The Role of Social Media in Disaster Response

It goes without saying that the disaster in Japan is an absolutely profound tragedy. Thousands of lives have been lost, and many thousands more adversely impacted, as a result of the earthquake and tsunami. Let’s hope that the current nuclear situation is brought under control, and that radiation effects are kept to an absolute minimum.

Social media and digital technology have played a central role in the disaster on a number of levels – and no doubt have resulted in improved response and provision of aid to Japan. Here are three key positive impacts of social media.

1. Increased awareness of disaster realities

We used to just watch disaster coverage on television, hear about disasters on the radio, and read about them in newspapers. Now, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media, we witness travesties on a completely different level. Instead of seeing the after-effects devastation of a tsunami, we can actually watch a tsunami role in – from the personal perspective of whomever is holding the camera.

Through social media, people impacted by a disaster can share the realities of their situation, providing detailed personal accounts. The stories about Japan were passed around, they were shared, and we all grieved. On March 11, the day of the Japan earthquake, 177 million tweets were sent – well above the daily average of 140 million – and a significant number of new Twitter accounts were created

2. Improved disaster response

Social media has become pivotal in augmenting governmental and aid organization disaster response efforts. Facebook, Twitter, wikis and other tools facilitate collaboration and response to disasters on a truly global scale. Volunteer communities can mobilize quickly, regardless of geographical location, to provide varying types of expertise.

Moreover, mobile technology and applications such as Ushahidi allow disaster information to be crowdsourced and mapped – enabling ground level concerns and issues to be identified in a more immediate manner and responded to accordingly.

3. Enhanced fundraising

Social media facilitates fundraising through quick mobilization, ease of campaign set-up, and broad reach through massive social networks.  Shortly after the Japan disaster struck, people at SXSW Interactive already began to mobilize a fundraising effort – SWSW4Japan.  A website was created within a day, and over $100,000 was raised.

Worldwide, scores of local fundraising events were set up and promoted through social media.

Community Management Best Practices

With online community management still in its nascent stages, I thought I would share some observations on how companies can best participate – and nurture true, genuine affinity amongst community members. It seems that things are very fluid at the moment, with even well-established brands being guilty of missteps. Of course, that being said, there are still plenty of good examples to follow.

Here is an initial Community Management “Top 5”. Please feel free to share your own best practices by commenting on this post. I will follow up with additional posts on best practices in the weeks to come (there are definitely more than five!).

1. Participate where the conversations are happening

This goes without saying. While Facebook, with over 600 million members, and Twitter, with over one billion tweets sent per week, are the primary platforms people use – there might be many other niche conversation forums where people are talking about your company or your brand. Make use of tools that enable you to locate, track, listen and engage in conversations – such as Radian6 or Sysomos, or any one of the many free tools available (albeit with less functionality).  Using Google Alerts, with key words relevant to your brand and industry, is a good first step.

2. Be timely with your responses

Imagine that social media is like a telephone, one that your customers can dial at any time and any moment. Are you ready to chat with your customers, and answer any questions they might have in a timely manner? As a general rule, customer inquiries should be responded to within 24 hours – and ideally sooner. Yes, that means staffing the “social media lines” on weekends. 9 to 5 customer service hours can now be thrown out the window. Remember, an ability to provide timely, personable responses shows your customers that you’re listening and builds affinity.

3. Focus on being people-centric, not company-centric

It surprises me how many companies still view social media as a marketing “channel”, one that is focused on one-way (company to consumer) communication promoting products and services.  Effective online communities are NOT channels, they are not company-centric. Think of communities as networks of people – with participants communicating and sharing information that is most relevant to them. A great example of a people-centric community is Fiskateers.com. Fiskars is a fairly well-known brand of scissors. How can a company create a vibrant online community for such a low-involvement product category? Well … by focusing on a shared passion. In the case of Fiskateers, it’s scrapbooking!

4. Be careful what you say

Everyone is listening, everyone is watching, and people will call you out if they don’t agree with something you say. I already wrote about Kenneth Cole’s ill-advised tweet during the height of events in the Egypt. Last night, a couple of friends tweeted about an inappropriate Groupon blog post, which essentially mentioned that depression is a cure for insomnia. Huh? We voiced our displeasure for the post through Twitter. To Groupon’s credit, the post was edited by the end of the day with the depression comment removed, and I received a personal apology from Groupon on Twitter. Make sure that messaging is appropriate, and if people ever call you out on something – acknowledge and respond.

