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Brands for a social age

Archive for the category “Social Brands”

Social Brands 100 – the road show

On Wednesday this week Headstream took the story of the Social Brands 100 to a group of thirty marketers at an ISBA event in Edinburgh.

The beautiful and cultural City of Edinburgh was a suitable place to end our SB100 road show 2012, which has seen us discuss in-depth insights and findings with over thirty-five brands that featured in Social Brands 100 this year.

We’ve had the chance to have some brilliant conversations about social brand performance and benchmarking with lovely people at: Bing, British Gas, Burt’s Chips, Cancer Research, Chiltern Railways, The Great Collective Dairy, Deloitte, Diabetes UK, Douwe Egberts, Estee Lauder, First Direct, giffgaff, Global Radio, Go Ahead Group, Help for Heroes, Holywell Spring, London Midland, Manchester City FC, The Met Office, Mongoose Cricket, Museum of London, National Rail Enquiries, The National Trust, Neal’s Yard Remedies, Nike, PayPal, Penguin Books, RSPB, Sainsbury’s, Thames Water, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Money, Virgin Trains, White Stuff and Wonga.  Phew!

We even dropped in to Number 10 for a chat about how to measure ROI from social activity, (wins prize for meeting venue of the year!)

And we’ve taken the stage at Haymarket’s ‘Driving and Proving Social Media Value’ conference in June, and the IAB’s ‘Great British Social Media Festival’ in July, as well as gigging at some internal conferences with brand teams at global companies (if you’d like us to come to your next team get together give us a shout @headstream).

Reflecting on all of these conversations the following six subjects are the ones that kept coming up as the priority issues around social media for brand and marketing teams: 

  1. There is increasing buy-in from boards around social media, and as a result budgets for social are increasing 
  2. Uncertainty about how to prove the efficiency and return on social media investment is holding back further commitment to social spend at some brands     
  3. Some brands’ social performances remain restricted by legacy structures and ways of working. For example, how does a brand and marketing team built to deliver periodic campaigns now adapt to news-jacking and creating content at the speed of social? 
  4. A training and development challenge exists. Brands need to increase the social media capability in their teams to match the greater number of customers using social media to engage with them 
  5. High performing social brands are investing in real-time content creation teams, with a particular focus on images, video and data visualisation  
  6. Brand teams are exploring the potential for social media to boost organic search results

How does this fit with your latest thoughts on social media? As ever we’d love to know what you think.

The Social Brands 100 – launched and live

A significant part of my 2012 so far has been taken up with masterminding the creation and launch of the Social Brands 100 ranking. It’s something the whole team is really proud of, and after the market’s reception on launch day (May 29th) it feels like we’ve created something that leads industry thinking on social media best practice, and measurement.

The full findings are available to download at www.socialbrands100.com, the photos from our London launch give you a flavour of the event, and if you’re really interested you can see me making a few comments on video here.

Below are some thoughts I published on Headstream’s blog on the day of launch. Here’s to next year!

“Congratulations to every brand listed, you prevailed over another  200 brands that were put forward at the nomination stage. To be included in the 100 shortlist is an achievement in itself, and the range and quality of brands present this year is superb. The popularity of the crowd-sourced nominations has inevitably resulted in many ‘new entrants’ into the list, and a subsequent reshuffle of brand positions from 2011.

The highest ranking brand this year is Innocent, of smoothies fame, a worthy winner that proves year-in year-out an ability to maintain a personal and human connection with its fans. While there are other household names in the top ten, Cadbury, Starbucks, ASOS, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Cancer Research UK, there are also some less obvious names; The Met Office, ARKive, British Red Cross and giffgaff. This is something Social Brands 100 is proud of.

As outlined in earlier posts to use a methodology that ranks brands from different sectors, and of different sizes, as fairly as possible is our primary concern.

To do this we evolved our 2012 methodology from 2011 in two ways. Firstly, we increased the number of platforms, and metrics from those platforms, collected and analysed. In total we selected nineteen metrics from eight different platforms and carefully ascribed weightings to them that reflect where consumers are (fish where the fish are!), and how platforms are used. This gave us what we call our ‘Data Score’ for each brand (full details are on pages 11 and 43-46 of the Social Brands 100 publication). Secondly, we increased the weighting of the Data Score in relation to our ‘Panel Score’, which is derived from our expert panel of judges scoring each brand. This reflects the increased scope of the Data Score to assess metrics such as effectiveness and value of content posted by brands in social spaces.

