Why social business needs cultural change in any brand

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Change Priorities

Change Priorities (Photo credit: Christine ™)

When brands think about using social media across their business, the focus is usually on the things you will do, the tools you will have in place, the audiences you will work with and how you will report on progress. But more often than not any social business initiatives will need cultural change in your own teams if they are really to be a success.

Any new social initiative should not just be about bolting something on to an existing campaign, process or activity; initiatives that are done like this are the most difficult to make work. Social will have biggest impact when it is more fundamental to what you are trying to do.

So rather than just adding a Twitter account to an existing customer service channel, the real return will be when you think about ways to start redesigning your customer service based on consumer behaviour and the tools that are available.

And to make the most of things that are this fundamental you need cultural change in any organisation if they are to be a success.

When thinking about cultural change there are usually three main considerations:

1. Do your team really understand the role social plays for you?

Most people will use some form of social media in their personal life, and the danger is to take this understanding and behaviour into the workplace. That’s not necessarily the most useful way of thinking of social business. Whilst you are unlikely to articulate clear objectives for your personal Facebook page, or to plan content for the next three months, it is critical you do this as a business.

Your team need to truly understand what social means for a business, and specifically what it means for your business and for their role.

2. Do your team have the skills to make the most of social?

For anybody, social presents new opportunities and also new skills that need to be learned - technologies are changing and consumer behaviours are changing so businesses need to be able to constantly adapt to capitalise on these.

Education and a forum for sharing what is happening are critical to the success of any social business, and this needs to be at all levels but is critically important at senior executive level. Those people driving the business need to understand the opportunities (and limitations) of social if they are to effect real change.

3. Is your team structured in the right way for social?

Many of the ways we structure organisations are based on the traditional ways we have and still work. And they are often effective. But when you are thinking about social business you should consider if these same structures and processes work.

If you are redesigning your customer care processes, for example, do you still need the team to come to a central office every day? Should they all be working office hours or the hours you get most interactions in social media? Even should customer service in social be done by a particular team alone or be supported actively by people across the business who work in the areas being discussed.

The danger with social media is that you focus on what you are doing and that you bolt it on to existing processes, programmes and campaigns. That is always a real shame - you will probably miss the real opportunities that exist across your business, and when you think about social business in this way you will need to consider internal cultural change if it is to really work.

Why you shouldn’t join every conversation about your brand online

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Keep calm and carry on
Image by scottroberts via Flickr

When brands start social media monitoring, the ability to get real-time alerts whenever your brand is mentioned can be enlightening. Your inbox is suddenly filled, almost in real time, with every mention of your brand. The good, the band, and the ugly. The temptation can be to respond to all of these. To counteract every negative comment. To respond to and then spread every positive experience. To answer and resolve every question. This is only natural for people who care about the brands they work for. But the best approach is often not to respond. In fact, in many if not most instances, a brand should not respond to people talking about it online.

The real benefit of social media monitoring for brands is that it allows you to be aware of and listen in to conversations that you might not have known were going on otherwise. People who express their frustration with your product but would never have told you, advocates telling others just how great you are, or people sharing useful feedback and product development ideas. It’s great to see all of these things and the temptation is to respond. But more often than not, the best thing a brand can do is to not respond.

Doing nothing is often the most difficult thing to do. But it is often the right thing to do. If you overheard two people ranting about your brand on a train you would be unlikely to interrupt. If you heard people talking in a cafe about great customer service they’d received from your team you would probably listen, feel proud and let them tell each other how great you are. There is no need to interrupt in these cases. A rant is probably just a rant and there is little you can do to change this. And people being positive are probably doing lots of good for you on their own without you needing to add anything. Whilst things are different in social media - notably that the comments can be seen by a much larger audience and that they are archived and searchable. But often the same rules apply.

If you have nothing to add, don’t say anything, and if you will only inflame a situation then stay out of it

Overall, brands should be careful about engaging online and have a clear process of when to respond, and when not to respond. There are two very clear cases where a brand should always step in:

  1. Where an actual customer service complaint is being expressed - you should step in to respond to this, pointing people in the direction of where they can get support or dealing with this complaint through your existing channels.
  2. Where incorrect things are being said about your brand, products or organisation - you should correct the incorrect messaging that is being spread and answer any questions

In all other instances you should be more circumspect about getting involved. You should have a simple process for reacting and responding online and use this to help guide you. But overall you should do nothing more than you do something. Monitor, report on and learn from everything people say about you online. But don’t feel the need to get involved in every conversation.

Why do you follow brands on Twitter?

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[don't follow]
Image by [noone] via Flickr

Some brands are very successful on Twitter. They might be using it for customer service, to engage with customers or to discuss issues that they might be interested in. For many brands, Twitter is a great way for brands to engage directly with consumers, to learn what they are saying and to react and respond to this where relevant.

The question for many brands, though, is why would people want to engage with them on Twitter. In some instances this is clear. For example, when Twitter is being used as a servicing channel it is a way for customers to ask questions, complain or get support. In other instances it is less clear. And as with any social media strategy, it is critical that you think about why people will want to engage with you as much as why you want to engage with them.

When discussing this with clients and others recently, the question that always comes up is if brands should aim to gather a lot of followers on Twitter (as opposed to engaging a lot of people regardless of whether or not they follow you). And with this goes the question of whether brands are expected follow people back who follow them.

