Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

I’m closely following the fortunes of my beloved Chicago Bulls in the NBA playoffs right now. They had the best overall record in the regular season and lost just two of the last twenty three regular season games.

So then to the play offs. In round one, in the best of seven series, they won 4-1. As I write they are leading Atlanta 3-2, with a road trip up next. Basically play off basketball is a different game. They’re finding the play offs tough. They’re not like the regular season at all – they sort out the greats from the regular players!

It gets tough in there! Elbows, arms, heads all clash and guys get hurt.

“You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable’, as coach Tom Thibodeau said last night.

And as I heard him say this, I realised that this is just how brands need to think about facing up to social media.

The social web is a difficult place to be for brands. It’s inconvenient, transparent, random, seemingly out of control. It’s uncomfortable.

But you can’t not show up in the play offs and brands can’t choose not to play on the social web – it’s not their decision. Customers have made that one for them.

So how do you get comfortable? It’s not easy. Remember, winning on the social web doesn’t mean organisational change – it means changing the organisation. It means remaining focused, more than ever on listening to your customers – the right ones, engaging with them, being smart, being human.

Humanising your business mans play off time for many businesses, because the rewards are huge.

Who are the brands that can win in the play offs and go on to win the Championship?

The First Question

I read a wonderful blog post from Oliver Blanchard this week with a list of points on social media. It’s brilliance is that it states the ‘bleedin’ obvious’ as they say in the UK!

The first point is the clearest – “Social is something you are, not something you do.”

Of course! – This gets straight to the point I make to businesses at the earliest opportunity – accept that the world, and your role in it, has changed irrevocably.

So, the first question to ask of a business owner is not “do you ‘do’ social media? But “are you social?”

Don’t Let Your Customer Service Get ‘Buried’!

Last month saw the release of a new thriller/horror movie by Spanish director,  Rodrigo Cortés entitled ‘Buried’.

The premise of the movie is (taken directly from IMDB) “Paul is a U.S. contractor working in Iraq. After an attack by a group of Iraqis he wakes to find he is buried alive inside a coffin. With only a lighter and a cell phone it’s a race against time to escape this claustrophobic death trap.”

The point of this post hinges on you understanding that he has a cell phone, which of course he uses to try and contact the outside world, but that of course, has limited battery life. The movie sounds absolutely gripping, but here is another direct quote from the great Mark Kermode about Buried.

“It’s a film about the horror of being put ‘on hold’. I have yet to see a film that so brilliantly encapsulates the annoyance, the frustration, the terror, the anguish of being ‘on hold’.

Doesn’t that ring true? Excuse the pun.

We’ve all had the opportunity to press 3 by pressing 2 and then being put on hold whilst being told just how valuable we are. So valuable that we can be left in a black hole for 45 minutes – thanks T Mobile!

Customer care is thankfully being redefined. Those amazing CRM systems that were going to rock our world in the nineties and noughties will soon be painful things of the past. All because of the voice that we now have through social media.

I’ve written before about AT&T. They have a terrible reputation in the US. When the iPhone 4 started dropping calls beacuse of the design, who got the complaints – Steve Jobs or AT&T ‘helpdesk”? OK, so Apple took a bad dose of publicity, but on the ground, customers were battering AT&T.

And yet, the great thing about them is that they recognised that the days of leaving people on hold were numbered. They still did it – don’t get me wrong, but by promoting Twitter as a key customer care channel, they have shown that the biggest step in winning on the social web, is accepting the world has changed.

Their strategy for using Twitter to meet their objective is still flawed – nowhere near enough resource and they clock off at 5! Poor Molly, the face of AT&T’s Twitter customer care page seems a lovely lady, with only your best interests at heart, but nevertheless has a thankless task.

If there is a lesson from the last few years experiences surrounding CRM, it’s that peoples expectations are, quite rightly, rising all the time. If your wifi goes down at 3am while working on a presentation, you need help at 3.05.

Customer care can’t take holidays anymore.

Comment on this post and I’ll get right back to you…

“It works in practice but will it work in theory?”

I recently heard this quote, admittedly in relation to something completely different, but I felt that it was a perfect reflection of feeling towards social media and its potential in the UK.

It was followed by, “We are wallowing in a miasma of over analytical nonsense”.

It’s true isn’t it? Even sitting here writing this I’m conscious that I’m adding,  in a very small way, to the noise out there on this subject. Surely the arguments are compelling enough. Engaging with customers and prospects is a good thing right?

So, for this post I will say no more.