Of course, you may well  have your own opinion on the strengths or weaknesses of this methodology to judge your particular brand’s social performance, and consider that certain platforms or weightings could be changed. It is possible to ‘bespoke’ social performance measurement through our subsequent brand specific research. However, the intention of the Social Brands 100 methodology is to find a common ground that indicates whether the fundamental social principles of win-win relationships, active listening and appropriate behaviour are being adopted.

Amongst the insights and highlights from this year’s ranking and analysis are:

  • The highest ranked brands create genuine one-to-one connections with individuals on a consistent basis
  • Charity brands emerge as the best performing sector with three charities in the Top Ten, and over 25% of the top twenty.
  • Google+ made its mark as a new entrant with 49 of the 100 brands adopting the platform
  • foursquare remains a niche platform for the Social Brands 100 with 18% adoption compared to 22% in 2011’s ranking

The top ranked brands by industry sector were;

  • Automotive – Ford
  • Charity – Cancer Research UK
  • Entertainment – The Ellen de Generes Show
  • Fashion and Beauty – Lush
  • Financial Services – Wonga
  • FMCG – Innocent
  • Manufactured goods – Gibson
  • Media – Guinness World Records
  • Retail – ASOS
  • Services – Met Office
  • Technology – HTC
  • Telecom – giffgaff
  • Travel & Leisure – Starbucks

Many of these brands will be joining us at an event to celebrate the Social Brands 100 at 4PM (GMT) today (May 29th). To follow the conversation go to @socialbrands100, and track the #sb100 hashtag. We will be taking questions from Twitter as well as the audience, so please feel free to get involved.

There is a host of additional information, detailed analysis and case studies in the full publication that is available for download, here. What do you think of  the Social Brands 100 ranking this year? We’d love to know!”

What makes a brand social?

What makes a brand social seems to be one of the hot topics as we enter 2012. Brand Republic are hosting a major conference on social brands in February, and a lot of ‘Year Ahead’ predictions have focused on brands now delivering a truly engaging social experience as they emerge from the ‘test and learn’ years. It’s great to see the market moving in this direction as it’s something we’ve always talked about at Headstream, and examined in great depth in our Social Brands 100 report in March 2011.

For those who prefer an interactive explanation, here is a video of a short presentation I did late last year on ‘What makes a brand social?’.

In conversation with Jeremiah Owyang

I had the pleasure of meeting Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang) last week, partner at social business and technology advisory firm Altimeter. I’ve always been a big fan of Jeremiah’s work, so it was a real privilege to hear some of his thoughts on the future of social business and technology. It’s fair to say that when we launched Headstream in 2006 it was the forward thinking from people like Jeremiah that helped support our idea that social was going to be big! Here are five key-points I took away:

Open will beat closed

The business models that will thrive are those which “work with the internet rather than against it”. Jeremiah believes that “open will win” and cited as an example Altimeter itself, which makes all its research openly available, compared to other research firms that charge for access. He sees Altimeter’s  business model, which gains its revenue from follow-on advisory fees, as more sustainable than the paid-for content model.

“Make the market your marketing department”

By adopting an ‘open’ business model, distributing content widely, and providing individuals with the tools to link back to your content, the entire market can become your marketing department. A business like GiffGaff is a good example of a company where the customers are working for it in this way. (GiffGaff ranked highly in Headstream’s Social Brands 100 listing, published in March)

URLs will go away

As we enter the era of the social web i.e. an internet built around people rather than machines, the traditional architecture of the internet will change radically. Jeremiah sees a future where “corporate web pages go away, URLs go away, search as we know it goes away. We will know so much about customers that we won’t need those things. Data will be used so well that we can predict and anticipate what the market wants.”

Europe vs. the U.S

Jeremiah had two observations. First, Europe is 24 months behind the U.S. when it comes to adopting social business practices, and second, Europeans are much more decorous when it comes to conversations on Twitter, in the U.S. the Twitter ’noise’ is much greater!

Teaching people to shout

If you respond to unhappy customers on Twitter without a co-ordinated and in-depth social CRM strategy in place, you are simply “teaching them to shout at you some more”. Only those companies that are prepared to introduce a service culture throughout the organization e.g. Zappos, will be able to handle customers successfully. Jeremiah is wary of any company that says it wants to undertake social CRM if the executives aren’t prepared to get personally involved.

These are a few highlights from a wide-ranging and excellent conversation over a lunch organized by Neville Hobson @jangles, and supported by Dell’s Kerry Bridge @kerryatdell. Many thanks to them for making it happen, and to the other guests @sheldrake, @benjaminellis, @jas, @abigailh and @sophiebr, who made it such a great conversation. Lovely photo here.

