Social media as a crisis management tool

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Image by ajburgess via Flickr

I have a client who once said to me: “We want to use social media to attract more complaints”. This may seem an odd thing to say, all too often attracting complaints is a reason people cite for being anxious about using social media. But this client knew that one part of there service didn’t always perform as well as they might hope. They also knew that nobody ever really complained to them. They must be complaining somewhere, they thought, and we’d like them to be complaining to us.

People use social media for lots of things, but they often use it to express their opinion about a brand or organisation, to tell you where things are good and to tell you where things are bad. To complain. We’ve written before about how to react if somebody complains about your brand online. The brand should reply when a factual inaccuracy is being discussed, or when a customer has had a bad experience and is reporting it online. And when they reply they should:

  1. make sure that they know the facts so that they can correct inaccuracies and keep people up to date with what is happening
  2. represent the brand in a way that respects its history and is consistent with the brand’s image
  3. respond in good time and continue to engage in a discussion whilst it remains relevant
  4. know how to prioritise who to respond to (this may not be as simple as the person with most followers on Twitter)

In a crisis management situation there is little different to this, it is just on a bigger scale.

The typical crisis management sees a lot of people discussing, debating, and complaining about your brand online. Many of these discussions will be factually inaccurate, and many will be from customers who have had bad experiences. These are the types of discussions that should be responded to, and should be responded to in the right manner.

Whilst every crisis is different, and there is no simple set of rules about how to use social media in these situations, a number of observations arise from looking at how people have successfully (or conversely have badly) managed crises in the past:

  1. Use social media to keep people up-to-date: The worst thing in a crisis is not knowing. This is where social media can be useful as a tool to keep people informed. Update regularly as things unfold and make sure you are updating with actual developments. The benefit of having a well established blog or online community is that you can then use it for this purpose. Make it the place people can go to for information, keep it current and keep it honest.
  2. Make sure the people representing your brand know what they are talking about: When you are unhappy there is nothing worse than feeling that the person talking to you doesn’t really know or understand what is happening. You need the people that are engaging on behalf of your brand in social media to be up-to-date on what is happening and able to speak openly and truthfully for the brand. They need to be immersed in the brand and internal process and be able to update people quickly and escalate any issues effectively within your organisation. This doesn’t mean they need to work for you directly, but it does mean they need to be fully immersed in your brand and they should be effective and experienced brand communicators.
  3. Engage people talking about you - be they compliments or complaints: When crisis happens people are going to complain, and these complaints need responding to. The best thing is to do so in a direct and informative manner. Correct inaccuracies and give people who are complaining information to stop them talking about you in social media and start them helping to resolve their own problems and disappointments. This might be directing them to your blog where you are keeping people up-to-date or it might be telling them where to go to get refunds (for example).
  4. Work effectively with a the hub and the spokes of your social media presence: You can’t be expected to engage everybody in detail on Twitter, in Facebook or on blogs, forums and online communities. You will end up repeating the same information multiple times and this information will often become out of date quickly. This is where having an established hub-and-spoke model of social media engagement comes into its own. If you have a developed hub, and online community, for example, where you can send people to get up-to-date and real-time updates on what is happening then you can engage them where they are (Twitter, Facebook, forums etc) by directing them here.
  5. Don’t wait for crisis to hit to build engagement: When crisis hits, it is easiest if you have a clear process in place already for dealing with complaints and discussions about your brand online. You need a blog or online community that people recognise as the place to go to to talk to your brand. And you need a well established presence in social media. Without this, you will find it much more difficult to go in when things go wrong and take part in discussions. You will be the newbie and the outsider, when really you should be the centre of the conversation. To get this you need to have a history of really engaging your customers; not just running social media marketing campaigns.

