Sheri Wallace House
I was privileged to attend both BlogHer Business ’10 and BlogHer ’10 this year, and this series of articles summarizes the sessions I felt would be most relevant to brands that I represent. To read all the articles in the series, click here.
At BlogHer Business ’10, Ketchum hosted a session devoted to understanding consumers’ interactions with brands, specifically in social media. Speakers were Kelley Skoloda, Director of Ketchum’s Global Brand Marketing Practice and author of Too Busy to Shop; Kristin Suppelsa, Vice President and Manager Communications Support, Liberty Mutual; Jonathan Kopp, Partner & Global Director, Ketchum Digital and Beth LaPierre, Chief Listening Officer at Kodak.
First point in understanding women as consumers? Forget words like “busy” or “multi-tasking”. Women today are so busy that you can probably call it “multi-minding”. While we, as women, control 85% of consumer purchases, we are also powerful, tech-savvy and we have a voice. And, we aren’t afraid to use it. Connecting with us isn’t as simple as adding a makeup mirror in a new car model.
Quick. What’s your best guess for the first thing a female consumer is most likely to do when we perceive a company isn’t listening to us? Will we make a complaint, not buy the product, take some time to research the company or do nothing? If you guessed “not buy the product” you’re right. The most likely response to a consumer’s perception that a company isn’t listening is to simply not buy the product. As a brand, you don’t even have the chance to respond to a complaint, instead that money just walked away. This response is probably in large part due to the busy lives women lead and their lack of extra time to make a complaint and resolve it.
Skoloda’s advice is to realize that if you’re not communicating you won’t even have the chance to fix the relationship. Building a community and brand strategy have to be consistent, and permeate throughout the brand, not just be something that “social media handles”. Many campaigns fail to stay consistent on this message.
Kopp suggests that the customer has always been armed. Social media is just giving them rocket fuel. The average number of friends on Facebook? 130! Suddenly your words matter a whole lot more. 23% of women’s time online is spent in social media. You have to connect. Social media is becoming a dominant force in marketing but customer service and catering to the customer are still king. Listening to your customer is king. It always has been. You’re just doing it a bit differently.
Kopp (and many other marketing experts at the other sessions I attended) believe that social media and mobile are in their infancy. He believes that with 150 million users of mobile technology, you should be thinking now about how your brand is going to work in the mobile space.
LaPierre has a really telling job title. “Chief Listening Officer.” If a company the size of Kodak is realizing the importance of listening to customers in social media, your brand might also pay attention. She explains that Kodak has always had company representatives out in the field, traveling with photographers to listen to what could be improved, what features were needed and what the company could do differently. So, having a Chief Listening Officer is just the natural extension of listening to customers wherever they want to talk.
Who is Your Customer?
Kodak names their target customer. Her name is Katie and she’s got a story. What’s your customer’s name and story? Recognizing that not everyone uses social media, Kodak has also come up with customer stories for Katie’s mom and daughter, both of whom want different products and want to interact differently with the company. LaPierre explained that not only is it a lot easier to talk about real people (hence the customer names) but it’s easier to think about trending when you have a customer’s story and life in this detail.
She also added that customer service is only going to become more important in the social space. Right now Kodak has one Chief Listening Officer, but in the future there will probably be 10 listening officers as demand warrants.
What Does Social Media Dictate?
Suppelsa talked about the Responsibility Project as a way to engage consumers who were reluctant or just not interested in discussing insurance. As the project grew, so did the branding from the Liberty Mutual side, but not without a lot of impact from social media. Obviously, if someone has a unique policy or claims question or issue, that is taken off line, but by dialoging on responsibility in general, the brand has drawn consumers to the conversation.
Monitoring brand sentiment on Twitter told Liberty Mutual that their television ads were too depressing (the economy has been a Debbie Downer lately!) and so they developed new ads that portrayed the characters less in crisis with bleak outlooks but rather taking steps to make everything work out in a more positive way. When monitoring the community, Liberty Mutual takes the feedback seriously, and Suppelsa reports that consumers love seeing that their feedback counts.
When Bad Things Happen
However, what do you do when too much feedback is bogging down the process? Or, your company is subject to a recall or other PR disaster? All the experts urge brands to step back and look at the bigger picture when your brand takes social media hits. Balance the feedback without yielding to the pressure. Stay focused and put things in context. And, get perspective outside of your building. Whatever you do, don’t make giant decisions based on a few bad feedbacks or one nasty complaint. Look at what the majority of people are saying or feeling. Here’s where sentiment really counts. LaPierre said that she is often asked to talk about online sentiment after a rash of public complaints and it’s important to remember that no one really looks for the good when they’re focused on the bad. Before you overreact, look at all the sentiment, not just the jarring or overly negative.
Get Everyone Involved
While no one was advocating putting your new hires on Twitter to talk to customers, all the experts were unanimous in their opinion that your entire company needs to be involved in monitoring and engaging on social media. Social media can’t be a stand alone department. It needs legs in sales, marketing, customer service, claims and manufacturing. Kopp said several times that the companies who succeed are those that commit their plans to writing with the input of all the departments and really communicate about all aspects of social.
He used Best Buy’s Twelpforce as an example of using crowd sourcing to help with answering customer questions, and reported that it had been a success with sales up and returns down. (Read one case study here, there are several more online if you want to read more.)
From a smaller brand’s perspective, having a broader social media outreach can be as simple as asking several employees to share the load and work together as opposed to putting the responsibility on one or two people.
Best Piece of Advice
The speakers were asked for the number one best piece of advice. LaPierre said that her best advice was not to go it alone, and to instead work with employees to best help your customers. She also reminded brands to ask for input and opinions. Too many times, she said, brands forget to just ask. “Reach out to 10 customers on Twitter and just talk to them and see what they’re thinking.”
Kopp agreed. “You’ve got to listen,” he said. “It’s marketing malpractice if you don’t.” He added that enterprise social media is serious big business. Brands have to coordinate and organize, not just wing it. He also implored brands to get into relationship mode, not sell mode and finally to listen but don’t cede control to the crowd.
My favorite piece of social media advice? From LaPierre. “Don’t be a jerk!” How would you want someone to treat your mom? Be transparent and don’t sell.