Archive for the ‘Helen Trim’ Category.

Building the business case for online communities

I’m at the Communities 2.0 conference in San Francisco this week. It’s such a beautiful and diverse city and sadly not enough time to explore (sigh).

One of the hot topics raised at the ROI symposium was the thorny issue of getting internal buy in for your online community from across departments and management levels. At FreshNetworks a lot of the early work with our clients is around supporting the project sponsor to achieve this. It’s often the hardest part of getting an online community started and even when you are rolling, how do you keep the visibility of it high to ensure continued investment?

I’ve been struck by the number of passionate mavericks I’ve met who ‘just knew’ their company should be starting a dialogue with customers (or employees) and could see the benefits a mile away even if they couldn’t quantify them. Euan Semple started the BBC intranet on a box under his desk and the seasoned community practitioner Dawn Lacallade (previously Lead Stormchaser at Dell and now at solarwinds) tirelessly waded through the politics at Dell to extol the benefits of the early Dell communities. Many social media projects start as skunkworks projects and sometimes this is the only way to gather the evidence that the demand and the benefits are there. I’m all in favour of piloting, learning and evolving but there can be some pitfalls:

  • you may end up with multiple communities targeting the same people, creating real confusion for your customers
  • as social media people leave the company, community ghost towns will appear as no-one knew about all the cul-de-sacs of conversations existed and there’s no-one to carry on the conversation
  • social media enthusiasts may be good at Twitter but they may not understand how to manage risk. Online communities can impact all areas of the business and there is nothing worse for a customer who has made the effort to talk to you than getting no response back from the brand.

So here are some tips from Dawn about how she used her powers of persuasion at Dell (at solarwinds everything they do starts with ‘how do we involve customers in this’ so I gather life is less complicated for her now!). I’ve added to the list from some of our experiences at FreshNetworks too.

  1. Amongst the other skills you need as a community manager, you need to develop your sales skills! Equip yourself with loads of great case studies to convince stakeholder of the value to the business. They are unlikely to respond to words like blog, wiki – only to phrases like customer retention and cost reduction!
  2. Identify all the key stakeholders in the business (i.e. those that give you money, those that can vote on what you are about to do and those that are likely to give you grief!)
  3. Meet/call/survey these people to understand the priorities of the business and each department. At FreshNetworks we try to encourage setting up a cross-functional team to attend at least a half day workshop, including directors. It’s amazing how many epiphany moments happen when people are sharing ideas with each other and often the biggest cynics walk away as converts and later evangelize the project. Play back to the group what phase 1 is going to cover and what it’s not to set expectations.
  4. Prioritise the objectives and work out the business KPIs for the community. Use the language of your stakeholders. If the KPIs don’t contribute to departmental goals you are unlikely to get support for the project. KPIs include things like ‘reduce acquisition costs’ not ‘number of top contributors’. The latter is an essential metric for managing a community but unlikely to mean much to a management team under pressure to deliver their quarterly targets! And finally remember – value is fluid. I met Tina Card this week, another driven community manager from Scottrade who told me their community is producing benefits that hadn’t even envisaged at the outset.
  5. Test the business readiness. Is the company committed to investing in the medium term to develop the community to maturity and value? Have you thought through the internal process changes that might be required to respond to say an ideas community?
  6. Launch a beta then work hard to play back the results to your stakeholders. And never stop doing this, get in front of Execs on a regular basis. There are a lot of repetitive tasks involved in managing a community and marketing people particularly are not used to this as they live in a campaign-based world.

We’d love to hear about your experiences so we can continue to add to the list!

  • Three Things About Social Media Every Business Should Know (
  • FASTforward’09 Interview: Euan Semple, independent advisor on social computing (
  • Build your own community or go where people are? Do both (

How Mozilla set a download record by using social media

There is a great blog post by Jennifer Leggio here about how Mozilla achieved a world record in number of software downloads for its latest Firefox 3 browser launch. Famed for their word of mouth customer engagement strategy, they have continued to show other brands just how its done.

The interesting thing about the latest strategy is the creation of their own Spread Firefox community site, making it the central hub that connects up all the other networks in the ecosystem. From this site their brand advocates were invited to help get ready for ‘Download’ Day’ and were equipped with badges and download pledges to put on their other social network sites. Members of these communities were pointed back to the Spread Firefox community site.

A great example of how word of mouth can be measured in spades: 1.7m pledges, 43m people reached through the placing of badges on other networks, 8m downloads in 24hrs!

