iab blog: Was #StormSWT the making of rail operator’s social customer care?

South West Trains used Twitter to keep its community well informed and even better engaged during the recent storm that hit the UK.

My post about how it all went down has gone live on the IAB blog.

SWT Signal Down #StormSWT

Image source: @SW_Trains

giffgaff – showing us the future

When you invent a company on social brand principles from scratch, you end up with something like giffgaff.

For those who’ve not heard about giffgaff yet, it’s a mobile network run by its community. The idea is that members get rewarded for running parts of the business like answering customer care questions, getting new members, spreading the word about giffgaff and even developing new products.

Speaking at the packed Digital Surrey event last night, Heather Taylor, Social Media and PR Manager at giffgaff, gave some fascinating insights into the inner workings of a ‘social business’.

Heather’s insights:

  • Founder of giffgaff, Head of Brand Strategy at O2 Gav Thompson, came up with the idea to create ‘the Wikipedia of mobile’ after attending a conference on open source business models.
  • Before launching anything the team went out to the community, and asked them what they would want from a ‘mobile network run by you’. The business was then designed around the feedback.
  • Levels of engagement in the customer forums are much higher than for a traditional mobile model. Some ‘super-users’ in the forum are engaged six hours a day helping others.
  • giffgaff doesn’t focus solely on its owned forums. It views the giffgaff ‘community’ as anywhere online that interactions and comment about giffgaff take place. The company provides tools to allow community members to track these interactions in open networks e.g. its own URL shortening service, giff.ly
  • Every week the suggestions made by the community are reviewed by the CEO, CFO and exec team. The best ideas are implemented.
  • giffgaff has made its APIs available to the community, and all app development has been led, and completed, by the community.
  • After the community management team at giffgaff handled a network failure crisis in a timely and proactive way, customers turned down offers of compensation, and asked that the money be donated to charity instead.
  • giffgaff believe the model is scaleable. If giffgaff accounted for 25pct of O2’s total customer base, it would save £12.5 mln from annual  customer service costs.

That last point is the real eye-opener. Socially designed businesses can create fundamentally different models, and shift accepted thinking on financial ratios.

The proof of the pudding for giffgaff will be how loyal its customers are in the long term. In these early days the figures aren’t available. But if this business model can also create greater loyalty, leading to the mobile operator’s holy grail of lower churn, then it will be a game-changer.

Heather’s final insight was to wonder what is stopping other businesses adopting these models. She had one word, ‘legacy’.

By that she meant the legacy of existing business systems, and the behavioural legacy of how customers are used to being interacted with. As customers demand that these legacy systems and behaviours shift, we’ll see more giffgaffs, and more disruption to business models.

How would your business look if you re-invented it for social?

The U.S. Navy’s social savvy

On one level it surprises me that the U.S. Navy ‘gets’ social so thoroughly. Shouldn’t a large, complex and hierarchical organisation like that find social concepts like transparency and authenticity hard to adjust to?

Giving it some further thought, maybe it should be no surprise that an organisation that lives or dies (literally) on the quality of its communications and intelligence, should embrace social behaviours.

This Fall (that’s autumn for us Brits!) the U.S.Navy has come up with a ‘Social Media Handbook’ for personnel. Within its pages there is plenty of sound advice, and there is much here that can translate across to any civilian organisation, or business.

For the ‘time poor’ here are some highlights focusing on the U.S Navy’s overview on social, usage guidelines for personnel, and crisis communications.

U.S. Navy’s take on social

“The rapid growth of social media platforms and technologies have flattened and democratized the communication environment in ways we are just beginning to comprehend” – Adml, Dennis J. Moynihan, U.S. Navy Chief of Information (Spot on, and who can argue with an Admiral?!)

Guidelines for personnel (extracts)

  • The Navy encourages service members to tell their stories. With fewer Americans having served themselves in the military, it is important for our service members to share their stories of service with the American people.
  • The Navy asks Sailors to live their core values online, and understand that communication in social media is both public and international – even when they think they are just talking to family and friends.
  • When commenting about Navy matters, Sailors and Navy personnel need to be transparent about who they are and should identify themselves and their rank and/or position. They should also be clear that their opinions are their own, and do not represent their command or the Navy when commenting publicly on Navy topics.
  • Replace error with fact not argument, if you are engaging someone else online. If you see an error or misinformation, correct it courteously and factually but do not engage in a heated argument.
  • Admit mistakes. If you make a mistake then admit it and correct it immediately. If you do edit a posting online, make it clear that it has been updated or edited — don’t just try to make a change and pretend you never made the error. If people can’t trust you to own up to your own mistakes you will lose credibility.
  • Remember that everything posted on the Internet even for a second may live online  forever.

