my recent tales of woe) but if I was an Android guy, I think the Gear Sport would be my choice…

Ghost trains

I forgot to add this tale to last week’s week note but I was travelling back home from Stafford recently when I noticed a re-branded Virgin Pendolino at the platform. My train wasn’t due for another 10 minutes so I didn’t check out where this one was going, so I was a little surprised to pass it again as I arrived in Milton Keynes two hours later, after I’d gone the long way (via Birmingham) and changed trains…

Checking on Realtime Trains showed me that I could have caught a direct train from Stafford, but it wasn’t on the public timetable. Indeed, although it stops at several stations, it’s listed as an empty coaching stock working (which is presumably why it is pathed on the slow lines including the Northampton loop). So, in addition to trains that stop at Milton Keynes only to set down (southbound) or pick up (northbound), it seems that Virgin run “ghost trains” too!


I listen to a lot of podcasts when I’m in the car. This week I spent a lot of time in the car. I recommend these two episodes:

Twitter highlights

I’m no GDPR expert but this looked useful:

Company branding is great until it makes the information you give out next-to-useless:

Credit is due to the social media team handling the @PremierInn account for Whitbread, they quickly confirmed that it is a J not an I (though I had worked it out).

@HolidayInn were equally on the ball when I complained about a lack of power sockets (and traffic noise insulation) at their Leicester City Centre hotel. Thankfully they replies were limited to Twitter and email – not midnight calls as my colleague Gavin Morrisson found when he tweeted about another Holiday Inn!

This made me smirk (I haven’t “elevated” my Mac yet…):

If you don’t get the joke, this should provide context.

I like this definition of “digital [transformation]”:

This short video looks at how we need to “debug the gender gap”:

The full film is available to stream/download from various sources… I intend to watch.

And, to wrap up with some humour, I enjoyed Chaz Hutton’s latest Post-it sketch:

(for more like this, check out InstaChaz on Instagram)


That’s it for now… more next week…

My social media journey

Last week, I spent some time with the risual Marketing team recording a short interview on “my social media journey”. The idea was that I have an established blog and I’m prolific on Twitter – what could colleagues pick up from my experience that might help them?

Then the team decided to put it out on YouTube! You can watch the video below but I apologise for the constant glancing at my Surface screen – I only had 20 minutes to prepare and we shot it all in one take!

For those without time to watch the video – these are the notes I prepared in advance for Jordan’s questions:

risual: First off, can you talk about what influenced/inspired you to start using social media/your blog?

Mark: I started blogging in about 2004. We didn’t even use the term “social media” then around about then having a “weblog” had started to become popular. I just wanted somewhere to store my notes and thought they might be useful to others too. 13 years later and there are around 2500 posts on there!

I’m pretty bad at remembering things – even today it surprises me when I search for an answer and my own site comes up in search results!

Twitter was a bit different. I really didn’t “get it” at first, then it clicked one day when I was watching a keynote video and saw the moderated tweets on the hashtag alongside. I could really see the value. I started tweeting soon afterwards (at a Microsoft event) and over time Twitter has become my main social media output.

risual: In terms of starting off, did you have a goal? How did you build up your follower count?

Mark: I didn’t really have a goal, but the site sort of took off – as I wrote more, more people read it. Then I put some ads on the pages and it started to make money. Then Google changed their algorithm and I started to lose money ;-). I’m not in it for the money though.

Actually, there was a time (around 2005) when I was double-blogging on my own site and my employer’s site – myself and Jamie Thomson [@jamiet] (who also went on to be an MVP) had a bit of an internal battle at as the company’s most prolific bloggers – me for infrastructure and him for data!

As for followers, I’m not too worried about the number of followers – more in the quality of those followers.

If you create good content the followers will come naturally.

risual: How much time do you spend updating your blog or using social media daily?

Mark: Not enough and too much at the same time! I would like to have more time to write blog posts but you do have to be in the right frame of mind. I have loads of part-written posts – and even set up a Kanban board in Office 365 Planner a few nights ago to try and sort out my blog post planning!

Twitter is a lot easier – you can tweet on the train, in gaps between meetings, etc. But it’s good to tweet at times when people are around (UK and US business hours) – all too often I find myself catching up on Twitter at bedtime when I should be sleeping. It’s not healthy!

risual: Do you think it’s helped you engage better with other tech professionals with the ability to keep up to date with what topics are “hot”?

