Julius Duncan's Blog

Brands for a social age

Archive for the tag “crisis management”

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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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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Hamleys feels the force of social

Will Hamleys back down in the face of the animal lover lobby, too? Less than two weeks after an online and social media campaign compelled John Lewis to change the end of a TV advert that had dog-lovers up in arms, now the same effect is hitting Hamleys.

The famous London toy store’s decision to feature live penguins and reindeer as part of it’s Christmas promotional push has created a passionate back lash on the company’s Facebook page. The nature of these protests means that the ‘anti’ Facebook page is the next step, accompanied by calls to boycott the store over Christmas. Some people feel that John Lewis caved in too quickly to the demands of the crowd, and Hamleys are resisting so far, while presenting their argument logically. The problem is that logic gets put behind emotion during these ‘social campaigns’, and the brand is challenged to match the force of emotion that the crowd displays. Raw emotion is one of the four new forces of ‘Social Nature’ that I’ve talked about before. The others are real-time, interaction, and community. For Hamleys this last one is now the most important. A community is being built around the protest against it, will a community mobilise to come to the brand’s defence? One ‘pro-Hamley’s’ Facebook page has been launched, but so far it has one follower. For the reputation team at Hamleys it’s time to decide where their priorities lie. Is the short-term sales promotion more important than long-term reputation?

I would advise a graceful climb-down, some cuddly penguins instead, and a Facebook competition to go and see real reindeers. Entrants must ‘check-in’ to the store first, of course. What do you think?

(Update 02 December)

Well it’s happened. Hamleys have decided to cancel the live penguins at the store. Looking at the positive reaction to this on the company’s Facebook page, confirms that they have taken the right call. An ‘anti’ Facebook group attracted over 350 ‘likes’ while the ‘pro’ penguins group attracted just 16. It’s time now for Hamleys to find the opportunity in this crisis, and use the exposure to now engage with the crowd that has gathered around its social storefront.

 

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The U.S. Navy’s social savvy

On one level it surprises me that the U.S. Navy ‘gets’ social so thoroughly. Shouldn’t a large, complex and hierarchical organisation like that find social concepts like transparency and authenticity hard to adjust to?

Giving it some further thought, maybe it should be no surprise that an organisation that lives or dies (literally) on the quality of its communications and intelligence, should embrace social behaviours.

This Fall (that’s autumn for us Brits!) the U.S.Navy has come up with a ‘Social Media Handbook’ for personnel. Within its pages there is plenty of sound advice, and there is much here that can translate across to any civilian organisation, or business.

For the ‘time poor’ here are some highlights focusing on the U.S Navy’s overview on social, usage guidelines for personnel, and crisis communications.

U.S. Navy’s take on social

“The rapid growth of social media platforms and technologies have flattened and democratized the communication environment in ways we are just beginning to comprehend” – Adml, Dennis J. Moynihan, U.S. Navy Chief of Information (Spot on, and who can argue with an Admiral?!)

Guidelines for personnel (extracts)

  • The Navy encourages service members to tell their stories. With fewer Americans having served themselves in the military, it is important for our service members to share their stories of service with the American people.
  • The Navy asks Sailors to live their core values online, and understand that communication in social media is both public and international – even when they think they are just talking to family and friends.
  • When commenting about Navy matters, Sailors and Navy personnel need to be transparent about who they are and should identify themselves and their rank and/or position. They should also be clear that their opinions are their own, and do not represent their command or the Navy when commenting publicly on Navy topics.
  • Replace error with fact not argument, if you are engaging someone else online. If you see an error or misinformation, correct it courteously and factually but do not engage in a heated argument.
  • Admit mistakes. If you make a mistake then admit it and correct it immediately. If you do edit a posting online, make it clear that it has been updated or edited — don’t just try to make a change and pretend you never made the error. If people can’t trust you to own up to your own mistakes you will lose credibility.
  • Remember that everything posted on the Internet even for a second may live online  forever.

