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Brands for a social age

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Disney – where customer service dreams come true

I’ve been lucky enough to escape the chilly British ‘Spring’ with a visit to Florida over the past week or so, and as the owner of two young children the mandatory trip to Disney World was required.

Disney parade with Pluto!

Disney parade with Pluto!

Having experienced six different theme parks and water parks in a week we are now Disney World veterans. The entertainment experience comes in an assortment of guises – Space Mountain (exhilarating), Star Tours (immersive), Electric Parade (enchanting), Shark Swim (refreshing), and Indiana Jones Stunt Show (revealing). I have to take my hat off to Disney for the investment in content and storytelling details for just about every attraction (material for many posts!).

Consistent across every experience however is the quality of customer service. It is a cut above even the U.S’s usual high standards, and is an integral part of the Disney ‘magic’. So what sets it apart? Having had the chance to reflect on it for a couple of days I think it comes down to the following.

1. Broad ownership

Everyone at Disney takes responsibility for delivering great customer service. While there are Guest Services specialists, the idea that they are the only team to look after customer experience would be laughable. Whoever we spoke to with a specific customer service request was always ready to commit time and genuine effort to resolving the issue. It was clear that all ‘Cast Members’ (as Disney staff are known), have been empowered and trained to take personal responsibility for the customer experience.

 2. Broad and deep knowledge

Product knowledge levels amongst the cast are impressive and comprehensive. Regularly a Cast Member would be able to provide detailed information and advice about an attraction on the far side of a vast park, and answer more obscure questions. There was no ‘that’s not in my department’ mentality, and first time resolution was the norm.

3. Coverage

There are lots of Cast Members available, and these people are diverse in terms of nationality, gender and age. This provides coverage in two senses. Firstly, a density of staff numbers to allow rapid access, and secondly a wide-spread of individuals to mirror the diverse guest profile. For example, there was a higher than usual number of older Cast Members greeting guests at main park entrances, which provided a reassuring and familiar environment for families and young children used to grandparents. Another neat touch is that every name badge says where the Cast Member hails from, providing a cosmopolitan flavor and indicating language skills.

4. Empowerment

There is a sensible degree of empowerment for Cast Members to take small operational decisions that assist the customer experience. Personal examples were – a no quibble provision of a new locker at a water-park after a key went missing, and slightly early access to rides on the Fast Pass system. It was a pleasure to have these issues resolved immediately with no need for escalation to a supervisor, and this added to the positive perception of the Disney brand.

5. Tools to do the job

Disney invests heavily in its infrastructure. Aspects that particularly caught my eye were the smart card and finger-print scanning entry points, and the monorail system at Magic Kingdom that could service a small city! The modern and well maintained systems and infrastructure provides the canvas on which Cast Members deliver great customer service.

6. Proactive problem solving

Disney is good at providing information and services that pre-empt and prevent common problems. For example the issue of guests forgetting where they have parked in the vast car parks is addressed by a memorable parking space naming system, and constant reminders to record your car’s location. Similarly, for faster rides audio messages are played during the approach to the start point to prepare nervous riders and prevent mis-use and injuries.

The Disney experience can be hectic, but thanks in no small part to the on the ground customer service is also a magical one. At the same time Disney is beginning to extend this approach into the digital space with its ‘My Disney Experience’ iPhone and Android App that accesses park details in real-time.

There is a lot to admire here. Any brand adopting some or all of Disney’s customer service approach has the potential to generate increased loyalty, repeat business and advocacy.

For brands that are also considering customer service via social media there are plenty of useful and practical tips in this white paper.

As ever, I would love to have your comments.

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!”

Ten steps to social customer experience success

Who’s looking after your brand? That’s a big question in the transparent and connected world that we live in where social networks have changed ‘word of mouth’ into ‘hyper word of mouth’.

Prior to the mass adoption of the conversational web, the brand guardians probably sat in your marketing team, and perhaps a lead agency. Adherence to the brand guidelines was top of their mind.