Mark: Absolutely. My personal brand has been greatly enhanced with blogging and tweeting. It’s probably how I got my MVP Award and, even though I’m not an MVP anymore I’m still recognised by Microsoft as what their marketing folks call an “influencer”.

risual: What do you get out of it all personally? You’ve obviously got a very busy job and have no obligation to do it, but do, why?

Mark: Narcissism! No, not really. I think personal branding is important in our industry. It’s amazing how often I meet people in the real world that I know via social media. In fact, I once attended an interview where the interviewer told me he read my blog – that was a bit of a curved ball!

risual: It may seem like an obvious question, but what’s your own advice for those starting out on Twitter hoping to build a following?

Mark: Not obvious at all!

  1. Just dive in there and start RTing things you think are relevant.
  2. Tweet links to your own blog posts.
  3. The more you tweet the more followers you will get. It’s just the way it is. Having said that, quality is more important than quantity.
  4. Engage, reply – don’t just broadcast.
  5. Don’t just tweet things to advertise your company! People don’t want to be marketed to (at least not in an obvious way). I sometimes tweet risual posts that I’ve been involved in – or if it’s something that could really make a difference to people – like what we’re doing in Education. But I also mix it with lots of tweets from other people (not just Microsoft!) and about 10% personal stuff. People follow people, not brands!

I have about 43,000 tweets at the moment. Over an 8 year period that’s not many a day (<15 on average) although I have to admit a big chunk of my tweeting was when I was working in a role where it was actually a part of my job!

risual: How do you keep up to date with the latest technology news in order to talk about them when they’re still hot out of the oven?

Mark: I listen to podcasts (like the Microsoft Cloud Show and WB-40) and Twitter is my main news source. I’d like to read more blogs but don’t have the time.

Twitter is a bit of an echo chamber at times but I’ve created some lists of people who tweet interesting content (I have a CTO watchlist, a Microsoft watchlist and a risual list) and I try to keep up to date with them. I don’t actually read all of the tweets for all the people I follow – mostly just the ones on these lists!

A month without social media. Well, sort of…

Ben Seymour (@bseymour) made a very pertinent point in a recent Milton Keynes Geek Night talk when he said:

“At no point did I find myself wishing I’d spent more time on Twitter”

So, when one of my friends said he would give up social media for January, I thought it would be worth a try too. After all, if a brand and marketing communications Consultant can do without #socmed, then so can I!

Actually, I made some exceptions:

  • Twitter is work. It’s how I keep up to date – and how I build my personal brand (if that doesn’t sound too pretentious). Having said that I’ve been too busy for most of January to tweet much.
  • Ditto for my blog.

I turned off notifications for LinkedIn, Facebook, Facebook Messenger and some more. And then I realised how many channels I have – for example WhatsApp is one of the methods my son uses to contact me. That’ll be another exception then. Then there’s Strava. Hmm… well, I guess it’s not so much social media as where I track my activity…

The main one to drop was Facebook. So, how did that go? Really, I haven’t missed it at all. Sure, I was probably the last person in our town to know that a McDonalds is being proposed for the BP garage 2 miles up the road (which apparently has divided opinion…) but is that really so important in the great scheme of things? I did miss some contact on Messenger – but anyone who knows me well also has my mobile number…

And the biggest observation from my month of social media abstinence? Well, I watched a few series on Amazon Video (two seasons of The Man in the High Castle and Mr Robot). As my wife noted, it seems my digital addiction just switched channels…

An example of how to engage customers on social media

Almost every day, I see a branded account somewhere using Twitter as a broadcast medium, rather than as a tool to engage two-way conversation with customers. Indeed Matt Ballantine (@ballantine70) called Twitter out on this one…

Then there are the accounts that are named something like @BrandnameHelp, which vary tremoundously in the amount of “help” they offer (although creds are due to @TMLewinHelp and @7DigitalHelp who have both helped me out recently with problem orders).  @BTCare and @AmazonHelp are less impressive, in my experience.

