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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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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. 

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