Archive for January, 2009

Include your customers in the conversation – the value of reviewing products

Lance Loveday has a thoughtful piece in Search Engine Land on the advantages of letting users rate and review your products.  Everyone, Loveday argues, is desperate to maximise the benefit of social media – think of all those millions of potential customers gathered together in one place – but no-one is quite sure how.

Having attended a presentation by Steve Mulder, he’s a convert to the value of using social media for reviewing and rating products. Mulder convincingly argues that letting users rate and review products can significantly improve sales: products with reviews have 26% higher sales than those without; including reviews has a positive impact on search engine optimisation (SEO).

As Loveday points out, lots of users are cautious about shelling out a large sum of money for a product, and will feel much more confident about doing so if they have read positive reviews first. The only downside, a sceptic might argue, is that you have to really believe in the quality of your own products if you’re going to open them for user review.

You can see Mulder’s presentation here.

Travel Brands Benefit From Social Media

Travel and holiday companies are particularly well placed to benefit from social media. Travelling generates all kinds of personal experiences that people naturally want to share.

ccl_logo_rbSo it’s not surprising that some travel brands have taken to it in a big way. One is the American cruise company Carnival Cruise Lines, which has a presence on all the major social networking sites.

Carnival has its own Facebook page, and has also set up its own social networking community to help family and friends plan their cruise vacations, with a special invite tool that can be used to organise reunions and holidays. Meanwhile a blog offers running commentary on life on board a cruise ships, with a stream of anecdotes about guests’ experiences. So far it has attracted three million visitors, and the 25,000 comments shows it to be a hugely interactive communication tool.

That’s just the start. Carnival’s customers can upload their photos on Flickr, watch video clips on YouTube, and take part in a virtual tour on FunShipIsland.com along with friends and family – this clocked more than a million visitors last year. They can also communicate with the company and share experiences on its Twitter page.

hp-logoAnother big user of social media is Southwest Airlines, which has a presence on Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn. The company produces regular new content for YouTube, which ensures it connects with the huge and growing video audience and boosts its search rankings. A blog called “Nuts about Southwest” is written by employees and gets 70,000 unique visitors each month. Some 8000 people follow it on Twitter. The business community is also an important target, and the on LinkedIn profile connects 3000 of its employees.

Both Carnival and Southwest Airlines are seen as “fun” brands with loyal followings, and both clearly see a presence on social networks as an ideal way to underline their unstuffy image. Southwest in particular relies heavily on the Internet for its bookings. It is also one of the most consistently successful airlines in the world, posting a profit for 35 consecutive years.

Two examples to take note of.

Who’s Responsible for Monitoring Customer Conversations?

Who’s responsible for monitoring customer relationships and experiences in an organisation? According to a new survey of marketers in the US, nobody. The businesses they work for talk a lot about listening to consumers, but they don’t have the processes in place. In particular, few companies bother to monitor what people say about their brands in social media, the marketers complain.

Fifty-six per cent said their companies have no programs to track or propagate positive word-of-mouth. Only 16% said their companies have systems that routinely listen to what people are saying about them or their brands online.

The marketers clearly felt that someone should be taking ownership of this activity, and that it should be them. But it’s something they’re finding it difficult to get their boards to understand.

More details here.

Customer dissatisfaction – turning a negative into a positive

In the old days, unhappy customers would moan to their friends  about the bad service they’d received. They might tell half a dozen or so people. That’s not great for business, but at least it’s contained. These days, those unhappy customers go on the Internet and blog about it. Or they enter their comments on a consumer forum read by hundreds, or maybe thousands.

My colleague Rob McLuhan has written about what happened when angry blogger Jeff Jarvis wrote about his bad experience with Dell, and how Dell responded by setting up its ideastorm site where users can post suggestions for improvements to Dell’s products and services.

Other companies are also becoming more proactive. Brendan Cooper  recently wrote a blog about his problems in getting a Virgin Media broadband connection in his new house. Shortly afterwards, Alex Brown, Virgin Media’s senior internet product manager, popped up in the Comments section of his blog offering help. When journalist Sally Whittle posted a blog entry about Cooper’s experience, a commenter wrote:

“The same thing happened to me with Virgin Media when I wrote about them on my own blog – Alex has a Google Alert set up for his company’s name, which I reckon is a pretty good idea. I had just written a rant, but I ended up being pretty impressed by their handling of the whole thing.”

It’s a great example of how social media can be made to work in your business’s favour. Setting up a Google Alert (or monitoring Twitter) for mentions of your company name is a smart way of improving your customer reputation and nipping bad publicity in the bud. The really smart companies, of course, will take the negative comments on board and improve their customer service.

Financial Times highlights rising importance of social media to companies

ft-logoIn The Financial Times today there is a feature about how companies are using social media experts to help them understand the blogosphere and engage with bloggers in order to boost sales and strengthen relationships with customers.

Hopefully the piece will reassure some corporate sceptics about the value of social media!

