Archive for March, 2010

Shift From Self-Driven To Issue-Driven Social Media Listening

Are you focusing on the wrong things in your monitoring program?

Yesterday, I was impressed to discuss the following assertion from a company we’re hoping to work with, regarding their monitoring program (paraphrased below):

“We don’t just want more reading material; we want something that adds value to what we do.”

This one statement evolved into a valuable conversation on the difference between self-focused monitoring and a more holistic program focused not just on the organization but also on the issues that matter more broadly to the company.

The nature of self-focused monitoring

It seems obvious, but there’s an important distinction here. Many organizations focus on what other people are saying about them without broadening their focus to the things that really matter to them:

  • How many people are talking about us?
  • Are they saying nice things?
  • Where are they talking?
  • What kinds of things are they associating with us?
  • Are our organization’s key messages mentioned?

Benefits of self-focused monitoring

These programs are often used as yardsticks for determining the success of online programs and there’s certainly value in that. Self-driven monitoring can help both from a communications and a broader business perspective, for example:

  • Catch emerging issues related to your company or brands
  • Identify opportunities for product/service improvement (valuable research for product teams)
  • Spotting pent-up demand or frustration early
  • Provide an additional channel for proactive customer customer service
  • Assist with the evaluation of communications programs

Despite these benefits, though, self-driven monitoring only scratches the surface of the potential for monitoring.

Opportunities beyond “self”

Still, there’s so much more to online monitoring than this. Monitoring and listening programs focused purely on a company can miss much of the potential insight for the company.

  • What about emerging industry topics?
  • What about discussion of your competitors?
  • What about monitoring for hot-button media issues?
  • What about looking for what key voices (policy makers, for example) are saying about your industry?
  • What about broader consumer insights related to your market?

There’s a wealth of valuable information being discussed online nowadays; the limits of the potential usefulness are to a great extent only defined by your internal resources (time and people or, if outsourced, budget). With the right program, you can move from reactive, passive evaluation to proactive, real-time insights and actionable take-aways.

The most comprehensive monitoring programs define their sphere of conversation broadly, then dig into specific aspects for actionable insights – research, leads, media opportunities and so on. It is programs such as these, which can constantly evolve to incorporate emerging topics and trends, that realize the full value of the powerful tools out there (Radian6, Sysomos, Alterian SM2, Scout Labs etc) for mining these online conversations.

So, ask yourself: is there room to evolve the way you approach your social media monitoring?

Cut Companies A Break

Are you perfect? Most companies aren’t either. They don’t get everything right – in product launches; in marketing; in pricing or in any area where people are involved. They certainly don’t get everything right in social media.

The big difference for them is, when they get things wrong in social media, people often shout it loud from the rooftops.

Sometimes, though, one person’s mistake is another’s best practice.

For example, yesterday I noticed someone declaring a #fail on a large company – FedEx – that had claimed a Twitter account but wasn’t responding to tweets sent to it. At first glance, that would seem to be a legitimate criticism – why would a company not respond to people asking questions?

However, far from failing, the company may have actually been following the best practice by claiming their organization’s identity. By doing so, they were able to ensure that no-one brand-jacked their name on the service. In fact, claiming your company’s identity on social media services is something I’ve recommended all companies do, even if you’re not prepared to use the accounts yet.

The same goes for people complaining about the timeliness of responses. I’m a little sick of seeing people chastise companies for not responding mere minutes after asking a question. You know what? A couple of years ago you’d have waited a week for a form-letter response, or sat on the phone line on hold for half an hour. Now, you can take 10 seconds to write a tweet then sit back and wait. Guess what? People have meetings. They have other tasks to hand. They may even turn off the computer while they watch a movie in the evening. While it’s great when they can and do respond instantly, try cutting them some slack if takes a little longer.

From a big picture perspective, social media is still new and companies are still figuring out how (or whether, in the short-term) to adopt it. There are no standard processes across industries yet, and the best practices are still evolving. It’s about time we started to pause and look at things from outside the viewpoint of the fishbowl before assuming that a company is screwing up. Would it be lovely if FedEx were active on Twitter? Sure. Is it an automatic failure that they aren’t? Not necessarily.

