How you benefit from customer comments you were pretty sure you didn’t want

Due to a misunderstanding, at the last minute before takeoff an airline refused to allow a pair of special-needs passengers to fly. This upset the passengers deeply and stranded them at an unfamiliar airport.

No one should have been surprised that intense criticism of the airline spread rapidly via social media, portraying them as bad-guys even though the incident was (arguably) a one-time mistake by an isolated group of employees.

This wound up being a good thing, because:

The airline discovered this issue, apologized to the would-be passengers and their families, refunded their money, offered them additional free flights, and came up with a new process to keep the problem from recurring. All-in-all, the airline—our hometown favorite here in Seattle, Alaska Airlines—took a regrettable mistake, and did everything possible (considering it was after the fact) to make it right with those affected. In this way Alaska Airlines also earned positive PR by showing they’re the kind of company that owns up to their mistakes and jumps on an opportunity to do the right thing when they can.

> Read more about the “special needs passengers stranded by Alaska Airlines” incident

> Another great PR turnaround story:  FedEx responds after delivery guy caught on video throwing computer equipment over a fence

This post isn’t about Alaska Airlines—it’s about the other guys

I’m pleased to see more and more stories about companies turning customer complaints into positive publicity. But this post is for the other guys, anyone who isn’t sure they have the right attitude, either individually or organizationally, to handle all customer criticism in a positive way.

Poster child for the other guys: Continue reading “How you benefit from customer comments you were pretty sure you didn’t want”

Social media highlights from the Seattle Interactive Conference 2011

As a followup to my post from a couple of weeks ago, 9 timely social media and brand communication insights from SIC 2011, I put together a quick video blog post featuring just the social media highlights from last month’s Seattle Interactive Conference. I apologize in advance for the primitive tech quality, but try to think of it like pie crust, it’s better when it’s home made and looks it, right?

Here’s the video with my explanatory post on the Audienz blog, 5 social media insights from the 2011 Seattle Interactive Conference, and here’s just the video itself on YouTube:

[Updated on February 2, 2012]

9 timely social media and brand communication insights from SIC 2011

SIC LogoI recently attended the 2011 Seattle Interactive Conference (#SIC2011) at the downtown Seattle convention center. Besides enjoying the opportunity to catch up with friends in the local marketing and social media communities, I was impressed by the overall caliber of presenters and the hard-won insights they shared. Looking back, they gave us a snapshot of the state of the industry as of Q4, 2011.

The following are some of the presentation takeaways I jotted down at the event (click on any of the items in this list to jump down to the details):

1: Identify and engage with your brand’s social media advocates
2: Brands must plan in advance to be authentic in social media conversations
3: Preempt negative comments about your brand to rob them of their power
4: How to make a “good” social media video
5: Comcast “sucks” if it still hasn’t addressed the underlying problem
6: Social media ROI requires a multiple touch attribution model
7: Brand advocates disproportionally influence content consumption, conversions
8: Content is the carrier, the click is the action
9: Seek to increase social media engagement with actual customers
More insights from SIC 2011

#1: Identify and engage with your brand’s social media advocates

Kim Johnston, VP of Marketing, Desktop Virtualization, at Parallels, spoke Continue reading “9 timely social media and brand communication insights from SIC 2011”

Unwittingly funny GOP social media experiment failed by being generic

A recent US Republican Party social media experiment misfired not because of poor moderation, as some critics have assumed, but because site managers failed to recruit and motivate the right community. This post explores ways to create an open, uncensored forum that can more constructively represent both loyal followers and potential converts who were (presumably) the intended targets of the site.

Saying they want to “give the American people a megaphone to speak out,” last week GOP Congressional leaders announced a new web site,, an open “town meeting” where everyone has an “[o]pportunity to change the way Congress works by proposing ideas for a new policy agenda.”

Despite an enthusiastic introduction by GOP leaders, wackiness ensued. Notable submissions on the site included unlikely suggestions, like: Continue reading “Unwittingly funny GOP social media experiment failed by being generic”

When to delete posts to your company’s Facebook page

There are many ways to approach fan participation on business Facebook pages. I think the only wrong way to do it is to neglect your responsibility for figuring out how you’re going to handle it.

I recently contributed a comment to a blog post writtern by Lindsay Allen (guest posting on Amy Mengel’s blog) entitled “Facebook etiquette: To delete, or not to delete?” Lindsay pointed out two real world situations that might be encountered by a business’s Facebook page administrator.