Crisis Communications (extracts)

  • Using social media to communicate with stakeholders during a crisis has already proven to be an especially effective use of the medium due to its speed, reach, and direct access.

  • You can’t surge trust, so your best course of action is to leverage already existing social presences. It is important to have a regularly updated channel of communication open between you and your key audiences before the crisis hits so they not only know where to find you online, but know that they can trust the information they get. (This chimes with our view on the importance of cultivating community in the good times, as per point five in this earlier post.)
  • Create a centralized location to funnel information. If you don’t have a command (centralized) presence then the people most interested in the crisis will more than likely decide as a group where they want to find information and start their own group. Whatever the case, you need to communicate where the people most affected are communicating.
  • Monitor incoming content posted by your users on your social sites so you can understand what information they need and what is happening to them.
  • Post cleared information as you have it, and there’s no need to wait for a formal press release. When you have solid information that your audiences want to know, post it.
  • Answer questions as often as practicable. Avoid just posting information on a social media presence – that is what command websites are for. (A fundamental point that many comms teams ignore in a crisis.)
  • Monitor external conversations regularly and correct inaccuracies. This is the best way to stop rumors before they run rampant. Use search engines and other monitoring tools to track discussion on the topic.
  • Share and cross -promote critical information with your network of trusted social media sites.
  • Encourage on-scene and first-responder personnel to engage via social media. You can do this by having them either use their personal accounts or feeding you information to post on the official command social sites.
  • Promote the social media presence on outgoing materials like press releases, e-mail signatures, links on the home page and even in conversations with reporters.
  • Analyze success of crisis communication via social media by looking at click-throughs, conversation, replies and reactions to postings, etc.

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Five practical steps towards better social reputation

As we head into the end of the year (how did that happen!) thoughts inevitably turn to how we’re going to do things differently in a bright, new, 2011. I had this in mind when I presented to a group of corporate communicators at PR Week’s ‘An issue ignored is a crisis invited’ conference on the 20th of October. So, as part of my session I focused on five practical steps that reputation managers can take to restructure their comms approach, and move their teams’ skill-sets and mind-sets to a place where they are better prepared to handle issues and crises in the socially enabled world.

I took five well established pillars from the ‘Old world’ issues and crisis management text-book, and considered how they should be evolved to prepare brands for the demands of ‘New world’ social reputation work. The five existing pillars are on the left in the image below, and the evolved approach on the right.

So, taking each in turn.

1. From a communications team, to an engagement team

A serious reputational issue playing out in the mainstream media has traditionally been handled by PR specialists and senior management, supported by legal teams. These are still crucial people to have in the war room, but the demands of social media require some additional skill sets too. A well-rounded ‘Engagement Team’ will now include social customer relationship management specialists, technical teams able to optimise content created for your response, analysts with the ability to make sense of the online conversation around your brand issue, and experienced community managers with the appropriate skills to know if, when and how any engagement should happen.

2. From media monitoring, to active listening

If you’re reading about a damaging issue in your mainstream media press cuttings, it’s too late. Once an issue has been amplified out of social media and into the mainstream you’re already in a ‘reactive’ position, and many companies have been caught out because of this, for example, Capri Sun.

In contrast active listening puts you on a proactive footing, listening out for issues in a real-time and persistent way. It’s also ‘active’ because you intend to take action, or assess possible action, on the basis of what you learn. Each brand or organisation can set up an active listening solution that suits them. This could be a specialist tool like Radian 6, or Brandwatch, free tools like Tweetdeck, but crucially all of them require human eyes (and brains) to make sense of the data through analysis.

3. From press releases, to content creation

Drafting template press releases, which cover likely crisis scenarios, is a standard technique to save time during a crisis. So should you do something similar for social content? Draft some tweets? Pre-record YouTube videos? Frankly, no. A social reputation situation will move in real-time, and in a dynamic manner. Rather, invest in your team’s technical and content creation skills. For example, have you got useful brand outposts like Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube for your company? Do the team know how to use them? What socially enabled content could you create to tell your story during a crisis? Have you done the necessary preparation work with your legal team to speed up sign off procedures during a crisis?