Join Our Team At Thornley Fallis Communications

[Update: we’re not just hiring PR folks. We’re hiring designers and developers, too]

[Update: The two positions below have now been filled.]

The recession is well and truly over and we’re firing on all cylinders. In fact, we need more cylinders to keep up with the work that’s coming in. So, we’re hiring.

Want to work with big-name brands and bleeding-edge startups alike? Want to work in a team where you can define your own career path? Want to work with awesome colleagues like Terry Fallis, Jeremy Wright and Andrea Pietkiewicz? Want to work in a full-service agency where we don’t just come up with the ideas, we execute every part of them?

We’re looking to fill two positions in our Toronto office.

We’re looking for a mid-level PR practitioner to work on and manage some high-profile accounts. The ideal candidate has:

  • A minimum of three years of public relations experience
  • Strong experience in media relations
  • Ideal experience would include healthcare/pharma / corporate
  • Experience managing projects and accounts
  • The drive to help us to continue to build

We’re also looking for an Account Coordinator to join our team. The ideal coordinator will need:

  • Strong written and verbal communications skills
  • Creative thinking and an ability to switch between tasks rapidly
  • Excellent organization and time management skills
  • An insatiable appetite to learn

If you think you match either of those descriptions, send your resume through to

Seven Reasons Your Company Needs To Prepare For Crises

Does your company have a communications plan for when it gets hit by a crisis?

Chances are, you don’t. Time and time again I’ve seen organizations plow ahead with communications programs that focus on generating proactive results, but do little to prepare for the flip side.

In the last few days we’ve seen another example of activism in social media, as Facebook users slammed Nestle for its environmental and business practices in the developing world. It’s yet another demonstration of the fact that if your organization is doing something that could be seen to be unethical, people now have a voice with which to respond.

If you’re not yet convinced of the need to prepare for an event such as this, consider the following:

1. At some point, your company WILL do something that upsets people.

It’s inevitable. At some point, you will do something that won’t make everyone happy – whether it’s raising prices, laying off staff, recalling a product or something else. It’s going to happen. While that doesn’t guarantee the kind of backlash that Nestle received, the chances of people voicing their concerns online is constantly rising as adoption of these tools increases.

2. It doesn’t matter if you’re using social media.

In Nestle’s case, their own property got hijacked. However, McNeil wasn’t using social media tools when the Motrin issue hit last year. While your social media properties may provide a lightning rod for criticism (which has pros and cons), not having them doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

3. You can’t plan reactively.

It’s too late to plan for a crisis when the crisis is already happening. It didn’t work in the old traditional media world, and it certainly doesn’t happen in the world of social media, where things move many times faster.

4. It’s easier than ever for people to organize.

Recent Canadian examples like the prorogation of the Canadian Parliament and the proposed introduction of a new Canadian Copyright Act have shown it’s becoming easier and easier for people to self-organize around issues that matter to them.

5. Slacktivism still gets attention.

Slacktivism is a term most people hadn’t heard of a year or two ago. It essentially means the act of doing something nominal in support of a cause (signing an online petition; joining a Facebook page, etc) which makes the person feel good but does little to further the cause. The flip side of “slacktivism,” though, is that right now it still gets media attention. While that may change over time as the novelty wears off, do you want to take that chance?

6. Control is a myth.

I’ve been saying this in presentations for a long time now – you don’t control the message. A news release issued six hours after a crisis breaks is no longer sufficient – you need to be prepared to monitor in real time and respond quickly if necessary. If you’re not prepared for when another party advances their agenda, you’ll be off-balance when it matters most.

7. Mistakes make the crisis worse.

Nestle compounded the problem with abrupt responses from their rep on their Facebook. Mistakes like that can sabotage any chance of calming the storm early. Having a plan, and practicing it, is critical – that’s why governments do things like emergency simulations (difference is their mistakes may cost lives), and why you should do them too.

