Recently I was interviewed (by email) alongside Mathew Tindale of LinkedIn by SecurePay on how to best leverage LinkedIn as a platform for commercial success. The answers quoted in the article came from a longer email interview I thought I would post here as a rough play book for LinkedIn success…
It is my view also that it is of most value in the business-to-business space – in helping people succeed professionally and commercially.
Key opportunities for professionals are:
- Profile - by optimising your profile for search, you can be found in the most sophisticated people search on the planet. LinkedIn is the Google of people, and you must be profiled there as effectively well as you possibly can be. Key toi success here is ensuring your skills keywords are all included.
- Endorsement and recommendations - it is highly worth investing effort in soliciting these, particularly recommendations. Nothing attests to your quality better than those that have worked with you or done business with you. An absence of this testament speaks volumes also.
- Network - LinkedIn is now a powerful CRM system, always look to grow your network but be careful not to overstep the mark, LinkedIn looks dimly on trying to connect with people that you don’t know or have no business with. But outside of that, on a network where profiles are already public, there is no such thing as “my network’s too big”. (Caveat: watch out for spam merchants.)
- Lead generation and deal maturation - there are huge advantages for professionals in terms of social selling, seeding your network with relevant and value-adding information pertinent to your discussion. You can use status updates for this (3rd party or ‘affinity’ content – see this blog for more on this) as well as Groups. Aside from ambient education and awareness, this creates the possibility of serendipity magic – right time, right place, right expertise.
- Engagement - using Groups, Posts or the Publishing Platform, LinkedIn provides users with the ability to engage with their prospects in a way that they will welcome and that is relevant and timely. This is a far more effective way to generate business and foster relationships than cold calling or email marketing.
- Thought Leadership - the newly launched Publishing Platform, similar to a blogging site – is an extremely powerful platform for showcasing your expertise, stimulating discussions, advancing deals and attracting talent.
- Cadence: too often will do more damage than not at all. Perhaps a maximum of 3 times a month and never for the sake of it.
- Value: it is always about the customer and never about yourself. You must add value to the debate and never blow your own trumpet – that is what your profile is for.
- Brevity: as with blogging, these pieces should be to the point – 400-500 words maximum – and ideally based around a list as these are the easiest to read and most likely to be bookmarked and/or shared.
- Eye-catching: the headline and image are the most important aspects to help your work cut through the noise.
PICTURE CREDIT: getentrepreneurial.com
It is a common obstacle to a successful Social Media strategy that I encounter whenever I talk to clients and prospects. Bleeding out the expertise of a company’s thought leaders is the secret sauce to any successful content marketing strategy. What a company’s most experienced leaders know about their industry, and the advise they can give to customers and prospects is always what is going to be the essential energy to drive hits, leads and sales. But it is also the most elusive element.
“I don’t have time for blogging” and “I can’t write” are two executive show-stoppers that can very quickly derail a promising content marketing effort before it has even begun. As a result, PR and marketing departments are often left with pushing fairly vanilla content that doesn’t effectively differentiate their brand from competitors. Either they must recycle old content over and over, or re-purpose other people’s content. It stands to reason that if you aren’t contributing anything new, you won’t excite your audience.
But thought leaders need to realise that blogging does not have to take a lot of time, and that blogging is not writing. Let’s unpack those two points:
“Blogging does not have to take up time…”
The worst way to blog is to sit down at your desk on a friday afternoon and attempt to write something because of pressure from your marketing department to contribute content. This makes blogging a chore and will not come from a point of passion or inspiration. Blogging is not writing, it is thinking. Any thought leader worth their salt is always thinking. Success comes from having one of those minds that is always working, in the background if not in the foreground. Blogging can happen in the “dead time” – jogging, doing the weekly shop, walking the dog, surfing. When an idea crystallizes and a series of thoughts consolidate into a clear argument or position – a blog post shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes to jot down. The marketing team can mark it up, edit it and post it. The essential kernel of the post is what they need.
“Blogging is not writing…”
Too often, executives have discounted writing as a skill they do not have. Writing is often seen as a skill that you buy in. Certainly, writing is a specialist skill but it is a misconception that effective blogging requires good writing skills. Not only can a first draft be tidied up by a writer, but no one reads a blog post looking for good writing. Blog posts are a piece of communication designed to impart an idea. Within the space of a blog post, all that needs to happen is that a problem is identified, expanded upon and solved. This does not require good writing skills, it requires thinking and it requires experience that cannot be mimicked by PR or marketing. Where high standards present an obstacle, it is always worth remembering the blogging maxim: “done is better than perfect”.