  • Firefox 3 Makes It Into the Guinness Book of World Records
  • Its official - you helped set a World Record
  • Firefox over 19% market share mark

How to avoid convergence collision

At the E-consultancy Future of Digital Media conference last week the focus was on two magic words “relevance” and “engagement”. In Ian Jindal’s stimulating and lively talk he correctly pointed out that marketing hasn’t actually changed much, even though where we choose to communicate our messages may have. Consumers are at saturation point so the only thing left is for companies to get better at attracting customers from their competitors. The ‘How’ was the focus of the day. There were three themes:

  1. engaging customers around content using publishing techniques
  2. how to add a layer of social discovery around your brand
  3. finding ways to manipulate data to do our marketing for us

Many Intermediaries, product manufacturers and retailers are developing strategies around multimedia content to engage customers. Thomas Cook showed a particularly impressive video of their new 360 degree marketing strategy, complete with store front touch screens, co-browsing between customer and agent and every conceivable video clip you could imagine to show you what your resort will be like when you get there (which somehow I felt took the discovery out of it). The issue for most companies with this approach is the sheer cost of it and the skill sets needed to become programmers and publishers, as well as focus on your core business. The other issue was that there was one viewpoint that appeared to be missing from the strategy – the customer’s! Thomas Cook is still in broadcast mode.

The jury was out when it comes to engaging customers effectively using social network sites like Facebook. Brands are just not managing to attract the levels of fans they would like and I believe that it’s because people are, well, hanging out with friends and simply not in buying mode. Companies that have developed non intrusive, useful and engaging tools like Mydeco’s Roomshare seem to be having more success. Considering 56% people go to a brands home page to check out information first, it might be better to find a way to encourage people to stay there. For sectors like Insurance, where aggregator sites like and cashback sites like have contributed to a reduction of customer lifetime value from 3-5yrs to 1-2yrs, the focus has to be on finding better ways of retaining their customers once they are delivered to their door.

Understanding data is essential to running any business and more importantly what action you take from looking at it. The new kid on the block is APML or attention profiling markup language. It is a common standard to describe your interests, likes and dislikes and how much each means to you (weighting). The idea is that your attention profile is owned by you and is portable so you can decide which websites you want to share it with for more relevant surfing. Currently Amazon is the only company doing a good job of recommending to us what we’re interested in but they own your profile and the process isn’t transparent. In theory it’s a great way to reduce information overload but it feels like a very long way off, if at all feasible. When I think about how I tag my bookmarks with words like ‘cop’ (which to me means community of practice, not policeman) and when I think about how often I change my likes and dislikes, it feels like someone is going to have to do a lot of work to maintain this profile (either me or a very clever programmer). I would love to hear your thoughts on this whole area!

Don’t get me wrong, as data fragments into smaller, accessible pieces, there are many innovative ways to play it back to your customers in really useful ways. Some good examples that add a valuable social layer for customers include the new AMEX Members Know community where members can see the most popular hotels and restaurants based on anonymous purchase data and Flickr’s use of the Exif data hidden in your digital photos about which camera was used to take a photograph which is the served up as a league table of the best digital cameras. We’re going to see a lot more of this.

I tend to agree with Simon Waldman of the Guardian who commented that sometimes qualitative measures like “Why are you on our site and did you get what you came for?” are equally important. Having conversations with your customers might just reveal what they actually want from you!

How will T5 fiasco affect BA Net Promoter Score?

I’m just off to buy some new knickers. I know this is supposed to be a professional blog but it’s pertinent to the situation I find myself in.

Last night I arrived in Vancouver having been on the first flight to this wonderful city out of the new Terminal 5 (T5). You’ve already read the news so I won’t bore you with the details. BA check-in staff were talking openly to us about walking out, baggage handlers were only to be pitied they looked so downtrodden, security men stopped us taking photos of the gleaming, impressive building and no-one involved in getting us onto that plane had the faintest idea about why the system wasn’t working. They’d had no training.

We sat on the tarmac for 2 hours and our wonderful Captain fought valiantly not to take off before our luggage was loaded. It never arrived so we left, the plane humming with stories of other BA flight disasters. The weary staff did their best to hide their shame and embarrassment to make us all comfortable. The T5 branded chocolates may have seemed like a great branding idea at the time but they went down like a lead balloon. Our stewardess just wanted to “flush these damn things down the bog”. Oh dear.

At this point BA’s Net Promoter Score was heading south faster than its stockprice. A member of my party, who flies internationally on a regular basis, says she will “never, ever, ever fly BA again”. As Willie Walsh says - it was not BA’s finest hour. But at this point I thought at least they had a number of touch points to start reversing the negativity. The first was the potential for the land crew waiting for us to help people with their onward journeys. I pictured an army of a dozen uniformed BA staff helping parents with 3 month old children to sort out buggy replacements, to take details of where our luggage should go, whilst warmly reassuring us (through conversations) that all would be well. We were met at the gate by one person who asked us to read a photocopied letter signed by “UK Customer Relations” (no sign of Willie). The letter announced that it hoped to return our luggage within 3 days and that we were entitled to “£35 to cover essential items such as socks, stockings, toiletries, shirts and blouses.” Was this written in 1959 when people still wore stockings and could buy 3 days worth of clothing and toiletries (let alone ski gear) for £35?? This was the straw that broke the camels back after a 13hr+ journey. One of my companions, usually a measured and calm influence in my life, gripped that sheet of paper until her knuckles went white and muttered about taking BA to the cleaners.