Given all of these reasons, why would you NOT have a crisis communications plan?

(Image: Shutterstock)

Does Online Customer Service Encourage Dissent?

One of the highlights of South By Southwest for me so far was the Customer Support in a 140 Character World panel with Caroline McCarthy (CNET), Frank Eliason (Comcast), Lois Townsend (HP), Toby Richards (Microsoft) and Jeremiah Owyang (Altimeter). With a wide-ranging conversation tackling many different aspects of online customer support, I found it fascinating.

One of the most interesting lines for me came from Owyang, who said (forgive me if I’m a word or two off here):

“Responding to people on Twitter is encouraging them to yell at their friends when they need your support.”

Running scared

This is an issue I’ve run into several times with clients, especially those who want to maintain a divide between their traditional customer service channels and what they sometimes see as promotional online channels.

Companies have a (perhaps justified) fear that if people see them responding to online complaints, they’re going to take their complaints online first – publicly – before calling customer support. That leads to:

  • More negative online chatter
  • More work for online reps
  • More potential for others to jump onboard with the complaint

Online reps are customer service reps

The flip side, though, as Jeremiah also pointed out, is that customers don’t care what department an online rep is in. As far as they’re concerned, the company rep is customer-facing so they expect a response to their concerns about that company.

Instead of trying to funnel everyone through your channels, how about helping them in the place they are already inhabiting? In the process, you can go a long way to addressing their issues before they become a support ticket number.

Frank Eliason mentioned that each day his team of 12 people at Comcast go through:

  • 6,000-10,000 blog posts mentioning Comcast (although most are due to Comcast email addresses)
  • 2,000 tweets
  • 600-1,000 forum posts

All of this, with the aim of improving customer experiences.

What’s the ROI of ignoring the phone?

David Alston of Radian6 has a good way of referring to online customer engagement. He asks conference audiences who ask about the ROI of this kind of engagement, “what’s the ROI of you not picking up the phone?” After speaking to someone tonight who mentioned that her organization shuts down their online communication during big issues because their PR folks are scared of peoples’ reactions, I’d throw that question out to them too:

Have you considered how much you lose every time you ignore someone online?

Many companies know exactly how much revenue they generate from the average user. Those companies therefore know how much revenue they lose every time they drive a customer away by ignoring their pain points. Those same customers often volunteer information about those problems online proactively, yet the organization responds with unhelpful canned lines or doesn’t even respond at all.

Eliason also mentioned an obvious but salient point – sometimes you just need to agree to disagree with people. Transparency doesn’t mean agreeing with everyone – it means that you help those you can and explain honestly why you can’t help the others. That very act of explanation might not make people happy (and, yes, let’s be honest, it may upset some) but with the majority, it’s enough to know that someone is listening and acknowledging their concern.

So, there’s my take. I acknowledge that public-facing customer support is scary, for a variety of reasons. However, the potential repercussions of ignoring people, anywhere, is so large that to do so is irresponsible, both towards them and towards your company.

What do you think?

Book Review: Switch – How To Change Things When Change Is Hard

Every so often, a book comes along that somehow boils really complex topics down to such a concise form that you wonder why no-one thought in that way before. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Dan and Chip Heath, is one of those books, combining theory from change management and persuasion in a clear, practical way that everyone should learn.

Switch outlines techniques for inspiring change , be it at work, at home or out in your community. Dan and Chip Heath break the topic down into three simple sections:

  1. Direct the rider
  2. Motivate the elephant
  3. Shape the path

The authors liken change management to an elephant with a rider. The rider is the logical, thoughtful part of the equation, responding well to reason, facts and long-term thinking. However, it only has limited control over “the elephant,” which responds to emotion and short-term gain.

Switch argues that, for change to be successful, both of these sides need to be convinced – if you only address one side of the equation you greatly reduce your chance of success. Meanwhile, along with the elephant and rider you should also consider the path they follow – the context in which the two operate. By tweaking the path (adjusting the environment for the subject of change), you can ease the difficulty of the change or perhaps even accomplish it through that alone.

