It’s that time of year, again: where the SXSW Interactive 2012PanelPicker is open for public voting! For those of you who are already versed in the innovative, educational treasure trove that is SXSW, I don’t think I need to expound any further. For the rest of you, read on:
“The 19th annual SXSW® Interactive Festival challenges you to envision the future of innovative technology. Featuring five days of compelling presentations from the brightest minds in emerging media and scores of exciting networking events hosted by industry leaders, SXSW Interactive offers an unbeatable line up of special programs showcasing the best new websites, digital projects, wireless applications, video games and startup ideas the community has to offer. From hands-on training to big-picture analysis, SXSW Interactive has become the place to preview of what is unfolding in the world of creative technology.” – SXSWi’s “About” page
One of the really cool parts about SXSW (you know, aside from all that exposure to cutting edge media and tech mentioned above) is the crowd-sourced component of the event’s sessions via the site’s PanelPicker. Last week, public voting opened for over 3600 very strong speaking proposals. Public voting will factor into the selection of a privileged 500 or so for the show itself. That’s right: YOU have a say in who makes it to the agenda. What better incentive to attend is there? Voting ends 11:59 p.m. CDT on Friday, September 2, so hurry up and add your two cents.
Of note, your friends at Racepoint Group and Digital Influence Group have thrown a couple hats into the ring. Check out the sessions below and if you like them, feel free to vote (and encourage your friends to do so, too).
Back in April I wrote about Jeff Pulver’s 140 Character Conference that was taking place in New York City. I praised the conference and its attendees for providing advice on social media best practices live from the event. The live tweeting was so impressive I felt like I was there in the auditorium.
Yesterday, I actually was in the auditorium as Pulver brought his traveling conference to Boston for the first time. The conference began at 9:00 am and went until 6:00 pm with over 61 speakers on the roster. Each group that took the stage had 10 minutes to share how Twitter and/or the real-time web have impacted their goals professionally and personally. Below, a few highlights from the day:
Jeff Pulver, @jeffpulver – Check out Pulver’s opening remarks to kick off the day:
John Daley, @Boston_Police – Daley, deputy superintendent for the Boston Police, shared that the department is using Twitter to broadcast vital, public safety information to the city of Boston and their broader Twitter followers. The police see Twitter as an effective way to disseminate critical information in real-time. Daley also noted that citizens have begun reporting crimes to the police via Twitter. They tweet updates and photos, typically of crimes they consider “too small” to dial 911. Who knew!
C.C. Chapman, @cc_chapman – C.C. is on a mission. A mission to give dads who blog as much power and recognition as the infamous “mommy bloggers.” During what was by far the most animated speech of the day, C.C. shared his personal quest to force consumer brands to recognize fathers as a key sales demographic. Marketers, pay attention. The dads have wallets too.
Patrick Larkin, @bhsprincipal – Larkin is the principal of Burlington High School where he is trying to bring the school into the digital revolution. In addition to teaching a Web 2.0 class to his students, Larkin is working to educate families on the importance of digital education for students. During his panel, Larkin said, “We need to teach our children to use social media. Without that, the diploma doesn’t mean much.”
Amanda Palmer, @amandapalmer – Palmer, best known as part of the musical group the Dresden Dolls, shared with the audience that, “I was able to ditch my management and my record label to launch an album all via the internet.” She went on to say how her Twitter followers have been incredibly supportive and a resource she didn’t realize would be so critical. She said, “Life is becoming easier, faster and cheaper as we harness the power of social media.” Rock on, Amanda!
Georgy Cohen, @radiofreegeorgy – Cohen is the managing editor of web communications for Tufts University and has one of the best understandings of the power of social media that I have encountered. Not only does she see the value in active social media platforms for the university, but she is consistently engaging with students, staff and alumni to build meaningful relationships. Cohen hit the nail on the head when she said, “We have to be in the ‘now’ because our brands already are, whether we are or not.” I was also impressed by Cohen’s decision to harness the strength of content creation and launch a Tufts website called Jumble (their mascot is the Jumbo) to aggregate all of the best content created by students, staff and alumni. For colleges and university seeking social media best practices, look no further than Tufts.