In the first situation, excited fans of a company repeatedly leaked certain positive information about the company on the company’s Facebook page. Because the company wasn’t ready to discuss this news yet, it promptly deleted all of these fan posts, thereby giving those loyal and actively participating fans a bit of a slap in the face. What is more, the company created the appearance that it was trying to stifle conversation about something that was no longer a secret – not a particularly good image for the company. Lindsay concludes – and I agree – that the company should have recognized the fact that the secret was out, let go of the illusion that they could control this information by deleting posts about it, and stopped deleting those posts. Instead they should have pushed ahead their official announcement about the issue.

In the second situation a disgruntled  former Kohl’s employee (everybody’s favorite contributor, right?) posted something sexually suggestive about a current Kohl’s employee. Again, not a very good image for a company to present on its Facebook page. Lindsay concluded – and again, I agree – that Kohls should promptly delete such posts.

In a comment to Lindsay’s blog post, Ron from the software vendor Zend asked for opinions about whether he should allow posts to his company’s Facebook wall that were essentially promotions for other companies. I responded, in part:

[Lindsay] hit the nail on the head when she asked (about the Kohl’s situation) “[W]ould you want to read something like that about a store where you shop?” I think it’s about the flavor and group culture you want to cultivate. Coincidentally, I just visited Gary Vaynerchuk’s Facebook wall and since he’s all about self-promotion – he’s the new guru of self-promotion, IMHO – anything goes on his FB page. Not to my taste: I’m not likely to hang out there! But Gary V’s approach fits his brand. Would I expect that on Zend’s wall? No, I would be put-off and think you guys weren’t reading posts on your page. I would also expect “spam” to be deleted as a courtesy to me and my time. In other words, different content for different communities. But either way you pay a price as well, by setting the tone for conversation and creativity in posts.

(By the way, I respect Gary V as a marketer, and as a force of nature. I just didn’t personally enjoy reading the posts on his Facebook wall.)

Amy, the blog’s primary author, replied with an additional point that I think is significant: even if your Facebook page’s intended community isn’t offended by posts to your wall, other members of the public might be. So be prepared for backlash if you don’t exercise some level of editorial discretion over what winds up posted on your wall.

UPDATE: Dianne Jacob in her Will Write for Food blog recently posted a to-the-point profile of a popular food blogger’s decidedly non-laissez faire approach to moderating blog comments in order to create the type of experience she thinks her readers will enjoy: Blogging Pro Not Afraid to Delete Comments.

How much time per employee per day for social media?

Bruce WilsonI recently attended an interesting presentation by Veronica Belmont, a.k.a. @veronica (yes, she’s a Twitter early adopter) who is a celebrity in the online gaming sphere and has over 1.5 million followers on Twitter.

Her presentation was wonderfully succinct. Her (surprisingly) short slide presentation was useful while concise. Which left plenty of time for Q&A, where again she was succinct. For example, despite being on stage with a microphone and license to babble on, she answered several questions with a single word. Words like “yes,” “no,” and “hyper” (the latter being the quality needed for an effective online community manager).

Even so, @veronica says it takes her 4 or 5 hours a day to manage her social media. Of course, this is a major part of her job, and she’s a new media superstar to boot. The average individual doesn’t need to spend so much time on social media (more in a future blog entry). But for customer-centric companies it makes sense to have someone whose job it is to spend plenty of time engaging with customers.

For example, someone recently asked me how can afford to allow its customer service reps to spend virtually unlimited time with each customer (in one instance apparently someone spent 90 minutes just chit chatting with an elderly customer). I laughed and said: Zappos can’t afford not to. Customers will pick up on the vibe customer service reps are giving off. Customer service reps will give off the vibe they are given by their managers…who give off the vibe set by corporate management. Zappos’ vibe is to love the customer, for real.

Let’s face it, customer service reps aren’t professional actors. And even if they were, let’s consider method acting for a minute. I’ve read that Jim Carrey drives people around him crazy by being “in character” for weeks at a time when shooting a film. In other words, its hard to turn good, emotionally genuine acting on and off.

So as I see it, Zappos had a choice. Amazing customer experience: “on” or “off”. They’ve chosen “on,” and their customers have chosen Zappos. Which is part of why bought Zappos a few months back for close to a billion dollars.

[Thanks to the Social Media Club of Seattle for inviting @veronica to speak!]

Pros and Cons for businesses building on Facebook or Ning

Bruce WilsonYesterday David Spinks and I exchanged blog posts and comments inspired by his post about 6 ways businesses are using Ning as a social network provider for their online communities.

In my post I hinted that a private label / white label social network might be a better choice for a business-0riented online community than a Ning network, even with beautiful customization. And by extension this reasoning could apply to Facebook business pages and applications and other social network providers. In his comment to my post David asked, in part, “Seeing as how Ning is so popular, couldn’t it … be an advantage to have access to their userbase?”

First the pros: businesses can certainly benefit from partnering with a strong social networking brand like Ning or Facebook. This is especially true of Facebook which has extremely high levels of adoption and trust and vast numbers of regular users.

