Archive for September 2009

Ben LaMothe meets Shirley Brady, BusinessWeek’s community manager

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Guest post by Ben LaMothe

In June 2008 Shirley Brady joined BusinessWeek as its first community editor. In this first of a two-part interview, Shirley explains what the newly-created role of community manager means at BusinessWeek and how she engages with the magazine’s influential-yet-niche readership.

Before joining BusinessWeek, she was a writer/editor for the U.S. trade magazine CableWorld, where she launched and managed its website, Cable360.net.

Prior to that she was a writer/editor at Time Inc, working for Time in Asia (based in Hong Kong) before moving to the Time Inc mothership in New York in 1999 and working for Time and People. She’s also won awards for her work as a TV producer, writer and on-air presenter, including the Canadian public broadcaster TVOntario, Discovery Channel Asia and CNN International. She has been based in New York since 1999.

As community editor of BusinessWeek.com, what does your job entail?

Suffice to say I’m passionate about this role and truly have one of the greatest gigs in journalism! BusinessWeek is among a handful of media organizations that’s really putting resources and aligning itself to be open and responsive to readers, which is what attracted me to coming onboard last year. So what do I do, on a day-to-day basis? As part of BW’s senior management team, I manage our engagement efforts with the goal of increasing participation (quality and quantity) of participation by BW’s regular readers and online visitors. Rather than have users post comments and zoom off, we want to build loyalty by having them connect, collaborate and share – with other readers and with our journalists.

In practical terms, this entails overseeing BusinessWeek’s efforts to include readers and incorporate user-generated content (comments, suggestions, longer form opinion pieces) in BW’s journalism, elevating our readers’ participation on the same level as our journalism.

That includes soliciting reader participation in special issues, slide shows and other editorial projects; guiding BW’s journalists to respond to comments on their blogs and articles, which we feature on the “belly band” or scrolling bar on our homepage; helping point our writers to reader-suggested story ideas that they report for our “What’s Your Story Idea?” initiative; commissioning and editing “MyTake” essays from readers who’ve posted smart comments on our site, which provides more space to expand on their views, on the same level as a BW writer or contributor; produce our In Your Face series, which features thought-provoking reader comments on the BusinessWeek.com home page and across the site; produced our first list of the top 100 readers on our site (in tandem with our journalists, particularly our bloggers) and our first reader dinner, which gave us amazing feedback on our efforts from some of the most engaged (and vocal) members of our community; oversee BW’s social media outreach including Twitter ; serve as editorial liaison for the Business Exchange topic network; track and share insights into online traffic and other metrics, including BW’s reader engagement index; work with my colleagues in tech, art, interactive, edit, marketing, research and other departments to implement these initiatives and improve the user experience on our site; and in general, develop best practices and raise the bar for reader engagement and BW’s digital journalism strategy, internally and externally.

In the first year, we were pleased to see BW’s reader engagement index increase 31% with nods from PaidContent, Folio and other media brands, with John and me speaking on numerous panels and interviews such as this to discuss BW’s engagement efforts. But it’s only the beginning!

In addition to the above, I spend a great part of each day in our reader comments, across our articles and blogs, to gauge our online conversations and find/identify thoughtful commenters to follow up with. That reader zeitgeist gets fed back to our news editors and informs BW’s editorial. We don’t moderate comments on our articles (they are posted automatically unless something in our spam filter – an offensive word or a link – places a comment into the pending queue for review).

We also review any comments flagged as offensive by members of our community, and I’ll weigh in on whether a comment should be taken down. So a significant part of my job is monitoring and maintaining our standards, which helps elevate the conversation and helps make BusinessWeek.com a more engaging place for our readers to feel welcome, to share their points of view and want to come back on a regular basis.

I should add that reader engagement is by no means a one-person effort. For example, comments on our blogs are moderated by our journalists, who are encouraged to nurture their respective communities of readers who frequent their blogs.

I also work closely with BW’s online management team, news editors and channel editors to foster these efforts; Celine Keating, a veteran BW copy editor who assists me in reviewing user comments and flagging any discussions that get out of hand; Ira Sager, the online editor who manages our blogs; Francesca Di Meglio, a reporter on our Business Schoolsteam who has done a great job building our thriving b-schools community of lively MBA forums and guest writers for our MBA Journal franchise; Rebecca Reisner, who produces our popular Debate Room series (arguably, BW.com’s first foray into reader engagement); Greg Spielberg, who worked with me from January to August as our first reader-engagement intern; and BW’s business-side team (Ron Casalotti, Michelle Lockett and Maki Yamasaki) who oversee user participation and outreach on BW’s award-winning Business Exchange, which launched in Sept. 2008.