We believe your brand curators now have to sit across your entire business, wherever there is contact with customers. While we are in a period of transition to that point, exemplified by a company like Zappos, it is existing customer service teams that are on the ‘frontline’ when it comes to delivering customer experience through social media.

To get a first hand account of the successes, failures, day-to-day challenges and hopes of these teams Headstream conducted a piece of research – “Ten steps to social customer experience success – a report from the frontline.”

Through a series of interviews and workshops in the second half of 2011 we gathered ten key insights that we hope you will find useful as your brand meets the demands of the social customer.

A massive ‘thank-you’ to British Telecom, Jobsite, and Skandia who put forward customer service teams to help us with this project. They gave us permission to ask in-depth questions about the internal structures, team behaviours, technologies, processes and metrics that they use to deliver customer experience. We salute them for their transparency.

We’d love to know your thoughts on the insights within the report, and where you see the future of customer experience in the social age.

Four themes for 2012

We’ve been kicking lots of ideas around in the Headstream office in the run-up to Christmas, thinking about what we might see in the social/digital world in 2012. There were lots of great opinions, and 2012 seems set to be just as exciting as 2011! Personally, I’ve gone for these four ‘Big Themes’ for 2012.

Four themes for 2012

The ‘GooTwitFace’ phenomenon
Google, Twitter and Facebook will continue their products and features ‘arms race’,  becoming increasingly like one another in their battle to win brand budgets. The beneficiaries will be all of us, and brands in particular, who will be able to use enhanced pages, apps and analytics.

Understanding data
Handling, and understanding, the huge amount of data created by social media will continue to be a big challenge for brands and organisations. However, the tools to help us do this will improve dramatically. We’ll look back on early versions of ‘Influencer tools’ and wonder at their limitations.

Integration of social into CRM
Organisations will increase the resource and time invested in properly integrating social customer service into their overall customer experience. This will be particularly notable in the financial services industry.

Location based marketing increases
Ever increasing penetration of smart-phones and tablets will see increased spend on location based marketing, particularly in the retail sector. Offering customers an enhanced experience in-store by adding a ‘digital layer’, retailers will be more proactively involved in the online research process that is happening in-store already.

Would love to know what you think, and let’s see how these look in December 2012!

Finally, have a very Happy Christmas, and peaceful New Year.

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The tricky issue of influence

Influencer ranking tools have been a hot topic of conversation lately. Last week when Klout, the original influencer-ranking tool, changed its ranking algorithm there was a sharp backlash on social media. What emerged was that some individuals had been adapting their online behaviour to try and ‘game’ their Klout score, and now they were angry that the rules had changed. To me this seemed to be a lose-lose situation. For the individuals it showed a huge lack of authenticity, and for Klout it demonstrated how its data can be flawed.

With this in mind I was pleased to be able to listen to Azeem Azhar (@azeem) the founder of Klout competitor, Peerindex, at yesterday’s #dellb2b event in London. He provided his take on just how good the current tools are, and how he thinks influencer rankings can be used.

My view is that the current tools (the third competitor in this market is PeopleBrowsr’s Kred) are blunt instruments that should only form one small element when assessing influence. And this appeared to be shared amongst the gathering of social media, technology and business thinkers at #dellb2b.

When Azeem asked the room ‘Who believes influence can be measured in a single number?’ just one hand was raised amongst the sixty people or so present (@bejaminellis you know who you are!). The consensus was that there is a huge problem when applying a single influencer ranking for an individual when influence is such a subjective area. For example one person’s influencer could be another person’s non-entity, or an influencer in a certain subject in one geography could be irrelevant to those in another.

Azeem admitted that ‘There is no single accurate definition of influence at the moment’ but he believed that one could emerge over time, moulded by market forces. “There needs to be a standardized definition of influence. That will emerge from the to-ing and fro-ing of the market, and for that there needs to be competition.”

As luck would have it one of those competitors, Kred, in the shape of PeopleBrowsr’s Andrew Grill @andrewgrill, was in the audience. He agreed that the definitive influencer ranking doesn’t exist, and questioned if it ever would. Andrew said: “We have a really big responsibility. We are scoring humans, can that ever be definitive? I think it’s important that there are three or four companies out there doing this to give healthy competition.”