Chris Brogan, @chrisbrogan – Brogan, a high profile social media player, author and the president of New Marketing Labs, spoke to the group about Twitter and other web applications simply serving as a platform for larger goals. In one of the best quotes of the day he quipped, “No one ever asked Hemmingway what kind of pencil he wrote with. Don’t ask me what blog platform I use! That’s not the point.” View Brogan’s entire talk here:
For more information on the speakers at the Boston 140 Characters Conference, check out my live updates @MollyGaller on Twitter or the #140conf hashtag.
At the close of the event, Pulver said, “This conference is not a tech event, it’s a life event.” Thank you, Jeff Pulver, for a superb day that reminds us all that the next big thing could be just a tweet away.
Last week I had the opportunity to catch up with two-parts of AT&T’s social media equation. Shawn McPike, a social media strategy manager with AT&T’s customer care group and Susan Bean, a strategist behind AT&T’s corporate communications, joined me in far-ranging discussion around AT&T’s social media strategy. For a company the size of AT&T, with a plethora of consumer touch points, social media can be both a blessing and a curse. In fact, AT&T has found the dangers of open discussion in social media from day one. But this isn’t a cautionary tale. It’s really a story about learning through doing. While AT&T has made some missteps along the way, they’ve course corrected and are reaping some of the benefits of having a direct channel to hundreds of thousands of customers and true brand advocates. Here are some highlights from the first part of our conversation.
RaceTalk: Thanks for joining me. Shawn, it sounds like you work within the customer care group and e-commerce, and Susan you’re on the communications side. How do you coordinate between these groups and how did that start? I think this might be a good place to jump-off.
Susan: Sure, well I can kind of give you the background, and the narrative, and then Shawn can jump in. First, it started with Facebook a couple of years ago and we were kind of just getting our feet wet, it was a little tiny page, a couple thousand people, we sort of jumped into it.
We thought Facebook is new and we should be looking at concerts and celebrities and we kind of played around with that and that didn’t really have much resonance for people. It evolved over time and we found what people were interested in talking to us about was our business and our technology. The real affinity at play here is the actual affinity for the technology and device itself, because people are so emotional about their cell phones. So when the iPhone 3Gs came out, that was when the page really started to take off. There was a lot of controversy about the pricing and lack of MMS and people just started looking for AT&T and social media and finding us on Facebook, and that was really festive! Everyone was really mad at us all the time. It was basically non-stop all week:
“We hate you, we hate you, we hate you.”
It was an interesting trial by fire because it was still small enough and it wasn’t happening in front of billions of people. But we sort of found our way with communicating directly with people. We were corporate communications so we knew all of the narratives; this is what we talk to reporters about. So we had this revelation of “oh, okay this is kind of like our dream come true.”
We’re always trying to give our point of view to reporters and now we get to just talk to people directly. So why don’t we get into it and really give them the point of view on why this is important. It was a fascinating process and what happened then is we started reporting back to the business – “You know what, people are really mad about this.”
They’re sounding off all over the place in social media, on Facebook and in the blogs. And the company actually listened and came back and re-did the pricing, which is one of the things that started to help us really turn around the tone on the page. Then it started really growing, and three months later we finally got MMS for the iPhone. We really went out of our way to make Facebook and twitter a resource for people with MMS, and that’s when we started working with Shawn and the care team.
So we were already working with them and on the first day of MMS people were coming and saying okay I’m having a problem setting up MMS, how do I do this. So we started referring them. “Oh we got these great customer care people, they’re over here on twitter.” Which was kind of a clunky way to do it, and we were like oh duh. Why don’t we make the customer care people administrators of the page and then they can deal directly with people on Facebook and everyone can be the beneficiary of the advice they get? And we did just it. It wasn’t a big corporate decision, we just said, we think this is a good idea. We checked with our bosses and off we went with it.
