When a Brand Ambassador Takes Control

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They say that you can’t control social media. They say that the message is in the hands of your customers. But is it really? What happens when that customer is on your side. And which side, exactly, is that?

During the US summer, Target received a range of online complaints about gender focused signage. In response, the company decided to take on the feedback and transform the shopping experience, making it more gender neutral.

In making this kind of change, Target no doubt, expected some response on social media. But it seems they didn’t expect a customer advocate to step in and take control of the conversation. But that’s exactly what one brand fan did.

Over a period of about 16 hours, a fake account setup with the Target logo and the name “Ask ForHelp” trolled the commenters on the official Target Facebook page. Provocatively arguing with other customers, the account was eventually suspended.

This kind of activity has occurred in the past. Two comedians from Atlanta, Ben Palmer and Nick Price setup an account with the name “Customer Service” and spent time randomly arguing with customers on various brand pages. And while all this makes for light entertainment, no doubt, there are social media managers working furiuosly behind the scenes to clean up the fallout.

While the Target page has been cleaned up, there are plenty of screen captures circulating. Here are a few samples. But the question is – how would you respond? What would you say to your CEO. And where do you go from here?

Target-Reply1

 

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The State of Social Media in 2015 – A Future Business Roadmap

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I do love a review of social media. It reminds me of how far we’ve come and maybe gives an inkling of where we might go. It can also provide a guide by which you can assess, review and benchmark your clients and their activities. BUT. And with social media there is always a BUT.

For the vast majority of those who work in social media roles, or who work in social media with their clients, reports such as the Percolate State of Social Media 2015 are more practical than you might expect. For they provide a roadmap to future business capability.

That’s not a benchmark, it’s a roadmap

Every second on the internet, masses of content is being produced. Around 2500 Instagram photos are uploaded, almost 10,000 tweets are sent, 2000 Tumblr posts are published, 1800 Skype calls are made and 50,000 Google searches are conducted. It’s mind blowing. But it’s not useful.

What IS useful is thinking through the implications of this:

  • Media is being produced by individuals not just by media companies
  • Content is curated, shared and distributed entirely through digital channels
  • “Phone” calls are making the phone obsolete
  • Knowledge is sought on demand.

Looking deeper, we see not the symptoms of these technologies but the behaviours which underlie them.

  • We prize creation over consumption
  • We value networks over channels
  • We crave connection over function
  • We seek satisfaction over perfection

If we take a similar approach to the headlines from the Percolate report, interesting opportunities appear:

  • Social media moves beyond social – we need to build “social media” capacity within our organisations in preparation
  • Customer service shifts to experience – customer service is no longer back office, but front of house. Time to prepare our teams as ambassadors rather than problem solvers
  • Crisis management hits the risk radar – have you developed a crisis plan? Now is the time
  • Social business is everyone’s business – similar to the first point above. But think about social media not as a marketing function but as a core business capability. This is where the digital rubber meets the transformation road.

Social becomes business

The fundamental shift that is recognised in the report is not the NEED for social media, but the need for SOCIAL BUSINESS. As social impacts all aspects of your business from the boardroom to the reception desk, the need for an organisational wide strategy and enablement program becomes paramount.

How can this be done programmatically – and (despite the name of this blog) without chaos?

The answer lies in becoming a responsive organisation. Using agile methodologies applied to business functions and outcomes. It means disrupting yourself before you are disrupted. Now is the time when social becomes business.

It’s Not Stalking, It’s Social Selling. Three Lessons for Corporate Social Success

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A few years ago, while working with SAP, I setup a social selling program for our leading global sales team. Given their initial reluctance – and the bad wrap that social media held within corporate circles – I developed a deck with the title “It’s Not Stalking, It’s Social Selling”. The title alone got us over the first hurdle – the natural distrust of technology and social networks that almost all of us feel when first venturing into the vast social network space. But what followed was an eye-opener for both me and the teams. And those lessons continue today.

Here are three vital lessons that I learned years ago, but continue to learn from today:

1. You’re only a leader when you have followers

When I boldly pitched this program to senior executives, I had a sense that it was groundbreaking. That no one had done this before. But it also needed to succeed, so I had to tread carefully. It had to be successful. The first focus for “social selling” was Twitter. We built a program, trained the teams and gingerly began engaging with customers. What response did we get?

Crickets.

Then a couple of clients emailed to explain that they LOVED that we were engaging this way. But they were not ready yet. Don’t expect engagement. Interaction. Sales progression. The program was too early. It was worth nothing.