Overall, when crisis hits, social media can be an effective and powerful tool. But only if you have been using it to engage people long-term. Only if you have a history of dealing with criticisms online, and you know where people are likely to complain. Only if you make it easy for people to contact you and to find information from you. You don’t want to be dealing with hundreds, or thousands, of individual complaints scattered around the social media web. You want people to know where to go to complain and to get information. And you want this to be a place you manage and facilitate. You want people to come to you, so you can deal with their problems and update them with what’s happening. You want a place to send people to if they are talking about you online.

Social media is a powerful crisis management tool, but only if you have been using it when you are not in crisis mode too. It’s real engagement not campaign-based marketing. And in a crisis it will be easy to see which is which.

Five questions to ask a social media agency before you work with them

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«?», Robert Stadler’s question mark installati...
Image by Dom Dada via Flickr

The social media agency is on the rise (we at FreshNetworks being one of them!). Most of them are doing different things and have different approaches.

When a brand is getting started in social media, launching a particular campaign or engagement programme, or just looking for advice and support, it’s important to make sure you choose the right agency for you. One that you can work well with. One that offers what you need. One who will help you to realise your aims and expectations. And also one who will be practical and realistic about what you should do and what you can achieve.

Finding the right social media agency can be tricky and to do it you need to get to understand them, their thinking and their work. Below are five questions we think you should be asking any social media agency before you start working with them. They are the things we would ask people, and also some of the things people have asked us in the past.

1. Are you social media pragmatists or social media purists?

There are many ways of approaching social media. For brands, the pragmatic approach is often best. In business time and resources are limited; you need to focus them only on the things that will bring you the greatest return. You should look for an agency that recognises this, that challenges you but that is grounded in pragmatism. That suggests things that you can really do, that contribute to your main business aims and that are the correct focusing of your time and resources.

2. Why do you use social media as an agency?

Most agencies will have a blog, use Twitter and may make use of Facebook,YouTube or other social networks and social media tools. This is to be expected. What you should be asking them is not if they are using these tools, but why they are using them. A social media strategy should be based on core strategic aims. If an agency can’t describe why they use social media (and the business objectives this use supports) then this tells you a lot about how strategic their thinking is.

3. How do you work with people in social media to get real engagement?

This question will give you an insight into their thinking and processes. Social media, and how you use it for brands, is not really about technology at all. It’s about people. How you work with people and online communities is much more important than the technology you use, that should really be invisible to them. Make sure you probe about the actual techniques agencies will use and the experience they have of building and growing communities online.

4. How do you measure social media ROI for your clients?

This is another question that will really give you an insight into how the agency thinks and their approach to social media in general. What you are interested in is their answer. A lot is said about social media ROI and the truth is that it depends very much on what you are looking to achieve; what your aims are in your use of social media. If you are looking to acquire new customer data, for example, you should be measuring one set of things; if you are looking to increase the basket size of orders you should be measuring something else. There is no simple answer to measuring social media ROI and an agency should be advising you that, as well as suggesting the metrics that you should be monitoring and measuring for your particular needs and aims.

5. What’s new; what’s next?

Any social media agency you work with should give you thought-leadership. They should be the ones leading your thinking and challenging you with new ideas and inspiration from other industries and other brands. You have a day job and any social media agency’s day job should be social media. Expect thought-leadership and expect to be challenged. This is a good thing.

Getting started 3: Have a go and experiment with social media

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There are too many stories of brands having tried and failed to use social media effectively. It may have been a disaster or, more usually, just not have had the impact and return on investment for the brand as it might have had. The most effective way to avoid this is to make sure that when you are getting started in social media you have done some effective planning first. Listen to what people are saying about your brand in social media so that you know what people are saying about you and where they are saying it. Then think about what you want to achieve with your social media strategy. Only by doing this will you be able to develop a clear and focused plan and, perhaps most importantly, measure the benefit your social media efforts are having.

Once you’ve got a clear plan it’s time to start thinking about technology and tools that you can use, and most importantly to start experimenting. This is where it gets fun.

