Shel Holtz discusses the infamous example of a customer calling AOL support line and being hassled if not dangled in order to keep him as a customer –poor customer service.
This bad experience was further mangled as it spread on the blogosphere, and even on digg. The recording of the actual event was heard –I was even frustrated when listening.
Companies can no longer afford to treat customers poorly, the examples of AOL, Dell, and others are suffering at the hands of customers. Customers are clearly in charge. Shel Holtz observes:
“There are no secrets anymore, just information the audience doesn’t yet have.”
As a Community Manager, I must embrace this law –by being a customer resource, and advocate, and even address areas to improve. Companies must immediately admit when they are wrong and correct it. Companies also have to admit when their competitors are better –the customers already know it anyways.The Clutrain Manifesto states:
“Networked markets are beginning to self-organize faster than the companies that have traditionally served them. Thanks to the web, markets are becoming better informed, smarter, and more demanding of qualities missing from most business organizations.”
“12: There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.”
It’s just a matter of time before the information is spread to the customer. Companies that hide, deceive or trick customers will suffer the wrath of a riot.
Many companies today are getting into corporate blogging, although for most corporate cultures allowing just anyone or everyone to blog is not a reality. (Although I guarantee in a few years blogs will be issued like email accounts to each and every employee).
Selecting the right corporate blogger is a daunting task, as it will make (or break) your blogging program. By selecting the wrong blogger, it could end up in disaster, or worse yet, boring and ineffective.
Also, I strongly recommend providing individual blogs rather than faceless teamblogs –yes there’s more risk, however the benefits can be greater to building a real relationship.
Here’s some criteria that I’ve found that makes a good corporate blogger, some of these are from my own experience as well as sipping wine with business blog expert and author Shel Israel in his backyard. Here are some characteristics to seek in a corporate blogger:
1) A Domain Expert
Your blogger needs to be a subject matter expert at the company, product, or customer need. Shel observes that some of the best bloggers are often Product Managers –I’m suprised by seeing a great CEO blogger at a larger corporation.
2) Conversational and an Effective Writer
Blogs are really conversations, as they are two-way dialogues (even if you don’t enable comments) so understanding that the content is not a monologue/speach is key. An effective blogger will be able to compose their own content, spell check and write sensibly and effectively. They analyze what is being said and respond to other bloggers and readers. They synthesize their personal experience and compose onto a blog.
The blogger must be very interested in their subject matter, product, or even passionate about customers –if they are not, it’ll show in the quality, frequency, and folks simply won’t read it. I hope my passion for web comes across.
4) Chatty and Vocal
Great bloggers are chatty –it’s true, I’ve met many of the greats, they love to chat, converse, learn, explore and grow. This doesn’t just mean by voice, but they may often respond quickly and frequently to email. It’s possible this person may already be a public face to the company but if they can’t be ‘transparent’ then seek other places.
5) A Web User
A great blogger is already using the web a lot, not just because they’ll be using a webtool to publish, but because they’ll need to be reading what others are saying. You’ll need to teach them how to listen –and they’ll be proactive at doing it themselves.
6) Transparent, Real, and Open
A good blogger will say when he’s right, a great blogger will admit when he’s wrong, and when the company and it’s products need help. This is the age of un-marketing –so they’ll need to be real, be transparent and naked.
I recommend that anyone who wants to blog start a personal blog on the side (an unrelated topic is fine) and experiment. Also, it makes sense (if you’re the one finding the corporate blogger) to request potential bloggers to submit draft posts once a week via email for a month. This will give time to analyze time, commitment, and writing style. Since this individual will become a corporate asset, you need to select an individual(s) that is committed to the company. I strongly discourage ghost writing, when customers find out, and credibility will be lost –it’s not worth the risk.
8) Thick Skinned
The blogosphere is real, and customers will voice their honest opinions. It’s not all good, and that’s part of the game. Embracing the criticism and harnessing them to build better products takes fortitude and will. Your blogger should also know when not to engage detractors –as some bloggers and commenters will be ‘baiting’
Feel free to add some points in the comments –what should you look in for a great corporate blogger?
Here’s Why and How to listen to your customer voice:
The Voice of the Customer gets louder
With blogs, podcasts, videoblogs, wikis, and forums, the voice of the customer is getting louder and louder. It’s not a fad, the MySpace generation tells us that. We also know people talk about companies when they care, they are passionate either one way or another. We know that customers trust other customer opinion above all others (or at least people ‘like me’) and we know the web is the top medium at work and second most popular medium at home. Customers are starting to voice their opinion (Both good and bad) about products they use, and they are connecting to each other.
We also know folks use Google search (quite a bit) and the higher the result ranking the more likely they will click. We also know that these social media tools (like blogs) can rank very, very high, in fact in some cases, like the Dell Support query which links to Jeremy’s post which was at one point 2 and 3 rank. We’ve seen it rank higher than the actual company support site –this is a disruption and it’s not going away.
Although this has been used over and over (and there is still some debate on the actual events), Kryptonite is a company that was not listening to it’s customers.
Here’s a web strategy I see as an emerging practice for managing your corporate reputation, this is still new to many companies, but in the history of business, the companies that listen to customers survive.
1) Consider hiring a company that will monitor
Companies appear to be hiring firms to listen to the blogosphere, I’m seeing mixed results as either they don’t track CGM well or they don’t report well.
Often these companies are ‘traditional’ media tracking companies that are now extending to “consumer generated media” (the voice of the customer). I’ve seen that most of them have excellent reporting tools, although they may not know how to hunt ‘off the wire’ in the blogosphere or lack ability to dive down deeper.