5. Don’t ignore negative comments

In most cases, the worst thing you could do is to ignore a negative comment that has been made about your company, product, service or brand. If someone made an effort to write a legitimate comment, acknowledge it – and if any issues were cited, address them.  Be genuine and open, the customer who wrote the comment will appreciate it, as will others who read your response. Openness is a great way to build trust.

There are more best practices I intend to write about … stay tuned!

Don’t Put a Shoe in Your Mouth

The strong and immediate backlash to today’s tweet by fashion designer Kenneth Cole, attempting to leverage conversations about the pro-democracy uprising in Egypt to promote the brand’s new spring collection, serves as another example of the power of social media – and how brands *must* participate in a sensitive and sensible manner.

It goes without saying that the was completely insensitive and ill-advised. If you missed it, here is the tweet, which Kenneth Cole himself has taken responsibility for:

“Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo -KC”

A couple of hours later the tweet was deleted, an apologetic one was sent, and the following apology was posted on Kenneth Cole’s Facebook fan page:

“I apologize to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt. I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.” – Kenneth Cole, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer”

Will this fiasco have a negative impact on the Kenneth Cole brand? I doubt it.  Overall the brand has a very solid reputation, and Kenneth Cole is a known philanthropist – on both corporate and personal fronts. Further, the apologetic response was open, very human in tone, and immediate.  Kenneth Cole made a dumb mistake and admitted it.

That said, it’s important to remember – in a world connected by social media, news of a brand’s missteps can reach an awful lot of ears very, very quickly, with potentially damaging consequences. People who represent a company, whether through social media or otherwise, must do so in a responsible and ethical manner – at all levels.

If they don’t, they will be held accountable.

Buckle Up

As I write this, I am fresh off of a much-needed vacation in the Rockies. It was great to spend a couple of days with my family, and at the same time, have some “digital down-time”. I did not check-in to a single campground using Foursquare, so sadly I am not on the road to becoming the major of a campground anytime soon! Nor did I access Twitter or Facebook multiple times a day. In fact, I even went a couple of days without checking e-mail. *Gasp!*

In reducing my digital intake, my vacation allowed for some time to reflect on the digital and social media madness that seems to have encapsulated my life – both the positive and the negative aspects.

There’s no doubt that my life has changed as a result of social media. Thanks in particular to Twitter, I have formed a variety of new friendships, with great people whom I otherwise likely would never have connected with. From a learning standpoint, my RSS feed is jam packed with amazing articles that are abundantly rich in information about the changing business landscape. It seems that innovation, particularly in terms of new products and services, and changing business practices, is now happening at breakneck speeds. Mass collaboration, conversations and connectivity are changing everything. I have an open mind, and am excited about the future. I sense that, as a result, my career will evolve in a manner I never thought possible a few years ago.

At the same time, I wonder what the true costs of our increased connectivity are? More and more often, we seem to hear about people needing to go through a “digital detox”. A few years ago, people debated whether they should bring Blackberries with them on vacation, devices that made them accessible to employers and clients 24/7.  Now, look at the plethora of ways in which people are connected to the Internet – there are more channels that need to be disconnected. With cars (see the MyFord Touch) and appliances becoming Internet enabled, will it even be possible to escape digital life in the future, short of going on a back-country adventure into the middle of nowhere?

I wonder if a new profession is going to evolve? Digital Life Manager? Digital Therapist?

I still think I need to work on balancing my online connectivity with time I need to spend off-line. This last week reminded me of that.

However, using a human lifespan analogy and starting from when the Internet truly became accessible to the public, the Internet is really only just emerging from it’s teenage years. What kind of ingenuity and collaboration are we going to see over the next decade? What businesses will arise?

Buckle up, it’s going to be a fun ride. But don’t forget, it’s OK to step out and take a breather along the way. Sanity is a good thing.

Challenges Companies Face in Truly Embracing Digital

Over 700 million people are now on social networks worldwide. Numerous companies are successfully engaging with these people, leveraging social media, technology and emerging platforms to engage with customers, generate demand and drive sales. They are also gaining valuable insights and data as a result of their efforts, paving the path for more intelligent business decisions and targeted marketing.

