Thursday, 25 June 2009

Habitat - not a natural fit with Twitter!

Unless you have been hiding, you will have read about the Habitat Twitter storm that has been exciting the masses. To keep a long story short, Habitat begain tweeting using irrelevant hashtags, one of which centred on the scandal around the Iranian elections. The Iranian hashtag was trending strongly as the global twitter community started to engage with what is a truly frightening and depressing scenario. Habitat (some would argue shamelessly) cashed in on the rising trend to grab awareness to their unrelated sales tweet.

What ensued was inevitable - the twitter community reacted negatively and with speed. Negative comments streamed in against Habitat, criticising them for their 'black hat' efforts. A swift retraction of the tweets followed but general silence from Habitat HQ as to why they did this. After a few days an apology surfaced, more comments were generated and the storm in the tea cup gently eased. Not before the news had reached mainstream media with the story breaking on the Guardian and Sky News.

For me, this is a good example of how much impact conversations within social communities can have on mainstream media. Twitter has been derided by many as a fad, novacaine for those of us with attention issues and nothing to do (something I have always aspired to!). However, if you can put this one-dimensional view to one side, you will discover that Twitter is a powerful communication tool that throws up stories and spreads them like wildfire. The viral impact of breaking news is impressive; Habitatgate has seen coverage on Sky News which has extensive reach (nope, no idea how may million viewers!).

You can follow the original story (and the outbreak of comments - some rather fuelled with vitriolic rage!) on Social Media Today. A follow-up story was then posted after Habitat contacted Social Media Today to ask them to publish an apology - read it here.

So what do you think? Should brands be taking brand monitoring in social communities more seriously? Is managing your social media personality more important than ever? Do you need to define rules of engagement before starting, or does that go against the culture of social?

Love to read your comments so don't be shy!

Monday, 22 June 2009

How can you cut through the noise and appreciate what Twitter offers your business?

The blog post below is a summary from an article I recently had published by Internet World and sums up my thinking about Twitter.

For the full article please visit the Buzz articles website.

What is Twitter – my take
The online retail landscape is changing and not just because of the economic downturn. There has been a mentality shift from passive to active consumers of other people’s information. We increasingly expect dialogue from the people/brands we like and want to receive information when and where we want. This demands an understanding of the social networks that people use and the tools that communicate with them. Twitter is just one tool that enables people/brands to connect with a wider online audience.
I consider Twitter to be an interactive communication tool that is part of an overall communication strategy. Its audience is not homogenous. Who you communicate with depends entirely on why you are on Twitter, what you do and what you want to get from it. At the most basic level Twitter is a text based information service enabling you to send updates via online & mobile devices to your network of followers. As you embrace richer functionality and complementary applications, Twitter can become a brand monitoring service and customer engagement tool.
I genuinely believe that Twitter provides an important communication tool but that its contribution to your personal or business brand is entirely dependent upon what you want to achieve, how you use it and how much effort you put in.

Do you agree? Let me know what you think of the commercial potential of Twitter.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Getting your attitude right with social presence is key

I was asked this week by another consultant (yes, we breed like rabbits!) what companies should be doing with social media and whether it is really worth the effort. Instead of laughing at the suggestion that it might be a futile investment, I thought about what is the best way to explain the context of social media to someone who doesn't know much about it. So I turned to the best possible example of how social marketing can engineer both a culture change & drive engagement with new audiences - the Barack Obama election campaign.

I love this quote from Mike Slaby, CTO of Obama for Amercia: "If you tread on people’s space, you’ll piss them off". That hits the nail on the head. To get social media, you have to change the mentality from a brand to a community member. You need to engage people with dialogue, not push marketing monologue at them. On Facebook, Twitter, MySpace etc you are an equal member with everyone else, even if you have your own account you do not control the conversation. Why do you want to control conversation? That's not how a conversation works, that is more of a chaired panel session!

The challenge is to understand what you want to achieve from your social media presence, define the information you wish to communicate and then build relationships with key members (find the advocates, those controbuting the most and having the greatest influence on other members) so that you can get your message across without being seen as intrusive.

The other quote I really like from Mike is in relation to Twitter: "If you’re going to use Twitter, you have to have people in your organization who know how to tweet. And you have to trust your people and the people you’re talking about". What I like is the ethos of trust, empowering your employees to take ownership of social channels and giving them the freedom to build relationships and conversations using their voice and personality. By all means provide guidelines (you don't want people swearing and using offensive language, that could damage your reputation) but allow nature to take its course.

In social media I think that your personal voice is really important. People relate more to people, than companies. Establishing who you are and why you are there goes a long way to building trust and with trust comes a more open dialogue that enables you to achieve your communciation goals. Take a look at my last blog entry on Southwest Airlines for a great example of how employee empowerment can be put at the heart of a social media strategy.

Using commercial disciplines to plan a social media program is both sensible and recommended but the delivery has to be personal, relevant & engaging.

So what's my take out from this blog post?
1) Don't let your social program be brand-centric
2) Understand that people relate to people more than businesses
3) Get your employees excited about what social media can achieve
4) Empower employees to take ownership of social channels
5) Engage your community; ask questions, respond to queries, give them relevant content
6) Amongst this, weave in sensible promotions to drive traffic & sales on your commerce website.

Do you agree with my take? If you have any comments or questions please drop by and have a chat.