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Thoughts on the Twitter archive deal with Gnip

After turning off the firehose to Google last year I’d been wondering what they would do with their huge database of users tweets as the next logical step appeared to be granting the search giant access to their archives as well. They announced today that they’ve partnered with Gnip to provide the company with every tweet back to March 2006 when the company launched.

As someone who has developed social/ digital personas as part of the larger marketing strategy this is great news. Using data from various social platforms is a fantastic way to get a broad (and granular) sense of what issues most resonate with consumers, how they feel about your products and your competitors. By analyzing that data a richer picture of your customer emerges.

In the past we’ve only really been able to gather data for the past year, but with this announcement the ability to look at trends over time becomes a possibility. Is the same issue recurring? Has customer service improved over time or gotten worse year over year? Are there seasonality trends that weren’t immediately apparent? All of these data points could now be analyzed (or re-analyzed) based on this new data.

Unless you’re a very sophisticated (and deep pocketed) brand storing broad term data year over year and merging it with the same query sets was probably not at the top of your radar. As Gnip merges this data into standard listening tools running ad hoc reports and performing a detailed analysis becomes much simpler.

I’m looking forward to seeing this roll out and doing some digging. What do you think about this move by Twitter?

Image credit: fagalar on Flickr

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The masters of value-added content are CPG brands

content, value, variety

We’ve all heard the adage: Content Is King. With social media the discussions/ tips abound about creating content people want to engage with and using it to create a community of interest around your brand.

While the tips are correct, it isn’t actually anything revolutionary, Consumer Packaged Goods brands have been doing this for decades now, and have continued to expand their approach using digital channels. Looking at just two brands provides a stellar example of the right way to add value by creating useful and relevant content, build a community of interest and maintain top-of-mind awareness: Pampers & Kraft.

What sets these brands apart is how they’ve taken what their products DO and created content that doesn’t just list benefits or seek to sell the products, but encompasses real life and the needs that perhaps the products can provide.

For example, the Pampers site provides tips, tricks, expert advice, etc. surrounding each stage of having a baby – preparing during pregnancy, allergies, developmental milestones, sleep problems, baby names, etc. etc. They also provide a way for parents to communicate with each other and share experiences. Wrapped around all of that excellent content is a reward program for the products, but not much else in terms of a “sell”. The sell is the value they add as a trusted brand.

With Kraft it’s all about the experience of food – entertaining, recipes, feeding your kids, and time management to list a few. Their brilliant tool to help time-strapped families serve a meal in a crunch (list 3 ingredients you have on hand and Kraft will recommend a recipe) speaks to how much thought they’ve given to understanding their customers and providing value. Wrapped into what they’re providing is of course their plethora of products, but it’s not focused on “buy this now”, but on “how can we help”.

These brands have taken what they offer and provided solutions to help with free value-added content and no guarantee you’ll buy from them. But since it’s useful and relevant, you probably will.

There are tons of CPG examples out there – what are your favourites?

[photo credit: Martino! via Flickr]

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CluetrainPlus10: Theses 23 “Positioning”

Forward looking position

It feels like yesterday at times when the Cluetrain Manifesto was published, but in reality it’s been 10 years since the seminal, and controversial, book was published. To mark the anniversary, Keith McArthur began the “Cluetrain Plus 10” project which has 95 bloggers covering one of the 95 Theses that make up the book.

Cluetrain, for me, helped articulate the changing landscape of customer/ company interactions as the Internet began to come of age, along with other more brand/ e-comm focused books of the time. Although I see some parts as a tad one-sided and biased in terms of forcing a point, versus the natural evolution (and constraints) of business, the manifesto I’ve chosen to write about – Companies attempting to “position” themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their market actually cares about – rings truer than ever at this stage of the game in my view.

When companies decide to exist and build a product, one of the most natural and necessary things, for company wide alignment, is to develop a market position. All too often the way they go about it is internally, or shareholder, focused vs. allowing the focus to rest on their customer and their needs, insight, and focus.

Unfortunately it’s not surprising to sometimes find a force-fit approach lacking the fundamental questions all sustainable, successful companies in today’s market answer:

Why would anyone care?

What do they care about on a personal/ group level vs. as a “market”

Who are you really – are you part of the solution, or part of a problem?

What you do and who you are matter, especially as the world becomes increasingly wired and we become billions of loose threads interconnected 24/7. The absence of the connection – to something tangible we can relate to, be interested in, give a second thought to, and know there isn’t a hidden agenda, outside of making fair profits – means the potential loss of: trust; perceived value; a sale; a future sale; a referral; knowledge; social capital.

