Are you Listening?

Are you listening?I’ve just come back from a great weekend away at TelecomONE where I facilitated a number of sessions throughout the weekend, one of which was entitled “Listen to MEEEE – Engaging the customer; Capturing the conversations”. This session resulted in a challenge by a couple of the attendees to finish (and publish) this article to capture my thinking.



The Why

Back in June 2008, I read this article about Dell CMO Mark Jarvis who is using social media to find out what his customers think about his company and how Dell can improve. To that end, they decided to build a “social media SWAT team, the communities and conversations unit, staffed with employees not just from public relations, but tech and customer support, and marketing”.

That really struck a chord with me as I’d previously been in a business unit which wanted to communicate with customers to find opportunities to improve and innovate, but was stymied by a lack of official support to engage directly through social media channels.
Given the success reported by some of Dell’s initiatives in this space such as IdeaStorm, it seemed to be an obvious channel to gather ideas from the customer base. The end quote from the article is, in my opinion – pure gold.

“Social media is a grand experiment,” Dell’s Jarvis said. “It has a future. I don’t see it crashing down. Social interaction, communities and participation are absolutely the fabric of the Web. Our challenge is how do we leverage those best for our customers.”

The How

Idris Mootee, an innovation strategist asks the question of organisations in this post as to how (or if) they will harness the power of bloggers and blogging to put a human face to their company. He lists four things that a successful blog strategy must have (full text in his article):

  • Credibility – Honesty and authenticity is what drives believability in a message
  • Perspective – What is different between the blogger and reading an annual report?
  • Relevance – Timeliness is key, these are conversations and long gaps in a discussion often results in the other party losing interest or thinking they have been forgotten.
  • Balancing Risk Management – This is the part which has (until now) prevented me from posting as anything but an individual. While these posts are still my own opinions and not official statements of the company, there is still a great deal of uncertainty from a corporate point of view as to if I should even be allowed to blog as an employee of the company.

This last point surrounding uncertainty and risk has also caused me to rewrite several sentences multiple times, and eliminate some of the articles from this post that I would have otherwise linked and discussed. While this may result in a little less bloggable content, I’m still happy with the result as I’m demonstrating to myself that I am trying to balance respect for my employer and their official positions, with my views and opinions. It also relates back to a post I wrote a looong time ago where these hazy lines were discussed.

Over time, I expect my self moderation to become more tuned to what is considered acceptable by the business as we (being those of us called to action at TelecomONE) begin to push the boundaries and create some guidelines via collaborative evolution.

As Social Networks become better understood, and the way they are represented becomes more standardised, a whole new area of measurement has opened up in terms of Social Network Analysis and there is now an increasingly large range of tools which demonstrate how your networks are working. The social network community is also doing what they can to advise organisations how NOT to suck when attempting to use these tools

Conversations Online

So, keeping track of the communities, taking the pulse – this is where tools such as TweetScan, RSS Search Engines (1, 2, there are more) and RSS feeds from popular forum searches come into their own. They help capture both the support for, and the slams to your brand. Reading posts such as this one from service providers who are embracing the space is incredibly heartening – 1,000 conversations, 10,000 interactions all in one community. For those who wish to adopt the ‘build it and they will come’ mentality, then take heart in this article around the success of the NZ Vodafone forums.

What is interesting about this approach is that some people don’t LIKE the fact that companies are watching the social media space. The fact that ComCast watch social media caused a fascinating conversation to occur on FriendFeed, yet another social media hub.

Conversations Offline

I’d also like to point out that it’s not just in the online space that we should be engaging with our communities -conversations happen everywhere and often it’s the good old (?) fashioned whiteboard which provides the best medium to collaborate.
The whiteboard can be photographed and the image uploaded to an online store after the fact but, in terms of efficiency – analogue can be the best bet, something that Mike alludes to in this post. Conversations such as the one at TelecomONE which provided the catalyst for completing this post happen regularly in the real world. Those face to face and the interactions are just as valuable, if not more so than those which can occur online.

Conclusion

Conversations happen everywhere, people like to be heard, companies who can listen and respond will drive engagement with their customers and in turn gain insights into future opportunities to improve what they offer their markets.

Thanks go to Karen for facilitating the session with me, to Tim Norton for calling me out to engage my passion in this space, and to Alan Gourdie who showed enough interest in this space to commit to take the discussion to the executive.

I am continuing to monitor online conversations as I have done for quite some time – rest assured we are out here and we are listening – even if we are not (yet) sure how best to respond.

Disclosure: I am currently an employee of Telecom New Zealand, the opinions expressed in this, and my other posts are not an official statement of policy but rather my own opinions. For official statements please contact Telecom New Zealands PR team.

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