Change: How the Political Season Will Change Social Media – Infographics

This is the first in a series of posts that will look at how the brand as publisher concept and the shareable formats of social marketing will impact and evolve politics in the upcoming election season.  More political campaigns will embrace the tools of social media, bringing those tools deeper into the awareness and understanding of the general population.  And, in turn farther into the marketers toolkit.

One of the tools in the brand publishing toolbox is the infographic. Using pictures to tell a story has been around for a long time.  USAToday made the infographic popular in journalism.  And, today, more brands are using pictures to tell their story and to feed the insatiable social appetite for more content.  While slower to the social game, but catching up quickly, politicians and political campaigns are starting to see the value of the connected conversations of the social Web.  And, many are starting to take a deliberate look at their publishing models.

In the pending context of an election year, the tools of the social publisher, from blogs to Facebook and video to infographics, the strategy of telling your story through multiple channels and in multiple formats will expand.  It’s in this context of need and ability that the infographic will take off as a standard communications vehicle.  The ability to easily tell a story in pictures in a way that conveys data is a natural tool for political campaigns.  There are few places where confusing data meets confounded meaning than in the context of a political campaign.  Conversely, there are few context where clearly conveying a message though a single image can help convert those 63% of people who consider themselves visual learners into activated, educated, engaged and committed voters.

Below is just one of the early examples where an infographic, or data visualization, can be used to convey a political point and message. (No political affiliation implied.) While I can argue that this isn’t a true infographic, I think it’s one of the many formats data can take to help convey the point of it’s message.

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Considering Content

The dirty secret of social media is that it requires a lot of content to establish and sustain a brand’s presence.  Content is the lifeblood of a brand’s online conversation.  Whether its a video, photo gallery, Tweet, SlideShare deck or Facebook update, there’s a piece of content that’s initiating or sustaining a conversation between the brand and its consumers.  Relevant, sharable content keeps the brand present in the consumer’s social stream and creates context and relevance for the relationship.  Content is also used to normalize contentious conversations and direct it into areas important to the brand. When creating content – whether you’re using it to initiate a conversation, establish a community or launch a product – should do one or more of the following:

  • Introduce – a theme or concept that others haven’t seen or heard before
  • Inform – people about something new and exciting
  • Inspire – others to think or act differently or to harness their creative passions
  • Incite – action, emotion or some forward-looking experience

With the burden of content growing for brands as they look to manage and grow community, it’s worth developing a deliberate approach.  Above all, content must be interesting enough to grab attention and compelling enough to share.  If no one is interested in your conversation, they won’t waste time talking to you or sharing your message.  Make relevant and compelling content often – your social media success depends on it.

PART 2: SocialCRM Foundations – An Operational View

In the previous post, I mentioned that, of the changes impacting brands on the Web, few will have greater impact than the ability for customers to share their opinions online about the companies they do business with — from discussion forums to Twitter to Facebook, and the new breadth of conversations opening up through searchable Facebook discussions. And that’s not to mention the emergence of geo-location check-ins through cell phones. With all of these tools, the capacity for customers to talk about your brand is significant.  And, if you need more fuel for the hype of socialCRM (sCRM), just do a search on the term or look here.  The good news is that those channels consumers choose to talk to companies through are the same ones companies can use to talk back.

Brand, Reputation, Marketing & Influence – The Basics

 

Identifying and engaging with customers in social media must be the foundation of any long-term strategy.  Thepoint of social media is enabling that closer connection with individuals.  And, an important extension of that connection is addressing the totality of the discussion.

If a company is unable to address customers’ needs online, then its activities there run the risk of being undermined. Companies with a social media program in place already, however, are likely seeing  the challenge presented by customers raising issues.

Addressing that challenge starts with a strategy. As the space heats up, and as technologies begin to flood the market, it’s important to understand the role of technology and the role of strategy.  Because of the broad implications delivering customer service in social channels has on a company, these programs must be rooted in strategy.  This is true not only because social software is still early in development, but also because of how responding in near real-time to these public exchanges between the customer and the brand fundamentally changes the approach and business processes necessary to function effectively in social media.

Planting the Seed

Interacting with customers through social channels requires a few foundational pieces:

Philosophical Foundations

  • An inherent interest in improving relationships with customers
  • An understanding of social context and how discussions evolve in social channels
  • The willingness to take criticism seriously and act on it
  • A business-wide, agreed-upon social framework (or at least someone willing to stick their neck out far enough to identify and document the need and develop a plan to address the social conversation)

Operational Foundations

  • An official presence on the social Web (Twitter for a start, but also Facebook, and others as the social discussion continues to expand to other platforms)
  • Cross-team collaboration and coordination
  • Flexibility of internal processes to help facilitate and not impede issue resolution
  • Executive buy-in and support (this can grow over time)

Taking the First Step
The first step is rarely the easiest. Confronting the unknown can be daunting if you don’t have perspective on what the universe of possibilities and options is.  Like many things in this space, for socialCRM, it’s better to take things slow, gain an understanding of what people are saying about your company, and really dive into the cause and effect relationship between a customer’s experience and their expression of that experience. This first step is more commonly known as, “Listening,” — and while it does involve finding what people are saying about the brand online, it also involves more than just passively gathering intelligence. Companies must develop the ability to both listen and take action based on the ongoing conversations. Since listening alone can become an exercise of increased paranoia that doesn’t lead anywhere, successful companies build listening into an overall process that eventually leads to action and resolution.