@NatWest_Help picked up on this, slighty sarcastic, tweet from yours truly:

@LondonMidland does a great job of dealing with disgruntled travellers, including gems like this, with childrens toys to illustrate the issue (sometimes real pics too – it’s easier to be sympathetic of problems getting to/from work when you can see flooded tracks/fallen trees/damaged trains from fallen overhead wires, etc.):

There are whole books on this written by people who know far more about customer service and marketing than I do but I’d like to call out one example of what I see as a great use of social media…

Yesterday evening ago, I tweeted about a very amusing Volkswagen ad, noting that my recent car purchase might have been from them had the local dealership not been so completely useless at selling me the car I wanted…

Full credit to @UKVolkswagen, they picked up on this and said “can we help”, later following through with an email address to send more details to. The resulting email response was less impressive, suggesting I should supply a phone number if I wanted a response (I didn’t want a response, but my mobile number was already in the email…).

But what really impressed me, and showed:

  1. Excellent social media monitoring skills (clearly tracking disgruntled customers with rival brands); and
  2. An ability to use social media to engage and potentially attract new custom

was the Twitter conversation I had with @ToyotaGB this evening.

It was too late, as I’d already bought a Volvo (I may have mentioned that once or twice on Twitter…) but still excellent use of social media. Other brands could learn a thing or two…

Effectively targetting social media interaction: are you speaking Scottish in Toyko? (Mark McCulloch at #MKGN)

Every three months, I have a mild panic because:

  1. I’ve successfully registered for Milton Keynes Geek Night (MKGN) but neglected to put it in my diary.
  2. Three months have gone by and I’ve not blogged about the last MKGN, even though David and Richard know me as the resident blogger…

This time is no exception…

I could say I was distracted because Mrs W. accompanied me to the last Geek Night; I could blame Google Keep for not allowing large enough notes to store a whole evening’s worth of note-taking and for losing the first part of my notes (although it sounds a bit like “the dog ate my homework” and I’m sure I’ve used a similar excuse before) so let’s just stick with “because I’m busy – but MKGN #9 it was a really worthwhile evening and I’m sure #10 will be too”. You can catch the audio on Soundcloud, but I want to write about one talk that I found particularly interesting – Mark McCulloch (@WeAreSpectaculr)’s “Are you speaking Scottish in Tokyo” (which seems to have an additional relevance today)…

Are you speaking Scottish in Toyko?

If you’re wondering what Mark means by “Speaking Scottish in Tokyo” (or, as he put it, “Okinawa the noo!”), Mark’s whole point is that social media interaction needs to be effectively targetted.  He’s quite happy to highlight that his message is based on a book by Gary Vaynerchuk (@GaryVee) – Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World – but it highlights some important points:

  • First up – you need to be native to the social channel in use. Lazy brands put the same post on multiple channels. Sometimes it just doesn’t work…
  • Added to that, many social agencies have no real plan or return on investment.
  • Next – don’t expect instant results: you need to give, give, give, then take. Too many brands broadcast on social media. The good ones have a conversation. The excellent ones hook people in with something that they find useful – and then ask for something in return.

Mark talked about a rule of thirds developed at Yo Sushi (brand, product, fun/health/life); drawn as a Venn diagram you need to hit the point where all three meet and Mark suggests building a mind map of things to talk about based on these 3.

Next, the perfect post needs a call to action that’s easy to understand, perfectly crafted for mobile and for other digital devices – and respects the nuances of the target network… so, for example, on Facebook:

  1. Is the text too long?
  2. Is it provocative, entertaining and/or surprising?
  3. Is the photo striking?
  4. Is the logo visible?
  5. Have you chosen the right format for the post?
  6. Is the call to action in the right place?
  7. Is this interesting?

So, here are some first class “jabs”:

Now, Mark actually showed examples from Facebook – I’ve used the Twitter equivalents here because they are easy for me to embed, but this one doesn’t work on Twitter (more than 140 characters):

Those are all good jabs. This isn’t (it’s too complex):

But this one is a right hook (a new product that’s not too “salesy”):


And what about when you don’t respect the medium? This is native:

This isn’t:

So, in summary, if you’re a brand using social media to interact with customers:

  1. Plan your social media content using the “rule of thirds”.
  2. Plan your social media content into “jab, jab, jab, right hook” micro stories.
  3. Think about the channel you’re posting on, the native language and the audience behaviours.
  4. Think about the time of day when you’re posting (auto-schedule updates, for example).

What about the other talks?

No promises, but I hope to blog about some of the other talks soon…

And what’s happening tonight?

