Megan McQ’s Musings

Archive for the ‘Social Media’ Category

juggling

The other day I met with Lou, President of ValueStar, a customer ratings and reviews service from confirmed customers. (Disclosure: personal acquaintance).

The directory service provides companies (such as Company XYZ) the opportunity to have Company XYZ’s previous customers rate their experience on ValueStar’s Web site. This service varies from other social network rating systems, because it ensures that actual customers of Company XYZ are rating the company. Of course, it’s up to Company XYZ to complete quality work to obtain good reviews, and not all of the reviews on the site are positive.

Lou and I were discussing social media and it was enlightening to discuss the marketing element of a directory service, due to the variety of constituencies such service like ValueStar has to reach.

On the one hand, ValueStar has to draw customers to their web site and ask them to review a company with whom they have had an interaction, and use the companies listed on the Web site. On the other, the company has to obtain companies seeking the marketing opportunity ValueStar has to offer.

The problem arises where Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) strategy is concerned: How does one company diversify their message to such different constituencies? It would seem an IMC campaign that unifies messages across platforms would leave something to be desired for each constituency ValueStar is trying to reach. Juggling the communication needs of either constituency would be dangerous.

Because I’m an advocate of using the same communication messages across platforms, here’s my take on the situation:

Everyone is a customer of some sort. At some given time, we’ve all been the purchaser in a transaction. In my opinion, then, I think that ValueStar should focus its marketing efforts to the customers of the “Company XYZ’s” on the Web site. Utilizing a SM strategy that fosters genuine human interaction, ValueStar could cultivate relationships with this constituency and encourage them to become reviewers and users of other companies listed on the site. (Insert the 80/20 rule here). This communication strategy would inevitably include company owners and marketers who will see the value in the site, and want to become certified and listed on the directory.

A social media campaign would then be able to identify the business owners among the primary communication target. A specific, tailored message could be constructed for these new constituencies. Due to the highly-specific nature of these messages, they should resonate with the constituencies–eliminating the need for message repetition. After all, that’s the whole purpose of social media: building meaningful relationships with potential customers, and reach those customers with valuable messages.

But that’s my take, anyway. I’m curious to hear your input on this type of communication campaign.

photo via Mark Pummell

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My GPS busted a few weeks ago on the way to a lunch with Patrick Ashamalla from A Brand New Way. Needless to say, locating the office via Blackberry while driving was interesting.

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Finally, I get around to calling the GPS company to see what we can do to fix the problem.

Unfortunately, when we have products that break, we’re unable to speak directly with the person who invented this product, nor speak with the manufacturer of the device. I’m going to have to speak with a customer service representative. Ouch.

Thankfully, I realized a few years ago that customer service representatives are humans. (Profound, I know). As such, I try to treat interactions with customer service representatives as I would any other client or acquaintance I meet.

Just like any introduction, the first thing we do is say hello and exchange names. Thus, after getting off hold (the typical 45 minute wait), I obtain and remember the name of the person with whom I am speaking.

“Hi, thank you for calling Broken GPS, Inc. This is Josephine, how may I help you today?”

“Hey there, Josephine! How is your day going so far?”

…This is typically where a stunned pause takes place…

“…Um, well, I’m doing alright, how about yourself?”

“I’m doing okay. I’m sure it’s been another long day, huh?”

…This is where they realize I actually, genuinely, care what they have to say.

“Um, well, yes, it has been a long day. Thank you for asking. But, what can I do to help you?”

…Note that by this point, the tone of their voice has changed completely. Just as I genuinely cared about establishing a positive working relationship with Josephine, she also genuinely wants to do her best to help me.

…This is where I instill my three rules for solving whatever problem I’m having with the company/product/bill/etc.  in question:

1. Recognize that it’s not Josephine’s fault that my product is broken and that I’ve been on hold for far too long.

2. Understand that Josephine has typically annoying company policies that will limit the amount of help she will be able to give me, because she has to follow them.

3. Know that I can not get any resolution on the situation without Josephine’s help.

In other words, I’m going to catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Hopefully, Josephine doesn’t have 1,000 eyes or 6 legs. But even if she did, I’d still need her to be on my side to help me resolve my situation.

After a deep breath:

“Well, Josephine, I was hoping we could work together to figure out a way to solve this issue I’m having with my GPS which happened to stop charging a few weeks ago…”

Being genuine in my interactions with customer service representatives has been a mutually pleasant experience (note: except for long hold times), and has typically led to getting the problem resolved (in the way I wanted it to be resolved).

If at any point there seems to be a difficulty or lapse in communication, I try to make a comparison we will both understand:

“You see Joesiphine, it’s as if my GPS was like a Happy Meal, except I didn’t get the french fries, but I got two toys…”

I mean, who hasn’t been to McDonalds?

Anyway, while I was on hold, I had a lot of time to think about companies who are using social media to their advantage. I also had a fair amount of time to listen to the elevator music version of ‘Reflection’ from the Disney movie ‘Mulan’ and finish my goat cheese enchiladas (they were delicious, thank you for asking).

Point being is there are several advantages to using social media within a customer service realm:

1. Proactive is Powerful: Instead of companies having to be reactive in their approach with customer service, companies who use Twitter to proactively search and resolve customer complaints almost put the company in charge of the situation. They are able to resolve situations before they get out of hand.

