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Archive for the ‘social networking’ Category

For many organisations the biggest concern is over losing control if they enter the social media jungle.  Drilling deeper these concerns include the following

  1. Fear of opening the floodgates to customer views in public
  2. Ability (and therefore associated cost) to respond and engage with the volume of discussions being generated
  3. Damage to their image/values caused by inappropriate or offensive content posted to any of their online assets
  4. Concern about what employees might say about the business to customers or prospects
  5. Cost in terms of resources, infrastructure and time to successfully implement a social media strategy and solution

Fear of opening the floodgates to customer views in public

The reality is that no matter how good your service or product is you will have some unhappy customers.  Many see social media as simply giving a platform to disgruntled customers to air their views.   That said customers both happy and unhappy are already free to and indeed are sharing their views on companies through Twitter, Facebook and other channels.  Organisations can choose to ignore or engage with such discussions.

The following are good and well known examples of companies engaging with customers through social media

  • Comcast Cares –  Comcast famously turned around bad feedback by engaging and responding on Twitter initially through the work of one man  Frank Eliason.
  • Hotels on Tripadvisor – there is feedback both good and bad on Tripadvisor for hotels, the smart hotels engage and respond to these comments which shows that they listen and results in a positive impression of them and the opposite for those that are silent.
  • Lego – eventually caught on and embraced the ever growing community and sites that their customers had created – How Lego caught the Cluetrain
  • Starbucks – a great example of how to use customer ideas to change and evolve your product –  My Starbucks Idea

Ability (and therefore associated cost) to respond and engage with the volume of discussions being generated

The sheer volume of traffic and discussions taking place on social platforms can seem overwhelming and could appear at first as though a large dedicated 24*7 team is needed to simply keep up with it and respond.

However much can be achieved with existing resources and relatively small investment of time.  A good example as mentioned previously is Comcast which had a team of 7 people managing the social media interactions to support a customer base of 24 million.

  • Tools to help manage and filter the discussions.  Should first look at the many free tools available before deciding if you need one of the commercial solutions such as Radion6 or Scout Labs.  These tools can help focus time and energy on replying to the most relevent questions and concerns raised by customers.
  • Encourage employees to participate and share the load of responding.  Engaging with social media does not require suddenly creating a whole new team or retraining all of your callcentre – a few individuals with the right tools can utilise a certain percentage of their time to help provide good coverage.
  • Community manager – a role that listens and engages with the community and provides feedback to the internal organisation

Damage to their image/values caused by inappropriate or offensive content posted to any of their online assets

Getting the balance with moderation to minimize inappropriate content while not destroying the dynamics of the community is key.  One guiding principle is that trust is cheaper than control.  Manually moderating all user generated content would require vast resources and would never scale.  The approaches to achieving this balance include :

  • Automated spam detection services such as Mollum provide a good first line defense.
  • Community moderation – allow community members to flag inappropriate content and allow the most active respected members the ability to remove it
  • The Community manager role discussed above can also review user generated content and encourage the right kind of behaviours on the site.

Concern about what employees might say about the business to customers or prospects

Customers are not listening to the corporate speak language most companies are using to talk to them – they tune out from it as the words are unnatural and they tend to be the same as all companies.  People prefer genuine natural language and conversation.  Employees are having those conversations already with friends about their company.  Employees who want to engage with customers through social media should be encouraged to do so.   Allowing customers direct access to the best asset a company has, it’s employee’s, will have better results than any carefully crafted marketing or scripted call centre dialog.

Cost in terms of resources, infrastructure and time to successfully implement a social media strategy and solution

Social media usually fails when approached from a technology direction – there are expensive social media platforms that the big software companies will happily sell you.  But embracing social media doesn’t require big expensive platforms.  It starts with a philosophy of having conversations with customers wherever they might be on the internet and then understanding how to change your existing online assets to enable the kinds of interactions that your customers want.  These changes should be organic and be about assembling the right technology components that allows for change in the future.  The guidelines should be as follows:

  • Think big, start small, move fast and keep moving.
  • Avoid the mindset and associated process of selecting a technology platform
  • Assemble the solutions you need from proven open source technologies and standards

Catching the cluetrain

Being successful with social media is within the reach of all companies but it will require a change of mindset and a more agile approach to succeed.  The proof is out there with those companies that have realised great success though often it has required a maverick spirit of a few individuals to make it happen.   The spirit shown by those few is captured well in the Cluetrain Manifesto that while 10 years old is more relevent than ever today – the updated 10th Anniversary edition adding recent examples of the success of such an approach to engaging in conversations.