Except this  – Just Do It

Are you the owner of a yellow Reliant Robin?

Does your business resemble a modern day Trotters Independent Traders – T.I.T? Are you ‘Del Boy’ in disguise?

Will we see you down the market pushing out some clobber from ‘a mush in Shepherds Bush’?

I’ve just had a great call with a former colleague who told me stories of conversations he’s had with marketers in the UK over recent days about their view of social channels. Channels to market!

“Yes it’s great. We’re all buying into customer engagement”, they say. “But we’ve still got to get the marketing message out there.”

Of course, if you’re under pressure to deliver your numbers each week, the temptation to push, push, push more and more through these channels is understandable.

But the bigger picture is this: your preparedness to engage, to listen and respond above anything else, IS your marketing message. It’s what you will be known for. Indeed, very soon, your reluctance to listen and engage will be what you’re known for. And that will be the end of the line. Or Peckham!

We talked about brands with a mystique and their reticence to actually talk to people for fear the myth would be shattered. Again I understand this, but your customers are human beings. They know that there are other human beings behind the mask. Deciding on the voice and tone for your brand is one of the earliest decisions that needs to be taken. That’s why the Best Buy view of allowing thousands of ‘Blue Shirts’ to tweet isn’t appropriate for everyone. There is no manual!

But not engaging is the road to ruin.

Don’t be a ‘plonker’ all your lives….

Another One Down

Just a quickie. I was following Iain Dale on Twitter this morning and laughing out loud at his unfortunate experience in the Tunbridge Wells branch of PC World on a Saturday morning. Iain tells a great story. Here are the highlights:

“Enduring the usual bollock breaking customer service experience at PC World trying to buy an iPad. How does this company stay in business?”

“In the end walked out of PC World after they wanted 2 know how many credit cards I had and other personal info irrelevant to iPad purchase.”

He then publishes a Blog post entitled “How Does PC World Stay in Business”

Finally,….“Have now ordered iPad via Apple Online Store. A pleasureable experience, and all without having to deal with PC World numpties.”
Now Iain Dale has just shy of 14,000 followers, not a massive number, but that number includes some very influential and powerful people who have much larger number of followers. A simple re-tweet of this mornings miserable experience would be devastating. As it is, here I am writing about it!

I’m not aware that PC World in the UK are on Twitter. They don’t promote it on their site so I supsect not. So I guess they’ll just not be listening for people like Iain Dale either? Shame. Best Buy are coming….

But then as Mark Ritson says in his infamous article “Social media is for people not brands” and “ does not work is when cold, hard, lifeless organisations start trying to spark interactive social media conversations.” What about just engaging with poor Iain Dale?

Give me strength!!!

Digging Your Heels In

Stubborn, intransigent, awkward and obstinate. We’ve all behaved like that at one time or another. Usually between the ages of 2 and 7. But for a “Professor of Marketing and an Expert on Branding” to continue to insist that social media is “…a new and relatively insignificant communications tool that has limited potential for a very small proportion of brands” as he did in the latest issue of Marketing Week, is astonishing.

At the Engaging Times Summit in Chicago last month, the great Stan Rapp announced his conversion to social media. Indeed one of his memorable quotes was “Stop advertisng, start dialoguing”.

Rapp’s conversion was based on the very numbers that the Professor rests his arguments on. Ritson says of Tesco’s Twitter page, “And what about Tesco? It’s arguably Britain’s biggest and best run brand and yet it has a grand total of 281 followers. Are you starting to see my point?” No Mark.

What this says to me is that Tesco have yet to grasp the potential that social engagement tools offer. In fact, having just checked their page, it appears Tesco are really confused! I’m not clear which Tesco Twitter account is the official one, but (which I suspect is the official version) last tweeted in April 2009! Do they promote it on their advertsing materials, their website or even their till receipts?


In fact the tell tale sign that brands haven’t grasped the potential of Twitter, is that it isn’t promoted at all on their ‘Contact Us page!

Well, if they’re not tweeting, the it’s a good job they don’t promote it!

Go figure Mark.

“A Journey of a Thousand Miles Starts With Just one Step”

This quote credited to Lao Tzu, a Chinese Philosopher who lived 500 years before Christ, could not be more apt when people think about starting a blog.

Just recently I’ve heard a number of different reasons why companies have yet to start a blog. Time, resource, subject matter – lack of each of these is cited as an excuse, for really that’s what they are – excuses.

