You and Your Brand In Social Media...Are You Sensitive ?

Since leaving Molson Coors at the end of December, I have had a lot of opportunity to take a look across a broader set of brands and community organizations reflecting on their social media activity. I am respectful that corporations have rules and filters and escalation protocols for what content gets posted etc. I am also respectful of the fact that issues can arise from careless tweets or customer complaints that have become much more public, given the power of social media. However, a fundamental and critical action that brands must (and that's a strong word folks) consider is their sensitive responsiveness to the customer in social networks.

What does sensitive responsiveness look like ? Let's start with what "social media" establishes. Social media establishes an opportunity for a brand or an individual or a not for profit or whatever entity to engage in dialogue about their product or issues and interests. It represents and opportunity to engage, debate, support, or opine; much like folks would have done in conversations in the past around the dinner table or at a community social event. The difference is that these conversations are now public and open for "one to one to many" conversations and shared multiple dialogues. Would you set up a call centre with multiple phone lines and just respond with a taped generic message, or let the phones ring and not answer them ?

In my opinion brands need to consider a few questions as they approach social media:

ONE - What is the purpose for you or your brand to be on social networks ? Really focus on this purpose. What is intended ? What is it suppose to drive...engagement, sales, sales leads, conversations, just being present ? Are you there because your competitor is there ? How is your competitor fairing ? What do you think their purpose if for being in that social network ? How have you assessed their success and what they are gaining ? Is your intent similar, different or not purposeful ? Don't make the mistake of just having a "profile" because you think you need to be there.

TWO - What is your brand and when is it most critical for you to be "on" in social media. When are people most likely to be in social conversations about your brand? In the beer business it likely means when the bars and retail are open and likely evenings and weekends when social occasions are happening. If it's the tuxedo business there will be peaks and valleys in the year where proms, weddings and formals are most prominent. If you are cereal, is it a morning blog update that flashes up during the breakfast hour when someone is likely having a bowl and checking the web. If you are a sports property it might be most relevant when your team is on the ice or the field or the court or the course. Or, perhaps you are big and ubiquitous enough to think that you need to be "on" 24/7 (Ha...don't we wish we were all that successful in what we are selling to have that need!)

THREE- Respect that "they" have an opinion out there. Respect that they have a voice. Respect that they might be ill informed, under informed or perhaps have more knowledge and be an expert in a subject matter. Repect, as difficult as it may be, that you might only get as far as agreeing to disagree. When this respect is established, you will be in the right context and state of mind. The mistake is made by those brands or individuals that become defensive or dismissive, remove posts, lash out or just "message" back. Respect in the conversation will raise conversation to a new level, and hopefully some meaningful dialogue. Oh yes...there needs to be mutual respect for this to work...smiles.

FOUR - Be SENSITIVE ! I'm sorry for the exclamation mark but what I've felt the past couple of months is a real lack of brands who get this. Lots of brands are in a social network but they are not "on". Either they are too shy to respond, (I respect that there are comfort stages of embracing and using social...listen - listen - listen - plan - be sensitive - prepare your response - engage in responding - respond to them...not from you...but to them in a sensitive way - then when you get comfortable start to lead conversations but based on their needs in how they interact with you or your brand) or they haven't figured out that the real power in social media is the conversation. If someone is tweeting you or commenting on Facebook or commenting on a blog or media there. Get into the conversation. At the very least if someone is shouting at you with a complaint, please acknowledge them for their interest in your brand. They bought your product, they chose you. Please show them that you at least care enough to acknowledge them. Maybe you need to buy time to respond. Tell them that. Being sensitive is a way of listening. It's more than just punching back a response.It's much better than ignoring the issue because you don't want to deal with it publicly. It's actually listening to your consumer and understanding what they love about you or what their complaint is. You have a chance to be sensitive to their emotion and their thinking and then respond.

