Archive for December, 2009

Eurostar caught out


The travel chaos caused by the failure of Eurostar’s trains this weekend has highlighted a major corporate failing with regard to social media.

Eurostar is one of a growing number of big companies which understands the value of social networking sites as a marketing channel. It has a presence on Twitter, which it uses to tweet special offers and update information.

But where was it on Friday, when thousands of passengers were stuck in tunnels for hours? It was passengers who were tweeting furiously to explain their predicament, beg for information and rage against the company that had so spectacularly let them down.

As editor Dan Martin points out, Eurostar was absent. A PR crisis management plan that made full use of social media should have sprung into action, but it did not respond for 48 hours. Only subsequently did it start using its Twitter feed to provide updates, and its CEO Richard Brown went on YouTube to apologise.

Martin concludes:

“The biggest lesson is that customers don’t know (or care about) the difference between marketing and customer service feeds. All they want is answers and the company needs to provide them. The prevalence of mobile phones and other devices means that the power is in the hands of the customer and they can provide instant feedback no matter where they are.”

Social media stops Simon Cowell

rageThe success of the “Rage Against the X Factor” campaign to stop X-Factor winner Joe McElderry grabbing the Christmas number one pop single spot, is more evidence of social media’s effectiveness in getting a message across.

Set up a Facebook group and give people a good reason for joining in – in this case the desire to stuff the annoying Simon Cowell in his onward march to world domination – and you can have a mass movement on your hands. It wasn’t long before the campaign had spread to other social networking sites like Twitter, MySpace, and Bebo. The final push is said to have come from Twitter, where comedian Peter Serafinowicz told his quarter million followers to buy the single.

A lesson for businesses is that, to work well, there needs to be a good hook, something that engages the emotions. The message needs to be different and engaging, and ideally have some aim that people can feel they are contributing to. That way, there’s an incentive for them to pass the word on to their friends, and give the campaign maximum exposure.

Sentiment analysis

The emergence of sophisticated data analysis was perhaps the biggest single development in marketing in the past fifteen years. The ability for a company to mine its own data, and enrich it with external data bought from other organisations, meant it could precisely identify and target potential buyers.

One of the leaders in business analytics software is SAS, which is now turning its attention to social media. It’s a challenge, though. Obtaining and analysing information about individual consumers – their demographics, interests, purchasing history and so on – is complex but do-able, as you are dealing with facts and numbers. But how on earth do you analyse something as nuanced as what people are saying about you in informal conversations?

Not that there’s any shortage of tools that purport to do this. Products such as Twitfeel, Twendz and Twitrratr use a variety of methods and approaches – text mining, natural language processing and sentiment analysis technology – to create a consumer’s-eye view of a company.

SAS’s Jennifer Major argues in a new article that sentiment analysis, though still in its infancy, is the way forward.

‘The simplest algorithms work by scanning keywords to categorise a statement as positive or negative based on simple binary analysis (‘love’ is good ‘hate’ is bad). However, such an approach fails to capture the subtleties that bring human language to life: irony, sarcasm, slang and other idiomatic expressions. Social media, which are by nature dynamic and based on unstructured forms of information, do not fit neatly into traditional database-driven analytics systems. You need reliable sentiment analysis capabilities that require the ability to understand many linguistic shades of grey.’

This sort of technology is going to become increasingly vital as social media’s impact on marketing grows. Major’s piece is worth reading in order to get a sense of what’s involved.

And any business that is serious about getting good data on its social media imprint could do worse than get in touch with SAS to see what it can offer.

The impact of real-time search on companies

The fact that search engines like Google are now incorporating tweets into search is a real game changer for brands and companies.

You might once have dismissed someone tweeting by saying ‘Oh, they have only got 20 followers.’ Now that no longer holds, because the results are coming up on a Google search.

To understand what this means in practice, read this interesting piece where experiments were carried out to see what impact using Twitter would have on research results in Google, and the implications for brands.

This development underlines the need for social media participation strategies. Focusing on static newspapers and magazines is no longer enough for companies who are concerned about managing their reputations. Equally, this presents some great opportunities for smart companies to use social media tools cleverly as a means to raise brand awareness and drive traffic to their sites.

Oxford University on Social Media

Dr Andrew Currah, research fellow from Oxford University, says that companies cannot control social media but have to develop new methods for engaging with news stories as they break.

Speaking exclusively with members of the Social Media Leadership Forum
( yesterday, he said that a richer ecology of news was developing and that whereas traditional media sees articles as a product, bloggers saw news as more of an on-going process where they could comment on developments. He also highlighted the speed at which news is happening and being reported on; which is being supported by the emergence of real-time search. With results from Twitter and social media networks being incorporated into search engines.

He said it was essential that companies start to monitor social media and develop ways of managing risks and of capitalising on the new opportunities.

As the web becomes more predominant, he foresaw blogs breaking influential news stories and urged CEOs and directors to end an irrational attachment to traditional media.