The bottom line is this: thought leaders within a business have a responsibility to provide the much needed edge to their company’s content marketing. Blogging is very powerful not only from what it can provide to the social media and content marketing effort but also how it can assist SEO and lead generation programs. The dual declinations of “I don’t have time” and “I can’t do it” are not sufficient roadblocks to these endeavours. Leaders within businesses need to work around these problems to find a way to unlock their blogging potential, or their brand’s content will remain bland and value-less.
[PICTURE CREDIT: thrivingparentsthrivingkids.com]
Artechulate offers services to support executive blogging programs including training workshops, writing services and post-production and editing services. For more on Blogging, visit the Artechulate Blogging Bookmarks.
I’ve been trying to find time to write about this one simple aspect of Social Media that everyone (including me) could be doing much better. Then I saw this post by Jennifer Mattern. It is so wonderful when something has been burning a hole in your brain for months and then you find someone else who not only thinks the same thing but writes it for you too! So thank you Jennifer!
Like Jennifer, I’ve also noticed a very, very simple little tweak almost everyone could make to improve their exposure on Twitter as well as increase inbound traffic, and it probably will take their Webmaster about 10 minutes to do. While incredibly simple, I feel it is also symptomatic of the tick-box approach so many organisations have to Social Media. (‘Social share buttons? Tick. Next.’) But this is a huge opportunity to better maximise your content marketing assets.
I find as I consult clients about Twitter in particular, overlooking this particular little hack is as common as omitting to include a URL on their Twitter profile or hash-tagging keywords in their biography (or even tweets for that matter). These are the little details that can really help increase exposure and engagement and give your campaigns a much bigger bang but with very little effort.
The huge opportunity available here is to actually help draft the tweets people use to share your content; making it so much more likely that they will do so.
There’s almost no web site that doesn’t have social share buttons of some kind on their content – these are the buttons that help visitors share your content out onto their social networks on your behalf – especially when they are on mobile devices. They can be responsible for a good proportion of your website traffic and can drive Social audience growth. Sites that have this feature are shared Socially as much as 7 times more than those that do not, according to Brightedge Research. Moreover, among the 10,000 largest websites, those that feature Twitter share buttons are, on average, mentioned in 27 tweets that contain a link back to the site (versus only 4 from those that do not). This is powerful stuff. Logically as blog owners you should take more care of how these tweets are written. Here are three aspects you should pay attention to:
- 1. Include your Twitter Handle to increase your profile and grow your follow audience (Jennifer has this covered)
- 2. Shorten the URL automatically (and there are tools to do this) so you can track link-backs but also make more space in the tweet for the visitor to include their own commentary
- 3. Better still, set the hashtag so you can easily track shares, but also ensure your content is fed into relevant strategic search stacks as well, further increasing your exposure where you want it
These tricks are quite technical and while there are tools and resources on the web to help you do this, it is best to solicit the help of your digital team or agency, webmaster or even a technically savvy mate to make sure you get it right. But by taking care of the simple things in Social you can focus more time on the bigger stuff like content creation and engagement.
(As I said, I too should be doing this a lot better but don’t have the web skills to make it work. The WordPress widget I have installed for this just doesn’t seem to work properly meaning the Hashtag I include doesn’t appear in the share message. Anyone out there who has the easy answer to this problem please get in touch in the comments! #doasIsaynotasIdo !)
It was always going to be so as the exponential success of the big Social Networks led them towards the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: Wall Street. Since floating, the dynamics of the big Social Networks have changed as “The Street” impresses upon them the ever-insatiable appetite for profit and growth. The spirit of collaboration that these networks had built their popularity on is irrelevant to the stock market that is vested purely in the business of dividends and portfolio wealth.
The symptom of this I’ve noticed that is of particular importance is one that I also see prevalent among online publishers: to operate almost in denial of the rest of the internet. The spirit of traditional Social Media for the most part is to operate as an efficient aggregator of all the great content on the internet, regulated by the level playing field of Relevance. The best content is shared the most times by the most people and therefore achieves “cut-through” based on the quality of the content, not on the size of the content-owner’s marketing budget. This is why the Social web is so democratic and appealing (especially to smaller organisations) – its primary currency is “interesting” rather than dollars.
