What consumers want from corporate social media: Accountability

Posted in social media with tags , on February 14, 2011 by wisdomlondon

There are myriad reasons to engage with consumers on social media channels. Awareness, intimacy and advocacy are just some of the potential upsides.

But when the going gets tough, there’s one thing above all others that consumers really want. Are you optimised for accountability?

The fine line

Demonstrating accountability, especially when things aren’t going quite right (customer service issues, or a technology failure, for example), can mean the difference between drawing customers closer than ever before, or losing their trust completely. And, as we know, the social world is a pretty unforgiving place when consumers feel let down.

Think about the travel chaos caused by adverse weather at the end of 2010. We all accepted that it wasn’t the train operator, airport or airline’s fault, but we did expect accountability in keeping us informed. What we most needed was a commitment to providing the information we were looking for, quickly and as accessibly as possible. We wanted to know that our needs were being taken seriously.

Some succeeded and many didn’t.

So what’s the lesson here?

Don’t wait for disaster to strike before kicking into gear. Plan all of your communications with accountability in mind – and for crisis and customer service communications, this should be at the forefront. An unerring commitment to providing information, and the articulation of your efforts to rectify a situation should underpin all of that. In addition:

  • Monitor like crazy: Be aware of issues the minute they break (major or minor), and commit upfront to solve it, whether or not you have the solution right away.
  • Use judgment: Is it appropriate to continue campaign comms about offers and promotions while there’s a bigger situation to deal with? Sometimes not. Be prepared to temporarily divert from the plan.
  • Make it personal: It’s frustrating communicating with a nameless avatar when you need answers. If the situation is serious enough, it might be time for management to come to the social media frontline and demonstrate their overall accountability through a dedicated Twitter stream, Facebook announcement or shared video.
  • Be transparent and set expectations: Keep lines of communication open around the clock if necessary, let customers know what’s happening (even if it’s not conclusive), and deliver on promises.

Consumers get that to err is human. And when brands can demonstrate passionate accountability for solving problems and providing answers, they’ll most likely find that forgiveness really is divine.

Link: An analysis of Eurostar’s crisis handling on social media channels

Kate Spiers is director of Wisdom London, an integrated communications agency. You can follow Kate on Twitter here and contact her here.

Virality Is For B2Bs Too: How To Create Shareable Content

Posted in marketing strategy, social media, thought leadership with tags , on February 11, 2011 by wisdomlondon

Image: Graur Codrin

What makes content shareable?

A key outcome of social media engagement is amplification of messages – that is, broadening reach and getting your name   / brand / message / expertise in front of a potentially huge audience. Critical if you’re building a brand, marketing with a specific message or building awareness of a particular cause.

Whether or not something goes viral is a tough one to predict (and can look pretty try hard if it fails), but what we can control is the shareability of our content or assets, and optimise them for sharing and WOM (word-of-mouth).

We have numerous examples of shared content gaining viral status in the consumer field (Old SpiceTippex Shoot the Bear etc) yet, as with many social media approaches, this can be harder to pull off in the B2B sphere. But not impossible.

What kind of assets are we talking about?

Video is almost synonymous with virality – not least because most end up on YouTube, the worlds 2nd largest search engine, and where they are most easily shared. However, with corporate firewalls sometimes making ubiquitous YouTube inaccessible, we need to think about about other assets, too – blog posts, data charts, guides, infographics, reports, images, statistic sets, apps, tools and animations.

Assets are in their very nature of some value, whether informative, humourous or simply useful. But that in itself does not necessarily make them shareable. So what does?

Making assets shareable

When you think about stuff you’ve shared online recently, whether via a Twitter retweet, a link on Facebook or LinkedIn, or even an old-school attachment  on an email, what made you share it?

Most likely was that it provoked some kind of emotional response. It fulfilled some kind of need that you recognised others may also have. That asset might have:

  • Made you laugh
  • Taught you something you didn’t know
  • Presented information in a brilliant way
  • Made your life easier
  • Applied to something happening in the world right now
  • Reminded you of something important
  • Provided inspiration
  • Surprised you with stand-out statistics
  • Made you feel good (happiness, belonging, nostalgia)
  • Made your life in some way better

It’s these emotional responses that make us want to share, and it’s sharing that creates virality.   Get people to share en-masse, with passion and with those who have reach, and you win.

