Does social work for every brand?

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Deutsch: Discofeeling

Deutsch: Discofeeling (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Femfresh came a cropper back in June, some argued that it was a brand that was intrinsically ill-suited for social. After all, how many people would want to be seen to like a feminine hygiene product on Facebook?

Euan Semple skirts this issue when he talks about some brands getting ‘into social’. He likened them, at a Digital Surrey event last week, to a dad dancing at a disco. “You’re proud of him for giving it a go,” he said. “But you wish he’d sit down.”

We work a lot with financial services brands which operate in a tightly regulated environment. This makes it tough to respond naturally and in anything like as real-time as the fluid and admirable O2, for example.

So should we assume then that social is only for brands which are already naturally engaging, aspirational and great at dancing?

If getting involved is a challenge, FS brands could hire the social equivalent of a body double and see how that works. Bodyform recently chose that route, achieving great viewing figures and industry acclaim for its video rejoinder to a comment on its Facebook page.

But surely, this is missing the point.

Some of those dancing dad brands aren’t there just because everyone else is on the dancefloor. Some are learning to engage in a new and changing world. Their customers, employees and partners are changing the way they communicate. Brands have no choice but to deal with the change. So they need to get in amongst it to understand it. And look for the opportunities to make a real connection with the people that are important to them.

Just being in it, isn’t enough. Bodyform was a great campaign tactic but it missed a trick by not being authentic. Femfresh got their fingers burned and missed a trick by not connecting with and understanding their detractors. These could have been valuable opportunities to learn about engaging in a world transformed by social. These brands do have interested communities active online had they been handled differently.

I don’t think Euan Semple was suggesting that some brands shouldn’t ‘do social’. His position rather was that we have amazing tools at our disposal now that can help us connect like never before.

Not every brand needs to be on Facebook. But every brand needs to understand the impact of social.

Because the opportunity of social is not really about scoring an extra point for awareness on your brand recognition tracker.

The real impact is far more strategic. It’s about building real relationships with the people that matter to your business, so that you can do better business with them.

Building the business case for online communities

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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 (mediabullseye.com)
  • FASTforward’09 Interview: Euan Semple, independent advisor on social computing (fastforwardblog.com)
  • Build your own community or go where people are? Do both (freshnetworks.com)