Publishers have built their sites in denial of this but have sought to benefit from it at the same time. The principal difference, for instance, you will see between a blog post and an online newspaper article is that a blog post is riddled with embedded external links so that your reading can go on elsewhere as you research a topic. On most newspaper sites, the only links are to other articles on that site. The commercial imperative is to keep the reader on the site and not send them away, despite the fact that there might be more interesting or more relevant content elsewhere. While commercially logical, this is essentially anti-Social in my view.
Since floating, the big Social networks are becoming equally Anti-Social. They are driven not by the need to provide the most Social experience for their users but to keep the user on the site as long as possible in order to report the best metrics to advertisers.
- Take for instance the LinkedIn Publishing platform. There is already the internet and on it there are already blogs that thought leaders have been using to share their expertise. But recently LinkedIn has de-emphasised this external content in preference for their own platform. Third party content shared by users on LinkedIn no longer receives the same visibility as much as the content published there on LinkedIn. This platform currently receives its own, somewhat annoying, Notification everytime someone in your network pubslishes onto it. While third party content posted by users on LinkedIn disappears into the ether, content posted onto the LinkedIn platform is archived on your profile. Again, this makes sense commercially for LinkedIn but it means that the efforts users have gone into to produce their own platforms and promote them on these Social Networks are now irrelevant to LinkedIn (except they must continue as LinkedIn is a walled garden to Google and SEO will suffer from a LinkedIn-only strategy).
- On Facebook, a different dynamic is in play this year as the powerful engine is undermining “organic reach” for brand pages. Organic Reach describes that very dynamic I mentioned earlier – cutting through on the basis purely of your relevance and interest to your audience. If you manage a Facebook Page on behalf of your company, you have to date relied on the Facebook algorithm (Social Graph) and Organic Reach – your users liking your content and sharing it which in turn increases its visiblity. Effectively, this is free and the currency of it is your creative effort rather than your marketing dollar. Well, no more. As this article on Forbes explains: “Brands must now have Facebook down as a ‘paid channel’ on their marketing budget so they can work campaigns around this fact. The free ride and access to Facebook’s user base is coming to an end.” This process has become known as the Reachpocalypse.
So what can be done about this reality? Your professional LinkedIn strategy should recognise that you should start leveraging the Publishing Platform more in combination with your external or blog content strategy. This is a welcome mat you cannot afford to wear out (given there’s a Notification every time) and so perhaps weekly contributions versus daily content posting. If you already have a blogging strategy and don’t want to duplicate that or replace it, it is advisable to post your content on the LinkedIn posting platform also, but be warned that the correlation between LinkedIn and the Google search engine is not yet understood but in order to check your blog SEO efforts are not punished for duplication, change many of the words so the content is not a mirror.
On Facebook, it is a fact of life that you will have to spend more money on your Facebook content strategy – sponsored posts and advertising to promote your content will become essential. But one other lesson I have come across is that while external content is punished, if the content is native on Facebook it will travel further. I recently heard of an instance where Facebook executives admitted to a room of Page managers that a video on You Tube posted onto Facebook will not do as well as a video posted directly into Facebook itself. Therefore, again, a duplicate strategy is needed for video and image content. Your video will do well on You Tube so continue on that journey but to ensure it receives visibility on Facebook, post the file directly into the engine.
This is disappointing but is merely a natural consequence of the same commercial mechanism that gave us these wonderful platforms in the first place, so you must adapt rather than lament. However, it does frustrate me that while we already have a perfectly functioning and wonderful internet, we must now duplicate our content efforts on these platforms that once valuably aggregated that internet but now aim to compete with it.
Twitter hopefully will remain what is in my view the purest of Social platforms, but is still only recently accountable to the market and the outcome of that is unclear. What I have noticed though is that native content – images uploaded directly into Twitter – do help your posts travel further.
Google+ is unique because it serves not y the stock market but the search engine – that algorithmic machine your content strategy must remain a loyal servant of – in recognition of the fact that internet is, despite all I have written above, still the most powerfully Social network of all.
In summary, your content strategy now must become multi-faceted: a Social-SEO strategy on the internet and then walled-garden strategies on LinkedIn and Facebook. But it should be remembered that the significance of peer-to-peer engagement remains unchanged and ultimately the most powerful and unique aspect of Social Media.