As usual, tonight’s MKGN looks to have some fascinating talks (I confess I don’t have a clue about Jumbotrons, Twilio or MEAN coding!):

  • Ben Foxhall (@benjaminbenben) is back, this time to talk about “Jumbotrons”!
  • Rachel Andrew (@rachelandrew) is giving her postponed talk on “Your own definition of success – choosing a profitable side project idea”.
  • Elliot Lewis (@elliotlewis) will be talking about “The Apprentice”.
  • “Code Smarter, be MEAN” is the topic for Tamas Piros (@tpiros).
  • And Michael Wawra (@xmjw) is scheduled to speak about “Twilio”)

Join in!

Milton Keynes Geek Night happens every three months at The Buszy in Milton Keynes (old bus station, opposite Milton Keynes Railway Station) and is free (thanks to generous sponsorship). Because it’s free, and the speakers are generally so good, it “sells out” quickly, but keep an eye on the @MKGeekNight Twitter feed – and bag yourself a place for the next one in December!

Social media and the law (#socmedlaw)

Courtroom One GavelA couple of weeks ago, I received an invitation to a lunchtime round-table event, to chat about social media and the law. “What’s not to like?”, I thought, and a few days later I was enjoying the delights of good company in an Italian restaurant in London’s Covent Garden (and wishing I hadn’t driven to the station that morning – more vino please!). Well, what’s not to like indeed – a couple of hours flew by and I could quite happy have whiled away another couple, had I not needed to get back to the office…

So, social media and the law. Really? Is that such a big deal?

In a word, yes!

You see, whilst we’re all enthusing about sharing our lives online and building digital relationships, there are some for whom that’s a little too risky.  I’m not talking about over-sharing personal details here – exposing oneself to undesirable physical world impacts from digital world slip-ups – but about negatively impacting one’s employment as companies struggle to get their heads around a world where relationships are formed online as well as in the traditional methods. Indeed, even the round-table where we were discussing these issues was run under the “Chatham House rule” – precisely so that participants could speak openly and freely, without fear of the consequences of reporting what they said (reporting is fine, attribution is strictly off limits).

Starting the conversation with concerns about employees tweeting, there are a whole load of considerations, from issues of authenticity to accidentally committing an organisation to a contract. Some organisations maintain lists of approved social media users but what happens when an over-enthusiastic employee defends your brand using their personal account and crosses a line?

Ultimately, companies are trying to protect their reputation online and limit their liability in the digital space, just as they do in the physical world. But there’s no “one size fits all” solution: some brands may be “free and open”, others more “locked down” and it’s increasingly important to create policies for acceptable use of social media. The issue is that these policies need to be kept up to date, and need to reflect the real world. For example, an organisation might forbid its employees to affiliate themselves with a brand online. That’s OK on Twitter, Facebook, etc. but what about their online CV on LinkedIn? For all of my disclaimers absolving my employer of any views and opinions I express online (disclaimers that were, incidentally, triggered by an unclear social media policy), it’s still pretty easy to find who pays my salary and to establish a link between my personal views and a brand. Thankfully, I’m told, there is a legal distinction between a social media account used for work purposes and affiliation of a personal account to a company or brand.

Unfortunately, until “social” is embedded in our organisational DNA, there will be issues – and the legal minefield around developments in the way we use technology is not exclusively limited to social media.  Take recent legislation on the use of “cookies” for example, described at the event as “stupid laws by stupid people, made for the wrong generation”.

It’s important to recognise that much of the movement into social seen by companies today is out of compulsion rather than quantified need – organisations need to consider what’s right for their brand. And what if social media isn’t purely a marketing tool, but about relationships? Enlightened companies are accepting that employees are increasingly linked online but it’s still important to “think and use your brain”. Microsoft’s blogging policy is often quoted as “blog smart” – it’s actually two pages that boil down to “don’t be stupid”. The important element is being careful not to make forward facing statements on behalf of the company and monitoring takes place to control any breaches (inadvertent or otherwise).

Ultimately, employee behaviour is hard to control. Generally, there is no malicious intent. As employers we need to explain the consequences of actions but educating people is difficult.

Then there’s the issue of what happens when an employee leaves a company. There are high-profile cases of influential tweeters taking their followers to a new organisation, or of companies claiming that a LinkedIn profile belongs to them.  Many companies are only to happy to benefit from relationships (and skills) when staff are recruited but try to protect these assets when they move on – maybe a future legal case will clarify the situation, with a sensible judge telling companies that they can’t “have their cake and eat it” (one can hope).