2. Go with your instinct but follow the data to reach a discovery

Following on from my disastrous first steps, I realised that I had followed my instincts not the data. While my instincts were correct, they led to the wrong conclusion. Yes, the shift was on for digital engagement and social selling. But no, at that stage, Twitter was not the right channel (but these, days, hmmm – maybe we should talk). When I conducted a personal branding audit, I realised that the teams had an untapped resource right at their fingertips. LinkedIn. There was a network already in place. They were comfortable in using it. And our clients were also present.

Go with your instincts – but back it up with data. Setup a hypothesis, test it and learn. Save yourself the grief of a too-soon failure.

3. We are all experts

Hardly any of us can view our skills, experience and achievements objectively. Naturally, we judge our own capability according to our own efforts and the activities of those we trust most – and if we all work, operate, collaborate and share with like minds, we often don’t end up with innovation but with “group think”. Keep this in mind.

When I began shifting the social selling program from Twitter to LinkedIn, I conducted a brief audit. I rang participants to understand their online behaviours. I asked about how they used LinkedIn, what worked for them and why. I also looked for best practices. I found there really were LinkedIn gurus within the company whose abilities and profiles were far superior to my own. They used LinkedIn in a qualitatively different way. So I canvassed their opinions and insights too.

I learned that each person’s view of expertise is limited to their worldview. The first step in transforming practice is to open that worldview to the “glare of the guru”. And this is where data comes into play again. If you have been using a social platform for years, have a few hundred followers or connections and feel like you have “joined the conversation” – then you’ll be an expert. But are you an expert at scale?

If only I had LinkedIn’s social selling index back then. It’s a daily-updated dashboard that measures how effective your personal brand is, how well connected and engaged you are on the LinkedIn platform, and how well you build relationships. Importantly, it also measures you against your existing network – as well as your industry – so you know how you compare across two measures, not one.

Of course, it’s focused entirely on driving greater use of LinkedIn, but if that is where you are starting with your social selling program, then it’s perfect.

Based on my profile, it seems I need to engage more on LinkedIn (ie consume content, comment etc) and find more prospects (no doubt with the LinkedIn Sales Navigator). At least I now have action points based on data. So look out, if we’re connected, I’m coming to talk to you about what I’m good at. But don’t worry, it’s not stalking, it’s social selling.

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Hootsuite and the Instagram Integration You’re Still Waiting For

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Instagram has been wildly successful in building an alternative and deeply connected community of users. And I say “community” for a reason. Far more than the one-to-one-to-one connection that has made Facebook so popular and adoptable, Instagram’s connection architecture provides an easy way to connect people with similar interests and passions. And it does so whether that passion lasts only an instant or a year.

And while some brands have been able to build vibrant communities around their Instagram accounts, it’s often a hit and miss affair. It’s hard to keep track of the growth of a community base, almost impossible to gather key metrics, and even the simplest publishing functionality is notably missing.

Until now.

Hootsuite has announced that Instagram will now be integrated into their social media dashboard. This means that Hootsuite users will be able to:

  • Schedule and publish Instagram content
  • Monitor and engage with conversations on Instagram
  • Create team based workflows.

With content marketing becoming an ever-more important component of marketing strategy, this new integration provides marketers with a simple and easy way to bring that content marketing strategy to life.

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To get started:

  • Ensure you have the latest version of Hootsuite installed on your smartphone
  • Turn on Instagram notifications in the Hootsuite Settings
  • Start publishing.

Now, for the bad news.

While you can schedule Instagram posts, you still need to manually post to Instagram from your device. The Hootsuite integration just notifies you at the appropriate time that the post is ready to go. So, unfortunately, those wanting to seriously engage with Instagram as a brand and marketing channel will need to struggle with the lack of API integration.

This means Instagram will remain a promising but ultimately immature channel for most serious brand marketing activities. At least for now.

Five Insights into the Psychology of Twitter

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Statistics and sampling are an amazing thing. Even if, like me, you have a healthy scepticism about the way that data is analysed and interpreted, it is difficult – if not foolhardy – to downplay the inevitability of data. Just look at the various disputes around the veracity of climate change – where statistically irrelevant interpretations have derailed important decisions, changes and commitments. Eventually, even the hardiest data curmudgeon will need to yield to the truth of the climate science data – perhaps only as their seaside apartment is swept into the arms of the sea. For though there may be outliers and anomalies in the data, sampling – where carried out correctly – can yield tremendously accurate insight. As Margaret Rouse explains on the TechTarget website:

Sampling allows data scientists, predictive modelers and other data analysts to work with a small, manageable amount of data in order to build and run analytical models more quickly, while still producing accurate findings. Sampling can be particularly useful with data sets that are too large to efficiently analyze in full — for example, in big data analytics applications.