However, in spite of this, many companies have been slow in embracing the digital frontier. For these organizations, several concerns stand out.

Lack of attention and priority to digital

A digital mindset must involve all levels of an organization, starting at the top with senior management. In fact, many companies at the forefront of digital have senior managers who actively engage with customers, whether through corporate blogs, Twitter or other means. Peter Aceto, CEO of ING DIRECT Canada, openly shares a variety of insights on Twitter at @CEO_ingdirect. Without senior management support, as is the case with any strategy or initiative, it will be difficult for digital to permeate through an organization.

A tactical, and not strategic, focus

Related to the point above, a digital strategy must be highly integrated with the overall business objectives and marketing plan. Merely setting up a corporate Twitter account and Facebook Fan page, and regurgitating marketing and communications messages from other platforms, is not sufficient. A digitally strategy must be well thought out, with consideration given towards the needs of the target market and how each unique touch point can be leveraged to engage and create value.

Organizational education and alignment

To effectively build a strong digital presence, specific skills are required. Those people responsible for being the face of a company online must understand how to foster and build community and loyalty with customers. A sense of trust is of the utmost importance. Further, some organizations allow employees from departments other than marketing and communications to engage with customers. In such instances, it is critical that employees understand they are representing the brand, and that external departments buy into and support the effort.

Disparate consumer touch points

Companies are now able to connect with consumers in a variety of ways, through a variety of platforms, both online and offline. The number of different consumer touch points certainly makes it more challenging for companies to ensure that consumers are receiving positive, consistent experiences that are aligned with the brand. Well thought out digital strategies, including proper training and internal communication of brand values, will help ensure consistency.

Dated CRM strategies and research methodologies

While customer relationship management systems are still important, solely relying on them is not enough. Digital provides an opportunity to collect rich and relevant insights about customers, and how they want a brand to fit within the context of *their* lives. One new and evolving way to glean insights is through crowdsourcing, which enables a company to tap into the collective intelligence of a large group of people or community. Crowdsourcing could, for example, be used by a company to determine how it can improve its products and services, brainstorm products and services it should consider offering or, from a philanthropic standpoint, learn about causes its customers would like it to support.

So, how to get started with a digital strategy?  This is definitely a topic for another blog post, or a book (and there are many great ones out there!).  A good first step is for a company to figure out which social media platforms are most relevant for its brand. At minimum, consideration should be given towards cultivating a following on Twitter and a community on a Facebook Fan Page. Staff should get involved, engaging with customers on a daily basis, which will result in credibility and trust being built over the long term.

Ah yes, long term trust. Imagine the rewards that can be created, for both companies and consumers, through a forward-thinking digital mindset and well-conceived strategy.

Do any of the concerns mentioned above resonate with you? Has your company truly embraced digital?

Observations on the Old Spice Campaign

Old Spice’s “Old Spice Man” campaign may just be a precursor of advertising and brand engagement efforts we can expect to see in coming years. The campaign, orchestrated by Wieden+Kennedy, started off with a TV commercial in the winter which garnered attention from notable bloggers and celebrities, and received numerous views on YouTube.

On Tuesday, the Old Spice Man became a social media sensation, with videos uploaded to YouTube featuring the character responding to people’s comments and questions from Twitter, Facebook and other Internet sources. A few of the videos were filmed in advance, featuring Old Spice Man’s responses to comments on the original commercial, however the majority were filmed on the fly – sometimes within thirty minutes of someone submitting a comment or question.

Approximately 180 videos were created over two days. At last count, Old Spice’s Twitter following had increased to over 70,000, and most of the videos were downloaded over 100,000 times. There were also a couple of hundred news articles on the initiative, and no doubt numerous mentions in other media. It has been an amazing viral marketing campaign.

There are many things worth mentioning about this effort, here are a few that come to mind:

  • Mass and digital media can work beautifully together. Old Spice firmly established the character in the TV spot, there was already a strong degree of familiarity prior to the social media blitz.
  • Blogger and celebrity outreach planted some of the seeds for the viral nature of this campaign. It was smart to create videos mentioning influential bloggers and celebrities who were already fans of the TV spot – no doubt they became bigger fans, and again let their networks know about it.
  • The videos were FUNNY and ADDICTIVE. Viewers, myself included, were compelled spread the word, sharing with their friends and followers.
  • Old Spice Man is a very likable character, one that people are easily able to gain an affinity for.
  • A handsome guy with sex appeal. Women have an influence in 80% of all purchasing decisions, including men’s grooming products. Many men aspire to be like him. Enough said.