Seems a little abstract, yes? Fortunately, from start to finish, Switch shifts easily back and forth between abstract concept and practical examples and tips. I saw many direct similarities between the examples used in Switch and those in Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persusaion, which I read directly before this. Switch is full of examples, both those based on scientific research and more anecdotal stories, which clearly illustrate the nine steps outlined within the book:

  1. Find the bright spots – focus on the success stories around your change, not the negative examples
  2. Script the critical moves – remove the opportunity for decision paralysis by making the key steps clear
  3. Point to the destination – describe a compelling goal to which people can relate and aspire
  4. Find the feeling – make an emotional connection
  5. Shrink the change – break the change down so it’s more digestible
  6. Grow your people – help to create a new identity to which people can relate, and shift towards a “growth mindset” that sees things in flux rather than fixed as they are
  7. Tweak the environment – make changes to surroundings and processes to point people in the right direction
  8. Build habits – change peoples’ habits to change long-term behaviour
  9. Rally the herd – understand the power of group dynamics (peer pressure, to an extent) and work with them

Whether you’re trying to help your son or daughter do better in school, trying to motivate change in your team at work, or trying to rally support to improve your community, Switch offers a practical, simple and easy-to-understand formula which provides a great framework for enacting that change.

What’s more, it does so in a friendly, entertaining style which I thoroughly enjoyed.

If you’re looking to enact any kind of change in your life, I recommend you read this book.

Radian6 Launches Real-Time Monitoring And Engagement Console

Radian6 has announced a new tool that has the potential to be a paradigm shift in how companies manage their social media monitoring programs.

The Radian6 Engagement Console combines two of the best tools out there – Tweetdeck and Radian6 – in an Adobe Air-based desktop tool. In doing so, the console makes radical improvements to the workflow process for Radian6 users. We’ve been test-driving the console in our office for a little while now, and I’ve been very impressed by the utility – and future potential – of this new tool.

The Low-Down

Some of the key features of the console:

  • Supports multiple Twitter accounts and Facebook, so you can combine your personal and professional engagement – posting and replying on both of these services
  • Allows you to set up “stacks” (as they call columns) from multiple Radian6 profiles, based on numerous criteria
  • Incorporates Radian6’s search functionality, pulling from searches covering blogs, Twitter, Google Buzz, forums, Flickr, YouTube and more
  • Far, far faster than the Radian6 web interface – both in terms of interaction but also refresh frequency, which can be as frequent as every 30 seconds
  • Supports conversation threading – a feature missing from Radian6 previously
  • Built-in URL shortener
  • Allows team-wide collaboration on engagement, as you can see updates from colleagues in near-real time and can view previous conversations with people
  • Resizeable columns (hear that, Tweetdeck??)
  • Incorporates all of Radian6’s workflow features within the tool
  • Allows you to create custom macros for bulk management of posts.

Check out Radian6 CEO Marcel Lebrun discussing the console in this video:

Workflow At Your FingerTips

These last two features are central to the console’s value. One of the biggest barriers to using the full potential of the Radian6 workflow has, in the past, been the slow speed of the web interface and the 15-minute refresh cycle within that interface. This, combined with the preference people for tools such as Tweetdeck for their own personal posts, makes it hard to ensure that messages all flow through one system from a workflow perspective. This all changes with the Engagement Console.

The Engagement Console is intended for use as a front-line tool. In contrast, the Radian6 web interface is built much more around its reporting functionality. By taking the popular layout of Tweetdeck, building-in Radian6 data and workflow, and also essentially co-opting many of the features that have made tools like Hootsuite and CoTweet popular for team-based approaches recently, Radian6 is releasing a tool that has the potential to dramatically ease the monitoring and engagement process for companies.

Of course, the web interface remains for report generation purposes – this tool is intended as an addition, not a replacement.