Most organisations are still struggling to understand the benefit of Social Media and are stagnated in a Grail-like search for the ROI data point that will win the argument for ever. However, when you place the customer at the centre of your thinking, that search is over far quickly.
I have been working on a few projects lately that have in some way intersected with Human Centred Design (download this useful IDEO toolkit as model for HCD methodology), a branch of Design Thinking. This is methodology that places the same thinking designers use at the centre of business problem solving. Most notably, it places the customer at the centre of product and process development, rather than conventional thinking which usually places the company or organisation first.
It has become apparent to me through this process that Social Media automatically becomes central to any business strategy as a direct result of a Human Centred Design approach. Essentially, use of Social Media becomes defined by the fact that the customer needs the Social channel serviced, not because of any gains a company will derive.
This is where the problem has been. The business world has wrestled with the search for Social Media ROI to justify investment in it. But they were ‘doin’ it wrong’. The question is not “what is in it for me?”; but more “what is in it for them?” – the customer. Anyone who subscribes to the Zappos lesson of “Customer Service is the new Marketing” will see the link that the answer to the second question is also the answer to the first. The customer benefit IS the ROI.
There is no end of data relating to the pay-off that good customer service delivers, and so no need for me to collate too much of it here. But a few key and arresting statistics are worth noting:
- 86 per cent of customers say they are willing to pay between 5 and 25 per cent above a standard price to ensure a superior quality of customer service (Harris Interactive 2013)
- 56 per cent of customers who use Social Media to interact with brand say they feel a stronger connection with that brand. (Buffer Research, 2013)
- 33 per cent of customers who receive a response to a negative comment (on Social Media) are turned around and post a positive review. Moreover 34 per cent delete the original negative review. (Harris Interactive 2013)
- Social Media users will tell an average of 42 people about a good experience (American Express 2012)
- 50 per cent of customers are more likely to buy from a brand if they are able to contact that brand via Social Media (Buffer Research 2013)
Salesforce.com Marc Benioff has been on this right from the start – first with The Social Enterprise and then The Customer Company platforms – and as the picture becomes ever clearer, his ahead-of-its-time vision is becoming more and more searing to me.
Before anyone starts panicking that they are required to provide Zappos-style customer service of dazzling proportions, it is worth reading this article in The Harvard Business Review by Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman, and Nicholas Toman: “Stop trying to delight your customers.” It makes the seemingly obvious point that it isn’t necessarily a delightful experience the customer requires, but merely a functional one that lives up to the promise. As customers are demonstrating in their droves that they want to use Social Media as a customer service channel, the logic of Human Centre Design demands that companies deliver it. The rewards of this approach are immediate and quite easy to derive. That is the ROI of the Social Media – quite simply, avoiding the disadvantages of not doing it.
Picture Credit: Business2community.com
Recently I posted a tweet about using hashtags to prospect for sales which led to an interesting discussion about Social Selling I thought was worth reflecting on. I often think that if you went back in time 20 years or so and told a sales executive that in the future they’d have the power to eavesdrop on their prospects – they’d look at you in amazement and wonder. Yet while we posses this power today, many seem reluctant to harness it.
So the original article I posted from Social Media Examiner was a simple guide to using Hastags on Twitter to prospect for sales opportunities. SME is a great resource but is very generic in style and tends to target its content at the small to medium business market. Nevertheless it often has some excellent content. This article at Social Media Today is equally a very useful insight into the topic. A local Social Media Insights company Digivizer responded to make the solid point that qualification was still an important process of the prospecting process:
— DIGIVIZER (@Digivizer) April 17, 2014
The conversation quickly segued into a blog post the company had posted recently about insight vs intent. This aligned with my point that while Twitter might not be fantastic at qualifying a prospect, it is excellent at signifying something that is extremely hard to access in any other medium – intent, readiness or willingness to buy. Qualification should be done via your CRM system, but a truly sophisticated Social Selling function will combine Social with the CRM intelligence to both qualify and monitor prospects.