I’m curious to see what Old Spice’s next steps will be, given the large following that has been garnered. How are they going to continue to engage the social media community they have built?

Another question on ponder, do people like the Old Spice brand or just the campaign itself?

I’m also interested in the processes and metrics that are in place to evaluate success. Will there be a sales lift? A measured increase in brand affinity?

Lots of questions asked, and some valuable insights already gained. What are your thoughts?

The Need for Innovation at Retail

I feel that innovative marketing at retail, specifically grocery stores, is currently lacking. Studies have shown that shopper marketing, done properly, can be a very effective driver of brand awareness and product purchase – more than mass and digital media. A recent trip to a Vancouver, BC grocery store revealed both good and bad examples of shopper marketing.

The good: When purchasing deli meats, a Hellman’s mayonnaise coupon was placed on the package. Right beside the deli was a well-placed, visible rack of Hellman’s mayonnaise.  Two complementary products, and a coupon presented in a unique manner  – well done. I had never seen that before, it caught my attention; a “purple cow” in Seth Godin lingo.

The bad: The same grocery store, for the last year, has been playing a short promotional video for a particular brand of meats near the frozen sausages section. I shop there every week, and I don’t think I ever recall anyone stopping to watch the video. It is not engaging, there is no incentive to watch. Who really cares, and who has the time? What a waste.

How can brands be more innovative at retail? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Add value by promoting quick, easy to access digital recipes on packaging.  A simple link to a website, or perhaps Facebook group, will suffice. Enable consumers to easily share the recipes with their friends, perhaps using the Facebook “like” feature.
  2. Consider a cause-related incentive to purchase. People care about brands that truly strive to make a difference, through genuine relationships and partnerships with charities. TOMS donates a new pair of shoes to a child in need, for each pair purchased. How about donating a portion of proceeds for each sale to a relevant charity?
  3. Ensure that your packaging is innovative.  Employ functionality wherever possible, making it easy to store. Also make sure that your design truly stands out, without adding to the messaging clutter found in grocery stores.


Farmville Creator Teams Up With 7-Eleven

Farmville, the popular real-time simulation game in which players manage virtual farms on Facebook, has made it to the offline world. Zynga, the company behind the game, has launched a promotion with 7-Eleven that includes two of their other virtual world games, Mafia Wars and YoVille.

Through the innovative campaign, which started June 1 and will last for six weeks, consumers can purchase select goods from 7-Eleven that will include product codes for redemption of a new, limited edition virtual good in each game. The campaign is being supported by in-store signage, as I discovered at the 7-Eleven on W 6th in Vancouver, as well as branding on Slurpee and Big Gulp cups.

7-Eleven is also launching an advertising campaign encompassing radio, print, online and outdoor to build awareness of the initiative.

Through this campaign, it seems that 7-Eleven is targeting a younger audience. It will be interesting to see if gamers are loyal and enticed enough to purchase from 7-Eleven as a result. Given the popularity of Farmville, I suspect that many of them will be.

The Costs of Social Media

Last Wednesday I attended the F5 Expo, a business conference on changing technologies in the online space, including social media, search marketing and mobile marketing. Malcolm Gladwell, the noted author and columnist for The New Yorker magazine, was the conference’s keynote speaker.

The audience, not surprisingly, had a strong contingent of people who are active with social media. Perhaps it’s also not surprising that the audience seemed only lukewarm to Gladwells’ keynote, which touched on some of the costs associated with social media. To learn more about Gladwell’s thoughts on social media, here is a recent interview published in the Globe & Mail.

Before I go on, I want to state that I have benefited immensely from social media. I am very active in several different online communities, at times spending a couple of hours a day interacting on them. Through my involvement, I have met some amazing people, many of whom I have been fortunate to meet in person and become friends with. I have also been connected to countless others whom I value and have learned from.

That said, I agree Gladwell, and I think it is possible that many people don’t fully realize the costs associated with social media. Online connections, “friends” or “followers”, are missing a distinct human element, an element that I believe can only been attained through face-to-face interaction. Social media is great at enabling breadth to be achieved across a social network, however it is far more difficult to achieve depth in the resulting relationships – unless subsequent in-person connections are made.