He discussed how brands could engage with relevant online communities and said that corporates needed strategies so they could correct and comment on stories breaking from social media.

He felt that social media raised important questions for how companies shared knowledge. The rise of social media means that a blog post could rise quickly on merit to the top of a search engine, regardless of who wrote it, but on the basis that people were interested in what was being said. Therefore companies could use social media more internally to
harness ideas from their staff.

The next Social Media Leadership Forum event is going to be held at Aviva’s offices in London in January 2010. The Social Media Leadership Forum is managed by ItsOpen (

Not just Facebook and Twitter

It’s bothered me for a while now that the phrase “Facebook and Twitter” has become virtually interchangeable with “social media”. Flickr often gets a mention, as does YouTube and LinkedIn. But whatever happened to all the other social networking sites?

Some have dropped out of the headlines. MySpace in the past year has been referred to almost as an also-ran, yet it still has 270 million users, and is thought likely to stage a comeback thanks to the relaunch of its MySpace Music site.

Of course, defining social media by just two or three sites is just handy journalistic jargon, but it tends to obscure its diversity.

Movie site Flixter has 60 million users, music specialist has 30 million and Friends Reunited 19 million, and there are loads more with similarly high usage. There are also sites like hi5, which has 80 million members in countries all over the world bar the US, and Netlog with 59 million, which is especially active in the Arab world. There are also a host of specialist sites that cater for things like books, shopping, genealogy, charities and travel.

Any business that is serious about taking advantage of social media to raise awareness and win sales might do well to check out what else is going on in this space besides the big names like Facebook and Twitter. A presence in one or two other sites might help to target consumers with particular interests and/or regional markets.

A good place to browse is Wikipedia, which lists some 200 sites, and gives a good sense of just how much is going on out there.

How sociable is your company?

We are offering a link to a fun free application on the Social Media Leadership Forum site ( which enables you to type in your company name and immediately see the level of mentions across a wide range of social media sites and networks.

It is a quick and easy way to show how companies are being discussed even though many are not even participating in social media.

So, let’s say you try out this tool and wonder what you should do next. Any company should be monitoring social media properly – there are free tools like’ how sociable’, but you need a comprehensive monitoring tool to keep in touch with what is being said about you. Then you need advice on how you act upon the information and how you use the insights.

Essentially, though, monitoring tools can help you identify which sites and networks your stakeholders are using. What are the preferred ways for them to share information? You can follow them, listen and begin to plan what would be the most effective ways for you to participate. You have to participate. Otherwise you are highly vulnerable. Companies who participate successfully can become trusted members of communities and that helps them gain online power and influence. Something that advertising cannot buy in this new brave world.

Dell presentations

Dell is way ahead of a lot of companies when it comes to engaging with social media. Learn about their journey by reading these two presentations by Kerry Bridge. One explains generally about how and why Dell is engaging with social media and the other is about Twitter and brands.

These are useful because they spell out the different uses of Twitter which are often overlooked by some companies and also it highlights the results that Dell is getting through Twitter. Many companies have not sat down and thought through social media marketing plans for Twitter. They are just scratching the surface with this immensely powerful tool or they break out in a sweat when anyone mentions it!!

The main Dell presentation underscores the importance of social media and its unique properties as a medium for engaging with key business audiences and how you measure the success of social media.

Success at Dell

Dell has posted some interesting stats about its success with social media. Chief blogger Lionel Menchaca reveals that the company’s followers on Twitter, Facebook and its own sites now number 3.5 million – a fan base “roughly the size of the population of Chicago”.

What has especially caught attention is Dell’s return in sales revenues from its presence on Twitter, which Menchaca puts at more than $6.5m. That’s not much in terms of its total revenues, but confirms that social media is not just about raising awareness but can impact directly on the bottom line.

Check out the full post, which carries other interesting stats, as well as background about Dell’s efforts to get to grips with the new medium.

Ford Fiesta triumph

ford fiestaFord continues to lead the way for automotive companies in the use of social media. The company is celebrating the success of its Fiesta campaign, in which it gave a new Fiesta to each of a hundred social media-savvy consumers in exchange for six months worth of continuous coverage on Facebook and Twitter.

The Fiesta gained over 6.5 million YouTube views and 50,000 requests for information about the car, almost all from non owners.

Scott Monty,  Ford’s head of social media, claims the campaign has been an “unrivalled success”, to the extent that 58% of consumers are aware of the new Ford Fiesta, a higher level than exists for some well-established Ford vehicles. He adds it has also “added to the growing perception of Ford as a company that ‘gets it’ when it comes to social media – meaning that we’re comfortable with others telling our story and with letting go of control.”

There was a good deal of risk attached, as car mags were quick to point out. What would have happened if the cars had turned out to be lemons? The Fiesta would have had a blizzard of bad publicity, and marketers would have been in the firing line.

So we’re unlikely to see this particular approach being repeated, at least not routinely. But it underlines the potential for social media in the marketing sphere, and the opportunities for brands to showcase progressive thinking.