In the B2B environment, because of the scale, this can be done very effectively by monitoring prospects’ posts for indications they are ready to buy or at least in a mindset conducive to discussing your product or service further. Some CRMs – the Salesforce Sales Cloud for one – provide a feature for importing a view of a contact’s Social Media posts right into the prospect record to help paint a picture of where they might be on the buying curve. This kind of intelligence is invaluable. I can remember, for instance, when shortly before a prospect met with a sales representative they posted exactly what their agenda for the meeting was – the features they hoped to see from the product demo. That sales representative missed the tweet but because the wider company had Social Media Monitoring switched on that crucial insight was routed through to him in time. Without it the meeting might have gone quite differently, particularly since it was about Social CRM!
More widely, monitoring Social for signals of a possible buying disposition is easy once you’ve got a strategy around what topics and keywords you are searching for (i.e. #Hashtags). When an insurance company searches for people tweeting about passing their driving test, all sorts of opportunities emerge around car insurance – CTP and Comprehensive, as well as personal injury. It also provides an opportunity to congratulate that person, thereby warming that relationship making a sale more likely. Other life moments such as house purchases, imminent weddings, the announcement of a new birth all allow you to build a profile of a customer that they are in a position to buy. To support your Social engagement strategy, there are also SEO and Social advertising strategies you can put in place to ensure you surround that trigger. While once some of this might have seemed ”creepy”, increasingly consumers and businesses alike expect it.
The key is organisation and aligning your monitoring effort and content strategy with your CRM so that when an intention to buy is signalled you can spot it quickly, establish some context using your CRM – i.e. further qualify the prospect – and then identify some content you can use to develop the opportunity.
If you have had an experience of mining Social Media for intention to buy signals, please leave a comment below to share it.
Social Media Automation is the new black as those engaged in Social Media begin to find elements of it too demanding, or those beginning their Social Media journey sensibly try and make it sustainable from the outset. It is quite understandable. To execute Social Media well requires commitment and time; and small teams or individuals with limited bandwidth will find that a challenge. The automation tools market is exploding as a result – bringing with it benefits and dangers.
Personally, I try to automate as little as possible. As someone once said, “a unicorn dies every time someone schedules a tweet.” On principle I think there are elements of Social Media that it is perfectly acceptable to automate – within certain caveats. These are them:
- Remember what you have done. This is most important. Last year, Tesco in the UK forgot that it had a scheduled tweet signing off for the night…in the middle of a PR crisis about horse meat found in its burgers. This would have been bad enough, but the chosen language of the tweet made it even worse: “It’s sleepy time so we’re off to hit the hay! See you at 8am for more #TescoTweets.” There are many examples of these, and this one involving a death at a Radiohead concert is probably one of the most sickening. The key is, remember what is going out. Do not schedule so much that you can’t.
- Respond. Scheduled posting is a great way to stimulate engagement with your audience, but you need to be there for that engagement. Nothing is worse than engaging with a company, or even a person, and being ignored – especially when your post asks for engagement. Continue to monitor and manage your Social Media. Automating does not mean you can forget about it. Authenticity is so crucial in the Social Media environment and you will be very quickly exposed if you are not genuine about your commitment to your audience.
- Optimise for each network. A tweet on LinkedIn looks ugly and will fail. Equally, a long URL on Twitter looks like laziness. I personally think it is a mistake to post the same content routinely and automatically across several networks without tweaking for the nuances of each. It looks like what it is: scant regard for your audience.
- You can’t automate a conversation. So don’t try. Automated Direct Messages or tweets thanking people for their follow, or pre-programmed messages from customer service accounts in response to routine problems also betray your lack of seriousness about the channel and subsequently your customer. No one likes talking to a machine, this is why customers are embracing Social Media over IVR-dominated contact centres.
This article here at Buffer is an excellent guide not only to some of the many pitfalls of automation, but also a useful list of automation tools. Buffer is indeed a terrific tool for automation, but also a very popular and transparent one. For instance, if your short URL begins with “buff.ly” – or ”ht.ly” or “ow.ly” for Hootsuite – people will immediately suspect automation even if it isn’t the case and engagement with that tweet is likely to be much less.
I have come across a couple of strategies that seem to work for people and seem valid. I spoke to a former colleague the other day who had a very simple but seemingly ingenious recipe for automation. Every day on the bus to work he choses some content for the day ahead on Feed.ly and then schedules that for posting during the day on Buffer. But importantly he had notifications set for responses and engages with his replies. So it was genuine, but just recognised that throughout the day he would be tied up in meetings without the luxury of time to post spontaneously. Another colleague uses “If This Then That” to great effect, but again – if you engage him on anything he has posted he will always respond quickly and genuinely.