In his keynote, Gladwell stated that in the 1980s, 10% of Americans did not have a close friend they could confide in on personal matters. That number has now climbed to 25%, which I believe is quite startling. Is social media to blame? No. But is it a factor in this? I think it might be. Stop for a second and consider the time and investment it requires to truly build a deep relationship. Now consider the number of people many are connected to on social networks.

Dunbar’s number is a theoretical limit to the number of social relationships one can maintain, the number is commonly believed to be 150. Given this, I find it hard to believe that many people aren’t being stretched by their extensive online networks, stretched in a manner that takes time away from building closer relationships and making them matter. People may have more friends than ever before, but at what cost? Strong relationships take time to develop.

There is another question that needs to be considered. In many ways, social media enables people to become more productive. One such example is the quick and easy formation of groups.  However, has it made people less productive in other ways? It seems to me that there is a lot of content clutter on social media, in particular Facebook and Twitter. In fact, I am very guilty of creating some of it.  Do people really care when I check into a cafe using Foursquare, and then post it on Facebook and Twitter?  Online friends who I have met in person, or at least built a strong connection with, might. Others, who account for the vast majority of my connections? Probably not.

Social media represents an opportunity for people to procrastinate, waiting or the next tweet or Facebook status update, taking away from time that could perhaps be better spent creating or adding value elsewhere.

Now, again I need to reiterate, I love social media. It has made a huge difference in my life, and my career direction has changed as a result. However I think it is important consider the costs associated with the social media revolution. For anyone who is interested, I recently wrote a blog post containing tips on how to better manage time spent on social media.

Social Media Time Management

(how to regain my sanity)

I have a problem. I love marketing and I love social media, and I am very excited about the rapid change and innovation that is occurring as marketers join consumers in conversation about their products, services, brands and companies.

Every day, through my multiple online profiles, I am connecting with new people – some very bright minds – and I am learning new things.

However, as the number of people I am connected with increases, and as I discover new tools to try, widgets to download, and articles to read, I find myself to be increasingly starved for time. Time to invest back into the social media communities I participate in, hopefully providing value to others, and time spent in the offline world (is there such a thing anymore?). Time also, to focus on writing for this blog – although admittedly I was quite distracted by the Winter Olympics in February.

Here are some tactics I intend to try, to better manage my time spent on social media.

1. Focus on quality, not quantity of connections

Dunbar’s number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of social relationships one can maintain.  There is no precise value, but many people approximate it to be 150. I imagine most people in social media are well beyond that, and I am quite certain that I am.

I have a strong presence on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and I am fortunate to have met many of the people I have connected with. However, I don’t feel I have devoted enough time towards truly nurturing and growing my relationships, and I believe that many have the potential to flourish – online and offline. Moving forward, I intend to focus more on building the relationships that I already have. How? By interacting, joining conversations, and helping others when possible. For example, on Twitter I now have a separate list for friends and I will make every effort to focus on it.

2. Become selective with social media communities and tools

Being active in social media and staying on top of the game doesn’t mean that one needs to use all available tools, or participate in an inordinate number of communities. I used to run a social group using ning, however I found that it was too much for me to handle so I abandoned it – the value generated didn’t warrant the effort required. I also had an account on Delicious to share articles that I enjoyed reading, but again I didn’t find it worthwhile to maintain. Instead, I now send out a couple of tweets a day with links to articles I believe others might find to be of interest. Where possible, I also aggregate my status updates, using Twitter to feed into Facebook, LinkedIn and other sites.

4. Spend more time, less often

Truly becoming involved with social media, and understanding the changes and impact on marketing, requires both time and effort. It’s cliché, but one gets out what one puts in. That said, personally I have found that I am signing into social media platforms too frequently, in intervals that are too short – checking Twitter to review the feed, or commenting on a friend’s updated status on Facebook. It’s very tempting to stay connected and find out the latest news. However, I have found my habits to be disruptive to other tasks I’m working on.

As such, I intend to sign in a little less often, but spend more time online when I do sign in.  I am going to take the time to read blog posts, craft replies and hopefully write my own. With regards to Twitter, I have set up lists that make it easier for me to catch up on the latest news. I will also be make more use of timed tweets, to help build my own personal online presence.

These are just a few of my planned social media time management tactics. Do you use any that you have found to be successful?  Please feel free to share!