Digital Social Etiquette Q&A

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Q: How can social media increase a company’s brand exposure?

Social media is an extremely interesting phenomenon, in that its essentially just good old word of mouth but turbo charged via the power of technology.  Therefore, techniques that would have worked well in a traditional media sense can often become extremely effective social media campaigns. What you need more than anything to get social working is something interesting to say! (For interesting read genuinely interesting, funny, shocking, amazing, frightening, etc, etc) It’s extremely difficult to get social media working in any meaningful way if there is nothing that people want to share about your brand. So you have to create great content. Publish a report. Hold an event. Pull off a stunt or a great new business coup. This is where the world of social media blends with the world of PR quite nicely. Anything that would have been a great PR piece is an ideal starting point for a social media campaign. The challenge then is to figure out how to best amplify the campaign via the various social channels available to get maximum exposure.

Q: What is the best way to reach new customers through social media?

There is a saying within the social media community that it’s very difficult to create a community from scratch, but there are existent communities out there surrounding almost any topic or interest that can be tapped into and exploited. That would be a great starting point. But think laterally. If you manufacture pork pies or smoked haddock there may not be a specific community of people blogging about your exact product, but there are plenty of food lovers out there and some very active discussions going on around all aspects of food preparation, recipes, local produce etc that could provide great springboards for your initial forays into the social scene.

Q: Is social media just a tool for brand promotion or can it be used in other ways? 

In a lot of ways I’d probably suggest that brand promotion is perhaps one of the more difficult things to pull off via social media, or at least brand promotion in isolation. Social is fantastic for generating and sharing things like reviews, testimonials and for keeping in touch with existing customers. Of course there is an element of brand promotion in all of those activities, but it’s a much deeper brand experience than just seeing a piece of content and being entertained for a few seconds or minutes. Often we are hoping that existing customers will share their experiences – which is a very powerful way of winning new business, but of course demands that the whole customer experience – from start to finish – was good in the first place! This is why we say that social goes all the way through the business. It shouldn’t really be thought of as just a branding or even just a marketing tool. It can be used as a customer service tool, a research tool and can – and maybe will as we go forward – become one of the driving forces helping us plan the look and feel of our entire businesses around the actual (as opposed to perceived) needs of our customers!

Q: What are the potential pitfalls of social media?

I mentioned earlier that social media is a lot like word of mouth – and they both come in two flavours! Take the old adage that a happy customer tells maybe one or two people whilst a disgruntled or disappointed customer tells 10-15. Now apply the kinds of multiplication factors that technology can bring to the table and you can see how this can go horribly wrong if you upset your lovely new social media aware consumers! Case in point was the famous United Airlines ‘United breaks guitars’ debacle. Whereby a deeply disappointed United passenger decided to write a song about the fact that United Airlines broke his guitar and were ‘reluctant’ to deal with the matter. He then posted this song (complete with accompanying video) on YouTube, where it received over 3 MILLION views in the first 10 days (http://mashable.com/2009/07/15/united-breaks-guitars/) and, as I sit typing this, has now reached 9,388,596 views in total. That’s a lot of musicians not flying on United ever again!

Q: Don’t social media sites such as Facebook carry big risks in terms of reputation – you could be exposed to very public criticism of your products?

In short, yes. And there is nothing that you can do about it. However, this is NOT a reason to stay clear of the social space – far from it. What you need to understand is that, if you are creating bad experiences and upsetting you customers, they ARE going to go online and share this information on blogs, review sites, Facebook, YouTube or wherever they can vent their spleen. The only difference being you will be blissfully unaware about it…. Until it’s too late!

The key here is to be AWARE of what is being said about your brand

in these channels. First of all, listen. You can use social monitoring tools these days to collate ‘mentions’ of your brand or other key words or phrases across the social media spectrum. Once you understand what the perception is currently, you have a chance to do something about it. In some ways this could be THE single most important use of social media for businesses – to monitor, listen to and respond to chatter that already exists around the brand. This is real time, 100% genuine customer feedback, and it’s all yours for a lot less than the cost of one (usually ineffective and often downright misleading) artificially staged customer focus group.

Q: How can you guard against feeding information to competitors?

That’s a very good question and one that’s not all that easy to answer directly. Anything that you allow into the social space AND a lot of what you don’t publish yourself but others do, is instantly available to millions to share and distribute as they see fit.

I listened to Doug Gurr (CEO of ASDA) speak at a recent Multi Channel Retail event about how social media leaves businesses nowhere to hide. He envisaged a world of ‘total price and service transparency’ driven by social sharing, reviews, price comparison engines and customer testimonials.

In essence, if this really happens, it could change the way that business thinks about marketing and brands completely. With playing fields being levelled to such an extent, true value to the consumer gets put right back at the heart of the organisation. If the product isn’t the best in the market place you won’t be able to charge a premium for it. If your service is second rate, then you will be found out and no one will pay top dollar. The only way to go here is once again to embrace the full impact of customer feedback and do something about it – and quickly!

Never before have consumers had so much power to literally make or break the reputations of businesses almost overnight. No amount of traditional branding or positive PR is going to be able to stem the flow of genuine feedback from real customers. This represents a huge challenge to us all, but also, for those willing to tackle the issues head on and make changes boldly, possibly the most cost effective and exciting marketing tool at our disposal.

Have a Merry Multi-Channel Christmas!

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With Christmas now a mere 12 weeks down the road, this could be the last chance for retailers to make adequate plans for everyone’s favourite annual shop-fest.

We all know that Christmas trading performance can literally make or break the year’s results, or sometimes the entire businesses. Yet I believe that online opportunities are still being massively underestimated – or often times just plain ignored – precisely and ironically due to the heightened focus (not to mention pressure) in other areas.