  • When people recognize a trusted network partner they may be more likely to join.
  • Because more people are already participating in the larger network new arrivals are more likely to find friends to interact with.
  • When people are already logging in to Ning, or Facebook, or another service every day or so, its just super easy for them to join, then regularly participate in, new pages or communities.
  • I’m a big fan of the SaaS (“software as a service”) model wherein both writing and hosting of web software is handed over to people who’s job it is to perfect the user interface, maintain security, and keep everything running as smoothly as possible, 24 x 7 x 365. Then the business’s official job is just to administer the site, while the community does it’s thing by populating the network with their interactions.

The cons in my mind are a bit darker and more old-school corporate sounding. The hard question is: who “owns” the relationship from the business side? This has implications for both customer satisfaction, as in “who is responsible for (owns) making sure that the customer experience is positive?” It also has implications for revenue, as in “who benefits from (owns) revenue generated via sales and advertising?”

On the relationship side I can imagine a number of potential problems.

  • User experience: what if a network provider suddenly limits or eliminates a popular feature, as Facebook periodically does, or regularly fails to keep the service up and running, as Twitter is somewhat infamous for?
  • Branding: what if the social network partner is embroiled in a scandal, as Facebook was recently, or starts promoting a competitor of the business through advertising or integrated partnership?
  • Data portability: what if the networking partner goes out of business or is purchased by a competitor?

On the revenue side, a social network partner may restrict access to customer data in ways that a business feels prevents them from generating legitimate new revenue opportunities. For example, Facebook restricts businesses’ ability to hold contests and send event invitations. Or a network partner may superimpose its own revenue opportunities over a business’s own interest, as when Facebook ads and other UI elements draw users away from a business’s own messages and calls to action.

But there are many people who know the world-wide Ning community much better than I do. Do you think the benefit of a Ning partnership usually outweighs the potential downside?

I’m also not all that familiar with the white label / private label alternatives (some of which I mentioned yesterday). Do these overcome, or fall victim to, the same potential pitfalls?

Private Social Networks Are Taking Off

Bruce WilsonThis afternoon I followed a tweet to a beautiful blog post by Scribnia‘s David Sprinks on David writes succinctly about (and provides lush screen captures illustrating) six visually appealing examples of how companies are using Ning social networks.

Although I want to add a couple of thoughts of my own about businesses building their own social networks, first a shout-out to David for his piece. His examples include a customer community for Seesmic (one of the leading Twitter client applications); a community for the mothers of US Navy sailors; a community for people who own or are otherwise interested in Saturn automobiles; a community for encouraging women to start their own businesses (sponsored by Martha Stewart); a community of travel bloggers; and a community for holiday bakers who want to exchange cookies (sponsored by Hersheys).

Although some of the same social networking functionality can be delivered by Facebook business pages and Twitter-based conversations, David’s piece makes it clear that there is still plenty of room for niche social networking sites.

I’m especially excited to see companies that have gotten so much traction–and customization–at Ning because about three years ago I helped found a startup focused on building a private label online social networking platform. David’s Ning examples, while beautifully and uniquely branded, are not true private label social networks because they still are hosted with Ning URLs, like, and people must have a Ning account to participate. Fully white label solutions do exist now, including Social Go, RealityDigital, and Stribe. While at the moment they lack the name recognition of Ning, they appear to have big customers nonetheless.

Although the startup I helped found ultimately failed to get off the ground, a key insight we achieved is that almost every business has a group of loyal customers who could bond or have already bonded around their contact with that company. Examples we examined included:

  • Neighborhood Starbucks (and other cafe) customers identify with their local “third place” and frequently form friendships with fellow regulars. Special events and offers, like coffee tastings and new merchandise, could be organized and advertised via the social network.
  • Retailers with inspired customer bases like Nordstrom–which already has special invitation-only events during hours they are not usually open to reward extra special customers–can use a social network to allow customers to revel in their pride of relationship with that retailer and spread news and photos of products, events, and specials with their friends and family.
  • Health clubs can offer ways for customers to learn of schedule updates, news, special offers, and (between interested customers) opportunities for customer interaction.
  • Motorcycle sellers (and sellers of other high-affinity products, similar to Saturn) can offer not only company and product news but opportunities for riders to set up rides and other events together.
  • Alumni organizations can offer a dedicated school and classmates connection experience, not filtered through an intermediary like Facebook, Classmates, or LinkedIn and optimize it for the mutual goal of supporting the educational institution itself.

If you haven’t already, once again I recommend checking out David’s post, he really has an eye for web design and it’s worth checking out his post just for the graphics alone. Then think about how your business can leverage this approach to improve customer satisfaction and engagement.

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