Crisis Communications (extracts)

  • Using social media to communicate with stakeholders during a crisis has already proven to be an especially effective use of the medium due to its speed, reach, and direct access.

  • You can’t surge trust, so your best course of action is to leverage already existing social presences. It is important to have a regularly updated channel of communication open between you and your key audiences before the crisis hits so they not only know where to find you online, but know that they can trust the information they get. (This chimes with our view on the importance of cultivating community in the good times, as per point five in this earlier post.)
  • Create a centralized location to funnel information. If you don’t have a command (centralized) presence then the people most interested in the crisis will more than likely decide as a group where they want to find information and start their own group. Whatever the case, you need to communicate where the people most affected are communicating.
  • Monitor incoming content posted by your users on your social sites so you can understand what information they need and what is happening to them.
  • Post cleared information as you have it, and there’s no need to wait for a formal press release. When you have solid information that your audiences want to know, post it.
  • Answer questions as often as practicable. Avoid just posting information on a social media presence – that is what command websites are for. (A fundamental point that many comms teams ignore in a crisis.)
  • Monitor external conversations regularly and correct inaccuracies. This is the best way to stop rumors before they run rampant. Use search engines and other monitoring tools to track discussion on the topic.
  • Share and cross -promote critical information with your network of trusted social media sites.
  • Encourage on-scene and first-responder personnel to engage via social media. You can do this by having them either use their personal accounts or feeding you information to post on the official command social sites.
  • Promote the social media presence on outgoing materials like press releases, e-mail signatures, links on the home page and even in conversations with reporters.
  • Analyze success of crisis communication via social media by looking at click-throughs, conversation, replies and reactions to postings, etc.

Five practical steps towards better social reputation

As we head into the end of the year (how did that happen!) thoughts inevitably turn to how we’re going to do things differently in a bright, new, 2011. I had this in mind when I presented to a group of corporate communicators at PR Week’s ‘An issue ignored is a crisis invited’ conference on the 20th of October. So, as part of my session I focused on five practical steps that reputation managers can take to restructure their comms approach, and move their teams’ skill-sets and mind-sets to a place where they are better prepared to handle issues and crises in the socially enabled world.

I took five well established pillars from the ‘Old world’ issues and crisis management text-book, and considered how they should be evolved to prepare brands for the demands of ‘New world’ social reputation work. The five existing pillars are on the left in the image below, and the evolved approach on the right.

So, taking each in turn.

1. From a communications team, to an engagement team

A serious reputational issue playing out in the mainstream media has traditionally been handled by PR specialists and senior management, supported by legal teams. These are still crucial people to have in the war room, but the demands of social media require some additional skill sets too. A well-rounded ‘Engagement Team’ will now include social customer relationship management specialists, technical teams able to optimise content created for your response, analysts with the ability to make sense of the online conversation around your brand issue, and experienced community managers with the appropriate skills to know if, when and how any engagement should happen.

2. From media monitoring, to active listening

If you’re reading about a damaging issue in your mainstream media press cuttings, it’s too late. Once an issue has been amplified out of social media and into the mainstream you’re already in a ‘reactive’ position, and many companies have been caught out because of this, for example, Capri Sun.

In contrast active listening puts you on a proactive footing, listening out for issues in a real-time and persistent way. It’s also ‘active’ because you intend to take action, or assess possible action, on the basis of what you learn. Each brand or organisation can set up an active listening solution that suits them. This could be a specialist tool like Radian 6, or Brandwatch, free tools like Tweetdeck, but crucially all of them require human eyes (and brains) to make sense of the data through analysis.

3. From press releases, to content creation

Drafting template press releases, which cover likely crisis scenarios, is a standard technique to save time during a crisis. So should you do something similar for social content? Draft some tweets? Pre-record YouTube videos? Frankly, no. A social reputation situation will move in real-time, and in a dynamic manner. Rather, invest in your team’s technical and content creation skills. For example, have you got useful brand outposts like Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube for your company? Do the team know how to use them? What socially enabled content could you create to tell your story during a crisis? Have you done the necessary preparation work with your legal team to speed up sign off procedures during a crisis?

4. From media and scenario training, to appropriate social behaviour

At a recent presentation on the future of journalism at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong, the Editor in Chief of Reuters, David Schlesinger, made the following comment. “The more you try to be  paternalistic and authoritative, the less people will believe you. The conversation about the story is as important as the story itself.” This is an insightful backdrop against which you should re-apppraise how you prepare for reputational threats in the social age. Preparation is still the key to successful crisis comms, but you need to prepare in different ways now. It’s less about ‘front of camera’ and ‘press conference‘ skills, and more about social psychology. Remember you’re no longer talking to the intermediary of the mainstream media, you’re going direct to the public. They want transparency, authenticity, honesty and speed! Your team needs to be trained how to do this. The first step is to create some social media guidelines, then scenario plan and test the team’s ability to respond appropriately in a live environment. The n keep testing, learning, and getting involved in the conversation.

