Julius Duncan's Blog

Brands for a social age

Archive for the month “February, 2011”

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?

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Are you ready to ‘let go’ of your brand?

The old saying, ‘If you love it let it go’, is increasingly relevant for brand owners. Decades of prescriptive brand guidelines, exclusive deals with big media, and command and control public relations have been blown open by social media.

For brands to survive in our networked, transparent and co-creative world, they will need new attributes. Like an anxious parent sending their child out into the adult world, you know that you can no longer guide their every move, and can only hope that you’ve given them the values, skills, and character to thrive on their own.

Recently, brands have been experimenting with ‘letting go’ with varying degrees of success. Skittles were one of the pioneers in 2009, with a bold idea to allow the crowd to provide the content for their web page. After early accolades, the site descended into chaos, as mischief-makers posted offensive comments. Vodafone has had a similar experience using an unmoderated twitter feed for its ‘mademesmile’ campaign, and other examples abound.

In this context, it’s interesting to see Expedia Australia’s innovative approach to handing over its brand to people outside the organisation. In January Expedia Australia ran a competition to attract wannabe Facebook page administrators with the promise of an Aus$10,000 prize.

After ‘liking’ the Expedia Australia Facebook page anyone could enter, with the chance to be one of three people moderating the Expedia Australia FB page in February. The moderator that shows the greatest ability to build community, engage, and create content will win the prize.

Some commentators have asked if this is simply a predictable ‘competition led’ device to increase the ‘likes’ to the FB page.  That seems rather cynical, it’s much bolder than that.

The incentive to get involved is not simply the monetary value, but a brilliant platform for the chosen moderators to demonstrate their abilities, and most likely get a job offer from Expedia, or another company. This well thought through reward structure creates high levels of commitment and creativity from the guest moderators, attracting new fans and engagement, by reinvigorating the Expedia FB page content with fresh thinking.

This ‘fresh thinking’ is also the risk to the brand, as these individuals aren’t as steeped in the brand as the in-house team will be. However, with just three people to work with, rather than the entire social crowd, Expedia will be able to advise on tone of voice and ground rules, to minimise the chance of a misstep with the community.

More crucially Expedia can do this with confidence because it has already proved its ‘social fitness’ by taking significant steps into social branding. The company’s Twitter presence is well established, and is a proactive centre for customer relationship management. Meanwhile the behaviour and content via Facebook is appropriate, and engaging, indicating the company has invested in the governance and training to allow its people to do social well.

This ability to moderate, and the track record of genuine engagement in social, is what sets this activity far apart from the Skittles and Vodafone mistakes of the past.

So, if you’re going to let the brand fly the nest, please spend some time giving it the values, skills and character, to thrive in the big, wide, social world.

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