But what does Christmas mean to your business? Are you set up to capitalise on all the available opportunities? Are you even aware of what those opportunities are – particularly from a digital or multi-channel perspective?

With all of the above in mind, here’s my early Christmas present to you, in the form of my ‘5 top tips for multi-channel festive domination’ in the run up to Christmas 2010.

1. Understand the scale of the opportunity.
Use analytics, research and industry trends in an attempt to properly understand what a multi-channel Christmas 2010 looks like for your business. Too many times opportunities are missed simply because no one in the business really fully appreciates the scale of what is potentially on the table. Believe me, spending the last 12 years in digital I’ve seen this happen A LOT and it would make me weep in frustration – if I hadn’t already run out of tears many, many years ago. Please, please take the time to understand what all those numbers could mean to your turnover and more importantly, bottom line, figures for the year.

2. Plan to out-think the competition this year…
Fortunately it’s not too late to get back in the game – although you have left it a little late to get started. Take a long, hard look at your Christmas plans and figure out how a multichannel approach could help you to amplify and compliment your existing silly season marketing efforts. What could you do differently this year in an attempt to out think the competition, as opposed to merely trying to out shout them? Media is expensive, whilst a dollop of creativity is a great leveller of playing fields. Think outside the box! Consider some different approaches. Maybe you don’t have to spend £10M carpet-bombing us with the same TV ad 40 times a day to get cut through?

(I’m not denying this works – just suggesting that, in 2010, there may be more elegant, cost effective and higher impact ways of reaching your target audience. No, I do not mean direct mail.)

3. Understand your analytics
Maybe this should be ranked as tip number one – as the number of organisations still paying lip service to the idea of using ‘web analytics’ is simply frightening. Not only are many businesses failing to use analytics effectively, quite often they haven’t even decided what it is that they should be measuring in the first place! The problem is, I think, that in the online world we have so much data at our disposal that we often become overwhelmed. Where to start first?

Well, a good place to start is by defining some really simple but critically important KPIs for your business. In our collective experience the number one sin in analytics is not focusing in on and understanding which numbers really matter the most.

The second cardinal sin would be a tendency to aggregate things like conversion rates and CPA targets across wildly differing product lines, or in most cases, across the entire business. Whilst this approach can offer a general indicator of overall performance, this is one area where the extraordinary granularity of online reporting really comes into its own. For example, its no use targeting an over-all CPA target of £50 across the business if 20% of sales comes from low margin, low value accessories. Unless, of course, its part of a larger strategy based on lifetime value of the customer etc… in which case your CRM / Referral and Social Media strategies all need to be geared up to driving that long-term value and measured accordingly to make certain that the profit is indeed coming back at some point in the equation!

I seem to have strayed from the point a bit here, but what I am trying to say is that the world of analytics is a complex one, and the numbers can often be misleading.

Considering this data is used to make critical business decisions about marketing activity and site redevelopment it really does warrant the attention of senior managers – whom I would encourage to ask as many difficult and probing questions as possible until they are completely satisfied that they a) understand what is going on and b) are convinced that they have correct, useful data upon which to base such decisions.

At this point in time the above scenario (senior management taking an interest in setting up reporting frameworks) is extremely rare, and this vital piece of work is often left to a junior ecommerce manager or assistant with little insight into or understanding of the real mechanics of the business.

4. Ramp up your visibility on search engines.
Increasingly, people start their multi-channel shopping journeys in cyber space. As more and more potential customers flood into the market in the coming months, search volumes rocket. Make certain that you are visible to these early stage researchers in order to get a shot at the sale when they eventually do decide to buy – be that online, from your catalogue or, heaven forbid, by intrepidly braving the British winter and actually turning up in one of those beloved ‘physical store’ thingies of yours. Yes, don’t worry we still love your stores!
(**After all, they give us intrepid Christmas shoppers somewhere nice and warm to hide when it’s raining or snowing outside, meaning that we can Google the price comparison engines in relative comfort to see where we could buy your stuff cheaper! So that’s nice. By the way, ever thought about installing free WI-FI? C’mon, this 3G is running like a dog. I can barely manage to upload the photo of that Sony plasma TV I just took to the Amazon instant search app! How frustrating!)

5. Systematically optimise your onsite experience and conversion rate
So now we have a good understanding of how our multi-channel audience are moving between and interacting with the various on and off line manifestations of our organisation or brand. So what? How do we get more of them and how do we sell them more stuff?

Again, whilst doubling your media budget could be a tad daunting, often times massive improvements in onsite user experience and ultimately conversion-to-sale can be achieved by investing relatively inconsequential sums into effective testing and onsite conversion optimisation.

The other upside to this approach – apart from the hardly inconsequential effect of increasing the ‘’bang for buck’ value of pretty much all of your existing marketing activity – is that your site visitors also get an improved experience and therefore are more likely to return and tell others!

It’s not unusual to be able to drive double-digit percentile improvements relatively quickly using simple, tried and tested methods. Yet, to this day, very few businesses take this really seriously – instead choosing to continue to rely on ‘gut instinct’ or on occasion, what colour the chairman or MD’s wife thinks the ‘buy now’ button should be.
(Err, yes. It still happens.)

In short, instigate a program of regular onsite measurement, testing and improvement. Flirt with A/B split tests or go the whole hog and commit to a long, wholesome relationship with multivariate testing. But whatever you do and however you measure it, do it systematically and do it regularly.

So there you have it. Five fairly broad-brush pointers towards a more prosperous, better integrated and ultimately more profitable Christmas trading season. To reiterate, it’s not too late to make a decision to make 2010 the year that you do things significantly differently and really make the multichannel approach pay dividends.

Wishing you all the best with your Christmas preparations!

Mark.