As a side note, it’s been fascinating to see how Twitter has informed our efforts and my job. Many of our readers post their Twitter handles in their comments, so we continue the conversation between our readers and journalists by being active in the conversations that bridge BusinessWeek.com and Twitter. We’ve now got more than 60 staffers just from BW editorial on Twitter; incorporated Twitter widgets on some of our blogs and within Business Exchange, which earlier this year enabled users who linked their BX profile with their Twitter accounts to simultaneously comment on both platforms – the first Twitter integration by a major media brand, as far as we’re aware. We also recently launched an official BusinessWeek Twitter feed.

In Part Two of this interview, we deal with the interaction between the Community Desk and Editors, and how Community Management in news is changing BW’s evolving strategy.

Social media and customer service - some examples

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Earlier this week we wrote about Thomson Holidays and how a blogger can impact your brand reputation and how with social media, complaints have moved from being a customer service issue to being a branding and corporate reputation one.

Earlier this week I was running a ‘masterclass’ in social media and customer service at the Call Centre Focus & Customer Strategy Conference 2009. The session looked first at the different types of social media that businesses use and the reasons for and benefits of this. The ROI that businesses can get from online customer service communities. And we then moved into some examples from customer service: some good, some bad and one just ugly. The slides below probably lose something without being presented but the case studies are interesting, each for different reasons.

  • Zappos. A ‘Good’ example, Zappos is great at microinteractions. They show how you can grow a customer-service centred organisation and the real value you get from interacting with people in social media. Traditional customer service has been private and one-to-one (typically by phone or letter). With social media you can interact with people in a public place (one-to-one-to-many). These ‘microinteractions’ can have huge impact on word-of-mouth.
  • Virgin Trains. Another ‘Good’ example that shows how you can make effective use of Twitter. Richard Baker is General Manager for Virgin Trains in Wales and North-West England, and he has been showing how individuals in a business can make effective use of Twitter to engage customers. We analysed his activity to show the mix across the seven ways businesses can use Twitter: sending out information on offers, informing people about what’s going on, responding to people and taking action, listening to what people  are saying about Virgin Trains, correcting inaccuracies in things other people are staying, educating people an, finally showing that you are human.
  • Dell is an example of ‘bad turned good’ and has moved from its period of ‘Dell Hell’ to being perhaps one of the best example of businesses having an integrated approach to social media. We discussed in the workshop the case of how Dell make $3 million on Twitter, and how their forums are so well used that peers are solving others’ problems and saving Dell significant amounts of money on support costs.
  • United Airlines. Finally we looked at the ‘ugly’ example of United Airlines and what happened when Dave Carroll had his $3,500 guitar broken on his way to a gig with his band Sons of Maxwell. He started to produce music videos about United Airlines which have each now been viewed by up to six million people.

These are just a small number of examples that businesses can learn from. The main advice from the session was to identify core business objectives at the moment and then experiment with social media in a controlled fashion to see what impact it can have against these.

Social media and customer service - some examples
View more presentations from freshnetworks.

Social media and random acts of kindness

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Is the world becoming less friendly? Some people might lead you to think so. “People don’t help out their neighbours like they used to”, they might say, “I’d never ask a stranger to help me”. It might be true that in some areas, especially in highly urban communities, people are less engaged with people who live near them. Statistics might show that people are less likely to hitch a ride on a Highway than they were 50 years ago. But at the same time we are seeing people becoming much more ‘friendly’, helping out friends and strangers alike. They are just doing it in different ways.

Social media, and online communities in particular are all about people helping other people because of a shared interest, aim, goal or question. They might help people to find the answers they are looking for, share their own experiences or help people to sort their content and ideas so that the most relevant comes to the front.

In one of the online communities that we run at FreshNetworks, we see such examples on a regular basis. Over the summer there was a particular poignant one. A group of women on a community focused on anti-aging and beauty were blogging about their diets and lifestyles. Then one of the lady’s husbands was rushed into hospital. She blogged about this, going off topic but writing from the heart about what was happening in her life and her trips to the hospital every day. It was wonderful to see the rest of the community rally round, supporting her, giving her advice and looking after her. People who have never met each other offline giving each other real help and support.

The internet, and social media in particular, is designed to allow people to connect not because they know each other, or they happen to be in the same place at the same time, but because they share genuine interests and concerns. People connect around these bonds rather than the happenstance of location or time. This results in an environment where people empathise with people more, and more easily, and want to help them out. Random acts of kindness are becoming commonplace online and with the growth of social media will be more so.

Jonathan Zittrain recently spoke at TED Global on this very issue, about how the internet is made up of millions of random acts of kindness. The video of his talk is our Required Reading for the week.

Jonathan Zittrain: The Web as random acts of kindness

Thomson Holidays - how a blogger can impact your brand reputation

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Lego airport, pink sky
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Thomson is a well-known package tour and holiday brand in the UK and part of the global travel group TUI. They have a good reputation and brand in the UK, supported by a relatively strong High Street presence. But one traveller’s bad experience on a holiday to Tunisia has caused them and their brand problems in social media, and in their search rankings.