And it is sampling that makes Twitter one of the more fascinating social networks and big data stores of our time. While Facebook grows its membership into the billions, its underlying data store, its connection and interaction architecture and its focus on first tier networks also limits its capacity to operate efficiently as a news source and distribution network. Twitter on the other hand, with its 200+ million members, provides a different and more expansive member engagement model.

During our recent forum presentations on the voice of the customer, Twitter’s Fred Funke explained the view that Twitter was “the pulse of the planet”. Using tools as simple as Twitter search or Trending Topics, Twitter users can quickly identify topics that important to them – or to the broader local, regional and global communities. And, of course, with the new IBM-Twitter partnership, there are a raft of tools that allow businesses to go much deeper into these trends and topics.

In doing so, however, we have to ask. What are we looking for? What information will create a new insight? Which data points will reveal a behaviour? And how can this be framed in a way that is useful?

Five Buyer Insights that Drive Engagement

Just because interactions are taking place online doesn’t mean that they occur in isolation. In fact, our online and offline personalities are intricately linked. And as the majority of our digital interactions take place via text, linguistic analysis will reveal not only the meaning of our words but also our intention. Some things to look out for and understand include:

  1. Buying is an impulse: As much as the economists would like to believe we act logically, we know that buyers are emotional creatures. We buy on whim. On appeal. On impulse. And there is no greater impulse these days to share an experience (good or bad) via Twitter. Look particularly at the stream for comments tagged with #fail. It is full of opportunity for the responsive marketer keen to pick up a churning customer having a bad customer experience.
  2. The customer journey is visible: While we are researching our next purchase, digital consumers leave a trail of digital breadcrumbs that can be spotted using analytics software. For example, we may tweet out links of videos that we are viewing on YouTube, share blog posts related to our pre-purchase research and even ask directly whether a particular product lives up to the hype. Just take a look at the #lazyweb stream around the topic of Windows10.
  3. Understand the pain to optimise the opportunity: When engaging via social media, it is important to understand the challenges or “pain points” that your customers (or potential customers) are facing. Rather than spruiking the benefits of your own products, focusing on an empathetic understanding of your customer’s needs more quickly builds trust and is grounded in a sense of reality. The opportunity with social media is to guide the journey, not short cut it.
  4. Case studies build vital social proof: No one wants to be the first to try your new product. Showing that the path to customer satisfaction is well worn is vital. Use case studies to pave the way.
  5. We buy in herds: Mark Earls was right. Not only do we want social proof, we prefer that proof to reflect on our own sense of belonging to a group or movement. Remember that we go where the other cows go, and structure your social media interactions accordingly.

The folks over at eLearners.com have put together this infographic on the psychology of Twitter. They suggest that we tweet for love, affection and belonging. It may be true, but sometimes we just also want to vent. And every vent is a market opportunity.

psychology of twitter

Forget Big Data, It’s Time for Big Narratives

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It is easy to get excited about big data. After all, it’s lots of small pieces of data woven together into a patchwork that stretches our imaginative capacity. Just think, we’re creating more data every two days than was produced from the dawn of civilisation up to 2003 (or so Google’s Eric Schmidt claims). That means that every photo, status update, movie, podcast, purchase, share and any other form of interaction that we make on a digital forum – PLUS all the metadata of that interaction – is adding to a massive pool of data that sits like a great digital artesian basin underneath our digital experience.

The question about all this data, however, is what do we do with this big data? Sure we can mine it, connect internal and external data. We can use it for retargeting. Or forecasting. Or analysis. We can put it into charts and infographics and in doing so, add our own efforts to the big data explosion. But it feels like we are just scraping the surface. It feels like we are in our digital infancy when it comes to big data.

But there are a few companies who are innovating on the edge and taking a different approach. For these companies, big data is just a means to an end. The real value is not in the data but in the capacity to tell stories with that data. It’s the realm of big narratives – and it is as exciting as it is terrifying.

The team at Narrative Science have been focusing on machine learning and linguistics for some time. Their natural language generation platform takes big data and applies artificial intelligence to it in such a way that reports are not just visual but contextual. That is, there is the result and the reasoning all-in-one report.

I have written about QuillEngage previously, the platform that turns your Google Analytics data into a summarised report email. So I was interested to see what would come out of their new Twitter report.

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Based on an analysis of my Twitter traffic and the traffic of my recent followers, Quill examined around 13,000 tweets to produce the report. Most interesting to me was the analysis of my own tweets and the topics that “my community” engage in. While my follower numbers and ratio put me in the “99th percentile of Twitter users measured by followers”, the report provides little in terms of suggestions for growth / improvement. But it does confirm what I suspected. And in most cases, that’s how many marketers are using big data at present – as a sense check. A validation.

