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Internet World 2009: Successfully using Social Networks

19th May 2009 by Paul Newbury | Content & Search

Arriving with the badge number I had printed off the day before, I entered the Exhibition with the ease and convenience expected with today’s IT streamlining. My colleague however found that turning up without that printed barcode resulted in a test only an IT professional could pass in order to retrieve his pass.

Within the Exhibition the choice from over 300 stands was more than enough to allow anyone to find something of worth but most impressive were the seminars run across all 3 days. The 6 seminar theatres covered topics including Content Management, Mobile and Online advertising, Marketing and Analytics, and Web 2.0. As if this wasn’t enough there was also a Keynote theatre hosting talks from Virgin Group, Agency.com, Barclays, and HMV to name but a few. Amongst all of these stood out one in particular given by Joe Leech of cxpartners Ltd on the applications that social networking can have for modern business.

The talk, which was presented very enthusiastically, gave three lessons to be taken away. Firstly and seemingly most importantly was to Listen. Even companies who have no interest in social networking should, at the very least, be monitoring what is being said about them. The example given made the point superbly – South West trains have been immortalised on Twitter, however it is not an exactly an officially sanctioned emergence into the world of social networking. A self proclaimed ‘Spiteful commuter’ has gone to the effort of spoofing a home page and making posts on the official looking page they have created on their behalf.

Posts going back as far as November 2008 show clearly that South West Trains are completely oblivious to the abuse they are receiving at the hands of someone travelling on their services every day. It would take but a moment to see the harmful effects this is having on the company but because there is no-one listening they remain ignorant.

Next up in the lesson plan was to build on the listening and actually Engage. Twitter posts or ‘Tweets’ are only up to 140 characters long so spending the very small amount of time it takes to read and comment on some of these is well worth the potential benefits. Again here the example Joe Leech gave was looking at public transport, only this time the buses and a somewhat more aware company. Some of the buzz around Twitter is that posts can be text in from phones so really can be used anywhere. An employee from the Bath bus service would take the time of a morning to Tweet on the timing of the services, even going so far as to give reasons for any delays and exactly which routes were being affected:

Although waiting for buses won’t seem any better, personally I would feel much less pissed off with the bus company if I knew the delays were out of their control and someone had made the effort of trying to convey this, knowing full well people would be waiting around. All the aggression and negative corporate image we saw created in the South West Trains example has been deflected and addressed here, almost managing to make some kind of positive out of a poor situation all for the cost of writing a couple of dozen words once or twice a day.

The grand finale of social networking advice came in the form of a poignant story from the American shoe retailer Zappos. They have long been regarded as one of the top companies around when it comes to caring for customers and listening to what they have to say, highlighted by their tag line: ‘Powered by Service’. The final lesson Joe Leech had to teach the crowd listening was Act. Zappos are in the minority as they already Listen and Engage with customers over blogs and social networks but the case study given here goes to show the true benefits which can be gained from a little gesture. Some shoes ordered for this ladies mother, who had sadly passed away suddenly before the shoes arrived, were to be returned. In reply to an email the daughter explained what had happened and that she would return them when she had the chance. Immediately Zappos responded by sending UPS to collect the items from her house to save her any inconvenience at this difficult time. That alone was enough to earn them praise for taking an interest in customers but what they did next goes that bit further. The following day the lady returned home to find a bouquet of flowers awaiting her with regards from the Zappos team.

The response in the blog which the customer is a member of (http://www.zazlamarr.com/blog/?p=240) paid for those flowers a million times over. No company in the world could afford to pay enough money for advertising like this! A simple gesture showing they were listening and responding to customers led to nearly 200 replies to the post and I wouldn’t like to guess how many more people have read it or been told about it through word of mouth.

Regardless of what you do social networks will undoubtedly be talking about it, not even monitoring these sites can be to your detriment as in the case of South West trains. It really is very easy to do with two sites in particular offering very useful tools to filter all the Tweets into something applicable to you or your business:

http://twitterfall.com/

http://www.tweetbeep.com/

So what’s being said about you?

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