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As Twitter evolves and potential applications of the platform emerge it is already clear that it provides a powerful channel  to build and contribute to a community of like minded individuals and organisations.  It’s openness creates opportunities for establishing far broader communities than other invite only based social network platforms.

The philosophy behind engaging with a community through a social network is really around how you can contribute to the discussions and ideas of a group of people with similar interests to yourself or your business.  By giving and engaging with that community you will get far more than if you try to use Twitter as a pure marketing / selling channel.

Establishing an identity

Your identity on Twitter is determined primarily by what you choose to discuss and to a lesser extent what is in your bio.  Many use Twitter to simply share their day to day experiences as some kind of life stream with family and friends.

However if you wish to establish a community around a particular domain or area of interest be that some kind of technology, business area or personal interest then it is important that you focus the majority of your tweets and links on those domains and areas of interest.

If you regularly post on a particular topic then others who share that interest will find you through search and follow you.

Building a community

The people you follow or who follow you on Twitter form the community that you will interact with so care and consideration should be given to both who you choose to follow and to those you allow to follow you by not blocking them.

Avoid mass following – this is analogous to blackhat SEO techniques of generating as many inbound links to a website as possible.  This will completely dilute your community and is likely in the future to impact reputation scoring which could assess the relevance of the people you follow and who follow you.

There are a number of tools that can be used to help find people who share your interests in a particular topic or space, examples include :

  • Many Twitter clients allow keyword searches to be saved and will update real time showing the tweets containing those keywords – one example is Tweetdeck
  • TweepSearch – performs a keyword search through the bio’s and profile of Twitter users
  • MrTweet – recommendations of people based on who the people you follow are following or interacting with

Suggestions for Twitter Post Optimization

Twitter posts are restricted to 140 characters so it is important to think about how best to use those limited number of characters to share something of value with your intended audience.

The goals of a Twitter post intended to reach those with similar interests should be :

  1. Post is found by as many of your target audience as possible
  2. Post is retweeted alot
  3. Post results in interest in your other posts, in you, your company and leads to new and loyal followers

Given these goals the following 10 recommendations can help achieve them :-

  1. Use keywords that are relevant to your intended community and also score high in Twitter keyword searches.  The following tools can help identify the popular keywords (helps meet goal 1)
    • Twopular – great for seeing popular keywords over time
    • Twitscoop – good for trending and search
    • Twendz – helps identify related keywords that are popular given a root keyword
  2. Power of the headline – post needs to grab attention and interest (helps meet goal 1 & 2)
  3. Consider time of post – taking into account time zone of the community you are trying to reach (helps meet goal 1)
  4. Share something of value and informative not just blatant advertising (helps meet goal 2)
  5. Post should contain a link to further information (helps meet goal 2 & 3)
  6. Try to ensure that a high percentage of your posts address the topics/themes that are relevant to your intended community (helps meet goal 3)
  7. Give credit to others – so ReTweet or reference other people when sharing information they have posted (helps meet goal 2 & 3)
  8. Break news (helps meet all 3 goals)
  9. Answer questions and respond to other users who are discussing topics relevant to your business domain/speciality (helps meet goal 2 & 3)
  10. Post links to your Twitter posts on other channels such as on blogs, websites, social networks etc (helps meet goal 1)

The above is also dependent on how Twitter search evolves.  For a discussion on ideas of how Twitter Search could evolve see Ideas for Improving Twitter Search.   Twitter Post Optimization (TPO) is the new SEO and is still evolving – interesting to see how TPO will change as the platform and tools expand.

Despite the tools evolving the practise of engaging, sharing and contributing to a community remains the same and will be important for individuals and businesses to embrace no matter which channel they use.

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There is alot of discussion around how Twitter search can be improved including the following recent post on Mashable.  The following then are my thoughts on how Twitter Search could evolve.

In some ways the evolution of Twitter is not dissimilar to that of the World Wide Web.  That evolution firstly involved an ever increasing number of sites and then the tools and technology evolved and indeed continue to evolve today.  Twitter has grown rapidly and tools are emerging.  One of the key steps for the Web was providing a powerful search mechanism to access the wealth of information contained in those websites.  A similar challenge is now facing Twitter – how to search effectively to find those nuggets of information and trusted sources. Google’s approach of PageRank for websites revolutionized searching for information across websites as the results returned were deemed to come from more trusted and reliable sources.

