The Social Media Protocol

It is interesting to see posts in Twitter of  people chronicling their constant fight to empty their email inbox. It is equally amusing to hear people say “you should know, I sent you an email yesterday.”

Email communication inherited its protocol (and the “Carbon Copy” metaphor) from Memorandums of earlier corporate paper communication. An email message is a uni-lateral communication from the sender to the captive audience. The acknowledgement of an email message is implicit in its receipt.

The protocol of email communication asks for sender discretion to ensure that the message is relevant, balanced, and appropriate. When senders don’t exercise that judgment, email becomes less effective.

Social Media inherits its protocols, instead, from rich direct interaction. Like in live conversation, to communicate effectively in social media, you must first get someone else’s attention and focus. Once you start communicating, the channel is bi-directional and the recipient is not only allowed, but encouraged, to interject and co-lead the conversation.

The social media protocol is of  recipient discretion. There is no implied assumption that the receiver of a message has to acknowledge or even become aware of every message. The receiver sifts through the talk and find what is relevant. Because there is so much noise, the filtering happens through established social connections (I pay more attention to people I know and trust what they say or who they connect me to).

Why is understanding media protocols important?

Email, brochures, paper memos, websites, Twitter are communication tools. They all have specific functions, strengths and weaknesses. If we understand the differences and respect the implied protocols, we can all communicate better and avoid spending too much time trying to empty our mailboxes and tweeting about it.

Customer Service and Free Lunches

This morning, my friend Alan Berkson (@berkson0) was at the ball park, announcing it live to the world through Twitter:

When you can actually count the number of fans in the stadium its not a big number #mets

Then, he was waiting in line to buy lunch. The line was long and, to provide better service, they opened a second station and broke the line in half. Good for everyone.

But Alan was half way through and suddenly found himself back at the end of a shorter line. The guy who arrive right after him was now first in the second line.

I followed the situation unraveling from my desk at work, until I saw this:

Rep turned #custserv #fail into #succeed at #citifield #shakeshack=free lunch. FTW.

The intention of the service provider was to feed hungry people faster, but after the action they had a bunch of unhappy customers who before were about half way through the wait and were suddenly the last ones in line.

Is fairness (as perceived by customers) important as a metric of quality for customer service? The consensus in the Twitter discussion that followed is a big “yes”. Inconsistency translates into customer dissatisfaction.

If you are going to treat customers differently, it better be because of a tangible criteria (SLA’s, tiered services, etc).

Karina (@KarinaHowell) added that not only it is important to maintain service consistency from interaction to interaction, but also, and perhaps more important, across the multiple channels where service is dispensed.

This is a big source of perceived unfairness, with people who complain in public getting more attention than the ones calling the customer service phone lines.

As more of customer server traffic moves from phone to email to social media, companies will need to ensure consistency across channels, or have to provide free lunch to unhappy customers who find themselves at the end of the line.

The latest E20 wonder: Inter-Dimensional Gate

Simple things are the most important, people and culture is where your focus should be.

From the e20conf website: “Enterprise 2.0 is the term for the technologies and business practices that liberate the workforce from the constraints of legacy communication and productivity tools like email”.

These are tools that move us from message-based (e.g. email) and file sharing (e.g. SharePoint) communication to real-time interaction. They move us from hierarchical communication (data flows upstream and come back next month in a report) to horizontal, peer-to-peer collaboration.

Great advances have been made in the past years. Tools and techniques that first emerged in consumer social media are now been applied to improve corporate communications. It is becoming more common to see web 2.0 technologies deployed in our offices, we now can “follow” our co-workers.

But here is something very enlightening: Coffee Bean is a small but global company, we have people working in three different locations. As any organization, we have situations where communication doesn’t work as expected and misunderstanding happens.

The best tools and technologies cannot truly promote completely frictionless flow of information. Not even co-location can. And the reason is simple: people. We are complex machines that are not always completely objective and when we organize ourselves to try to tackle a complex problem, it is sometimes hard to get us all aligned.

We had one of those occurrences recently and Rodrigo, our CTO suggested we installed an “inter-dimensional window” between our offices. That is nothing more than a set of cameras/screens in each office connected through Skype. They are not to allow video conferencing (which we already do all the time), but just to allow people in one office to see what is going on in the other office through a panoramic view, as if the offices where physically connected.