According to research by Keller Fay, each of us is likely to generate on average 62 conversations about this incident. Extend this to the 416 other passengers on board that’s 25,792 potentially negative conversations just relating to our flight. Now extend that to the 70 flights that were cancelled at T5 on Thursday and Friday and you get the picture!

Douglas McNeill, a transport analyst at Blue Oar Securities said he believed the financial impact of T5′s ‘teething problems’ on BA would be negligible. He’s missing the point. It’s not just the compensation claims that will cost BA, he’s not considered the huge impact of negative word of mouth that will be amplified across the Internet at breakneck speed.BA needs to start having conversations with passengers now - not fob us off with photocopied letters that ask us not to call them and clog up their phone systems. Imagine how much more personal it would have felt to have also been given access to a blog keeping us up to date with what was happening?

So here I am, in my hotel room, no clothes, no ski gear, no toiletries, off to see if Peacocks exists in Vancouver. Keep you posted as to when the luggage arrives!

Advocacy, a key driver in growth but lay your foundations well

I attended a briefing this week by Weber Shandwick on their very interesting European Advocacy Study, hosted by the Word of Mouth Association UK.  Let’s start with a few definitions. Word of mouth (WOM) is simply a form of communication between two people (about brands, products etc.). Whilst this isn’t new, the speed at which information can now spread is what is creating all the excitement. Brand advocacy is described as “the personal recommendation of a brand or idea by an independent third party”.

So why is there so much focus on this at the moment?

There are two reasons. The first is because of the rise of the ‘amateur culture’ – fuelled by the uptake of broadband, the democratization of technology with the arrival of social media and subsequently marketing power. Anyone can contribute and publish their content or opinions online with few barriers. The second reason is because research has found that over 80% of consumers believe that the best source of ideas about information or products or services comes from personal recommendation.

The Holy Grail for business is to harness their brand advocates and to support them to spread the word about their brand. According to Weber Shandwick, “advocates are more than just passionate customers – they are believers, they speak out and they pull others along. They don’t love a brand they live it”.

Research in 2005 by Dr Paul Marsden at LSE into word of mouth advocacy (as measured by net promoter score) and negative word of mouth were significant predictors of sales growth. The new Weber Shandwick research, in conjunction with Paul Marsden, builds on this original work. It found that brand advocacy prompts product purchase in a third of all cases (which is on average five times greater than from advertising) and that of a total customer base, 30% classed themselves as advocates and 30% as detractors. How do advocates tend to spread the word? No surprise to learn that they tell stories, describe their experiences and help people find answers to real needs. They do not talk about advertising.

There is no doubt that there is incredible potential to converse directly with customers online to support advocacy (which should in turn increase sales; lower advertising costs and help protect brand reputation). There are other benefits too – such as turning to customers to gain insight and involving them in product and service innovation. There are countless examples of success in this area including Dell Ideastorm and Threadless.

Brands are experimenting with WOM marketing using a range of different techniques including viral marketing, buzz marketing and building customer communities to support opinion leaders and influential customers. There is a good explanation of the differences on Emmanuel Vivier’s blog here.

But there is a potential conflict with some WOM techniques. I still feel that there are some marketers that see WOM as another ‘push’ model or just another marketing channel to control and measure. This may create some short term benefits but consumers will see through much of this as yet another form of advertising that lacks authenticity. And if your house is not in order, negative WOM can amplify the message to an even greater extent and your customers will have no problem in talking loudly about your shortcomings online.

Creating open, transparent and sustainable conversations with customers is the secret to long term success. Conversations need to be held in straightforward language, not corporate speak for ordinary folk to understand. Accepting that this is a two way process and that people will want to talk about the positive and negative aspects of your business will build trust and long term engagement. One of the key drivers of brand advocacy is ‘surprise’ when a brand exceeds customer expectation. An online customer community is an excellent way to extend this principle as you will be more responsive and more relevant because you’ll be listening.=

A lot of money will be wasted as businesses attempt to trigger WOM advocacy without a community blueprint. A good blueprint will cover mapping your communities across your business, developing a proposition that relates to customer activity and pain points, figuring out how to manage and resource the community, leveraging related social networks in your space and importantly aligning the purpose of the community with your strategic objectives.

Address these and you will be the one of the winners in any economic downturn because you will have invested in building genuine engagement, trust and loyalty with your customer base.