So the question is what is the equivalent of the Google PageRank for Twitter ?  How does a user qualify as being a trusted and reliable source ?

A possible TwitterRank algorithm that could be used to index Twitter users could help in facilitating more powerful search could comprise of the following

  • Parsing and extraction of high frequency keywords/tags (eg open source, CMS, CMIS) of recent posts by a user (ie last 200 posts) – this approach could use one of the many Information Retrieval algorithms and leverage stemming and synonyms
  • Analysis of content in links could also contribute to keyword/tags for the user
  • Frequency and age of posts
  • Ratio of high scoring keywords to number of posts ( ie 1  in 4 posts contain high scoring keywords)
  • Number of followers with similar high scoring keywords – potentially ratio of these followers to overall followers, though penalizing for having non-relevant followers might be unfair it could help combat the mass follower practise
  • Content of bio and bio link also contributing to keyword score

This TwitterRank would then be used in sorting the search results for particular keywords.  The goal would be that the people who score highly on the keywords that are searched for have their recent posts returned higher than others as the scoring would indicate they are more active and contribute alot on this topic as well as having a high number of equally relevant followers.

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The increasing number of social networks and platforms being used is offering different channels for businesses to engage and interact with their customers throughout the customer lifecycle.  There are also geographic considerations to be taken into account, for example Orkut is extremely popular in South America so is the right network to use when reaching clients in that region.

The typical customer lifecycle from the perspective of a customer is as follows

  • Awareness / research
  • Purchasing
  • Using product/service
  • Purchase add ons or enhancements (perhaps goes back to first step)
  • Getting help/support

The awareness/research, purchasing  and support phases are typically where people like to interact with other people to see what decisions and answers they might have – the wisdom of the crowds.  People often steer clear of marketing, adverts or callcentres in these cycles.

Awareness / research

People prefer to research by discussing with friends and looking on comparison sites and looking at consumer reviews.   The following are good approaches to engage in this cycle in a non-invasive manner.

  • Provide rich content on community sites focused on relevant subjects/products.  This is effectively content/application syndication.  Providing content / interactive tools (ie questionnaires, calculation tools) is much better received than simply pushing adverts that few people click on.  Optaros has developed a cloud based solution for syndicating this kind of content called OView.
  • A number of businesses are now appointing a community manager role in their organisation to go out to the forums and sites that people are interacting on and join the discussions.  A good example of this is hotels that interact on sites like TripAdvisor by responding to concerns raised and sharing information.  This can also include being active on microblogging services such as Twitter.
  • Equally if people find a product on a site during their research then enabling them to customise/share it with their friends/family on social networks such as Facebook can help spread the word through viral means.   Optaros Labs have done some research in this area with a product called FANS

Purchasing

Once people have done all their research and made their decision to purchase they often want to share what they have bought – particularly if it is fashion, style related or heavily customised.  This is a good opportunity to help enable this by allowing info about the purchased item to be shared through social networks directly.  Some good examples of this approach are as follows :

  • Mydeco – allows people to configure and design rooms and then save their configuration, tag and share it
  • Nike – allows custom design of shoes, saving into your own locker and sharing with friends

Getting help/support

More and more people want a quick response that solves their issue so Google and social networking sites end up taking precedence over callcentres.  This means businesses have the opportunity to participate and provide dynamic support through channels such as Twitter and Facebook.  Related to this is having rich media freely available such as webinars, podcasts, videocasts, slides and having them tagged and available on sites such as Slideshare, iTunes store, youTube etc.  Equally important is having knowledgeable employees active on the various community sites and contributing through blogs.  Salesforce.com has recently offered Twitter integration into it’s customer service product to help capture and flag relevant discussions taking place.  This can also be taken further with semantic analysis of discussions taking place to try and route it through to revelent people in an organisation.  Other good examples of using Twitter for customer service can be found in this blog posting from last year.

The real key with all these approaches is recognising the need to go where customers are having conversations and not expect them always to come  to your own site.  By being more open and interacting where people are spending time increases the chance to offer value to customers and offer a more immediate and responsive customer experience.

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