I do have a few favourites that I see being very responsive. I won't get into the "list" now. Perhaps I will create a top ten and bottom ten from my own personal experience. Why ? Because social media provides the opportunity for just that. A brand can get personal with the consumer. The brand can build loyalty in a one to one way. That one to one will spread, because people talk about their experiences with brands, good - bad or ugly. People have lots of choices. The brands or the individuals or the not for profits or the community projects that choose to be sensitive and to engage will, in my opinion, be the brands and individuals that will build loyalty and long term support for themselves. Your thoughts  always welcome. Are you "on" ?  @FergDevins

Tapping the Front Line...Employee Brand Champions

Ok, after 30 years in the beer business you'll have to excuse the "tapping", old habits hard to get beyond for sure ! After the wonderful two weeks of Canadian Olympic joy and celebration, I couldn't help but reflect again on the importance of engaging the front line as brand champions and ambassadors.

After all, who better to be a voice and ambassador for your brand, than those committed individuals that are are creating, designing, making, distributing and selling your products. They live and breathe and rely on the employment of their brands to sustain who they are in their communities. You are paying them for their service and they can help even more if they can represent your brand in their community. They have built in affinity to the brand. The strength of this affinity can be passive or fully engaging. I believe that the degree of affinity to the employer brand is something that is totally in the hands of the employer. And, one must believe (I do anyway) that many of Canadian companies had a lot of proud employees, given the terrific efforts of Sport Chek, Canadian Tire, RBC, Ritz, Molson Canadian during the Sochi games; to name just a few.

To start with, employers need to be very good listeners and open to real feedback and opinion. Do you actually know what the sentiments of your employees are at any given time ? You may or may not like what is being said at "the water cooler", but you can bet money on it that what is being said there is the "reality" of your business. They are either speaking about what they have heard as truth, or they are surmising what is going on through their own interpretation and building stories off of each others' interpretations.

So why not harness those conversations ? I'm familiar with an internal social network at that allows for social networking within a company with company emails. It fosters communication, dialogue and casual conversations across the company. It is easy to integrate into your internal communications initiatives.

I have also been impressed with what I have seen and heard from . They actually harness the front line thinking and turn that into a powerful engagement tool for the employer. It might be about seeking out ideas for new innovations, or something as simple as what food might be offered in a meal plan in the lunch room. The key factor is that all of this encourages harvesting the voice, opinions and engagement of employees to get involved and be active ambassadors and thought leaders within their company. The mind power that can be harnessed within the ranks is powerful. And I believe that loyal employees want to contribute. Why not unleash their creativity and input ? Their voice unheard and not respected is an asset under utilized.

In a world of social media, the employee can play such an important role for the company in telling their stories about the brand, the workplace, their work environment, the creative process, the innovations and the corporate responsibility that their company represents (or not!).

I'd encourage you to check out what is up to if you want to really get advanced in working with your employees to build internal loyalty, engagement and increased leads for your business.

Cheers to unleashing the power within...your employee brand champions.  And...another big shout out to our Team Canada and the inspiration that they give to our nation. Cheers ! @FergDevins

What is an ideal response time...