I think for the most part, the rule of thumb is that for your “Affinity Content” strategy scheduled or automated posting is perfectly fine and in fact a quite sensible deployment of tools to reach an outcome within obvious time constraints. Expanding on an earlier fishing analogy, you can view it as trawling for engagement – like speculatively hanging a line over the back of your working-day-dinghy. Anything beyond that and you are in serious danger of being a unicorn killer!
If you’re serious about Social Media, want it to succeed, and aren’t merely paying lip service, then staff it or outsource it to someone who can manage it professionally for you.
What is your view on automation – for or against? Leave a comment below…
A primary problem clients and prospects I speak to have is moving Social from the tactical periphery to the strategic centre. This might be a person looking to push a Social agenda within their department or team, or an entire department (usually marketing or PR) looking to increase engagement in Social across the wider business. There is one very simple answer that goes a long way to solving this problem: put it on the wall!
Often the key barriers to the adoption of Social strategies within a business are visibility and ignorance:
- Visibility: when people are very busy Social Media is unlikelly to be front-of-mind as they dash from one “fire drill” to another;
- Ignorance: if there are people who haven’t adopted Social Media tools in their own life, they might not even know what it looks like, let alone understand how it works
On a grand scale, it’s an approach taken by the high-profile “Social Media Command Centres” such as those employed by the rock star brands of Social Media like Dell or the Red Cross (There are more examples in this Salesforce eBook). But these are the Ferrari version of the approach. There is a far more affordable Ford version which can be simply an edition of Hootsuite on a wall-mounted LCD screen powered by a legacy desktop stashed in a cupboard. The outcomes are multiple:
- Right away you have a step-change in the visibility of Social Media in the organisation and how it relates to the target market
- Immediately, the business of monitoring is spread among many, meaning a comment or complaint directed at the company is far less likely to be ignored, and far more likely to be pounced upon quickly
- Strategically filtered Twitter traffic is much less dynamic than the furious Twitter feed most people are used to. This means people will begin to understand that Social Media is far more manageable than the skeptics would have you believe
- Breaking news pertinent to the organisation’s sector or marketplace will equally be seen far more quickly by someone, making the organisation more responsive and better informed
- Spontaneous inspiration of action is likely as people pass by the screen and see something relevant to them they want to respond to or share
Pretty soon, the idea of dedicated screens might proliferate as more and more potential Social Media Champions understand that by dedicating a screen to Social Media, it becomes more informative, available and relevant to day to day activity.
For a guide as to how to structure such a “Command Centre”, this Hootsuite post on what a dashboard could look like is very useful. But again, if you are having problems driving adoption of Social Media in your organisation, consider just wall-mounting it and then sitting back to see what magic happens!
Picture Credits: epicventure.nl
I’ve had a lot of cause for thought about how Social Media is used for Customer Service this week. It has led me to some very useful conclusions about what best practice looks like and how to build a formula for successful complaint handling – which is, let’s face it, the “pointy” end of engaging customers online.
I sometimes use Social Media to complain about a company’s conduct in its dealings with me. Publicly naming-and-shaming an organisation on Social Media can be a good way to hold a company to account when they aren’t addressing your problem fast enough, or it can be a perhaps badly-thought-through knee-jerk reaction to something that has annoyed you. We are all guilty of the latter. In this case I probably was in hindsight guilty of spleen-venting but the issue was nevertheless genuine. The company in question – Setanta Australia – engaged me quickly to solve the problem and in the process has provided me with an excellent case study to break down how this kind of important customer service can be best executed. It is my view that Setanta’s conduct was all-but best practice.
I can say that because while this dialogue was taking place, I was in fact attending – quite coincidentally – a workshop on How to Handle Complaints on Social Media run by an Australian-based expert in mediation and dispute management – Nicole Cullen at @Cullaborate. There was a great deal of value in the day-long session, from three speakers: Fiona Scott-Handley at @CloudSherpas who presented excellently on how to design a strategy for your customer service channel on Social; Buzznumber‘s Jess Whitaker who spoke authoritatively about Social Media Monitoring and from Delib’s Craig Thomler on how to use Social Media to manage a crisis (Craig’s very informative presentation can be seen at his blog here). But probably the most instructive content for me was from Nicole herself on how to approach the actual dialogue with the customer.
