Our top five posts in September

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At FreshNetworks we aim to bring you the best posts in social media, online communities and customer engagement online. In case you missed them, find below our top five posts in September.

1. Russian social network Vkontakte.ru plans global roll-out

Our most popular post is September revealed the global expansion plans of Russian social network VKontakte (В контакте). The social network serves 1.4 billion page views each day to its 42 million users, and attracts 14 million unique visitors each month. In one of the most engaged and fastest-growing social networking markets in the world, it is a force to be reckoned with. At the start of September, Vedomosti (Ведомости), the Russian business newspaper, reported that VKontakte had registered the domain www.vk.com and plans to begin marketing the social network in twelve new markets globally before the end of 2010. One to watch.

2. How to write your firm’s social media policy

In August we looked first at why a firm needs a social media policy, and then at how to write one.  At FreshNetworks, our approach is to keep things simple and to make them inclusive. Have a simple and clear policy on how employees should be using social media and make sure you include your employees in the process of drawing them up. And, perhaps most critically, it should encourage your employees to use social media more and not less. This post looked at five considerations we discuss with clients when developing their social media policies and guidelines that might help you if you are developing yours.

3. Thomson Holidays – how a blogger can impact your brand reputation

Andy Sharman went on holiday to Tunisia with Thompson Holidays in June this year and had, by his own account, a fairly disappointing time. Andy wrote about his experiences on his blog and 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. This is an example of how customers are using social media and how brands need to adapt to react. When they have complaints, a customer would traditionally enter into a private exchange with the brand. 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. With social media, complaints have moved from being a customer service issue to being a branding and corporate reputation one. This post looks at how brands should react online to manage their reputation, when things go right and when things go wrong.

4. What to do once your firm’s social media policy is written

Building on our posts about why a firm needs a social media policy, and how to write one, this post looks at what to do once you have written your firm’s social media policy. It should be a living document, and critically one that your employees buy into an believe in. You want use of social media to become part of your employees lives. And you want your brand to benefit from this involvement, from having employees active in social media and from having conversations about them, you and your brand. So writing a policy is just the first step. This post discussed four steps to help ensure that, once you have it written, your firm’s social media strategy stays relevant and beneficial to your organisation.

5. Social media and customer service – some examples

In September, I ran 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. This post includes the presentation from that session and highlights examples from Zappos, Virgin Trains, Dell and United Airlines. We can all learn something from each of these.

Thomson Holidays - how a blogger can impact your brand reputation

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Image by Micah Dowty via Flickr

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.