2. Enhanced Online Reputation: Also, I’m willing to bet that because they conduct the customer service through a social media platform, the company is more likely to have the individual who ‘complained’ about the service turn around and speak as an advocate of the company once their issue is resolved. In essence, the company has a greater opportunity to have a larger, more positive, digital word-of-mouth conversation. Social media makes it possible for individuals to interact with a brand and then disseminate their (hopefully) good experiences with the company to their friends and followers. The potential for having an increase in brand awareness through social media customer service is profound.

3. Genuine Human-to-Human Connection: It’s beginning to bring us back to genuine human interaction. Companies and brands can humanize their brand and make it easier for people to identify with who they are.

image via active rain

Last week, I attended Blog Potomac, an industry ‘unconference’ in the DC area. I had the opportunity to hear from several industry thought-leaders in different areas of corporate communication.

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One of the most thought-provoking topics of the day regarded the concept of “personal branding,” an online strategy for an individual to consistently position their ‘unique brand’ across social media platforms.

There have been several emerging “personal brand experts” on the Internet that help individuals understand how to market themselves online. Traditionally, these ‘experts’ encourage others to brand themselves as experts in specific industries–specifically ones that companies are desperate for more knowledge in.

But I find a lot of issue in this matter. While these “personal branding experts” eschew the ideology that an individual needs to “pursue their passion” to become an “expert”, I think a lot of individuals are pressured into following the mainstream or forcing a passion that will help advance their career.

But I wholeheartedly agree with one of the speakers, Liz Strauss, who lightly addressed the issue of personal branding during her portion of the conference. While this is not an exact quotation, she said in response to personal branding that:

“Do not lay an ‘idea’ of who you are on top of your image. Live who you are.”

I believe that this ideology parallels one of the quotations I strive to adhere to. The quotation is from Frederick Douglass, one of the leaders of the abolitionist movement in the US:

“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”

I believe that companies may need to be wary of “experts.” Especially those who claim to be ‘experts’ in social media.

For example, While I subscribe to well over 50 blogs which I try to read every day (amassing to 1,000+ blog posts weekly), I would never refer to myself as an ‘expert.’ This decision is primarily due to the nature of our business. By the time I finish reading my blog posts in the morning, the information is already obsolete.

The exponential rate at which my industry moves is one of the reasons I’m so drawn to it. While we understand our theories of transparency and authenticity (disclaimer: oversimplification), our industry trends and tactics evolve so quickly that the title ‘expert’ is in and of itself an indicator that one would be obsolete. For example, by the time one takes the time necessary to brand oneself as an ‘expert’ in a particular aspect of social media, they have already fallen behind the curve.

The Blog-off contest at Community Marketing Blog ended on the 30th of May.

Over the course of the two week competition, I ended up posting 3 times. These posts ranged in scope. One covered mobile advertising (or ‘app’vertising). It discussed the recent trends in the mobile marketing industry and how companies can increase brand awareness through effective mobile applications.

The second post talked about journalism in the social media era. I talked about how traditional journalism is being replaced by citizen journalism and how I thought this was a good thing in terms of marketing and branding campaigns. Citizen journalism increases transparency and strength of message from influencer bloggers.

My third post talked about the importance of digital monitoring due to digital WOM (word of mouth). It also touched on how companies must understand their online digital conversation before they engage their customers online.

I learned a lot from this competition. I’m proud of the conversation that was generated in the comments as well as how many people read the posts!

In my next post, I’ll talk about some of the ‘blogger best practices’ and my strategy for the competition.

Also, I’ll write a post and let you know who the winners of the contest are. If I am picked to be a permanent writer to the blog, I’ll have a press release with my bio sent out to 1+ million people on Linked-In and other prominent industry blogs. It will be very exciting.

Okay, Okay, the title of this post seems contradictory with the entire purpose of this blog. But just hear me out.

On Monday, The San Diego Business Journal wrote an article after an interview with Michael Olguin, who heads Formula PR. Formula PR was ranked No. 1 on the Business Journal’s 2008 Public Relations Agencies List.

OlguinThe article discussed Olguin’s opinions on social media, who does claim that social media is as important as any other element of PR. However, he doesn’t think that social media is for everyone. According to the article:

Olguin is a firm believer that Internet media, whether it’s social networking, online versions of print publications, or columnists and reporters who maintain their own blogs, is vital to his business. But he also concentrates his client roster on national firms, or locally based companies that are national.

I agree with this framework completely. There are a lot of companies who are hearing a lot of buzz words and want to get active in the sphere. But companies may not benefit from having a social media presence, especially those in the B-2-B sector. I also think that Olguin is wise to implement social media campaigns for national firms and companies.

However, I do think that all companies should understand social media. Just because an active presence on the sphere may not be in the cards for your integrated marketing communications right now, it doesn’t mean that companies can just ignore the sphere altogether.

This is especially true for companies who are B-2-C. Chances are, your consumers are talking about your company on online communities. Companies should therefore instill a social media monitoring system to be aware of the online conversation and the ‘loudest’ allies and opponents. Having this system in place will make the entrance into the social media sphere more seamless as it becomes necessary.