Activating a Social Engagement Program

1)      Quantify the level of discussion about your brand online by individuals – a Twitter search can give you a baseline of the discussion, but search other platforms as well to get a broader view

2)      Measure the overall sentiment about your brand or product online (there are a number of tools for this)

3)      Identify the top three to five issues people have with your brand each day; keep track of the specific words that are used to express those issues – they’ll come in handy in your SEM work

4)      Take a handful of the issues, making up a representative sample by issue type, from the entire group of issues

5)      Analyze each of the issues and the profile of the person who raised the issue initially

6)      Map an engagement and resolution plan for each issue – don’t engage yet, but map the ideal or probable resolution path

7)      Once you’ve accounted for a clear resolution path within the company to quickly get the issue addressed and resolved, then you can begin to activate a proactive program for addressing these issues on a broader scale

This exercise imparts initial and valuable insight into the realities of the social media sphere – both within the company, regarding its ability to resolve an issue through traditional channels, and outside the company, as it gauges the overall volume and tone of the discussions. With this understanding, companies can begin to map a path forward for the social CRM program.

In the next post, I’ll map the structure of a social media program that’s built to address customer issues in real-time, some of the challenges and how the social customer is the responsibility of the entire organization and should be the basis of any sustainable program.

(Originally posted Sept 2010 on FleishmanDNA blog.)

SocialCRM: Redefining Influence & Building Trust

Few things can undermine a brand’s reputation faster over the next few years than the rolling wave of customer discontent expressed in social channels.  We’re seeing it with routine product launches as well as major corporate missteps — but just as damaging are the unattended, ‘percolating’ individual complaints about a brand, some of which are related, and some of which are only similar complaints about separate incidents.  Regardless of the context, one thing is clear – over time they will erode consumer trust in the brands they do business with.

Influential Shifts – Redefining “Friend”

Reports of peer recommendations and online reviews influencing consumer purchases grow each year.  Something that’s also expanding is the definition of a “friend.”  What used to be considered someone you grew up with, know personally or have at least met in person is now shifting to someone whose updates you get regularly letting you know where they are, what they’re doing or what they’re thinking.  While the definition and channel for connecting has shifted, the value we put in these relationships hasn’t.  Friends in the virtual sense have just as much, and sometimes more, influence as our friends in the traditional sense.  And, the channels of communication (social media enabled by cell phones and free wifi connections) and speed at which those conversations happen has increased exponentially.  Brands that hold on to traditional definitions of friends and influences will continue to find themselves at a disadvantage.  Truly listening to and addressing these customer conversations in social media must become a greater focus of successful companies’ marketing efforts.  Through this three-part series, I’ll outline some of the basic tenants of what’s being called social CRM and our approach to addressing the increased volume we’re seeing about brands in social media.

Making the Case for Social CRM

The challenge of social media is the high degree of visibility and the volume of consumer opinions.  The fleeting advantage brands have today is that many of these conversations aren’t organized, and their searchability is limited to a few datasets – namely Twitter and blogs.  But, even in this limited set, these conversations are having an impact.  The growing disadvantage is that many more of these conversations are becoming searchable, and the growing use of review sites like Yelp and location-based applications will continue to elevate many of these conversations, taking them farther into the social web, and directly into the collective consumer consciousness and perception about brands.

A common argument I hear is that it’s human nature to complain and that most people will see these complaints as one-sided rants that most people will see through.  The truth is that many customers who are drawn in to the negative comment strings are also finding real, relevant information to inform their opinions and purchasing decisions.  For social media-aware brands, these discussions provide an opportunity to become part of the conversation, taking complaints head-on, working to address them and building a closer connection with consumers.   And, if done right, these conversations are also a valuable source of feedback and insight to make tangible operational changes and shifts.

Addressing the Good and the Bad

To take full advantage of this open dialogue, a company must first be willing to address both the negative and the positive.  They must be able to resolve warranty complaints from one set of customers before trying to sell a new washing machine to another.

Can the proactive happen before the reactive?  Yes, and some brands have the right set of assets to start the conversation at the point of sale.  But, for most brands, whether they have a strong base of brand advocates or are struggling to regain a positive brand image, their best approach is to understand the conversation, recognize what customers want from them and begin a plan to address the entirety of the conversation happening about them in social media. What brands will find is that in order to grow their brand in social media and gain the advantages those channels offer, having their house in order and being able to assist customers with legitimate issues is necessary before they can actively engage in promotion or commerce.

In the next installment of this series, I’ll outline our approach to addressing the increased volume we’re seeing about brands in social media.

(Originally posted Aug 2010 on FleishmanDNA blog)