4. From media and scenario training, to appropriate social behaviour

At a recent presentation on the future of journalism at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong, the Editor in Chief of Reuters, David Schlesinger, made the following comment. “The more you try to be  paternalistic and authoritative, the less people will believe you. The conversation about the story is as important as the story itself.” This is an insightful backdrop against which you should re-apppraise how you prepare for reputational threats in the social age. Preparation is still the key to successful crisis comms, but you need to prepare in different ways now. It’s less about ‘front of camera’ and ‘press conference‘ skills, and more about social psychology. Remember you’re no longer talking to the intermediary of the mainstream media, you’re going direct to the public. They want transparency, authenticity, honesty and speed! Your team needs to be trained how to do this. The first step is to create some social media guidelines, then scenario plan and test the team’s ability to respond appropriately in a live environment. The n keep testing, learning, and getting involved in the conversation.

5. From stakeholder lists, to community influencers

The role of third-party advocacy to respond to a crisis remains as relevant as ever in the social age, it’s always better to be defended by others than defend yourself. In the pre Web 2.0 world a comms team would focus on individuals and institutions that could provide this advocacy through mainstream media. Now it’s also necessary to think about the online advocates you can mobilise. So how do you make this happen online? Work at it, and do so over time in the same way you might look to lobby important stakeholders over time. First, landscape who is influential around your brand and vertical, next undertake some community outreach and community building. Finally, grow some roots into that community, gain trust and understanding. As a result when an issue or crisis hits you have increased the likelihood of the community coming to your defence, the ultimate in crisis recovery. Preparation is now about preparing your community to defend you, not just your own people.

In summary, we’re in a situation now as reputation guardians where we have to think more broadly, and at the same time more rapidly, if we are to effectively protect and enhance the reputations of our organisation, or brand.

Would love to hear any comments. Happy Christmas!

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Social Reputation (video)

Over the last few weeks we’ve been running some briefings with UK based brands to delve into the topic of ‘Social Reputation’. They were really lively sessions, and the subject is at the top of the agenda for many communicators. With that in mind we’ve created the following video that gives you a taste of what we presented on the day.

 Look forward to your comments and thoughts.

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Want to make more money? Have a crisis

It was really fascinating to read today’s results news from Domino’s Pizza. The company is attributing a significant part of its uplift in online sales to social media activity, and innovations like its Foursquare loyalty scheme.

But those of us with slightly longer memories will recall that Domino’s was in the news for social media activity of a different sort in only April last year when two employees went rogue on YouTube. The company dealt with the crisis well, and showed  that it knew how to have its voice heard in the ensuing conversation. It’s clearly stepped up a gear since then, and is now seeing the benefits of proactive engagement with active social communities, not least to the bottom line.

Seems to me that it’s Dell Hell all over again. Get battered in social media, take remedial action, have your eyes opened to the power of the crowd, start earning the right to be part of the conversation and then see the benefits to our company’s performance. In Dell’s case at least $3 mln worth of value. 

So, dear CEO,  forget those expensive management consultants, to boost profitability enjoy a social reputation crisis instead.

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ITV’s World Cup ‘shocker’

Well, they say bad news comes in threes. First, ITV’s website streaming live World Cup matches, ITVLive, crashed during the very first game of the competition. Next, viewers of ITV’s HD Channel missed Steven Gerrard’s goal in England’s first match vs the USA when the channel cut to an ad break. Finally, in the last 24 hours ITV pundit, Robbie Earle, has been dismissed for selling his allocation of  World Cup tickets to a brewing company, who then used them for a marketing stunt.

All in all a very bad start to the tournament, and a situation ITV needs to get a grip on before it becomes a ’death spiral’ of bad news.

