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Brands for a social age

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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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Maximising value from your social brand strategy

Headstream had the enviable job of chairing Brand Republic’s ‘Achieving Maximum Value from Your Social Media Strategy’ conference (#brsms) in London last week (01 July). It was a day full of insight and practical advice thanks to an excellent selection of speakers, and a format that included plenty of interactive panel and workshop sessions. Here are some of the highlights:

The day kicked off with British Telecom’s Vincent Sider . This is the second time I’ve heard Vincent present, which confirmed my first impression that he’s one of the smartest thinkers in the social arena. Responsible for developing and implementing a social media customer service strategy for BT Vincent gave a sneak peek of ‘Debatescape’, the bespoke listening tool BT has developed to service its social customer service efforts.

He made the interesting point that however sophisticated the technology, nothing can replace human analysis when it comes to sentiment tracking, and that “sentiment analysis remains the biggest issue” when it comes to online listening.

Vincent’s ‘big idea’ is that game mechanics (by which he means the behaviours of recognition, reward, and building status over time seen in multi-player computer gaming environments) will become the model for the whole of the social web. Individuals will build their profile and status over time, and brands that enable these individuals to realise their goals will be  the ones that succeed. He gave an example of Knorr Canada’s ‘Salty’ (link) campaign that created a community, enabled dialogue and rewarded participation.

Vincent’s steps to successful social activity are: Plan you story. Listen. Publish. Listen and reward. While I’d argue that that listening should be the first activity, the reminder to listen again and then reward is very apt. A lot of brands miss this step.

According to Vincent underlying all activity should be one fundamental principle: “Listen and engage with kindness”. Forget that and problems occur because, “you aren’t kind”, or “you don’t deliver”.

Next up was Trevor Johnson, Head of Strategy and Planning Facbook, EMEA. Trevor is always worth a listen and made a strong case for the benefits Facebook brings to brands as an advertising and engagement platform. Pointing out that “earned media only happens in social media”, he said only Facebook provides the opportunity for brands to “integrate people into adverts” with ‘social context’ formats e.g. ad copy which shows if you friends have ‘liked this’, or video tailored with an individual’s profile picture.                     

Trevor pointed out that engaging a community through a Facebook brand page has allowed Starbucks to create dialogue with nine million people. He also sounded a note of caution around leaving  the responsibility conversing with this community to a junior in the organisation.

“Your comments on Facebook should be as important to your CMO and senior marketers as your latest television ad is, it’s the same profile of communication, as Nestle discovered”. (Nestle reference is to the brand’s recent disaster  handling its Facebook community.

Citing the examples of Spotify, and Levi’s Friends Store using Facebook Connect to allow individuals to import their ‘social graph’ into the website experience, Trevor concluded that Facebook is all about “serving information based on people’s friends, to make experience richer”.

Overall, a fascinating insight into Facebook’s direction of travel. The company remains way ahead of anyone else, and even the likes of Google are still in ‘catch-up’ mode.

Headstream’s own Chris Buckley then presented his thinking on the principles that brands should have in mind when embarking on social media strategic thinking. He touched on the importance of appropriate behaviour in social spaces, win-win relationships and introduced the concept of ‘social currency’.

After a series of roundtables to give practical advice to delegates on social strategy, thanks to everyone who joined mine, the afternoon session was dominated by some excellent panels.

It was a particular highlight to have Will King, founder of King of Shaves, involved in the panel on building communities around content. Hearing a business owner and entrepreneur’s perspective gave some clear focus on the business imperative for being involved in social.

One of his killer insights, covering both his approach to business overall, and social, was: “Your biggest competitor isn’t actually your competition, but not knowing what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it.”

His point was supported by the ever effusive Maz Nadjm ,Sky’s Community Project Manager, who impressed on the audience the need to identify “What is important to you and what you stand for, before embarking into social media activity”. Having established ‘why’ you are getting  involved the next step is to secure internal buy-in, a task that shouldn’t be underestimated. Maz spends 70-80 pct of his time ‘educating’ internal, and external, audiences on the benefits of social.

Next up was that perennial favourite ‘How to measure the ROI of social media’! Fortunately the excellent panel; Nadine Sharara, Head of e-Commerce at Space NK, and Ricky Chopra, Speedo’s Digital Marketing Manager, focused on their practical experience running campaigns. A common theme was the importance of focusing on who the genuine influencers are, and “focusing down on the active and proactive people”, according to Chopra. Similarly, for Space NK  blogger outreach activity has seen them “Understand who the real influencers are…who are the top five who influence everyone else?”.

Chopra was insistent that ROI is measurable if you are prepared to make the investment in measurement and analytics. Speedo have adopted a ‘score card’ approach to assess on a month by month basis how they are tracking in social, through a variety of criteria e.g. how many unprompted actions have there been, how many positive mentions, how many negative? According to Chopra it’s down to a willingness to work at it “Don’t be lazy, you can measure it (ROI on social) using a blended approach as you would have done with a traditional integrated campaign.”

In the next session on ‘Embedding social into an organisation’ Paul Hood from the Daily Mirror gave some interesting insights into the Mirror Group’s approach as a “legacy business’ coming to terms with the disruption of social.

“At the Mirror our focus is on our content being appropriate for social spaces. We are taking small steps, identifying content verticals and ‘passion centres’ amongst our audience, and focusing on them first.”

Sandra Leonhard, Director of Web Strategy and Business Development for TUI Travel, and MD of Cheqqer, described social as the “second major disruption for the travel industry”, matching the advent of budget airlines for impact. Her advice was for organisations to approach social media at the “brand level” and ensure there is no “silo mentality” where one part of the organisation works in isolation.