That simple window has the effect of connecting the two environments in subtle ways. We can see when someone is at their desk or left for lunch, we see them arriving and leaving. We can occasionally wave and smile through that window.

Even in its limitations (and perhaps because of that), the inter-dimensional window is a powerful reminder that mutual trust is essential for collaboration and that we cannot judge what we don’t know.

Though the inter-dimensional window is a piece of technology, it is a reminder that the most important aspect of implementing a culture of collaboration is not in tools and technology, but in your most important asset: people and their culture.

How does Social Media Scale Personal Engagement?

We hear Social Media demands “personal” engagement. How can personal engagement scale? Isn’t that exactly why we moved to a statistical marketing model in the first place? How is Social Media going to help?

Let’s try to answer that question.

While the monthly e-mail newsletter may still be applicable in some cases, Social Media create new possibilities of soft engagement that can be less intrusive and more sensitive to customer interest.

Nurturing a social media community involves people having real and meaningful interactions. Other than the occasional company-sponsored golf outing, traditional marketing stay away from personal interactions and focus on automated statistical methods because engagement is difficult to scale in traditional media.

The promise of social media is to scale personal engagement.

Because social media is open, customer can initiate an interaction. They can follow the company Twitter channel, or comment in the company blog, or share a link to content in the website, or complain about a product in social media. Each of those actions create the opportunity for a personal interaction, a small dialog that happens over the action.

So, yes, the company needs to assign people and resources to monitor conversations in social media and react to it, be it by thanking for an action, fixing a problem, or participating in a discussion.

How does that scale?

  • Interaction effects propagate through social connections. When someone interacts with your brand in social media, their social connections also perceive a personal interaction as well. “My friend was talking to this company and…”
  • People identify with their peers. When you interact personally with someone in public, all other people who identify themselves with that person will also feel personal effects of that interaction. “I was waiting for boarding and saw the agent helping this other passenger…”
  • Brand Advocates become influencers. As you build a community and develop a positive relationship with it, social media let your brand advocates do the work for you. Your advocates will defend your brand, help other customers with problems, forward your content with their implicit endorsement, recommend your products, etc.

After a first transaction, the work of traditional marketing was to pursue Customer Loyalty. In the Social Business era, companies need to strive to turn happy customers in Brand Advocates and cultivate the direct channels to let them influence others. Rather than publishing glossy Case Studies, you can directly connect your happy customers to your prospects in much more authentic and transparent interaction.

Social Media Campaigns – Market Segmentation

The success of a marketing campaign depends on find an effective way to reach our audience effectively.

Traditionally, segmentation is provided by media companies or result of analysis of  information in the company contact database. To target a bride with wedding-related product, I would advertise in or run a joint campaign with a vertical publication, say, “New Bride Magazine”. Or I can query my customer database trying to find good targets based on data attributes (geography, industry segment, engagement level, etc).

In social media, companies can gather more information to customize messages based on the interactions over a long-term engagement. But there are limits on our ability to scale personal engagement at that level. Segmentation based on static analysis remains important.

Social Networks know a lot about its members. For example, Facebook and Google can help you to segment through targeted advertising or by letting you peek into the demographics or behavioral patterns of users. The audience also segment itself by congregating around LinkedIn discussion groups, making their personal profiles available, or using Twitter hash tags, for example.

Just because there are several social channels available to you, that doesn’t mean you will push every campaign through all of them. Who are you trying to reach? What actions do you want to trigger?

Here are a few factors for campaign segmentation:

  • Targeted Advertisement – Social networks will let you select your audience according to demographic variables or display your ads next to content that is relevant to your business.
  • Social Media followers –  Every time you post in Social Media, your followers will see your message in their timeline. A social media campaign relies on propagation of the message through social connections. If they “Like” or “Retweet” your post, their followers will also see it. Your followers help to segment the market by judging whether your content is of interest of their friends.
  • Social Media specialty communities – LinkedIn and Facebook support groups with specific interests. Twitter has communities congregating around “hash tags”. Provided your content has value and is aligned with the topics of interest, you can publish to people in those groups.