Macros are your friend

The macro feature is another very cool addition. Macros aim to streamline your interactions by letting you automate recurring tasks. So, if you have a type of post that frequently comes up, you can set a standard way of dealing with them, save it as a macro and then click one button to handle all of that post’s workflow actions.

Confusing? Imagine a macro for product complaints, for example. You could create a macro that sets sentiment to ‘negative’, sets the post classification to ‘product complaint’, adds a post tag of “support” and assigns posts to a particular team member. Then, when future complaints arise, you can click the macro and all of that is taken care of in one click.

Bottom line

The Radian6 Engagement Console really could be a game-changer in their market. It combines the powerful search, workflow and team functionality of Radian6 with an easy-to-use interface which is a front-line person’s dream come true. Given all of the relatively similar social media monitoring services out there, this tips the balance. Once this tool rolls out fully (it’s in private beta until April), I see no reason why companies looking for both social media analytics and real-time engagement wouldn’t choose Radian6.

Now, where’s that mobile app…?

FourWhere Mines Foursquare For Venues, Tips

This morning, social media monitoring and analysis provider Sysomos launched a new service, FourWhere, which mashes-up Foursquare and Google Maps to show the places visited by Foursquare users and see the tips that they’ve left.

Frankly, I’m surprised that Foursquare doesn’t already have this feature itself – this would be a nice addition to the mobile app, especially given the potential to combine this mashup with your friends list to show where all your friends are.

Sysomos says it will continue to enhance FourWhere by adding content analytics down the road. It’ll be interesting to see how this works – it might prioritize places by the biggest number of check-ins, for example. This is another great example of the wealth of data that monitoring and analytics companies such as Sysomos, Radian6 and Alterian SM2 possess, and the uses to which this data can be put.

FourWhere is free and open – you don’t need a Foursquare account to use it. Check it out at

Evolving the Social Media Marketing Ecosystem

In January this year I put forward my thoughts on the social media marketing ecosystem in which we operate in 2010. It looked like this:

While this relatively complex model is great to help shape the thinking of organizations wrestling with a plethora of products, it’s also a little complex for organizations without those massive resources. These organizations, which comprise the majority of the market, just don’t have the staff, resources or time to deal with such a complex set of properties.

So, I went back to the drawing board – not to re-think the model, but to boil it down to one simple enough for the majority of people to digest. The result: a simplified model of the social media marketing ecosystem:

All of the complex dynamics within the original system are still accounted for within this simplified diagram, but the framework as a whole is much easier to digest.

In addition to earned, paid and owned media (summarized as “company website” and properties on other sites), this model has an additional sphere on top of Sean Corcoran’s framework, on top of which the original ecosystem model was developed – social networks. This raises the question – should Corcoran’s model have an additional row? What might it look like? (thanks to Joe Thornley for prompting this line of thinking)

It’s a tough call. For one thing, the “social media” row might look a lot like the other rows in many ways; borrowing aspects from owned and earned media in particular. For another, any definition of the role of social media is surely going to be controversial.

I’m a glutton for punishment though, so I put together a starting point – Corcoran’s model, revised with a new row for social media.:

Does social media deserve its own row here, or does its rapid evolution over the past few years simply mean it is intertwined among the other media types in today’s communications environment?

What do you think?

Social Mediators 3 – Privacy and Personal Brand

In this week’s Social Mediators, Joe Thornley, Terry Fallis and I discuss our take-aways from two recent social media events in Toronto.

I was impressed by presentations given by Brad Buset, Miranda McCurlie and Dave Bradfield at PodCamp Toronto 2010 in late February, highlighting privacy and the impact of what we share online. My take: “Be careful, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be out there.”

Terry, Joe and I all participated as student mentors at the recent Personal Brand Camp 2. Each of us has a slightly different take on the term (I preferred to take some of the scariness out of the term by asking to people to think in terms of the reputation they would like to have); in the second half of this week’s episode we discuss our take-aways from the event and some of the advice we gave to students.

What advice would you offer to students starting to think about how to build their own reputation?