In terms of essential structure, the workshop introduced us to a well-established Customer Service Resolution Model that provides a framework for handling complaints. Put simply, customer satisfaction takes three forms, and the more of these boxes that are ticked, the more complete the outcome. My understanding of the model is as follows:
- Psychological Satisfaction – this is the warm-fuzzy emotional response that entails simply acknowledgement and validation of the problem, and ideally some empathy (but not necessarily an apology which could cause larger problems legally further down the line if substantive resolution isn’t possible). Where most companies fall over is in not even providing this. This can be by not responding, or responding defensively or failing to even see the complaint.
- Procedural Satisfaction - A 2011 Bain report found that 83 per cent of customers that complained to a company on Social Media either “liked” or “loved” the response. These customers can very quickly turn from angry customers likely to churn to competitors to enthusiastic advocates for your brand. Where that transition comes mainly is in the knowledge that a procedure was enacted as a result of their complaint. A resolution may not even be possible, but if a process is at least followed then a customer will be in a far more forgiving mood. However, it is important that this process is followed through and concluded – not merely promised as a form of placation. This is the ultimate validation.
- Substantive Satisfaction – While this isn’t always possible, it obviously makes for a complete resolution. A great deal of the damage is repaired in the previous step but if the customer’s concern can be fully addressed – be that a refund, a formal apology, a gift etc – then everyone wins. However, Nicole did make the important point that a customer’s demand – or position – isn’t always the solution and something else could be the answer. This will become apparent with investigation.
So beyond this model, Nicole and the other speakers also provided a toolkit of tips for how a complaint should be managed, many of which aligned with my own understanding of best practice approaches. By way of post-mortem, Setanta very adeptly demonstrated these in turn:
- Respond quickly – one of the companies attending the workshop has a standing and public response SLA (service level agreement) of two hours. Case Study: Setanta’s response was within three. This is very reasonable and practical in the event of something that isn’t life-threatening.
- Acknowledge and Understand- Case Study: which Setanta did very clearly, and while they did defend themselves it was not in a defensive way but only to explain, which is only fair.
- Take it offline – it is important to quickly move the conversation into an offline or private environment, for two reasons. First there might of course be privacy issues that if the conversation is conducted publicly will make the problem hard to resolve; and second any discussion of a service shortcoming in public will damage the brand. Case Study: Setanta engaged me on Direct Message.
- Investigate – use the CRM to examine the customer’s history and product/service portfolio. This will reveal any opportunity for alternative resolution should the customer’s demands not be possible to satisfy. Also, check the customer’s profile for help with the next step. Finally, check the customer has not mis-understood or even mis-represented the situation and that there isn’t a hidden agenda. Case Study: Setanta quickly established my situation accurately and then rectified it.
- Build rapport - When apparently faceless agents become people with similar interests, it is much harder to shout at them! Case Study: Setanta did this very well by asking questions about my sporting allegiances as they updated me on the procedure and then related to me in a personal, human way by congratulating my team on a recent win – that I appreciated and it went a long way to diffusing the situation quickly. Sport and music make it easy – pressing a fan button always works!
- Resolve and/or conclude – Either solve the problem or conclude it amicably. An open wound will fester and make for a motivated detractor that could escalate the problem and continue to damage the brand (as a well known Australian mobile phone brand knows all too well). Case Study: my relatively simple complaint was resolved completely within 24 hours and I now see Setanta quite differently – very positively now after some bad experiences in the past.
The only points I would make about the way Setanta handled the situation – which are open for debate – are that first, they did not acknowledge my tweet publicly which to me seemed like a missed opportunity to show others that they were responding. After all “customer service is the new marketing”! Second, their responses had no personal identifier. Common protocol is the initials of the agent are included at the end of tweets using the “^” symbol. This can then be broken out in the profile of the account – i.e. “^GL = Gareth Llewellyn (@mrgareth)” or not. However it is done, it is just important that some sort of identifier is there to aid the rapport.
At the most basic level though, it is important to say that where the complaint is genuine – no response at all is the very worst approach and increasingly will be seen as unacceptable to consumers and a failure of a brand’s responsibilities to its customers.
Picture Credit: Julienrio.com
“Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer/The Slings and Arrows of internal resource constraints/Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles/And by outsourcing Social Media, end them?”