Even in the most sales-focused organisations, handing over an address book is one thing but relationships are individual (people transact with people)… perhaps it’s the relatively new nature of social platforms that means the rules of engagement are still settling down?

There’s an argument that assets gained on company time belong to the company, but what exactly is company time? In our increasingly connected society, there’s a fine balance between an employment contract, bringing chores/devices to work and working extended hours outside the office. When do we stop being employees and start being individuals again? For many of us, there is no more 9 to 5!

A couple more points that I liked were: that corporate use of social media is not really about openness but about translucency; and that we have years of history with employees talking to customers – in shops! The difference now is the online evidence trail.

Some consider that the damage any one individual can cause online is limited anyway, that the Internet is “filling up”, with user-generated content increasingly buried in search results by bland, corporate results (which may be authoritative but make it hard to find any real information on making things work). On the other hand, if patent trolling is a valid business model (which it appears to be), what about copyright trolls, or social media offence trolls?

That brought us nicely onto copyright, which evolved because society saw creative endeavours that needed to be protected. But the nature and scope of copyright is that it can only exist where society respects and enforces the rules. That means that copyright does need to evolve, especially here in the UK, where there is no concept of “fair use”.

In summary, there are a lot of worries about social media and the law but nobody is really over concerned – we know that laws will change (eventually) – but there will be intervening years where the implications exercise the minds of everyone from board members downwards and only common sense can drive us through. That means that monitoring is required: companies can’t engage in social media unless they’re prepared to monitor and to be intelligent about what they find.

Highlight of #SocMedLaw - "stupid laws for stupid things, made by the wrong generation" eg: Cookie Law. Who agrees?... 100%
Abigail Harrison


So, what was the biggest lesson for me? Actually, it was nothing to do with the law. I found that taking comprehensive notes whilst tweeting and eating lunch is difficult!

Thanks to Social Safe for sponsoring the event and to Abigail Harrison (@AbigailH) for making it happen.

Photo Credit: Joe Gratz via Compfight (licensed under Creative Commons)

Re-imagination and business: Antony Mayfield at #SMWB2B

Last week, I wrote about the first keynote speech at the fifth B2B Huddle, from Microsoft’s Dave Coplin. It’s taken me a few days to get this post up but the next “act” was Antony Mayfield (@AMayfield), who spoke about advanced persistent opportunities: re-imagination and business (in other words, looking for new ways of working that are not from past business models).

[slideshare id=14428574&doc=dellb2bhuddle-aptbybrilliantnoise-120924064815-phpapp02]

One of the early points that Antony made in his presentation is that there are no real case studies for this topic (everyone is at the start of a journey – there is nothing definitive) which is an interesting observation. He did suggest though, that there are some useful resources out there in the form of Mary Meeker’s [and Liang Wu’s] State of the Internet report and Kevin Kelly (former editor of Wired)’s What Technology Wants.  Another interesting quote that Antony used was attributed to Marc Andreessen (web browser pioneer turned venture capitalist) who was cited as saying that “the future is six months away” or, in other words, the limit for any sure-fire bets in the world of the Internet and social media is much shorter than the business and marketing plans that we use, so we need to find a new way of working…

One area where people constantly have to re-imagine models is that of security – with constant threats and risks. One particular form is that of the advanced persistent threat (APT). These are not one-off attacks but are very serious and often related to organised crime although hacktivists and governments also represent APTs.

Applying the same thoughts to social business, there is no such thing as the definitive social business strategy – strategy is seen as something distant. Strategy should be thought of as an advanced persistent opportunity. Strategy is fluid and social media is the context. Social media is a proxy for change but it is an approach, not a technology.

Antony then went on to talk about social marketing and its relationship with social brands and social businesses, building up to “six brilliant things” for successful brands to follow [in their social media marketing].