The piece  points out that Dell is generating $1m in sales through Twitter (the micro-blogging service). The company has 80 Twitter accounts and 20 Facebook pages. Also 59 of the 100 leading US retailers have Facebook pages.

The FT piece shows that companies who want to be customer-centric need to be where their customers are. I can’t imagine there is any company that is not getting attention through social media. A lot of companies are still holding back from engaging even though conversations are going on now about their products and services.

Rather than allow conversations from your customers to go on behind your back, we strongly recommend that companies begin to listen to what social media networks are saying about their products and services.

Then companies can begin to engage with and become useful to those networks. If companies value word of mouth then they should be on services like Twitter which is in effect global word of mouth.

A lot of the fear or barriers to engaging with social media reminds me of the nineties when companies were fearful of having web sites because they always thought they would be hacked.

One word of caution though, once you have understood clearly what customers and stakeholders are saying about your business through social media, it is important to carefully think through your strategy for engaging with social media and how it will impact your relationships with stakeholders and customers. Simply setting up a presence on Twitter or Facebook will not necessarily work unless you have a clear purpose and have thought through the value and usefulness you can offer through your networks. It is also critically important to observe and be sensitive to the cultures of social media channels which are fast-evolving!

Obama’s Inauguration Online

obama-inaugurationThis is being hailed as the first true internet inauguration. Internet traffic is said to have spiked to levels 54 per cent above normal worldwide, and as much as 60 per cent higher in North America.

Particularly noteworthy is the flurry of activity on social media networking sites. CNN tied up with Facebook for the event, providing a facility for viewers of its online video coverage to see which of their Facebook buddies were watching, and share their reactions.

CNN says nearly 14 million people tuned in, topping its previous record of over 5 million for election night in November. Around 4000 Facebook users updated every minute, a total of 1.5 million status updates through the CNN portal alone.

President Obama’s official Facebook page was deluged with visitors, and his MySpace page now features more than one million “friends.” Some 40,000 photos of the inauguration were posted to Flickr, and Twitter said activity jumped five-fold.

All in all, it’s an excellent indication of the popularity of social media sites. More details here.

YouGov’s Social Media Tracking Survey

Companies are starting to wake up to the importance of social media, but they are still mostly in the dark about how consumers use it. The international online research agency YouGov plans to shed some light on that with a new quarterly survey.

The company has announced that its first Social Media Tracking Study will be released next month, based on 2,000 interviews. The aim, says head of media consulting David Lucas, is to give marketers an insight into the habits of internet users who frequent social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

This should give advertisers some valuable information about user behaviour and insights into how best to optimise their marketing activities. One key bit of information will be what users think about the way companies present themselves on social media sites.

More details here.

Social media: not just for businesses

We like to look a lot in this blog at the ways social media can  benefit businesses. But it’s also proving valuable for third sector organisations wanting to keep in touch with their stakeholders.

redcross-logoToday our attention has been drawn to a press release from the American Red Cross, which is using a wide range of social media tools – including blogs, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook – to inform people about the organisation’s work, to offer advice where needed and to ask volunteers for help in emergencies. It’s proving an effective way of reaching a huge number of supporters quickly and cheaply.

Read the full release here.

What does 2009 hold?

erik-qualmanIt’s that time of year again, when technology commentators like to make  predictions about what the year ahead will hold.

In the current atmosphere of economic uncertainty, it might be considered foolhardy to predict anything for 2009 other than “Things will get worse”. Nonetheless, Erik Qualman at Search Engine Watch  has a go with 7 Social Media Predictions for 2009 (seven is clearly the number of the moment). Mostly he plays it safe, with predictions like “People ages 35 to 50 will further adopt social media.” You don’t say.

But there are a couple of nuggets in there – the suggestion that Google might buy Twitter; free services will become defunct because the banner ad revenue model doesn’t work. Perhaps the most interesting  development Qualman predicts is the growth of technology that enables people to buy products based on referrals from friends. That personalised approach works better than a straightforward search, he argues: “Seeing what your friends purchased, as well as their opinions, is invaluable.”

My top prediction for 2009? Businesses will finally see the point of Twitter. Watch this space.

Facebook’s population is bigger than Japan, Russia and Nigeria!

facebook-logoFacebook claims that 150 million people globally are now actively using its service.

This staggering statistic underlines the huge appetite people have for social technologies. According to a post on their company blog Facebook says that nearly half of this figure use the service every day.

Facebook coverage extends to every continent including Antartica and the company says that if Facebook was a country, it would be the eighth most populated in the world, just ahead of Japan, Russia and Nigeria.

Many marketeers believe that social media is just for young people but Facebook disputes this belief.  People of all ages, parents, grandparents, students and children are using the service, it claims.

With Facebook available in more than 35 different languages, social media surely has become a marketing tool which global organisations cannot ignore. Old fashioned broadcasting of messages is out. It is time to engage with social media and open up to conversations with your customers. But corporations must obviously be careful how they tread in these new environments.