Friday, February 26, 2010

What's social media for?

I'm spending more and more time with clients working on their social media strategies (but without abandoning traditional media of course). To those who are new to social media, there's a phase where they need to be convinced of the business benefits before taking the plunge. That's fair enough. Alas, there are way too many "instant social media experts" who will over-sell the rewards, without understanding a basic principle of marketing - you have to sell to the people who are buying.

A recent Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) survey of 80 brand managers found that over half of them were using social media to find out what customers were saying about their brand, and three-quarters were "actively engaging" with customers on Twitter and Facebook. It doesn't require a lot of effort to use social media in this way. In fact, I suggest that before you embark on any sort of campaign, you need to start by monitoring your brand in social media, and talking to your customers.

It's often said that you need to use social media in a way that engages with people, offers them help, and doesn't market overtly. All that is true. However, companies like Dell (via Dell outlet), Ford (via the FIesta Movement) and Asda (through their YouTube channel) have used social media to directly boost sales. There's nothing wrong with that. We all need to put bread on our family's table.

There's also an argument that if you connect with enough people, the business will come to you. That may be so, and I'm not short on connections myself. However, the majority of my business still comes via referral and face-to-face meetings that may have begun via social media, but are rarely concluded through it.

Rather than wasting time and money, shrewd use of social media can help you to save it, by preventing costly marketing mistakes. It can also help you to test out new ideas for products and services without commissioning expensive research. It can also help you react quickly to deal with any issues that arise (now that can really save you money). So what's social media for? A whole load of things. But if you use it to save or make money, that can't be bad, can it?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Eyes of the Tiger - did Woods convince?

The eagerly-awaited "news conference" from Tiger Woods took place today. Actually it wasn't a news conference at all, it was a 14-minute scripted statement. There were few reporters present, and no questions.

Tiger was clearly emotional, which is understandable. It's been close to 100 days since his drive hit a tree in Florida. His mother sat in the front row, but his wife, Elin, was absent. I think that was probably the right decision, since to have Elin at his side (like a wife who "stands by" an errant husband) may have been too stage-managed. They clearly still have a lot to discuss.

In terms of Tiger's handling of his media and personal crisis, I am only qualified to comment on the former. His personal life, as he said, is only a matter for him and his close family.

In terms of the media, I believe that his appearance today was well-planned, but ultimately counter-productive. He did not offer many answers. There was no date to return to golf and no clear information about he intends to do in future. He apologised to many people, but he could and should have done that a lot sooner.

I suspect that all he has done today is to prolong media interest in his story, which is probably the opposite of his intent.

I'll be saying more about Tiger's performance on Talk Sport radio this evening at around 11.20 pm. Feel free to ring in and comment.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The secret shared by Smokey and Keith.

Smokey Robinson knew the trick. So did Keith Richards. They know how to grab an audience in a couple of seconds. People of a certain age (actually, people of many ages) only have to hear Keith's first two fuzzy notes of "Satisfaction", or the six bell-clear notes from Marv Taplin's guitar on "Tracks of my Tears" and they're hooked.

OK, some of the emotion when you hear a song now comes from the familiarity, and memories it evokes. But there are some openings so good that the first time you hear them, you want to hear more. That's not only the secret to a great song, it's also the secret to a great speech.

If you can evoke a strong emotion in the first few seconds, your audience will be with you for the rest of your delivery. However, if you stumble to the mike, slightly embarrassed at your introduction, and begin with a phrase like "I'll do my best to tell you something of interest", then you may as well forget it and walk off again.

You need to seize the opportunity, make a promise of great things to come, and then launch into the melody. Still don't believe me? Then watch this -

Saturday, February 13, 2010

FIve reasons Twitter is like jazz

Twitter is like jazz. I’m approaching three years as a Twitter user, and my experience has been like a musician moving from following all the notes on the score to having fun with the melody. Here’s my take on why Twitter is the jazz club of the social media world:

1. You need to have a theme. It’s no good just playing random notes. People need to know who you are, and what your expertise is. Having established that, you can start to play around a bit, but if you don’t have a “core theme”, people won’t follow you.

2. You don’t have to play the same notes as everyone else. If you simply follow the crowd, and retweet others messages, or post only motivational quotes, others will lose interest. You should develop your own unique style, making your tweets unmissable.

3. Small groups develop their own style. Even though you may have thousands of followers, you will benefit from chatting to small groups regularly, since you will get to know each other, and build a close relationship that can lead to mutual benefit.

4. Some people don’t get it. Twitter is not for everyone. It’s much smaller than Facebook, Linkedin and many other social platforms. But the people who love it, love it. That’s fine. Some love classical music, some only listen to R&B.