B2B virality

To achieve some sense of virality in the B2B sphere, you obviously need to make content shareable, but you also need to think along slightly different lines. Buying cycles in B2B are fundamentally different. After all, even if you could get 100, 000 views of your video on YouTube, does that get you closer to closing a consulting deal or software sale? Not necessarily. The measures are different, and in recognising that we can identify meaningful ways to make content shareable in the B2B world:

Relevance: Is the content relevant beyond a niche market or specific management layer? (although niche can work too)

Promise: Does your asset promise something new and valuable? People do not share same old, same old. It’s bad for our street cred.

Human factor: Will sharing this make you feel good, look good, be seen as forward-thinking, help you connect to someone? Ben the Bodyguard is a really handy service in an essentially dull field (online security) but a cutting-edge website and sharp humour made it eminently shareable and created huge buzz before launch. In B2B humour needs to be smart. Would a professional share this with another professional without crossing boundaries?

Usability: Is the asset in a format that’s easily shared? A quick download or view, a link which requires no sign up to view, a platform that can deal with high volumes. But think in terms of parameters too. Banned platforms, over-large attachments and links that don’s specify where you’re directed can leave the asset dead in the water.

What people share in b2b, with a few examples:

– Validated facts and stats (quote the sources!)

– Killer quotes and soundbites

– Methodologies, analysis and hypothesis (like Gartner’s Technology Hype Cycle)

– Diagrams and process models (such as B Solis’ Conversation Prism)

– Hot off the press content that’s totally new – there’s kudos in being the first with breaking news

– Great apps, services and tools

– Reports, surveys and points of view

– How to guides (we did our own very successful Twitter clients guide)

– Insightful interviews (TED’s YouTube channel has seen over 58 million upload views to date)

– Games and challenges (Sage did this very effectively within LinkedIn a few years ago)

Virality for B2Bs is completely achievable, but to make it work we must first realise that consumer virality and B2B virality are two different beasts. The B2B world has a whole set of nuances, expectations, parameters and behaviours to navigate. It’s hard to benchmark the two – measures will be different, as will outcomes.

Thanks to Graeme Fraser for his help with the Sage example.

Kate Spiers is Director at Wisdom London, an integrated communications agency with a track record in supporting B2B communication.

Blogging to Build Thought Leadership: Considerations and Recommendations

Posted in social media, thought leadership with tags , on February 8, 2011 by wisdomlondon

Image credit: Renjith Krishnan

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with a group of VCs discussing blogging as tool to build personal brand and support an overarching corporate brand at the same time.

There were many questions, ‘what if’s and principles to be agreed. It struck me that their exact pain points with blogging apply to any business which is striving to develop and market thought leaders (read: most B2Bs), so it seemed worth a post on the considerations and possible solutions we touched upon:

Objectives and objectivity

It’s clear that any kind of blogging activity must support clear and agreed objectives. But not only that, it should be assessed as the best channel to support certain objectives, rather than blogging for blogging’s sake. Objectivity is needed here – blogging is rarely a means to an end, and it does require commitment. Sometimes responding to relevant questions on Quora (to a ready made audience of influencers) is preferable. Sometimes a guest post or bylined article is more appropriate for a particular expert.

Our recommendations?

  • Agreed communications objectives, for the brand as a whole and for each individual
  • Agreed ways of measuring success, and a common view of what “good” looks like
  • A rock-solid editorial calendar, covering multiple integrated channels (blogs, website, PR alerts, events, third-party sites and networks) to ensure a balanced, on-message and consistent flow of content

Tone and supporting the brand

Whilst personal experiences and viewpoints should shine through in a blog, there’s still an overarching brand affiliation to bow to, whether you’re blogging on your own domain or the corporate one. Clarity, transparency and two-way lines of communication are vital.

Harder to grasp for business – and especially newcomers to blogging – is the issue of how much personality you bring to a blog. How chatty are you? How will you respond to comments? How much will you share of your life, interests and personal experiences on a blog? Here, relevance is key, as is a natural approach. So long as it’s on-message and consistent with the overall tone, say what you like within reason. But also think about what your audience (actual and intended) might expect from you. Are you fulfilling that?