Have you ever thought of what might be the ideal response time to a consumer inquiry ? If you call on a 1-800 service one would expect that the phone would be answered and you would speak with an agent. Or, at the very least be given the option to leave a message with a response within 24 hours or next business day. If you took the time to write via snail mail, one would expect to receive a response within two weeks, or a phone call to follow up with you. If you were to walk in and speak face to face with a customer service department, one would expect service on the spot and likely the best level of "service" face to face. So what have we come to expect in the world of social media ? For me, I expect that a brand, service, charity or community will be "on" listening and responding in their network. To help me out with this, they might post on their social profile "when" they are actually help condition and meet my expectations. I just think that with social media today, my expectation has become the position that if you are "on" you are "on" least in what one would assume when that brand or service is open for business. I was impressed by the TTC in Toronto last week when I took a bus along a route that signalled a "stop" and then had the bus driver breeze past the stop. He advised that the bus hadn't stopped there in six months. I advised that a bus I rode on last week (with my wife as a witness) stopped there ! I then tweeted TTC to advise that the stop should be removed form the bus "notification recording". Within minutes @TTChelps responded. Now that is "service response". Smiles...I'll keep an eye on that "recorded notification" and be sure to not count on the stop ! The point is that they responded...and in fact exceeded my expectations (Thank you Toronto TTC). I felt good and feel good about their customer responsiveness. @AirCanada is also very prompt, in my experience. I give them full marks for social engagement and in both cases, it is truly while I am enjoying their services. Like TTC, this isn't necessarily a 9-5 situation. Kudos to being "on" when the customer is "on". So what should the norm be ? My suggestion is that the community manager for a brand or service should be on to meet or exceed expectaions of the customer. That is what will ultimately drive customer loyalty. You are showing the customer that you are there for them. That today is likely a 24/7 least something that is broader than a 9-5 Monday through Friday existence on line. I look forward to tweeting and posting more examples in the coming weeks. I'm waiting for a couple of responses right now. Cheers! @FergDevins @DevinsNewtork.

CEO Social Networking

Thinking of Twitter...have a purpose

In 2007 I was prompted to go on Twitter by @MolsonTonia. At first I went on with a handle that was something like @lakesummers. At the time I was thinking I'd go on Twitter and just see what it was like. Fact is, who would ever have found me as @lakesummers (accept for the fellow Lake of the Woods cottagers that would have got that over a beer...). So I quickly adopted the profile of @MolsonFerg which was my official business account as the Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, allowing me to be human in social networks yet on message for the company. After 30 years at Molson and onto new frontiers with The Devins Network Inc. I migrated my followers to @FergDevins and also created @DevinsNetwork. Interestingly enough, I may end up shutting down  profile @DevinsNetwork since I'm not sure if I need one for me and one for my business. And I've also kept @KenoraFerg up and running which I had created as a "personal" profile. Too much duplication perhaps. Essentially all three are "me" so I need not add another channel to manage. So...all that...the critical thing to consider is your "purpose" for being on Twitter. Do you have other social networks for your business ? Or if you are in a company, do you have a clear social networking role to play for your company ? Are you a spokesperson or a brand ambassador or a lightning rod on public opinion ? Are you the CEO or CMO with an opinion that the public or your consumers might actually want to hear about ? Do you want to separate business from personal ? you have a hobby that your Twitter profile represents, or a special project like @ConeyMusicFest. All of these questions point to a purpose. And I think it is critical that you define that purpose or else it will just be like having another phone number that you really don't turn on or answer with regularity, and that will actually be a negative cloud over you and your business, if you cease to be active. I have found Twitter to be a great place to meet people with similar interests, connect with a broader community, network with thought leaders, follow things I'm interested in (even if they don't follow me back), make a list of interests and follow them as groups and be an interesting authentic human in a world of communications that can get all too stale with the "messaging", that so many still find necessary to convey. Naturally these are simply my own opinions on how I've worked within Twitter. Others likely have other opinions. Love to hear those ! Gladly chat further with you, if you'd like to give Twitterville a try. Cheers @FergDevins

Listening to the Customer

It sounds so practical, so reasonable, so doable..."listening to the customer". But I challenge each one of us that has "customers" whether we are listening as openly and keenly as we can, given the multiple ears that we have to listen with. With the explosion of social media channels we can now hear from the customer what might have been their conversation on a bus or subway. We can now listen like we are sitting at the table with an employee over dinner by being socially engaged with our employees through internal social networks such as Yammer. We can now listen to the opinion of those who cast perspective and comment on our brands or offerings. Social media opens us to the straight forward non political banter that is the conversation of the masses. If we have nothing but "facts and truth" to put into play...let's listen and respond. In fact...let's get the truth and facts into the conversation if it is missing. But first let's learn how to listen. I've always tried to listen with respect of the other's perspective, rather than defensively from where I sit. Is that customer speaking from being totally informed, or are they speaking emotionally from what they've experienced ? There are so many channels open to us today. Through a simple google search you can take a look at what's being said. Check out Twitter, search blog content, check out comments on a newspaper post, use any of the aggregators that search social networks such as addictomatic. Through listening to the customer we will become better champions of our brands and services and through listening we can respond.However, genuine dialogue starts with just listening. Are you truly "listening" to what's being said about your business or service ? You might find that you've got a few advocates out there as well.  Give a try. Cheers ! @FergDevins

Corporate blog or not to blog ?

