Monday, May 22, 2006

Marketers experimenting with social media

A new report from Forrester Research, Interactive Marketing Channels To Watch In 2006 looks into interactive marketers' plans to add social media to their communications plans. Half plan to use blogs or social networks (versus 93% using email), although I would be very interested to ask the follow-up question of how they plan to use them. (Report shows marketers stick with proven interactive media, via Micro Persuasion)

Steve Rubel's comment on the article cuts to the chase: "Marketers are going to have to shift from pushing messages out to guiding/facilitating peer-to-peer conversations." How do you plan to use new media that operate in the Cluetrain "markets are conversations" world? Have you learned where the landmines are? As you explore opportunities to add social media to your marketing communications plans, be sure to start with a solid understanding of the conversational mindset. Reading influential blogs is a good start.

In addition to the switch that Steve identifies, I think one of the major challenges social media pose for companies is their tendency to cross functional lines, while the specialists are looking at them from separate functional silos. It's natural for the specialists to bring their experience to social media, but customers don't care about interacting with departments. They want what they want from the company, and the conversational nature of social media gives them a voice that's not restricted to traditional inbound channels.

Engaging bloggers and responding to posts could involve marketing, PR, or customer service, depending on how you tilt your head. When a product problem leads into a complaint about customer service and is blogged, leading to negative coverage in the mainstream press, how do the specialists describe the problem? When companies decide to engage social media, they should take a holistic approach and be prepared to follow the implications across internal boundaries. After all, customers don't do business with just your outbound marcom.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Review: Naked Conversations

If you want to understand blogging and what it means to your business, start with Naked Conversations, by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. Written for the non-technical business audience with a heavy dose of high-profile case studies, the book gives an excellent view of how blogs are changing the communication environment for business. Just plan to read it near your computer, because almost every page includes a reference to a blog that you may want to read.

Those blog references come directly from the core strength of this book—all those case studies and interviews. While the authors aren't shy in their enthusiasm for blogging, their stories about its impact come from real-life examples. Advice from the experts that the experts listen to (Seth Godin or Lawrence Lessig, for example) is followed by the blogging experience of, for example, General Motors or Boeing. One chapter deals with the power of blogs to extend the reach of small companies like Stonyfield Farm or Clip-n-Seal. Another deals with the challenges facing public relations in an era when anyone can reach a global audience. Whatever kind of business you're in, you'll find examples that apply.

If you don't understand blogging yet, this book provides a good introduction, focusing on the what and why of blogging, not the how that more technical books will offer. What it does give you is a solid understanding of the conventions of the blogosphere, benefits of joining the ongoing conversational marketplace, and how to avoid the painful missteps that await the clued-out newcomer. It's everything except the technical how-to that is readily available in the computer section or your IT department.

If you know blogging already, read this book for the profiles of bloggers from many fields and around the world. You may already understand the social environment and its norms, but the stories of bloggers in other countries or fields may give you your next big idea. If nothing else, you'll discover more blogs worth checking out.

This is a book about blogging, and in their enthusiasm, the authors occasionally reveal some arrogance toward corporate functions that may be threatened by the open communication of the blogosphere. The most blatant example is their definition of PR as "a command-and-control system disliked or even hated by those whom it targets." Some friction between those who want to change the world and those who represent the system is to be expected, but it's not necessary to assume bad will on the part of professionals outside our own departments.

Actually, I enjoyed the times that I spotted some bias in the book. As with a good blog, the writing reminds the reader that a person (two, in this case) wrote the book. The problems don't diminish the great job the Scoble and Israel have done making blogs relevant to a general business audience. Regardless of your current level of understanding of the topic, I strongly recommend Naked Conversations.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Even faster search

Inquisitor (via Steve Rubel) looks like a nice timesaver. Like lots of great tools, it doesn't do much that you couldn't already do, but it makes everything just a bit easier. When you enter a search term on Inquisitor, it starts searching Google as soon as you start typing. As you continue to type in your search term, it runs additional searches, in effect refining your search as you complete your query. It also suggests possible search terms based on what you've typed, another way to refine your search.

If you want to search something other than Google, it lists other search services below your query. Click on one, and it performs the same search on the new source. Quick, simple, and a convenient reminder of some of the other tools for searching the Net.

Less typing, and you don't need to press <Enter> to start the search. Nice!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Attack of the dissatisfied customer blog

Francois Gossieaux had some trouble with his Mercedes E320 recently, but he really has a problem with the blame the customer response he got from Mercedes and the dealer (note the follow-ups at the end of the post). If English isn't your first language, the story is available on a French blog, too.

B.L. Ochman went public with her dissatisfaction in "My Bag is Lost and I'm Stuck in American Airlines Customer Service Hell." She got her bag back, but the blog describes in detail her unhappy experience with the process.

Jeff Jarvis made headlines with his Dell Hell posts last year. Now it seems that bloggers are consciously using their blogs early and often to escalate their complaints.