When you are working out how to use social media tools, which to experiment with and how there are four main things to think about to help you get going:

  1. Use your buzz tracking to understand where people are talking about you. Compare this with the people you want to engage in social media, those who will help you meet your aims. This will give you an understanding of where the people you want to engage and the conversations you want to join are. This obviously only gives you half the story as you may also want to engage people in a new place or in your own space online.
  2. Decide which of these tools will help you to meet the aims you have set out. If you want to capture potential new customers, for example, using Twitter or Facebook may not be the most useful tool as these will not give you the contact details you probably want. If you want ideas into your business, there may be better ways of doing it than a forum or blog. Think carefully about what you want to achieve and the full range of tools available to you.
  3. Get cracking. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking and planning so far. Now it’s time to just try some things out. One of the benefits of social media is that it can be relatively low cost to experiment. Start small and try a few tools. If you need blog then put one up quickly and invest time in getting it creating content and encouraging and growing engagement. Experiment with a small number of tools and evaluate how effective these are being, switching on more tools over time.
  4. Work hard to get the engagement. Getting the tools up and running are really just the first step. The tough work starts when you start to engage people in social media, whether that’s in Facebook, on Twitter, in blogs, forums and other sites or indeed on your own online community. Engagement is hard and it needs a clear plan and dedication to make it work. The benefit of experimenting and having a go with different tools, and growing your use of social media in a controlled way is that you can see what is working, amend your techniques and try new things. If you have the right measurements in place you will know if you’re reaching your targets and if not you need to evaluate if you are using the right tools and if you are engaging people in the right way.

Once you have tools up and running the final stage for any brand getting started in social media is to make sure you are tracking and measuring your success. That’s what we will look at in the final post in this series.

You can read the full guide here: Getting Started in Social Media

Social media diary 27/2/2009 - UK National Museums

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Nine museums in the UK launch Creative Spaces

This week in the UK saw the beta launch of Creative Spaces. An online community and federated search project across nine National Museums, part of the National Museums Online Learning Project (NMOLP) and involving the Tate, V&A, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Natural History Museum, Imperial War Museum, Royal Armouries, Wallace Collection and Sir John Soanes’ Museum. The core idea is to provide a way for people to find, discuss and be inspired by the collections of all these museums.


Creative Spaces Promo from Creative Spaces on Vimeo.

The project really has two components:

  1. A federated search, allowing users to search and explore the collections across all nine museums in one place, online.
  2. An online community, allowing people to create notebooks (their own collections combining objects from the museums with their own content), create and join groups and review and add comments to objects that they like (or otherwise, of course).

It’s been an ambitious project, running for a number of years and the outcomes are exciting. The ability to search across and explore the collections is of huge value. But the social elements of the site allow individuals to essentially curate their own experience. Bringing objects from the different museums together with their own content, annotating them and making their own notebook - an exhibition for others to view and comment on.

So what can we learn from this?

This is a great example of using social media and online communities in a museums context. But it is also a great example of When thinking about how to use social media and online communities, it is important for brands and organisations to explore what it is they can uniquely offer. What do they have that they can share with people, and why would people come to a site that they were running to interact.

With Creative Spaces, I think these nine museums have got it right. They have not just launched an online community, asking people to talk about art - there are many places you can do that. What these organisations can offer that is different is access to their catalogues, and by coming together to make Creative Spaces they are offering something even more unique - the ability to search the collective catalogues of some of the leading museums in the UK. They have something unique and of value that they can offer to people with this search, and also with the online community they have built to support this.

One problem with some online communities is that they focus too much on forums and verbal communication. Other media can sometimes be a more effective way of communicating: video can be a great way to engage some people, others want to express themselves with images or objects. In a museums context this becomes even more important. I may not want to discuss my reaction to an object, but I might want to upload an image of my own as a reaction to it. Creative Spaces lets you do this, and indeed let’s you curate your own collection (they call it a notebook) with objects from the collections alongside your own content or content you’ve got from elsewhere. This is clever, allowing people to react and respond in whatever medium is most appropriate to them.