Sometimes they Search Engine Marketing (SEM) firms that you would traditionally hire to craft a strategy to buy keywords for a web campaign (I’ve got some notes about that here from the Web Marketing Strategy symposium here). These companies may also be good to search the blogosphere as they flip the engines around to seek instances of keywords or phrases. Some, but not all have decent reporting engines –this is obviously a new line of business for many.
2) Active Listening
Don’t just rely on another company –you take an active role as well, you can’t just turn on the radar dish without looking out the window or opening the door.
Every single company should be watching the blogosphere and use the free tools that are available to them. Technorati, Google Blog Search, Sphere, Talkdigger, Google Search, and Opinmind for consumer products.
Seek keywords and regular bloggers of your industry into your feedreader (which aggregates blog feeds –the most common one is MyYahoo, however bloglines is more popular now)
Setup alerts using Google Alerts and other tools to be notified instantly of instances that occur –sort of the last resort however as it may only be aiming more so at EGM not CGM. No worries, as you should be regularly following customer voices, after doing this after a few months there shouldn’t be too many surprises.
3) Train product teams to listen deeper
Train your product, engineering, support teams to listen to these voice, set them up with feedreaders and alerts and also provide them with regular and real time updates as you find them. An awareness session may need to occur first. If you don’t win them over, don’t panic, and don’t get frustrated, simply send them the content and believe me, if they care about customers (as the best product folks do) they’ll quickly get it. With all of this stuff, patience is a virtue for evangelists.
4) Track, Discuss be a better Company
Product teams and employees should discuss the voice of the customer, they’re giving you direct feedback on your product, how you respond to them both in marketing and in support. This is healthy and this is good, how much money do you spend on research on focus groups for support and service? I’ll bet not much, now the customer is doing it for free.
5) Learn more about Social Media and Community Marketing
Get books, read blogs by experts, and maybe hire a consultant. I own Cluetrain Manifesto, Naked Conversations, Seth Godin’s series, Weblog handbook, Blog Marketing and am anticipating Debbie’s book. Also, I’ve contributed to this upcoming book too by Ted D. Each of these authors has a blog, and each links to other folks like it.
I purposely did not talk about responding yet, maybe we can talk about that another time (although there’s a raw list of tips I’ve learned on my former blog)
From the desk of the Web Strategist, I sincerely hope that your aware of a party or riot happening right out your front door, listen to the voice of your customer!
Mike and Zach are two web geeks touring cross country in an old beat up VW promoting their new company MyKin, a social networking and media site for familes!
Julio told me last week that Scoble linked to them, and they had a copy of the Hitachi Data Systems Silicon Valley map. I see those maps around the building here and there. I left them a comment on their blog to invite them to lunch, and I was pleased to have Mike and Zach over to my work at Hitachi Data Systems yesterday!
They’ve visited companies like Intel, Facebook (one of our customers) and I even connected them with Will Pate at Flock! (Will was next to me at webvisions when the emails connected)
They showed me their VW van, and they had an iPod (Which use Hitachi hardrives) and a homemade stereo system, and even a bowl taped to some HD magnets –pretty clever.
We cruised around HQ, and we showed them the Customer center, we let them drink beer (ok root beer) and Kevin was able to talk to them about Storage. I chatted with them about online storage too, which is interesting to me as I’m a web manager at a storage company. We both agreed that storage is important, and fear the day if either of websites would go down because of storage loss. We let them when at foosball –see how gracious we are? 😉
Read their take on things from the visit!
Today, they are giving a demo in SF for their product and may have some other interesting things to discuss —watch their blog to learn more.
Here are some of the pics:
Business week reports that folks are “Raising the Bar on Viral Web Ads Those funny clips that push products are getting slicker and more expensive to make and distribute. YouTube and Google are taking note”
I’ve been playing with many of these tools from my blogspot blogs, myspace, second life, youtube, google videos, I even created a login to the critisized Walmart MySpace clone!
I want to caution Marketing folks from investing heavily in Web Advertisting Viral Videos –my impression of viral videos are great for brand awareness campaigns, but they may not be the best tool for an ongoing and thriving dialogue and relationship. The article warns that this could easily get played out as viral videos become trendy and common:
“The danger is that it has a cool factor and, as it becomes mainstream, the effects will taper off,” says Edith Bellinghausen, vice-president of new media at entertainment marketing company Razor & Tie.”
Don’t lose sight of the value of real relationships can be created by using tools such as blogs, forums, and other ‘two-way’ tools. For me, the 1% of Viral videos that get my real attention, I’ll visit maybe once or twice visit. As a Web Strategist, I would limit my output of such ‘agency’ tactics for very specific needs and uses. I’d rather build a meaningful, real connection with customers using relationship tools
Edit: The HP viral video campaign was not met with embraces from bloggers
Amanda former star of Rocketboom (and who I still think is a star) has created an unique video blog suggesting she needs a job. She’s still got a sense of humor, and had some co-writing and help from Zefrank.
Here’s one of her commments in her blog –she writes just like she talks –interesting
Thanks for your support everyone! It keeps us going. Things are moving along now… and I’m busy making lemonade. The offers are just unbelievably overwhelming and keep rolling in, one more interesting and surprising than the next. I’ve narrowed things down considerably though and it’s now just a matter of “how” I will work rather than “who” I will work with. The “how” (clearly) is the most important thing to me. So Phase 1 of Unboomed is complete. 😉 Phase 2 is the “how”. Phase 3 will be the announcement. And then *poof* UnBoomed will disappear and will be replaced by something… different… in the meantime, ov lov
Cheers to Amanda and best wishes.