June 2011

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Reputation management services have been getting a lot of attention. A recent New York Times article featured these companies, who use a variety of ingenious techniques to help counteract negative attention online. Certainly when others are posting things about you or your business that you can’t control, a service like this can be helpful. One bad review can rise to the top and undermine your reputation.

But another key to reputation management is being proactive about controlling your content in the first place. A good content strategy should include a plan for social media. The challenge is to balance the dichotomy of the essential spontaneity and immediacy of social media with the need for planning and controlling the content you release.

The elements of content strategy for social media include the creation of a content calendar, rules of engagement, and editorial guidelines.

A Content Calendar plans your content distribution in advance, to account for seasonal content, new products or services being offered, and key announcements. It is a living document that by definition will change to respond to relevant news, current events, memes, and changes. But planning ahead determines you’ll always have appropriate content ready, and allows advance planning for releasing that content.

Social Media Guidelines are the golden rules by which all your social media posts are governed. This is particularly important for those for whom multiple people are posting via blogs, Twitter, or other channels. For a small company or a single individual, these guidelines can be simple, outlining which topics are appropriate, whether it’s acceptable to mention competitors or endorse vendors, talking about current projects, and so on. For a larger company, it might include legal restrictions (consult with the company’s legal team), privacy policies, and rules around the protection of intellectual property. It is important, however, to not be too restrictive with these guidelines, as it undermines the essence of social media — the individual conversation. IBM was a pioneer in creating social media guidelines, creating a wiki in which employees could discuss and contribute to the rules and guidelines for social media. Together, IBM’s employees created a guide to posting that serves as a model for others and continues to evolve with evolving social media channels.

Editorial Guidelines
are a more creative exercise. You have identified the content you want to distribute via social media, but have you thought about how to present it? Your voice is important. It should reflect your brand strategy, but also recognize the forum in which you are speaking. Don’t try to be hip and cool on Twitter if your brand isn’t hip and cool. But don’t embarrass yourself with a lack of understanding of the medium. (For example, don’t tweet every day with a promo for your latest product.)

Social Media requires planning, just like any other communications channel. Make sure you have a content strategy in place before you start participating.

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We frequently discuss how we will reward users when we reach a certain number of Facebook fans. Coupons are always welcome for consumer goods, and everyone loves a prize, but there have to be more inventive (and less logistically challenging) ways to get people excited about getting your numbers up.

Piggly Wiggly, the supermarket chain, came up with a great idea: users voted on what type of dance Mr. Pig, their mascot, would perform on their Facebook page on the day they hit 25,000 fans. Voters got excited, numbers got boosted, and now, you and I can enjoy watching Mr. Pig do the “Single Ladies” dance. Not to be missed…


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In an interesting follow-up to yesterday’s Twitter story, emarketer reports the results of a study showing, among other things,

“Users indicated that more responsive brands would benefit from greater loyalty and purchasing. Almost 60% of respondents said they would be more likely to follow a brand that answered them, and 64% said they would be more likely to make a purchase from that brand.”

Also of note is the finding that many users Tweet questions to their followers without actually addressing the message to a brand, yet still appreciate answers from the brand.

Read the article here.

Recently, I had a bad customer experience with Fresh Direct. (Shocked? So was I.) A charge of $64 appeared on my charge card with no explanation (and needless to say, no groceries). When I called to complain, the person on the phone could not effectively explain the charge, insisting it was for “free” delivery. I pointed out that $64 is not, in fact, free. We went back and forth for quite a while, and although the customer service rep eventually agreed to refund my money, I felt ripped off. (I believe I used the word “fraud” at some point.)

So I turned to the contemporary venter’s platform of choice: Twitter. It’s a great way to let off steam; 140 characters of outrage sent out into the world, with an @ tag pointing a finger at the deserving target.

My first tweet went like this:

@FreshDirect charged a $64 “auto-renewal fee” — but no delivery! What a scam!

A few moments later, I added,

@FreshDirect has lost this customer for life with this ridiculous scam of a “recurring charge” for nothing! #fraud

I wondered if @FreshDirect would respond. It took a few days, but soon enough, I got a boilerplate message along the lines of “Let us make it right! Please DM us so we can help.”I ignored it.  My vitriol had been spent, I was over it, I was over them. I was done with @FreshDirect.

And then I got a phone call. Fresh Direct customer service called me to apologize. The woman I spoke to had apparently listened to the recordings of my conversations with their phone support person, and agreed with me that the representative had not done a good job communicating with me. She listened to me, apologized sincerely, and offered to make it up to me with a gift credit to my account.

I realized as we spoke that it was Twitter that had led to the phone call. The likelihood of my call being the one that was “monitored for training purposes” was slim; she picked me out to listen to because my angry Tweets had gotten someone’s attention. What is particularly interesting about this is that I don’t have any personal information other than my name attached to my Twitter account. That means someone looked at my Twitter account to find out my real name, and then looked up my phone number in their customer database, and then called me.

Big brother? Or good customer service? On the one hand, I am slightly creeped out that they tracked me down that way. On the other, I recognize that our digital lives become more integrated every day. I don’t try to hide my identity across my various channels; in fact, I make it a point to promote myself this way. So why should I be surprised that someone was able to connect the dots?

The truth is, in the end, it was a great customer experience. I felt validated, appeased, and appreciated. Two weeks after I vowed they’d lost a customer for life, I was placing an order, using the credit that soothed my irritation. And not only had they regained a customer, they regained my good will, and the word-of-mouth that comes with it.

@Freshdirect, thank you for making things right! Was really angry; customer svc reached out to me (!) and apologized for my bad experience.

We tell our stories now in the digital world, good and bad, but the smart company knows how to use the digital to make it personal.

Now I’m off to go  order some of that great half-baked bread…

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