Creative Spaces is a great idea, it brings social media to a museums context and creates a social experience online that centres on the unique content these museums have - their own collections. It’s easy to set up a site and expect people to come and engage there, but this rarely happens. You need to build a site that meets a need and offers something new, leveraging your own position to give a real reason for people to come and engage on your site rather than elsewhere.

If you decide to join up, feel free to add me as a contact: Matt Rhodes.

(In interest of open disclosure, I should say that FreshNetworks has done some strategy work with the NMOLP to help them launch and grow Creative Spaces. But it would always have been a great example of social media!)

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  • Museum lovers’ social networking (news.bbc.co.uk)

Social media diary 13/2/2009 - Agent Provocateur

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Image via Wikipedia

Agent Provocateur engages women consumers across multiple platform

Appropriately for the day before Valentine’s Day, this week saw lingerie brand, Agent Provocateur, launch a social media campaign to promote its HelloAgentProvocateur blog. As you might expect from a lingerie brand, the blog includes a range of posts from the relatively tame advice on relationships and dating, to the more provocative (appropriately enough). One recent post, for example, included a post featuring a chart of exciting and mood-killing things to say during sex.

Alongside the blog post, they’ve launched a Facebook page and also a Twitter stream allowing micro blogging from MsProvocateur. The idea, according to Scott Goodson, CEO of StrawberryFrog, the agency working on the project,

…is the first time a luxury fashion brand has launched a provocative social media campaign tying together their various data-linked platforms, like a multi-entry daily blog, Twitter feed and Facebook

With a launch tied into a new ad campaign (itself designed to coincide with Valentine’s Day), this looks like a real attempt for a co-ordinated marketing approach. Using traditional and social media and then tying together online activities with a central micro blog.

So what can we learn from this?

We wrote earlier this week about the continued growth of social networks in 2008, and in particular the tremendous growth for both Facebook and Twitter. What Agent Provocateur appear to be doing is to use the different social network tools and online community platforms to engage people in different ways.

  • The blog is being used for regular posts that discuss issues of relationships, dating, and Agent Provocateur’s products in some depth. They run news and features alongside it and this really capitalises on the role that a blog can play as a content-rich information source.
  • Facebook is being used to showcase content and ideas from the blog and the campaign, and to gather friends. It capitalises upon the networking aspect of Facebook by encouraging people to connect with it. This is much softer than some of the activities that take place on the blog and reflects the difficulty that brands have marketing directly in Facebook (and other social networks).
  • The use of Twitter allows Agent Provocateur to bring together all of this activity and to broadcast what they are doing and saying on a regular basis. They can capture contacts in a way similar to in Facebook, but Twitter offers something really different. It’s not just a medium for releasing content (as is the case with the blog) nor on for accumulating friends and showcasing the best of what’s going on (as is the case with Facebook). Twitter allows them to actually engage.

It is rewarding to see that even with only 351 followers on Twitter, MsProvocateur is starting to engage and respond to people directly. When one follower tweated about the gifts their boyfriend had bought them, MsProvocateur responded with some thoughts on gifts that are good to buy in return.

The real value of Twitter is both in acting as a central portal to bring together and point to all social media activity, and also a true engagement tool. In fact, when brands use Twitter, it really is a case of the more you put in the more you will get out. It is worth finding people who are talking about your brand or the topics and subjects you discuss and following them. Do respond to people, give advice and  suggestions. And make this not just an overt marketing message. Really engage people and you will then reap the benefits of this activity in sales.

It’s not the use of Twitter that we like of Agent Provocateur’s campaign (although it is good), nor the topical nature of the subject. Rather it is that they are using a range of social media tools to engage people in different ways. A sensible approach.

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  • Facebook Determined To Make Twice As Much On Gifts This Valentine’s Day (profy.com)
  • How to Twitter your way to marketing success (jonggunlee.tistory.com)
  • The Social Media Starter Kit: Facebook (altitudebranding.com)
  • Whatcha Doing? Twitter, Other Status Tools on Rise (appscout.com)
  • Social network advertising…my ambivalence is showing (myventurepad.com)