So far the signs aren’t great that ITV really knows how to go about turning the situation around. The on-air apology to HD viewers from Adrian Chiles at the half time interval on Saturday was less than fulsome. Then, the explanation afterwards was slow in emerging and didn’t strike a genuinely regretful tone. Within social media, where the furore has been particularly intense, ITV has made some basic apologies via its twitter feeds @itvfootball and @itvlive. However, more significant action is required if ITV want to turn things around and regain control of the agenda.

Here are some tips to help ITV move the coverage away from its gaffes, and back to Robert Green the football!

1. Be bothered

The World Cup is a big deal. People are passionate about their national team. Emotions run high. ITV needs to reconsider its ‘corporate’ tone of voice in its statements. Adopting a more ‘human’ tone will convince its audience it shares their passion, and is genuinely sorry if it has spoiled this once in every four years experience.

2. Actively listen, and learn

The massive amount of online buzz around each of these incidents provides a great resource for ITV. Listening in can help ITV inform the content of any response, identify detractors and advocates, and measure the effect of any communication. Use this rich information to your advantage, don’t run scared.

3. Put some skin in the game

Saying sorry and being empathetic is a start. But the connected and authentic world of social media will respond more positively to actions, and evidence that ITV is putting itself out, in order to make amends. Here are a few ideas for ITV’s comms team.

 – Use some of its remaining ticket allocation to get some deserving kids to a game, or several games. Why not run a competition for the kid with the best story of courage to come to the Final?

 – Provide some value added content for your HD viewers to make amends for the ‘Gerrard goal’ incident. How about rescheduling an ad break to show the goal ten times, in super slow mo, and all its HD glory.

These are just two possible opportunities that can be found to turn this crisis around. What is crucial is for ITV to act fast, and in the right spirit of humbleness, openness, and authenticity.                 

Let’s hope ITV’s, and England’s, early performances can both make a sharp recovery before the end of the tournament.  

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Social Reputation – favourite case studies

People often ask for examples of social reputation attacks online. I’ve summarised five of my favourites in this brief deck, and I plan to update from time to time. Enjoy!

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Promoted Tweets – Social Reputation gold

Twitter’s new ‘promoted tweets’ feature could turn out to be a hugely significant development for Social Reputation practitioners. For anyone who hasn’t caught up with Twitter’s plans yet, in a nutshell, it allows brands to place a special promoted tweet at the top of the Twitter search results for a selected word, or brand name. Early adopters of the format are Starbucks, Virgin Atlantic, Red Bull and Sony Pictures.

In some ways it’s similar to a ‘sticky thread’ in a forum, a post that stays at the top of the discussion irrespective of the time of posting. It’s this ability to buck the usual ‘real time’ rules of Twitter that makes Promoted Tweets so interesting for those looking after a brand’s reputation.

Put yourself in the position of a brand that is facing a reputational firestorm online. The community is angry, Twitter is abuzz and you need to get your point across to try and restore some balance. Up until now any comment placed into the Twitter stream by a brand would rapidly get ‘pushed down’ into the conversation by subsequent Tweets on the same subject. By using Promoted Tweets you will be able to ensure that your content appears at the head of the results when individuals search terms relevant to your situation. A carefully considered Promoted Tweet, signposting readers to additional content that supports your argument, will become a key tool in turning detractors around. What’s going to be interesting to watch is how successfully brands can bring together the skills required to really make the most of this golden new tool.

As outlined by Twitter COO Dick Costolo, at the Chirp conference for Twitter developers last week, in order to be successful with Promoted Tweets, brands will have to do more than simply purchase the space. Promoted Tweets that aren’t replied to or retweeted, in Costolo’s language those that don’t have ‘resonance’, will be pushed out of position. So, success will be down to mastering both paid media and earned media skills. In a crisis situation the key will be doing that at speed, and in a way that sees the brand join the conversation as a prominent, yet welcomed voice. Get that right and another of the Promoted Tweet’s unique attributes will kick-in, the fact that it’s an ad format that’s easily shareable. People who find the content engaging will retweet it to their own streams creating a powerful visibility beyond the Twitter search results pages. 

Social Reputation gold.

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