People still buy from companies they don’t really “connect” with (be it at a product, customer service, or emotional-brand level), but they do so grudgingly, and, on the whole, are open to other, more fulfilling, options. A company who is committed to a goal that makes sense to them as people, whatever that goal may be, in context, wins.

If you wanted to reach the people who may be interested in your product, would you want to be a company people understand & respect, or a company that’s a last resort?

Wouldn’t it be great to have your customers, and potential customers, on your side & providing you with actionable feedback, or would you prefer to be under siege & on the defensive?

The Internet offers one platform to become aware, and active, with the people who may benefit from what you have to offer them. But a strong position, in whatever regard, transcends the medium, and becomes part of the overall experience. The feedback loop in action. For this to truly work, the position has to be a real thing, not a product of a myopic “communications” view driven by expediency, lack of imagination, interest or insight, into the very “demographic” you are attempting to position for. Sometimes, when you dig deep enough, what you find will surprise, delight, and perhaps scare you. Maybe even open up a whole new opportunity you wouldn’t have considered if the “market” didn’t provide it to those who interacted with and listened to them.

How is that not the way to go in the long-term?

[photo credit: RichardLowkes via Flickr]

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Integrating social feedback long-term within the organization is a must

With the constant drumbeat of the need to track feedback and respond within social networking channels online it is not surprising that marketers are drowning in the sea of “moment by moment” – with comments and issues moving in real time it’s all you can do to keep up and respond if needed (if your company is invested in the social space). Unfortunately, this type of cause and effect style of tactic doesn’t go deep enough in long-term actionable value for a brand. It’s reactionary (although extremely important), but not truly evolutionary on all levels of an organization.

The smart companies will recognize that value long-term and realizing ROI will come with integration with customer service and R&D. In the late 90s and early 00s companies spent hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars on shiny CRM systems to track customer “relationships” – isn’t it time we set benchmarks to incorporate all the wonderful feedback we’re getting from customers (and potential customers) within the context of the larger organization? One-off responses to blog posts & following people who mention your brand on Twitter is all well and good, but shouldn’t that feedback close a loop too? 

If, for example, I wrote a post outlining my customer service issues with company X, as a customer I’d really appreciate it if I not only heard from the designated communications person in the comments, but when I called customer service there was a flag there that identified me and my issues from that post. 

That information would empower and inform the CSR and would make me feel as an individual that the company was *really* listening and incorporating my feedback. Sure, this will cost money in the short-term, but imagine the possibilities inherent in actually collecting and acting on that data systemically.  

Truly being strategic about how feedback in the digital social space is used will ultimately set brands apart from the competition and provide valuable, actionable, and measurable results. You spend millions of dollars on customer service, customer relations, communications, and product development – smart marketers will recognize the long-term benefits of layering in direct feedback as well. Incorporating a solution such as this would also enable a broader shift within the organization to truly put customers first… why not, every person at every touchpoint would actually be listening to them.

It’s not only about the communications, but what you do with them.

“Social media” is not just about one person, or even a dozen, within a company, it’s about a shift in how you interact *as a whole* with your customers.

[photo credit: enggul via Flickr]

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Are you your customer?

One of the first rules of interacting and engaging with your customer is actually knowing who they are and what they think about your product. One of the ways to do so is to ask them (and with social media that can happen in a much more meaningful way), to ask your frontline staff, and to keep an eye on churn. But do you really know how your product, or brand, is perceived in the marketplace beyond the 30-thousand foot view of dashboards and satisfaction surveys? Do you know what it means to experience your brand from the first impression to the last? From the customer perspective vs. the company?

A show I’ve always appreciated, in a bizarre laugh at the poor CEO trying to sort inventory on the shop floor kind of way, is CBC Venture’s “The Big Switcheroo!” because ultimately it teaches a profound lesson in business… processes or big ideas on paper are worth nothing until the first customer walks in the door and they’re put into action in real life. And that’s something that executives miss about the businesses they run — how they actually RUN. If the VP Marketing was spammed 10 times in a week and received no response to her repeated requests for removal, would the email marketing policy undergo a transformation? If the CTO tried to order a rental car online only to have to repeat steps frequently, and then be delivered a cryptic error message would he demand stricter (and longer) QA cycles? If the CFO needed to make changes to her account via phone would she care about the customer service she received or the wait time regardless if the bottomline took a tiny hit for additional call centre staff and training?

If you aren’t in your customers shoes it’s hard to accurately judge the fit.

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