  1. Leadership: Mandate and licence for change is clear. Antony cited Burberry as a case study where the CEO ambition was one of a digital brand. Following successful pilots, Burberry built an in-house content team and a social media approach based around a community that, once built, drives the brand.
  2. Vision and values: They know what and who they are for. In place of the recognised purchase funnel (awareness, consideration, decision, buy [, loyalty]), today’s decision journey is one of a “loyalty loop”  (as described by McKinsey and Company as far back as 2009). Brands like Nokia are embracing this cycle of consideration, evaluation, purchase but then building enjoyment, advocacy and bonding with the brand and a Harvard Business Review article looks at branding in the digital age and how many organisations are spending their money in the wrong places.
  3. Principles: How they will operate with social/digital. Again, Nokia was the case study cited by Mayfield (Brilliant Noise has a paper on Nokia’s global social media strategy), with six principles for digital engagement – effectively “the right ways to behave”: 1. Consider the social opportunity in everything we do; engage in better conversations with more consumers; deliver personal experiences, be authentic, and earn trust; sharing is more important than control; define clear objectives from the outset; invest and commit to social presences.  These are a great starting point for developing a set of principles for an organisation but, to give another example, the UK Government Digital Service sets out its own seven  digital principles to follow:
    The 7 GDS digital principles
  4. Pilot and scale: [Have the] Will to try things, [and the] will to scale things that work. Nike was the quoted case study here, building relationships and viewing campaigns as an investment, rather than straight spending.
  5. Frameworks and governance: Systems to guide pioneers and connect key stakeholders. IBM’s investment model has moved from a traditional campaign model of spend, followed by attention to one of consistent spending targetted on building a community (creating an “S curve” of attention, rather than peaks) – but this is hard work and requires a continued focus.
  6. Digital literacy: investing in skills across the organisation. Examples here are the Nokia Socializer and the Dell Social Media University.

Antony Mayfield believes that social business is a journey and, just as we embark on personal journeys to move from reading, to marking favourites, sharing, commenting, posting, creation, and [perhaps] starting a group in an ever-more-steep curve there are Business models such as Red Ant’s 5 stages of: traditional  experimental, operational  measurable and  fully engaged social business.  Some organisations might want more detail

Some organisations want detailed ideas but ultimately, says Antony, we need to re-imagine everything (or someone will do it for you…).


For those who would like to watch Antony Mayfield’s B2B Huddle presentation, a copy is embedded below:

Social Media: Taking the Plunge

January 2012 new year’s resolution: to join the 21st century!

With two young children, the past few years have flown by in a time-starved, sleep-deprived haze. Juggling motherhood with work has left little time or head-space for anything new.

I’m firmly stuck in the age of email. If I want to contact someone, I call them or I email them. Very occasionally, I text. MySpace and Bebo passed me by. Facebook and Twitter are things that other people do and LinkedIn is somewhere I ought to be.

After many months of procrastination, I reluctantly dipped my little toe in the water this summer and joined LinkedIn. I felt slightly exposed having an on-line presence for the first time. The photo is still proving a sticking point.

Needing a further push, I went along to a social media event hosted by flexible working specialists Ten2Two. Aimed at individuals like myself, who have somehow missed (or avoided) the social media revolution, the workshop gave a useful insight into LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and blogging. Around the room, questions and concerns included choosing the best media, privacy and security, and of course the holy grail for all working mums, finding the time.

Which Media When?

Yes – I’m on LinkedIn – but my sad lack of photo is a no-no. The privacy issue with Facebook has always been a concern for me. But, while it may not be the best place for B2B connections, I do need to get to grips with it before my children are on-line. I see the value of Twitter for keeping up-to-date with news and hot topics but remain slightly alarmed at the thought of constant tweet distractions. While there may be guidelines for using social media, there are no hard and fast rules. You simply have to get signed up, try it and see.

The Sticky Issue of Privacy

One of the reasons I’m not on Facebook, don’t tweet and have never blogged before today is; how do I keep my private life private? The answer is, with social media, you can’t! And you can’t keep work separate from your personal life. I’ve decided on the following approach: With anything that I put on-line, I have to be comfortable with the idea that my customers, colleagues, parents, friends, children’s teachers and school-run acquaintances could read it. I also have to be happy that anyone from my past could read it – as well as anyone I may meet or work with in the future.

Finding the Time

The old problem of finding the time won’t go away. But I’ve put aside some time to write this blog post and I’ve enjoyed it! The moment it goes live may be slightly nerve-wracking (will anyone read it, what will they think…) but equally rather liberating!

From a personal and professional point-of-view, I’ve learned that I can no longer bury my head in the sand. Ignoring social media and hoping I can carry on as before is no longer an option. And so with a deep breath, I take the plunge!