But as technologies like this get better, more automated and programmatic, there’ll be less sense checking. Less validation. And more action. It’s just that that action won’t be taken by you or I.

Social: The Present is Mobile. The Future is Wearable

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There was a time when the battle for social media was simply one of recognition. For some time, brands and businesses held out. Restricting firewall access to social networks. Directing marketing spend to broadcast. Ignoring the trending shift to digital across a range of categories – from marketing to HR, supply chain to finance.

Now, this pent up force has been loosed and it is transforming the way that we work, why we work and how we work faster than we could have anticipated. As a result, we are seeing disruption almost everywhere we look:

  • Who – this is not just about “digital natives” or “digital immigrants”. We now have no choice but to adopt a “digital nomad” perspective. We need to move with the digital times, building and refining skills, networks, and connections. It’s touching every one of us in profound ways.
  • What – we used to be able to cordon off “home” and “work”. These days, there is only what Nina Simosko calls a life continuum. What we consider work is no longer restricted to what we do and is becoming more closely aligned to “what and who we are”. This is having an enormous impact on the nature of work, the workplace and what it means to have “purposeful work”.
  • Where – the disruption began at home, in our palms and quickly spread through the networks.  But as we know, culture eats location, and that means our “where of working” is infinitely more mobile, flexible and time-shifted. This is challenging workplace structure, services and cohesion.
  • Why – We are paid to work but businesses continue to struggle with motivation, morale, and engagement. As our Baby Boomer generations retire, we will be left with a massive experience and capability gap within our organisations. To attract the best talent, we’ll need a much better understanding of the needs and expectations of our employees.
  • How – this is where the most obvious disruption and transformation is taking place. The “tools of our trades” are increasingly digital, data driven and mobile.

Kate Carruthers brings this together elegantly in this presentation made at the recent CeBIT conference in Sydney. She makes the point that we need to keep looking towards the horizon – for while the present of social is mobile. The future is wearable and the internet of things. And that future is not far away. In fact, it’s already in your pocket.

The Known Unknowns – Small Steps Big Gains with Watson Analytics

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Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
Donald Rumsfeld

My morning starts with a river of data. First up, there is email – a quick run by the inbox alerts me to urgent issues, questions, client inquiries and news. Every email I open, every link that I click and every article that I read is marked, tagged, tracked and collated. And then it’s over to LinkedIn’s news feed to check what is happening in the industries I care about. Having built a substantial network of well-connected and insightful connections over the years, I get a very quick sense of what is trending globally, what is vital locally and what needs to be reported or responded to. Finally, I switch to Facebook. I am blessed with opinionated and smart friends who share and increasingly, the richness and quality of news and insight available through that network is out-pacing all other channels.

But what am I doing here? I am working with Donald Rumsfeld’s mantra. I am looking to these networks to tell me the things that I don’t know that I don’t know. Essentially, this data is helping me look beyond my radar.

The same approach can be applied to marketing. In fact, for marketers to remain relevant and responsive – we need to be looking beyond our own radar.

For as long as marketers have been marketing, we have used media to reach our customers. We’ve equipped our teams with megaphones and messages and marched them to the perimeter of the business compound. To reach our customers, we buy and create media – after all, as the adage says, “fish where the fish are”. But this is the inside-out marketing model from the 20th Century – and social media has turned it inside out.

Turning to sites like Twitter or Facebook – or even LinkedIn for the B2B marketer – can feel like facing a firehose. The torrent of information coming through is astounding. Just take a look at the recent social media statistics for Australian audiences:

  • Over 13 million using Facebook
  • 13.5 million using YouTube
  • 2.5 million using Twitter

But it’s really not the big numbers that are important here. It’s what you do with them.

The known unknowns of our customer data

Just as I do each morning, marketers need to be thinking selectively about their customers. Rather than aiming to speak – or “connect with” all 2.5 million Twitter users in Australia, why not start somewhere easier? Why not start with the “known unknowns”? Why not start by figuring out WHICH of our customers are using Twitter or Facebook (ie a lot of them), and improving our understanding of those people?

Most modern CRM platforms have fields that allow you to collect the Twitter handles or Facebook profiles of your customers. Why not start by understanding how many of your existing customers have this information included in their profile? This gives you your known unknowns:

  • Run a report on your completeness of social media profile data in your database
  • Use Facebook custom audiences to match Facebook profiles to your existing email database
  • Do some profile matching via Twitter to do the same
  • Run an email campaign asking for that one additional piece of information. Provide a useful incentive. Make it worthwhile.