Don’t make social media another silo

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Rainbow Test Tube
Image by nezume_you via Flickr

Social Media Week in London saw a great set of events, thinking and presentations for all things social media. One of my favourite presentations from the week came from an event I wasn’t able to attend: Steve Bridger‘s keynote from the Media140 Third Sector and the Real-time Web event.

Steve’s presentation is based on his experience of working with charities and not-for-profits and highlights the importance of the internal change that must take place in any organisation if they are to make the most of using social media:

  1. Social media is disruptive to an organisation. It changes the way you do things, whether you intend it to or not. We see this a lot with organisations we work with at FreshNetworks. Marketing communities often produce customer service queries or ideas; research communities often result in word of mouth about the brand. Customers are not siloed in how they think about your brand or organisation and they way you interact with them in social media cannot be siloed either.
  2. Social media is about relationships. It is not about technology but about what you do with it and how you interact with people online.

These observations are as true for corporates as they are for not-for-profits. Social media is not a silo because it is about relationships. It is about how you engage and interact with people on an ongoing basis.

Steve’s full presentation is below and is our Required Reading this week. You can also hear Steve talk at the FreshNetworks Breakfast Briefing on Thursday 18th February: Strengthen your membership strategy with social media.

Media140 keynote
View more presentations from Steve Bridger.

Vodafone, Twitter and the challenges of managing your brand in social media

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Vodafone
Image via Wikipedia

It’s been an interesting afternoon for Vodafone. Their VodafoneUK Twitter account has attracted a lot of attention after one Tweet in particular stood out from their usual customer service conversations online. In between the Tweets resolving network coverage and other queries one stood out. You can read about what was actually said elsewhere. But, in addition to some rather questionable grammar, the message was offensive and not appropriate for a brand’s Twitter stream at all. It was clearly the work of either a hack, a case of very bad judgement, a disgruntled employee or an inappropriate sharing of passwords.

The official response from Vodafone (as you can see from almost every message they have sent since on Twitter) is that it was a breach of rules by an internal member of staff and that they are dealing with it internally. This is the kind of PR that any company doesn’t want, and as it was done through Twitter it will no doubt be held up by some as one of the downsides of social media and of engaging with customers online in this way.

Putting aside any short-term issues and negative publicity, there are a couple of things we can learn from what happened to Vodafone today. First in how you should manage your use of social media as a brand, and second in how you should respond when things go very wrong.

Managing your brand in social media

We’ve posted before about how to write your firm’s social media policy and, perhaps more importantly, what to do once your firm’s social media policy is written. The basic principal is that it is the quality of your staff and the relationships they make with customers that will make all the difference. Not the technology you use or any technological solutions you put in place. The general principal is that if you trust your staff to represent your brand in traditional media, then you should be able to trust them in social media.

Of course, Vodafone may not today be able to empathise with this and there are some differences. Notably that anybody with access to a Twitter account will be able to say something that is immediately and directly communicated to customers. This is a huge responsibility and one that people should not take lightly. But it is a responsibility that brands should give to their staff and one that is most important when building your brand online and in social media. Whilst there are many agencies out there who can help to manage your brand online for you, with the appropriate training and support (which may need to come from a specialist social media agency) the best person to represent your brand online are your own employees.

The key things here are:

  1. Have a culture where social media is acceptable. Encourage your staff to use social media so that they become comfortable with it and that is becomes part of your culture. This is a big shift for many organisations and one they are often nervous of.
  2. Have ongoing social media training across the business. Things change and they change quickly in social media. A firm that wants to position itself best online needs a regular and ongoing set of training and ideas and knowledge share. Try things out and share what works and what doesn’t for your brand.
  3. Trust people but have a very clear policy in place. You should trust people to interact with your customers online but be aware of what they are doing. It is not one-to-one communications, nor is it always one-to-many. You are talking to one person but in a very public environment. Recognise this and have policies and processes in place for this new way of communicating. But make these policies simple and clear to understand.

And whatever happens you need to be aware of the risks and have processes for dealing with them. Social media is growing and changing rapidly and as such can be a very forgiving place if you approach things in the right way. Everybody is experimenting and will often forgive you if things go wrong and you handle them in the right way. For me this is what Vodafone got right.

What we can learn from Vodafone’s response

When things go wrong the way to respond to it can be simple. Vodafone did two things that all brands can learn from. Whilst there will be discussions, debate and probably some negativity about what was said this afternoon for sometime, fundamentally, Vodafone should not suffer too much damage, because:

  1. They responded quickly and said what was happening. In social media, people can spread messages quickly. Vodafone also responded quickly and said exactly what happened and was happening. It wasn’t a hack but an internal employee and that person was being dealt with.
  2. They responded in the same place that people are talking about them. Vodafone responded to its Twitter followers on Twitter, using the VodafoneUK account. The key to crisis management in social media is to respond where people complain. Otherwise you risk alienating them and losing your role in the story.

So lots that we can learn and lots that they got right. But no doubt a challenging day for Vodafone today.

  • Vodafone suspends employee after obscene tweet (guardian.co.uk)
  • Top five Twitter gaffes (guardian.co.uk)
  • Vodafone suspends employee over obscene Twitter update (telegraph.co.uk)