William Shakespeare, Hamlet
It seems to be that the Social Media Industry is impaled on the horns of a dilemma: is it better to out-source Social Media activity or to keep it in-house? Everyone in the industry will have a strong opinion on the subject that may or may not be conflicted by their actual role in life depending on whether they work in house or with an agency.
This article by Kelsey Meyer at Fortune Magazine, for instance, puts the case very strongly that to outsource your Social Media is unthinkable, and akin to asking an intern to speak for you at a conference!
However, this article by Jayson Demers at Search Engine Watch makes a great argument that simply because of the complex mix of talents needed to make a Social Media campaign work, you have no choice but to outsource to an agency that has a wealth of such talent-mix.
However, after 18 months of consulting via both models – short-term projects to plan, enable and help execute internal Social Media functions; as well as managing aspects of clients’ Social Media on an ongoing basis – I have reached the conclusion that the problem should not be thought of in such a binary fashion. Not everything need be outsourced, and if outsourced, perhaps not for ever. Once you break Social Media down ot its various component parts you can see that some aspects of it can very appropriately be outsourced to take advantage of external resources; while some aspects of it – if outsourced – defeat the very purpose of the whole project.
Affinity content - posting helpful third party content on your channels is a critical and fairly time consuming task but can easily be outsourced to your PR agency or delegated to an intern. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand criterea of selection – sources of content, strategic topics, posting protocols. However, with this activity sustainably managed, you are off to the races!
Ghost writing and word-smithing – it is the nature of the beast that the thoughts that should power your thought leadership blogging will come from some of the busiest, least accessible people in the organisation. Only very rarely can you get these people to commit to consistent blogging and tweeting. But as long as you can get a sense of their thinking through very quick interviews, emails or even just by hearing them speak, it is is totally appropriate in my view to have their thoughts ghost written, as long as they have approval rights.
Content production – for some of the more high-end content production also, it is actually very sensible and certainly more affordable to outsource projects such as Inforgraphic design, video production or podcast recording.
Monitoring – it is very common for organisations to outsource their Social Media monitoring, often times even off-shore. This works very well as a safety net but should not be fully depended upon. Someone in-house should also monitor the corporate channels for responses and the keyword search agents for business opportunities.
Reporting – reporting is arduous and in many case fairly automatic and so compilations of large reports of data – audience increases, sentiment, trending topics and so on is most economically managed by an agency
- Analysis – while reporting can certainly be done externally, the learning from that data should be done in-house. One of the main and most compelling reasons for keeping Social Media in house is that if you don’t learn from the interactions and trends, then much of the effort is wasted. The potential Social Media has for advancing your understanding of your customers and prospects is one of its most exciting yet oft-overlooked.
- Engagement – for all but the most banal “high five” type of customer engagement on Corporate Social Media Accounts, there must be a protocol for at the very least workshopping responses internally. This is the very kernel of authenticity and to outsource this is to disrespect your customers.
- Thought leadership - equally insulting to your customers is to totally outsource your content production to the extent that external writers come up with the concepts, language, topics and positions totally in a vacuum. All content must at least have as its essence an idea or thought created internally. It isn’t called “owned” content for nothing.
- Strategy direction – I help a lot of clients develop their strategy but as an “in-sourcing” project. But the main direction of the strategy is still internal and the help that I provide is to draw it all together and consult on execution. It is so important that Social Media aligns with the overall business strategy. If strategy is directed externally, it is more likely to serve the interests of that external party!
- Measurement – as with analysis, judging what works and what doesn’t is a task best suited to in-house custodians. Social Media suffered for a long time by its tendency to measure “vanity statistics” such as increases in Likes and Followers – but this serves the agency agenda far better than that of the client. What matters to the client is if the activity is “touching” their customers and this is best indicated by the degree to which they comment and share. The client is the best judge of success.
Ultimately the goal is to create a Social Media function that is Sustainable, Affordable and Authentic. Along the way it will be expedient to outsource certain elements of that program in order for it to gain traction, prove itself and win more resources. The longer Social Media is allowed to prove itself the better as the best results are yielded after consistency is proven, audience built and value delivered.
As a result while I feel Social Media can and should be managed in house, and I have proven services to assist the development of that, organisations also need help in certain areas to execute their Social Media and I have proven services to help in that regard also. But these thoughts have been a helpful guide in deciding which is best.
Picture Credit: http://blog.mcpc.com/