So is that the future? A ‘basket’ of different influencer rankings that gives an aggregated picture of how the individual scores in terms of online influence? That solution is probably little better than the single rankings.

From my practical experience in mapping influencers for brands the best solution is to use human analysis, rather than automated rankings. By using monitoring tools to gather data about a particular topic, then diving into that data and tracing relationships and information flows between individuals you establish if individuals have reach, relevance and respect around the brand (or issue) you are working with. These insights can then be used to create comprehensive profiles of each influencer, and to map the links between them.

Three elements of influence – reach, relevance, respect

I do use automated influencer ranking tools on occasion to double check named individuals. Most often though I use them to fuel some banter with @samhilary on who is further up the Peer Index NMA list. (he’s winning!)

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.

Domino’s Pizza – bossing social

Domino’s Pizza, the victim of a social media inspired reputation crisis in 2009, continues to impress on its path to recovery.

Its latest transparency initiative is the ‘Domino’s Tracker’. The tool allows customers to track the status of their order, see the names of the Domino’s team involved at each stage, and to post customer feedback. This has been pushed into the public domain via a billboard in Times Square, to the delight of some staff members in the video here –

Impressive stuff. What I like is the use of real-time customer feedback to not only improve the service experience and product in the long term, but also motivate staff in the short term. It’s a good example of joining-up customer experience, brand, and product development through one platform. It also demonstrates a core principle of social, don’t think about what’s in it for you, but what’s in it for your customers.

What other industries could take this approach?  Telecoms, support services, software?

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Is social growing up?

The mood music around social media has shifted significantly in the last 12 months.

At Headstream we’ve had the privilege of chairing Brand Republic’s Social Media  Strategy conference in 2010, and 2011. What was noticeable at this year’s 5th July event was a refreshing honesty that few brands have ‘cracked’ social as yet, and that early integration of social into the broader marketing strategy is the route to success. This was in contrast to last year’s event where the mood was more triumphalist, and at times reflected the view that social was ‘just another channel’, that had been mastered.

As a result, the day was full of great opportunities to learn from the challenges and surprises brands have faced in social, as well as their successes, and to have an honest and open discussion about the challenges we share as marketers responding to social.

Here are some stand-out moments from the day for us.

1 – It’s all about the customer

Jonathan Williams, Director of e-Marketing at Trader Media Group (owner of Auto Trader) reminded us that ‘getting closer to customers’ is at the heart of social strategy. He emphasised the gilt-edged opportunity that social networks and two-way conversations are giving brands to achieve this. Kathleen Schneider from Dell, echoed Jonathan’s point, saying that CEO Michael Dell’s mantra has always been ‘Find ways to get closer to your customer’.

2 – Should we get hung up on complex ROI formulas?

For Dell the fact that social media has allowed it to get closer to customers in multiple ways is enough ROI in itself to justify the company’s heavy investment in social. Similarly, Cheryl Calverley, from Birds Eye Iglo Group, said the fact that social has ‘made word of mouth measurable for the first time’ is a significant ROI for any brand.

3 – Integrate social as early as possible in strategy and planning

Stressing the need to integrate social into brand and campaign thinking as early as possible, Melissa Littler, Marketing Director at online retailer Brand Alley, said ‘Social works best when it isn’t a bolt-on, when it’s thought about from the outset, and creative is optimised (for it)’. Peter Markey, Chief Marketing Officer at insurer RSA Group, said that the ‘More Than Freeman’ campaign for RSA’s UK insurance brand More Than, had ‘considered social from the start’. This was reinforced by Asad ur Rehman, Director, Global Media (Foods) at Unilever, who said “Social strategy has to be integrated. Embed social upfront in your marketing strategy or your business strategy, it cannot stand alone.”

4. Earning the right to engage

Asad encouraged the room to keep adapting traditional marketing thinking in order to respond effectively to social. “As marketers we need to switch our gears. First we need to earn the right to sit at the (community’s) table, then we have to earn attention, then and only then, we might have earned the right to deliver a product message.” Asad cited Lynx’s ‘Keeping Keeley’ campaign as a great example of this approach.