5. From stakeholder lists, to community influencers

The role of third-party advocacy to respond to a crisis remains as relevant as ever in the social age, it’s always better to be defended by others than defend yourself. In the pre Web 2.0 world a comms team would focus on individuals and institutions that could provide this advocacy through mainstream media. Now it’s also necessary to think about the online advocates you can mobilise. So how do you make this happen online? Work at it, and do so over time in the same way you might look to lobby important stakeholders over time. First, landscape who is influential around your brand and vertical, next undertake some community outreach and community building. Finally, grow some roots into that community, gain trust and understanding. As a result when an issue or crisis hits you have increased the likelihood of the community coming to your defence, the ultimate in crisis recovery. Preparation is now about preparing your community to defend you, not just your own people.

In summary, we’re in a situation now as reputation guardians where we have to think more broadly, and at the same time more rapidly, if we are to effectively protect and enhance the reputations of our organisation, or brand.

Would love to hear any comments. Happy Christmas!

If you’re reading it in the press, it’s too late

PRWeek hosted an Issues Management workshop for PROs yesrterday morning and Headstream’s own Jules Duncan was there to speak about managing brand messaging across the social spectrum – more on that from him later.

The overarching message from the morning was that everything has changed for in-house communications teams.  If you don’t take a long-term approach to communicating your brand’s narrative and have a clear understanding of how your brand is perceived, when a crisis hits you may very well lose control of the message.

Andrew Caesar-Gordon from Electric Airwaves made the point that although the tools have changed, human behaviour hasn’t and the ‘Framing Effect’ will usually apply – people will make decisions, rightly or wrongly, based on the stereotypes and anecdotes that make up their perceptions of a brand.

Caeser-Gordon advised seeding the media landscape with a steady ‘drip, drip, drip’ of key messages in the good times so that stakeholders better understand the brand’s core values in a crisis.

The BBC’s Donald Steel supported this argument saying, ‘the core element of all reputation is trust.’  That trust cannot be built or maintained without understanding the behaviour and perceptions of your audience.

Underlining all of these statements are the core principles of social branding and reputation management, as outlined by Jules, who recommended that brands, if they do nothing else, should listen.

By actively monitoring the social sphere, brands can address issues before they become crises, and get into a proactive rather than reactive position. Jules also emphasised the importance of investing in relationships and communities online to build up potential advocates who can support your brand in times of trouble.

The message is clear – in the social age it’s not enough simply to prepare your team internally, you have to consider how you can curate a supportive community too.

Social Reputation (video)

Over the last few weeks we’ve been running some briefings with UK based brands to delve into the topic of ‘Social Reputation’. They were really lively sessions, and the subject is at the top of the agenda for many communicators. With that in mind we’ve created the following video that gives you a taste of what we presented on the day.

Look forward to your comments and thoughts.

A reputation attack a day – the new normal?

What makes a good news story? At its heart is the classic ‘who, what, why, when and how?’ from your journalism school 101. Add in the premise that ‘bad news sells’, and you’re on the same page as the editors at mainstream media outlets across the globe. Since the advent of the real-time web mainstream media journalists are being presented with these core facts on an hourly basis, combined with ’instant case studies’ of the people involved. By tapping into these sources (and at the same time saving the extensive legwork and fact checking of the past) journalists have a ready stream of compelling copy. As a result the grievances of dissatisfied customers are increasingly finding their way into the public domain, requiring  companies to be in a constant state of readiness to manage these conversations.

In an excellent article in the Washington Post on the subject Bernhard Warner points out that ‘a genuinely timely and transparent response’ is now required, rather than the ‘spin’ of the past. Good advice for online crisis comms, but we believe it goes much further than that. Management teams brought up on a diet of  business thinking that glorifies the organisation are now being forced to re-think their entire approach due to the power of the social web. Some inspirational thinking in this area comes from social media commentator Umair Haque . He believes that companies need to go from ‘Great to Good’ , and rediscover their principles, to thrive/survive in the social age.

It’s going to be a long road for the majority of companies to adopt the authenticity, transparency and humbleness required to deal with these new ways of working, and new rules of engagement. For those willing to take that road the investment will pay off as dealing with online reputational threats becomes a day-to-day normality for every company.

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