The ‘graveyard shift’ went to the panel exploring,  ‘What’s next. Going beyond Facebook and Twitter & Looking to the future. The panel of Martin Verdon Roe, Trip Advisor, David Courtier-Dutton, from Slice the Pie, and Ilicco Elia, Reuters, made the usual gag about “if we knew that we’d not be sitting here, we’d be making billions”, and then indulged in some crystal ball-gazing.

Martin saw the future as mobile and that “globally, mobile will be the big driver for growth”, alongside increased social graph elements such as ‘Trip Friends’.

But the last words have to go to Illico Elia, who envisioned a future that rings very true with me.

“What you (brands) have to realise is that your sales effort is going to have to become more and more personal. Every person in an organisation will need to become a brand advocate, it’s not about building new resource, rather it’s making sure everyone (in the organisation) takes responsibility for being a ‘face’ for the organisation.”

Absolutely. 

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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Is the Daily Mail running scared?

After a week-long break (gulp) without a connection to my social sphere (31 May – 5 June), two trending topics hit me on my return. First, the Daily Mail’s scare story about BT ‘spying’ on customers through social media, and second developments in the marketing and communications industry as agencies reorganise in response to social media’s inexorable rise.

So where’s the connection I hear you cry? Well, it’s all about influence. Who has traditionally owned it, and who owns it in the social age.

National newspapers (and their proprietors) have traditionally been the influence ‘super powers’, able to decide elections , change legislation, remove politicians from office, and probe into the private lives of anyone in the public eye .

Similarly, in the world of big business and brands, it has been the above the line advertising agencies that have traditionally had the greatest influence with clients, and a voice in the boardroom.

Social media is threatening both of these conventions.

The Daily Mail is beginning to realise that it can no longer pedal it’s alarming brand of scare stories without going unchallenged. Advertising agencies are realising that their clients are more interested in how their brand can resonate in social media, not what (theoretical) audience their latest 30 second ad slot reached.

The Daily Mail’s reaction, to keep grinding the online ‘privacy’ axe, is short-sighted, and smells of desperation. The truth is they will have to accept a new world order where the objects of their stories bite back, and where conversation replaces propaganda. Ironically they have a strong platform in place to engage in social media through their highly successful Mail Online website.

The advertising industry’s reaction is much more constructive. Seeing the disruption that social media has caused they are moving to improve their conversational skills, and ability to win third-party endorsements, by developing PR and social media skill sets.

The difference is that the agency business is used to making change happen, while the newspaper publishers have been in denial that their ‘super power’ status is now changed, forever.

Vive La Revolution! (sorry, I was on holiday in France)

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MP’s on Twitter – Day 1 scorecard

There has been lots of comment about this being the first ‘social media Election’ in the UK. Undoubtedly the social networks are in place, there is scale in terms of numbers participating, and the political parties are fighting to win on this battleground.

So how did sitting MPs rate on day one of General Election 2010? I’ve conducted an unscientific survey to find out!

Methodology

1. Search ‘MP’ in Twitter

2. Analyse content generated by UK MPs on day-one of GE 2010 (April 6th).

From a random sample of 25 UK MPs, 17 tweeted today (68 pct), nearly all referring to the official start of the Election campaign. Some of those without any content updates had been dormant for some time e.g. Tom Brake.

While this doesn’t in any way claim to be a comprehensive analysis, it does bring up some interesting points.

1.  There is apparently no consistency in content/message across party MPs

2. Similarly there is no evidence of a coordinated effort to ensure the campaign is kicked off via Twitter on day one 

3. Comments lack calls to action and clear opportunities to engage further.

If this is to be the first ‘social media Election’, one where parties can use it to make a difference, it will take more than a presence on platforms to make it happen. Content that engages and includes a clear online call to action would be a good start. Some content aggregation via the parties’ main sites/social outposts, would add consistency and visibility to individual MP’s content. Finally, genuine opportunities to debate issues online direct with candidates would see social media used to its full potential.

Game on. Let’s see if any one of the parties can use social media to its advantage in the closest Election for decades.

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A reputation attack a day – the new normal?

What makes a good news story? At its heart is the classic ‘who, what, why, when and how?’ from your journalism school 101. Add in the premise that ‘bad news sells’, and you’re on the same page as the editors at mainstream media outlets across the globe. Since the advent of the real-time web mainstream media journalists are being presented with these core facts on an hourly basis, combined with ‘instant case studies’ of the people involved. By tapping into these sources (and at the same time saving the extensive legwork and fact checking of the past) journalists have a ready stream of compelling copy. As a result the grievances of dissatisfied customers are increasingly finding their way into the public domain, requiring  companies to be in a constant state of readiness to manage these conversations.

In an excellent article in the Washington Post on the subject Bernhard Warner points out that ‘a genuinely timely and transparent response’ is now required, rather than the ‘spin’ of the past. Good advice for online crisis comms, but we believe it goes much further than that. Management teams brought up on a diet of  business thinking that glorifies the organisation are now being forced to re-think their entire approach due to the power of the social web. Some inspirational thinking in this area comes from social media commentator Umair Haque . He believes that companies need to go from ‘Great to Good’ , and rediscover their principles, to thrive/survive in the social age.

It’s going to be a long road for the majority of companies to adopt the authenticity, transparency and humbleness required to deal with these new ways of working, and new rules of engagement. For those willing to take that road the investment will pay off as dealing with online reputational threats becomes a day-to-day normality for every company.

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