5. It keeps evolving. I keep seeing innovative uses of Twitter, and unexpected ways to make it work for businesses. Keep experimenting, and see what you like.

I’m off to put on my shades and grab my saxophone. Twitter? It’s terminally hep.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Bill Shankly and Guacamole

I know, it's an unlikely pairing. No doubt the old growler would more likely have rubbed guacamole on Tommy Smith's bruised legs than eaten it for lunch. So what's the link? Prospective parliamentary candidates.

Up in Liverpool Wavertree, all is not well. The candidate selected to fight the safe-ish Labour seat is Luciana Berger. She's not local, but there have been plenty of candidates who have moved to their constituencies, and become excellent MPs. However, a measure of local knowledge is handy. Ms Berger was quizzed by the Liverpool Echo, to determine how much she knew about her prospective parliamentary seat. She knew that Liverpool's airport was named after John Lennon, and that there were "at least two" Mersey tunnels. However, she had never heard of legendary Liverpool football manager Bill Shankly, and had no idea who sang "Ferry Cross the Mersey". Ms Berger is 28, so she was being asked about things before her time. But a modicum of local knowledge would be expected, especially in Liverpool, where for at least half the city, Bill Shankly is a hero. Former sofa-dwelling actor Ricky Tomlinson is so incensed, he's thinking of standing against her. Of course, Ms Berger may never have heard of him either.

It put me in mind of an apocryphal story attributed to then Labour candidate Peter Mandelson, when he was canvassing in Hartlepool. The story was that he mistook mushy peas in a local chip shop for guacamole. In fact, the story stemmed from an American political reporter who made the mistake while covering an election in (guess where?) Liverpool in 1986. Rather than waste a good line, Tory activists quickly started the rumour that Mandelson had made the error.

True or not, these stories of political foot-in-mouth can be extremely damaging. The point is, whatever you do, in politics or business, you need to be properly briefed. You need to do your research. And you need to check that are fully prepared before you talk to prospective voters or customers.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

I'm going to sue!

What do you do if you spot a story about you in the press which you regard as damaging? Your first reaction might be to sue the author, and the media outlet, which is understandable. However, it may not be the right thing to do. It's easier than ever these days to monitor the media. Google Alerts can send an email to your desktop as soon as your name or company is mentioned anywhere on the web.

I received one such alert last week, which pointed me to a blog where I was described in less than glowing terms after a BBC interview that I'd recently appeared in. Naturally, I was annoyed, but in the end I took no action. It was one person's view, and to respond would only have made the story bigger.

Here's a check-list of things to consider if you have been criticised in the media:

* Monitor your reputation at all times
* Quick, simple actions can defuse bigger problems
* Talk it over with colleagues - never act alone
* Consider how much damage has been done
* If you decide to comment, address all the issues
* Don't use the "not many people affected" defence
* If compensation is due, pay it quickly
* Get as much coverage as possible for any remedial action
* A call to the editor may be better than a formal complaint
* If you do complain, be prepared for more scrutiny

In short, decide if any action at all is required, and if it is, be quick, decisive and honest.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Toyota's crisis management hits the brakes

Watch out if the car in front is a Toyota, or worse still if you're in it. The problems for the company seem to be growing by the day, as a technical problem transforms into a massive recall and thence to a PR disaster. The last thing a car company wants these days is a drop in public confidence in its products, so they all work hard (or should do) at reputation management. However, in my opinion, Toyota has so far handled the media crisis with all the skill of a world-class golfer alleged to have multiple affairs (in other words with not much skill at all).

The problems with sticking accelerator pedals were first reported in 2007. However, in an echo of a similar problem reported with Audi cars 20 years ago (which caused a sales drop of 83% in the US, and took 15 years to recover from), Toyota has been slow to act. Rather than dealing with all known issues, Toyota have reacted to each problem separately, causing them even further embarrassment with the latest revelations about problems with the Prius braking system. It's been a double whammy.

What should Toyota have done better? Here's my check-list

1) Acted as quickly as possible to take responsibility for the problems
2) Show concern for all owners affected by the problem
3) Put up a high-level spokesperson - ideally the CEO - to make a statement
4) Explain how they will put things right

I suspect that many Toyota owners will think twice when heading out to buy their next car. That's Toyota's real problem. If they had crisis media experts available, then either they didn't consult them, or they ignored their advice. Dealing with a crisis is not complicated. It's been done well (and badly) by many big corporations in recent years. But as George Santayana said; "Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them."

Every business should have at least two things in place to deal with reputation issues:

1) Knowledge of its current reputation, and regular monitoring
2) A crisis management plan, with a process, a team and trained spokespeople

How does your company stack up?