Our recommendations?

  • Blogging guidelines, as part of a wider social media policy will provide clarity. This should include, where appropriate, sign-off policy, company disclaimers and descriptors to be used, and a clear view of how content will be syndicated more widely (company Twitter feed, company news and blogs, newsletters, external blogs)
  • Develop spokesperson personas: It’s worth each individual expert spending time to develop their online persona.  That takes into account their own personal communication style and areas of expertise, audiences, experience of social media, time they have available to commit to it, level of comfort in engagement online and so on. This helps each individual adopt a balance of the channels, which are most relevant and practical to them and allows them to use those channels in a way which is natural, informed, and not forced

The bigger picture

If blogs are to be used for marketing thought leaders and building awareness, then the bigger picture should frame this. Which other channels might be used to complement and amplify the blog content? What are your colleagues covering? And for that matter, what about your competitors and industry counterparts?

Our recommendations?

  • Never blog in silo. Always be aware of what else is being communicated via your organisation, how and when
  • Join the dots where you can. Comment on colleagues’ blogs and share widely. Consider guest posting and linking back. Blog about events and news too
  • Continually aim to improve through review, benchmarking against others and seeking feedback

Blogging is recognised as being a great way to demonstrate expertise, spark conversation and debate, and build personal brand – but in a highly regulated and traditional industry, it can be challenging to get things off the ground. That doesn’t make it impossible though. Small steps, a genuine commitment to the long-term and an eye on the bigger picture and objectives are the keys to a new business blogger’s success.

Kate Spiers is the founder of Wisdom London, an integrated communications agency, with deep expertise in B2B communications and social media adoption.

News: Ballou PR Teams Up With Wisdom London to Enhance Social Media Expertise

Posted in Uncategorized on February 3, 2011 by wisdomlondon

London, UK – 3rd February 2011; Ballou PR and Wisdom London are joining forces to form a partnership that will bring social media firmly into the Ballou PR offering. The move is a response to indicators that businesses, and in particular Ballou PR’s client base of high growth, innovative start-ups, need a more rounded offering when it comes to PR. Wisdom London will work with Ballou PR to seamlessly embed social media into its way of doing business, as well as integrating the medium with Ballou’s traditional offers.

Founded in Paris by Colette Ballou in 2003, Ballou PR has offices in the UK at TechHub, New York and has recently opened an office in Silicon Valley. Its clients include Facebook, Bluwan, Bambuser and Shopping.com. Working in partnership, Ballou PR and Wisdom London will now offer a full range of services, straddling PR and social media, including message development, content and channel strategy, media relations, influencer outreach, advocacy, community building and engagement, individual profile building and strategic communications.  Recent work in partnership includes social media-led PR for Conversocial, a social media management tool.

“PR is constantly evolving and changing, and we know that the agency landscape will look verydifferent in a few years,” says Vanessa McDonald, MD, Ballou PR. “We believe that with a strong social media ethic embedded in our business and offerings, we will be better placed than ever to help our clients make an impact and to support their business objectives during the critical start-up period and beyond.”

“Ballou PR and Wisdom London share the viewpoint that every business needs to develop a social mindset to truly harness and benefit from evolving technologies in the communications space,” says Kate Spiers, Director, Wisdom London. “Social media is not simply a marketing channel to be managed by a specific individual; at its best, it runs a seam throughout an entire organisation and our joint approach will be very much aimed at helping our clients achieve this.  PR is an excellent entry point for businesses to start to adopt social media channels, particularly when integrated within a solid, coherent strategy”.

For more information about how Wisdom London and Ballou PR can help you with a connected social PR programme, contact Kate Spiers here.

Wisdom London news: Our social media workshop features in FT

Posted in wisdom with tags , on February 1, 2011 by wisdomlondon

Wisdom London recently ran a Social Media workshop for female entrepreneurs in SE London (much as I love big business, I love doing stuff in my community too). It was covered by FT journalist Silvia Pavoni, who wanted to explore the world of female entrepreneurs and especially the burgeoning movement of “mumpreneurs” (her term, not mine).

You can read the story here!

Social Media: Beyond The Echo Chamber

Posted in social media, wisdom on January 21, 2011 by wisdomlondon

A recent Twitter exchange compelled me to examine how well we, as a communications strategists, experts and practitioners, are serving other industries in terms of social media.