Andy Sharman went on holiday to Tunisia with Thompson in June this year and had, by his own account, a fairly disappointing time. After his complaints failed to receive a response that satisfied him, Andy wrote about his experiences on his blog.

Whatever the truth of what Andy was told or what happened to him in Tunisia is not important. For your brand, and your business, satisfaction is a balance of expectations and reality as seen by the customer. Andy was unhappy and he wanted to complain.

Using traditional media, this complaint would have taken a fairly standard path all of which is done in private:

  1. Customer complains to Brand (by telephone or by letter)
  2. Brand responds to Customer (typically by letter)
  3. Customer is either delighted (and may then tell their friends and colleagues in person) or dissatisfied (and will also tell their friends and colleague, but this time a very different story)

With social media, this pattern has been disrupted quite severely. Rather than a private exchange between Customer and Brand, the first few steps are public from the very beginning. From the minute the customer wants to complain their thoughts, experiences and attitudes (whether justified or not) are public knowledge. The brand’s job is no longer to assess and respond to a single complaint, but to manage an attack on their brand reputation. It is now bigger than just customer service.

With social media, complaints have moved from being a customer service issue to being a branding and corporate reputation one.

Andy’s blog shows exactly how serious these complaints can be. Within a couple of months his post had been read by over 10,000 different people and, perhaps more worryingly, was appearing above Thomson’s own sites for searches on Google for terms relating to Thomson and Tunisia.

Blogs, and social media more generally, are a great way for people to distribute their content. They can get it seen by a large number of people who can link to it, comment on it and reproduce it on their own sites.  Very quickly a brand has a story that is no longer private and is also no longer contained. Other people have linked to or reproduced the complaint on their own sites and forums. Some publicly and others in places that even Thompson cannot see.

So, what should brands do in this instance. Earlier this year we wrote about how to react if somebody writes about your brand online and included a great process diagram developed by the US Air Force. The process is simple and clear, showing when you should respond (and when you shouldn’t) and how you should respond if you do.

The most important thing for a brand to do is to engage in the same media that the complaint is made in. Have good buzz tracking and monitoring in place so that you pick up on potential issues early and then respond through the same media - be that by commenting on a blog, joining a forum, responding in Twitter or on Facebook. When you do respond (and if this is appropriate) you should consider  five things:

  1. Be transparent about who you are and your role. Give your name and some means of contacting you
  2. If you want to refute some claims in the post only do so if you can source your side of the story
  3. Be timely, but make sure you give yourself enough time to get a real response together
  4. Respond in a tone and manner that reflects your brand
  5. Focus on those blogs that carry the most influence

Customers are using social media to turn what were once private complaints with the brand into public discussions. Brands can capitalise upon this if they respond in the same manner, in the same public forum. This is the best way to take back some control of the situation and to begin to restore your brand’s reputation online.

Facebook becomes more like Twitter with @ mentions

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One theory about evolution of the "at&quo...
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People often describe Twitter as “Facebook reduced only to the status update”. I always found this a poor description, as there was always a significant difference between my Twitter updates and Facebook statuses. With Facebook I can only tell people about me; with Twitter, I can include other people and other topics in the conversation. This is what @ replies do on Twitter - they let me include other people in my updates and associate it with them as much as it is associated with me.

Using @ replies in Twitter is a way to share and connect through content. I can write, for example, about my colleague @cosmond, and include him in the post. That post will then appear on my wall and on Charlie’s. People who follow me or who follow Charlie will then see that I wrote about him.

This is a small but important piece of functionality. It changes my updates from being informational and for my friends and connections only, to being connectors. They organise information based on the people mentioned and connect me with the people I include (and them with me). We move from a situation where I connect with friends and distribute my content, to one where I connect with people through my content. This has a significant impact on the dynamics of the social network; elevating content over just personal connections and allowing you to distribute it further and more easily.

This week, Facebook did become more like Twitter. They have launched their own version of @ replies (called @ mentions), which allow you to include your friends, groups and pages in your status updates and posts on Facebook. You also post your update to your friend’s wall, and link to them. You are starting to connect people to content and to organise what you write. As Facebook say in their blog post explaining the new development:

People often update their status to reflect their thoughts and feelings, or to mention things they feel like sharing. Sometimes that includes referencing friends, groups or even events they are attending — for instance, posting “Grabbing lunch with Meredith Chin” or “I’m heading to Starbucks Coffee Company — anyone want some coffee?”

So, Facebook has taken a step closer to Twitter. Social networks are moving from just connecting people based on friendship to organising and linking people based on content.

  • Facebook copies Twitter, adds @replies (inquisitr.com)
  • Facebook Is Going for Some Twitter Sensibility (nytimes.com)
  • BREAKING: Facebook Introduces @Mentions in Status Updates (mashable.com)
  • Facebook adopts Twitterspeak for tagging friends in updates (venturebeat.com)