A Business Technology Place

Delaying the inevitable – businesses ignoring social media

If your company doesn’t use social media tools to interact directly with customers now, it’s only delaying the inevitable.

Every day there are news stories, blog posts, television commercials, radio ads, and print pieces about consumers and businesses using the internet and rich media to communicate with each other. Some consumers and businesses are still on the sidelines whether out of apathy, denial, or ignorance because they claim these tools are not relevant to their lives or business. For business, sitting on the sidelines often lasts as long as the first brand or public opinion crisis.  Check how active BP was on twitter, facebook, etc. before the oil spill of 2010.  Answer? Not much. An example from the political world is found by examining how inactive the Republican party was with social media in the 2008 presidential elections. Do you think they’ll use the same strategy in 2012?

Let’s face it. Public opinion around a brand can change with lightning speed today because of social media tools.

We live in an age where individuals now have the ability to self-publish content in multiple formats from multiple types of devices. This capability isn’t going away, it’s only getting easier. It started with creating text and uploading to a website. In the early days of the internet this was a task reserved for the technically adept. Look at internet content now. Individuals upload pictures, video, and text from mobile devices, personal computers, cameras, etc.  with which they have constant access. What this means is that consumers have more power over brand perception and appearance than ever. Why? Because they have access to create and share content directly with others who have the ability to consume the content from a growing number of locations.  This breaks from the past because the message isn’t completely controlled by company behind the brand any longer. Individuals are creators not just consumers of information.

In a marketing MBA class my professor suggested another P to the classic marketing mix; Public opinion.

Brands already knew public opinion was an important part of their livelihood. But in the past, they controlled the message to the public. The message was safe because what people saw was approved by the executives and committees within the organization. Now companies find themselves locked in a dialogue with the public to help control public opinion. Some recent examples:

* Toyota used social media during their recall crisis

* Taco Bell used social media during the beef definition crisis

* Ford used social media to squash negative public opinion

Don’t put-off the inevitable. If you haven’t already formed and empowered employees to communicate directly with individuals, do so now.

Social media isn’t just for public relations. It has application all across the business including HR, marketing, public relations, and customer service. Engaging customers in this space provides the following benefits to organizations:

* Records factual information where emotions may skew it.
* Shows goodwill by offering assistance to customers and prospects.
* Shows relevancy to clients and customers by addressing customer service issues in the same forum they are created.
* Engages employees with current tools and technology.  This means motivating employees and increasing productivity because they know they are directly helping customers which directly helps the business.

Most companies using social media today follow a  pattern when addressing complaints.

* Acknowledge the customer complaint and apologize they had a bad experience with the brand.
* Offer assistance by giving contact information for direct service. This attempts to move the conversation out of the public domain but also allows the company to directly assist the customer where appropriate.
* Respond with factual information and acknowledge willingness to aid with more information as necessary. This removes any emotion from the conversation and moves it to a professional level with courtesy.
* Maintain a personal voice, not a corporate voice.

Individuals want to talk on an individual level, not a corporate level.
When you look at the case studies on organizations using social media you’ll see that public values straight talk. They don’t want to feel like they are speaking to a committee or a lawyer. Individuals tend to respond on the same level companies communicate. If the communication is honest and forthcoming then individuals will honor the spirit of the response. It creates customer good will. The great thing for companies in this type of dialog is that the public will often police the conversation. If someone within the public continues to contribute negative content after a company has been forthcoming then the public will recognize this and side with the company.  Don’t believe it for what I say, look at the case studies (some I’ve mentioned above, but you can find others.)

One more thing.
Not responding is something that is often later blogged and critiqued with more negative criticism. It shows lack of interest and engagement with customers. So creating a framework for direct interaction with the public is something organizations should do now while the waters are smooth. Otherwise they’ll be building a boat during the storm. That’s not fun. Just ask BP.


What we can learn from carrier pigeons tweeting the score

This morning I was reading a few pages in the Historical Baseball Abstract by Bill James. The book is full of baseball history “stuff”. The interesting find today was a story about using carrier pigeons to deliver baseball scores across Philadelphia in 1883. The account reads that zookeeper Jim Murray sent carrier pigeons with scores back to his fellow workers at the zoo after each half inning. Can you imagine a dude showing up at the ticket gate with a cage full of pigeons? Apparently the idea caught on and other fans requested to get on the message distribution (the first twitter follower?).

Carrier, or homing, pigeons had long since been used to deliver messages.  Their use in times of war is documented on many occasions. However, the use at an athletic event to deliver scores had me thinking about how we send business messages with performance metrics today.

twitter bird to carry messages

twitter bird to carry messages

Today we have stock tickers, sports tickers, web sites with score, and in-game tweets for message delivery. These are used for global message broadcast and don’t require a subscription. They are fast and provide up-to-the second updates.

But how can we better deliver business messages with performance metrics inside our company message systems? Today most key performance indicators are put in a spreadsheet and emailed or crafted to fit in a Power Point presentation and reviewed in a meeting. Would decision makers would benefit from having performance metrics available to them on regular intervals like the carrier pigeons used for baseball game scores? Absolutely. IT staffs do this today for monitoring the health of the systems that support the business. If a metric falls out of an expected range then the on-call person is alerted via page and/or email.

To do this for business metrics would require that the message be simple and in a format easily understood by the recipient. The carrier pigeon exampled worked well because they followed that principal. This is also a primary reason that Twitter is successful today. It forces the sender to keep their message simple and on point. More detailed reports could be sent via detailed spreadsheets, discussed in committees, or reviewed online. The format and delivery of the message should be determined by the primary device used by the decision maker (mobile device, browser, email client) Here are a few ideas about how to use short messages to send key business metrics or KPIs.

  • Use your web analytics tool to auto-generate a report with specific performance metrics and email it to the decision makers. For example: hourly orders, daily conversion rates, hourly email opens for email campaigns, etc.
  • Set the browser home page for decision makers as an internal dashboard showing the latest performance metrics. This requires the use of some software for displaying the metrics. It could be a web analytics tool, data warehouse tool, or custom programmed interface.
  • If the decision maker uses a mobile device as their primary means for business messages then use the text message feature to send performance metrics. Most analytics and reporting tools have an automated email function and all messaging services have an email address that converts to a text message. Yes, you could just as easily send the message as an email.  I like the text message option because it forces the sender to keep the message short and on point.
  • Setup a protected twitter account to publish information and links. I like this idea because it gets decision makers onto a platform that they can use to read other messaging about their business and industry.

Do you have automated messages sending key performance indicators to your decision makers on regular intervals? What type of messaging frame work do you use? Have you thought of using tweeting business messages to internal recipients?