On the same theme, Peter Markey, said that the personality brought by the More Than Freeman character earns the brand the right to engage with customers who typically only contact their insurer once a year, at renewal. Peter also shared the insight that early in the campaign the tone of voice used on social platforms by the character was ‘too quirky’ and didn’t engage, but by observing interaction levels, testing and learning, a more effective tone of voice was developed that earned significant engagement.

Keep the customer at the centre, integrate social early, see the bigger picture on ROI, earn the right to engage, and be ready to test, learn, fail and adapt.

All great points, and signals that social is no longer the new kid on the block.

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Social – going strategic

The iab hosted an excellent #iabsocial event on June 28th at LBi’s offices at The Old Truman Brewery. Amongst the wide-ranging series of presentations it was the ‘Social Media Strategy’ section that really sparked our interest.

The panel featured speakers from digital, integrated and media agencies, with Dave Coplin from Bing (@dcoplin), and Linked-in’s Sally Keane and Jonathan Bradford completing the bill.

Social media’s diversity was aptly illustrated with case studies ranging across the B2C and B2B sectors.

TMW’s Mark Harrison (@mvharrison) outlined recent Facebook activity undertaken on behalf of Lynx. One interesting takeaway was the need for brand owners to adapt their thinking in social, and get away from the CRM mindset. Harrison said that in the course of his work with Lynx he had come to realise that simply having the objective to use social platforms to drive a number of fans through to the Lynx exclusive community site isn’t sufficient. Instead the priority is to facilitate the peer-to-peer conversation on Facebook through talented ‘social editors’ that become a valuable part of the community, akin to a good host at a party.

From this FMCG fest of girls, ‘Likes’ and the ‘Lynx Effect’ we leapt across the business world to Philips’ challenge to engage B2B audiences for its medical scanning, lighting and town planning products. Jonathan Bradford, the Linked-in account manager behind the work with Philips, made the useful comparison of Linked-in as the ‘heavy end’ of the social engagement spectrum, creating spaces for in-depth discussion and debate, compared to the ‘light’ world of the Facebook ‘Like’.

While different in approach, and target market, the outcomes of both pieces of activity were impressive. For Philips the Linked-in activity has created an active Linked-in Group around lighting with 31,000 members, and healthcare Group with 41,000. These numbers are significant when you consider that there are just 25,000 decision makers globally when it comes to a large healthcare product, like a CAT scanner. Within these groups 60 pct were manager level, and 4,440 discussions have taken place. Perhaps most crucially Philips’ Net Promoter Score within these groups is above 50.

In the case of Lynx , the brand has undertaken focus group research with customers that are fans on Facebook, and those that aren’t. Amongst the fans there is a much higher propensity to buy Lynx products, and up to 3.5 times more value of product is bought by the fan group. Even after discounting the fact that those that fan (‘Like’) the Lynx pages may be brand advocates before joining the community, it’s a compelling argument for brands to engage.

So, interesting work, good results, and particularly in the Philips example, an indication of how the activity supported the wider business, and brand, objectives.

If anyone in the room held onto any doubts about social’s ability to impact wider strategy, they were surely swept away by a superb presentation from Bing’s Head of Search, Dave Coplin @dcoplin.

After channelling Lemmie from Motorhead for a brief moment (!), Dave went on to stress that the search engines’ days of “chasing the algorithm dragon” are past. He said “search and social are now intimately linked”, which is driving Bing’s priority to bring the social web, its networks, and trusted human relationships to bear on search results. “People want to make human decisions, not algorithm decisions. We are seeing a shift from relevance to trust in search”.

To take advantage of this opportunity Dave recommends that brand owners – “let go of the control of the brand, enable communities, and accept you can no longer ‘build it and they will come’, today your brand online is more of a community bazaar than a cathedral”.

On the day Google + was launched, his words made a powerful impression.

It was a highly informative afternoon, illustrating the growing sense in the industry that social has ‘grown up’ to a point where a strategic approach is a must.

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