My question to myself and others was: are we becoming too esoteric in our level of debate, and are we making social media knowledge sufficiently accessible to those outside of our sphere? You know, like potential clients?

Because while many brands have successfully harnessed social media – whether through early adopters, big budgets or just a really social mindset – I see a lot of B2B organisations struggling to find their entry point, and I’m not sure how easy we’re making it or them.

For those of us who do this stuff day in, day out, we’re united by the fact that we love it, get it, super-use it and live and breathe it. We talk about it plenty, and are often (and sometimes rightly) accused of creating an echo chamber effect.

So I’d like to make an open invitation to industry, business and those who are still navigating social media:

Join in the conversation, and tell us how we can help you. If we’re being esoteric or circular in our discussions, tell us. If you want to understand something better, ask. Because really, we’re doing this for you. Even it it may look far more self-serving at times. Challenge us to open the door to our world wider, to make our thinking clearer, and to understand you better.

I’d love to hear from those who are social media non-users, non-believers or simply those doing their job, but for whom a little more social media knowledge would help.

Welcome in. What do you need to know?

Ever Wondered About…Net Neutrality?

Posted in Ever Wondered About... on January 7, 2011 by wisdomlondon

Emotive subject alert! But here’s a simple (and neutral) low-down on an important issue:

The acid test

What is it?

Net neutrality is the principle that all data carried over the internet should be given equal priority, regardless of the content type, source or user.

Obviously, it’s a lot more complicated than that at its core, but essentially when we talk about net neutrality we’re talking about preserving a kind of internet democracy, and ensuring a level playing field when it comes to the flow of traffic. That’s to say: No ISP gets ‘special treatment’ or is allowed to charge more for faster delivery of data, and that data cannot be unlawfully blocked by ISPs (such as that which competes with the ISP’s content).

Various ISPs and tech players (including Microsoft, Amazon and Yahoo!) advocate the principle of net neutrality, arguing that it preserves the internet as a free and open technology, and lowers barriers for innovation – higher costs for certain types of data could make some tech start-ups, for example, unviable.  Those against say that in moving beyond net neutrality, the higher costs could equal even faster internet and much-needed investment in an already heavily-burdened infrastructure.

Perhaps not unsurprisingly, Google supports a ‘higher tier’ high-speed internet which sites could pay to use at a premium, and has proposed to deliver this with Verizon.

This rather brilliant infographic breaks down the arguments for and against pretty well.

Why should I care?

The debate has been rumbling for years, but now it’s hotting up.  The UK Government effectively supports an end to net neutrality, and regulator Ofcom is to due to clarify its position on net neutrality in UK this year. Over in US, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently ruled against any outright blocking and any “unreasonable discrimination” of web sites or applications by fixed-line broadband providers (ie. supporting net neutrality). Interestingly, the same does not apply in equal measure to wireless providers like AT&T.

Now in the UK, BT has controversially started to offer their Content Connect service, allowing ISPs using BT’s network to charge content firms for the delivery of bandwidth hungry high-speed video. This signals the beginning of a second tier internet, and is already causing concern among net neutrality advocates.

We should care because we’re due to hear a lot more about it, and because this is certain to have ramifications for digital marketers at some stage, sooner or later.

If net neutrality is protected, this is generally good news in cost terms for tech start-ups and marketers alike, but with more data than ever being carried, networks are in danger of becoming overloaded and one way or another infrastructure investments must be made and paid for. It also means that as users there’s another upside: We won’t be inundated with sponsored content, prioritised over the content we choose, as some fear.

If net neutrality fails to survive, we will be called upon as marketers to find ever more creative ways of developing and delivering content online, so as not to be hamstrung by higher costs for say, video content. That said, for content producers (which increasingly means brands) who are willing and able to pay, it suggests a huge opportunity to cut swiftly through the online noise and deliver best-quality content at super-speed to consumers.  For advertisers, it provides a boost, by offering the possibility of sponsored priority content.

So perhaps it really will be survival of the fittest.

More reading

The Open Rights Group campaign to preserve net neutrality

Kate Spiers is director of Wisdom London, an integrated communications agency with a passion for technology and a pragmatic approach to social media. Say hello here!