I must say that I have enjoyed the journey of blogging, since our first blog days at Molson Coors in Canada. That blog for Molson Coors was established as one way of getting our story out to the public through our own owned media channel. That was its initial strategic purpose. They were early days but those first posts delivered on our strategy to get more connected with community stakeholders and thought leaders. Relevant too that the early posts related to "Raising the Roof". They can still use our support as we hear their campaign ads today. I reflected back on those early blog days as I worked with @StaceyHood on this site and the new frontier that this represents for me. On the topic of corporate blogging I'm still a fan. I still believe that for large companies, that may sometimes feel distant from their "consumers", that blogging can bring forth the real human touch of a corporation's people and human element. The blog can and will show the human side of your business, if in fact there is one worth exposing and people internally are willing to support it.

Taking a quick peek around at some of my favourite brands the blogosphere is well populated. Air Canada has a very personal approach to blogging at "Go Far - Stories that Fly". When I personally think back to the chatter about customer service at Air Canada over many years, I'm truly impressed with how they have turned it around and are so responsive to the flyer. They are also very quick on the tweets and retweets @AirCanada.

WestJet has a really cool interactive blog site with tips and clips from destinations and a wide range of posts from "meet the veeps" to technical questions. Nicely done ! What's really great is that it's personal, engaging, relevant not too "selly". It's a connection with the flying public. They are also terrific in responding to tweets @WestJet.

The Home Depot corporate blog has a fascinating approach. It's a home design, renovation, design (my words now remember) context with great tips and tricks for home decor. I was particularly taken by the blog on painting a "lattice design" on a wall. These blog posts could stimulate some interesting options for home or cottage. For the college crowd out there you might check out the cool laundry basket design featured recently. What's really impressive here is the constant feed of fresh content. Would love to know their calendar plan on content.

Always a fan of everything Disney. Too many fond memories of growing up with the movies and a few visits to DisneyWorld. Disney Parks Blog content seem to lean on the "behind the scenes" context. Who wouldn't like to get a glimpse of a bit of how the magic is created and maintained ! It's also very basic and obviously straight from the author's pen, rather than spun with all the glitz that one might expect from a Disney production. Humble, basic, human...

My last example (and not for lack of there being many more to look through) is Petro Canada's "Pump Talk". It is a truly friendly conversational blog that speaks to matters that are relevant to the consuming public. It is a nice balance between petrol policy and tips to keep the family and community comfortable and safe.

So what's my take on the "blog or not" question ? In a !

I state five key factors to consider when diving into the blogosphere.

1. Know the purpose of your blog. Entertain, inform, feed facts, dispel, rumour, advocacy, voice of employee. Have a strategic purpose.

2. Be authentic. The best advocates are the people from within your organization. Let them tell their stories from the heart.

3. Build advocates in the community. It's totally fine and wise to build advocates and bloggers that shout out your message and their opinion of you.

4. Reach out to other corporates and their bloggers. It's a community that needs to share and engage to spread good news and good will.

5. Plan. Whether by special occasion, industry event, theme of your business your content needs an overall plan that ties back to purpose.

If you haven't yet read Naked Conversations by Scoble and is basic training required reading for new bloggers. Like a favourite novel you might return to on occasion, the lessons learned through this work are timeless.

Be sure to let me know when you've got your blog up and running so that I can comment, share and tweet about it. Cheers @FergDevins  @DevinsNetwork.