Was your brand born social?

To misquote the Bard: “Some Brands are born social, some achieve socialness, and some have social thrust upon ‘em”.

Following the launch of our Social Brands 100 report last week, we’ve been thinking that this famous quote has some resonance with our ranked brands.

Born social.

One of the surprise Top Five entries for some commentators is the crowd-sourced mobile operator, giffgaff. This innovative business has been making waves in the mobile space since its launch in November 2009. Conceived from the outset as a social business, where its customers can gain rewards by providing customer service and marketing support, this is one business that was ‘born’ with social principles at its core. Indeed the business model was refined through crowd sourcing the question ‘what would you want from a mobile network run by you?’.

Another interesting example is Innocent Drinks. Interestingly, the fast growing FMCG brand, launched in 1999, pre-dates the explosion of mass social behaviour on platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

But, according to Ted Hunt, in charge of digital engagement at Innocent from 2006 to 2010, the company already had social principles at its heart. His job was simply to tell this story through social channels, not to transform the business for social. Evidence that true social engagement is more about behaviour and content, not technology and platforms?

Achieving socialness.

This transformative state is the most common that our ranked brands find themselves in. A good example is the retail bank, First Direct.

Launched as the first ‘telephone bank’ 25 years ago, it’s always been an innovator.  In the last few years the Leeds based company has proved its agility once again as it develops social behaviours, and strategies. It features as the only financial services company in the Social Brands 100 thanks to its social media newsroom, i-Phone app, Little Black Book and Talking Point initiatives.

Other notable ‘achievers’ are the BBC, Ford, Burberry, Sky and BT Care. All these brands are introducing effective social principles into the way their organizations work, and rightly being recognized for it.

Social thrust upon them.

This is the most interesting group. A collection of well-known brands that have been pushed into adopting social behaviours, and business models, after being hit by a social reputation crisis.

Dell (ranked #1), Domino’s Pizza (ranked #26), Eurostar (ranked #36), Virgin Atlantic (ranked #37) have all suffered from high profile crises that were either caused, or exacerbated, by social media.

To their credit they have all responded positively. Dell has famously put active listening of conversations around its brand at the very heart of its business model. Domino’s Pizza took the opportunity of its staff induced crisis, to proactively engage with its customers to reinvent the chain’s whole food offering. Eurostar has gone on the record to say that the stranded trains crisis of late 2009 prompted the transformation of its customer service and Twitter profile. Virgin Atlantic has taken positive steps in social engagement after getting stung by staff comments on social platforms in 2008.

These high profile corporate car crashes act as a lesson to all brands that have yet to consider how they will evolve their brands, and transform their businesses, for social.

So, if you’re one of those ‘pre-social’ brands thinking about how they will adapt for the new rules of a connected world, please don’t wait for a crisis to ‘thrust’ you in to it!

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Time to drop the ‘M-Word’?

With the reports on Social Media Week now in, it’s clear just what a huge success it was again this year. Congratulations to everyone behind it. We loved taking part, and will be there again in 2012.

One teeny-tiny request for next year, would you consider a name change? Would you, could you, ditch the ‘M-Word’? Social Brand Week London is pretty catchy! But Social Business, or Social Enterprise, would do just as well.

With the SMW brand going strong, this is probably a long shot (!). But changes like this would be a tangible sign that the blossoming industry around social specialists is growing up.

The underlying point is that the term ‘social media’ diminishes the transforming effects of social networks, and social behaviour.

The traditional definitions of media focus on the collective phenomena of: ‘newspapers, radio and television’, which have the ability to ‘communicate with and influence people widely’.

Of course platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Slideshare have this publishing power, but the social behaviour they allow is utterly different.

Because they are networked, content and conversation can bloom into any size or shape.

Because they provide a back-channel for two-way conversation, there is an expectation of being listened to, not just talked at.

Because they increase transparency, disconnects between truth and reality are exposed.

Because they allow sharing and co-creation, powerful movements can grow (as the Egypt uprising shows).

Breaking the link between ‘social’ and ‘media’ could help us move the debate forward. To start thinking about social not as ‘another channel’ (hate that), but as the forerunner of a linked, open world, where information and influence flow freely, and uniquely, for each individual, as per Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s vision for the semantic web.

For brands, approaching this stuff at the platform (media) level isn’t sustainable. In true Darwinian fashion, the brands and organisations that will thrive will be those that can evolve the fastest, from the inside out, transforming structure, behaviour, skills, responsiveness, and culture, to meet the heightened demands of a newly connected people.

What do you think?

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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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