Writing this I’m struggling to think of any organisation that can really justify these excuses. Just yesterday somebody told me, “but we have nothing to say”. That’s just extraordinary! What do they talk about all day long?

Write about your world, your market, your experiences, tell your stories. Maybe people aren’t reading enough? Surely just reading an opinion piece about your market will provoke a response in your mind? Write it down.

Lack of time? Really? Why not set a target of say 3 posts a week – can that be so hard? Remember how to eat an elephant? Write things down as they come to you. A pen a paper by the bed can be invaluable.

Lack of resource? – I don’t get this at all. Somebody in you organisation should be blogging, but just who that person is does take time to decide. Should it be the office junior “because they do that stuff all the time” or should it be the CEO? This deserves plenty of thought. But don’t let the decision delay you too long. But here’s a clue – the office junior is NOT the right person.

How much freedom will the writer have? Again, I sympathise with those wrestling with these questions. Some businesses work within very tightly regulated industries where the legal department checks every piece of material before it’s released. That’s why listening to Donna Rossi, from Western Union at the Engaging Times Summit last month was so liberating. The first thing to note is that Donna is the Global Customer Experience Manager for Western Union – not the Head of Marketing. Important because it highlights that social media begins with customer care – but that’s another blog post! Donna explained just how Western Union had wrestled with the letting go that is necessary to really engage with their customers on the social web. She demonstrated real trust in WU employees to blog and vlog appropriately without breaking some pre-set guidelines.

A final obstacle that may be front of mind for people is the fact that nobody will read it! Well, that’s probably true. You could be talking to yourself for a time. But this is the time to try different things, to see how your writing style develops. Don’t think that by building it, they will come. You have to work on your blog distribution channels and encourage feedback. Do this and they will come.

Am I happy with every aspect of this blog post? No. Will I read it later and think I could have written it better? Yes. But that’s always the case and the road to nowhere.

Go for it!

“Doing to is bad. Doing with is good. Doing for is great”

Is the most memorable quote from Stan Rapp at the ‘Engaging Times’ Summit held in Chicago this week:

Two more:

“Today’s consumers are the most narcissistic in history. We’re all looking after brand I.” another from Stan.

“Don’t bother wasting money on social media until your organization can competently handle a customer phone call or email.” Don Peppers

The first is a succinct observation on fact that millions of us now manage our own “I” brand, primarily through Facebook. The second, a warning to those who think this funky stuff looks too cool for school and want to jump straight in.

The link between the two is not just that they are from two of the most important thinkers in marketing in the last 25 years, it’s that those of us with “I’ brands are all too willing to trip companies up when they let us down, don’t deliver and disappoint us. And this negativity can be devastating. Just ask Tiscali Talk Talk and SouthWest Airlines.

Here’s another quote: “Customers wouldn’t feel the need to embarrass us en masse, if our customer service channels weren’t so completely broken.” Bob Knorpp, The Beancast

The marketing buzz in the US right now is about two things – listening and engaging. By connecting the two, businesses and organisations can respond to the conversations their customers and prospects are having. That’s great. But, the real winners are those who have taken an additional, crucial first step; accepting that the world has irrevocably changed forever and that they no longer control the message.

It’s not a comfortable thing for businesses and marketers to acknowledge. But those who think they are in control are doomed. Maggie thinks that by turning her toy steering wheel in the backseat while Marge is in the front, she is driving the car. Some marketers are labouring under the same illusion as little Maggie Simpson, and she never grows up!

The good news is that those who get it – really get it and are prepared to accept the letting go that this entails, can win and win big.

While @ThatKevinSmith and his 1.6m followers are destroying SouthWest Airlines because he was too fat, United are issuing extra airmiles to people tweeting about delayed flights from the departure lounge. By the way that’s ‘delayed’ not ‘adjusted’ as SouthWest refer to their changes in flight schedules!

The thousands of employees that make up Best Buy’s twelpforce are answering customer service issues minute by minute under some common sense and open ended guidelines – if you don’t know, don’t publish, never use the customers name etc. etc.

They have wiped out Circuit City and made Radioshack a virtual irrelevance. Best Buy are now in UK – be afraid!

So whilst there are huge opportunities to grow sales, increase web traffic, develop new products, carry out research, or whatever your objectives are through social channels, the first place to look is your own backyard.

Are all of your customers happy all of the time? Of course not. What aren’t they happy about? Address these things first. Turn negativity to positivity without asking for proof of purchase first!

Whilst the Old Spice campaign was brilliant in its design and execution, don’t get carried away. Make sure your house is in order before you dive in.