For most organisations, taking these small steps would take less than a day. And it paves the way for much deeper exploration.

Combining Voice of the Customer and Analytics as your over the horizon radar

Once you know who your customers are on social networks, it opens the door to a much richer experience for both you as a marketer and your customers as consumers. And what you’ll find on social networks is not the well-manicured conversation of corporate marketing – you’ll find the very direct “voice of the customer”. Generally, however, our “social listening” platforms are built around our own keywords. Our products. Brands. They are only sometimes built around understanding our customers pain points, needs and expectations. This means we are again working from the inside-out – working with the known knowns.

Thankfully, powerful natural language processing is beginning to provide the analytics horsepower we need to decipher social streams. I have explained previously about the way that IBM and AusOpen collaborate to transform customer experience at the Australian Open Tennis events – but analytics is no longer the domain of big business. With platforms like IBM Watson now available at an affordable rate (starting at around $50 per user), you don’t need to be “Tennis Australia” nor a data scientist to understand what’s going on with your market. You just need to understand your business.

Take a look at this video to see how you can use Watson and Twitter data to analyse retail sales. Look at the way that the language in the real time reports is structured around the way that marketers work. Rules are setup and then data populates accordingly. But most interestingly, because Watson works with natural language – it works with the language of the marketer as well as working with the language of the customer.

For marketers, this means that Watson does the hard work of identifying the most interesting facts contained within your data sets, letting you focus on making the right decisions about what happens next. For example (at 2:13), “sales by state” is flagged. Watson chooses the best representation of the data (in this case, a map) but also provides a “ribbon of data” that can be used to interrogate and analyse at a deeper level. Typing in a search related to what you need to know (eg “tweets by hashtag”) turns that data into a report that lets you see immediately what happened to your sales data and why.

Suddenly that river of Twitter data becomes understandable. A connection can be made between your business results and the social media data coming from a particular channel in a particular location.

And in case you need to tell the story of your digital marketing and your analytics to your executive team – or to your customers – with a few clicks, the visualised data can be compiled into ready made infographics. Now you not only have a custom radar to understand your customer – you can link your customer and business value together. Will this make you a better marketer? It will certainly make you more relevant to your customer – and that is a win all around.

By the Numbers: Facebook in Australia

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Screenshot 2015-04-17 09.09.23No doubt you’ve seen them huddling around the bottoms of buildings, near the entrances and exits. On the benches and in the cafes. Their eyes are downcast, their heads bent, shoulders hunched. A decade ago you’d be right to think that these people were spending their morning or afternoon break smoking. These days, the crowds are revolutionaries. But they are not “card carrying” – their weapon of choice is the smartphone – and every status update, share and connection is laying waste to the traditional models of business, networking, socialising and culture. In fact, these changes are impacting almost every aspect of the way we live – in what we call the 5 Cs of Digital Disruption.

The digital revolution is a different style of transformation. It is not a revolution of technology but one of behaviour. Certainly, the technology has had an impact on our lives – and will continue to do so – but the profound changes are in the the WAY that we think, act and behave. And increasingly this includes a technology component.

In Australia – the facts and figures tell the story of pervasive behaviour change. The Australian Social Media Cheat Sheet shows – as at February 2015 – just how much time (and attention) is being spent online. But it’s not just “online” – there are so many ways in which we can consume “online” content and engagement these days – from smartphones and tablets to PCs, smart TVs and Internet of Things devices.

Diving deeper into the statistics, Facebook Australia advise that there is more to the numbers (and that the numbers are larger):

  • 1 out of every 3 minutes on mobile is spent with Facebook properties – messenger, Facebook and Instagram
  • More than 13 million Australians use Facebook every MONTH
  • More than 10 million Australians use Facebook every DAY
  • On average, more than 9 million Australians access Facebook via mobile
  • 32% growth in the last 12 months

Facebook shared some slides you might find useful for your next presentation:

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Australian Social Media Cheat Sheet

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Update: High quality image here. PLUS check out the update to the Facebook stats.

Detailed statistics and information on social media in Australia continues to be a challenge. While there are pockets of data here and there – we rarely see a side-by-side comparison of user data and benchmarking information. So it is great to see this cheat sheet available. Shared by the folks from Reinventure (over on LinkedIn), it compiles (mostly) Australian data from Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter – with Pinterest data pulled from global data.

The infographic provides some great high level stats, pros and cons for each of the platforms and some useful comparison benchmark data. The data appears to be current as at February 2015 and includes sources like Social Media News, YouTube press statistics and DirectTarget.

ReinventureStats