RaceTalk: So that became an extension of customer care and do you still work with them as far as messaging and pushing out content in addition to answering questions?
Susan: Yeah. We’re in more or less of a nonstop all day conversation. We just went through South by Southwest where we really took on a huge effort to make sure everyone on Twitter knew what was going on at the show. So that was a combination of us talking to our colleagues on the network team, finding out what’s going on, letting Shawn’s team know what the status of the network was, what it is we could tell people, and then their out there basically combing the Twittersphere looking for anybody who’s complaining and jumping in and giving them information and helping. So it’s just an all day conversation but Shawn should give you the background on Twitter and customer care and how that works and what the methodology is from his point of view.
Shawn: It really fits along well with the story Susan told. At the same time we and the eCommerce group, which is a part of our marketing, were seeing the tone, tenor, volume and the overall intensity of messages within social media. It was just deafening, and certainly if you go back to that time of MMS and look at the top ten daily, weekly, and monthly trends on twitter, you saw that AT&T and the iPhone was basically at the top or near the top, almost every single day.
Susan: And not in a good way.
Shawn: Not in the way we wanted. So my team was brought in to start building that strategy for how we could change those numbers and how we can affect those customers, help them out and find out what their actual issues were.
But at the same time, we didn’t want to just jump in and our mantra at that point was basically the only thing worse than not being somewhere was being there and doing it badly. So we wanted to make sure we did it right before we jumped in full-force and if we could handle the volume. It was crucial, especially with the volume that we saw with social media messages. So at that point were engaged with corporate communications/PR and basically started putting together the strategy for how we were going to do that.
Certainly there were issues from a branding perspective, that fit more with communications area, and other issues that were strictly care and there were some issues that would definitely go down both paths. So rather than try and deal with all those on the fly, we decided to take a measured approach and plan for that ahead of time. We met for quite awhile, put that strategy together, got signed off on all levels across both organizations and then we put our presence out there. We started small at first, taking the viral, let’s not overextend ourselves approach. We wanted five care and four managers in August of last year on Twitter. Totally viral. Through the end of the year we hadn’t really put any publicity, promotions or advertising towards it. We still haven’t really for the most part. I was looking today and I think our Twitter followers (right now we have 14 care managers total) have almost 7,000 followers between the different accounts.
RaceTalk: So you have 14 for Twitter alone?
Shawn: There are 14 total people and they staff across, work on both Twitter and among other sites that we monitor as well. They don’t always do it at the same time. They kind of rotate, keeping a presence in all areas. But they are real people. This is actually their real names and real photos. That was the big step we wanted to take on the care side. Provide, not a corporation speaking at people, but really the care folks, and care managers speaking with people and try to help them. We definitely wanted to create that as a conversation, an engagement with them, instead of just the flat message.
We’ve taken a pretty strong approach with that and we’ve had great results. I think right now the team averages almost 1,800 reach outs per day to customers. In December we actually launched our first Facebook page versus the main AT&T page along with Susan and the other teams on the PR side. The approach is basically the same there.
Certainly the channel is a bit different. The medium is a bit different and the requirements of Facebook around engagement, private messages or not private messages, etc are different. We definitely had to tailor our approach a bit, but for the most part we kept a personal approach: private mailbox addresses for everyone, same personal personas, etc. Kept the same approach, monitored the wall. We’re on Facebook and on Twitter live between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 – 4 on Saturday.
RaceTalk: How do you assign stuff? If there is a post on Facebook or a tweet at you? Are you using CoTweet or other platforms to assign follow-up, or is it more just talking about whose best among your group to follow-up?
Shawn: We do have a tool now for the initial outreach. Our agents use the exact same process that our care managers would use in any other scenario: email centers, call centers, etc.
So when they contact a customer, when a customer calls or we get them on the actual phone with us, it’s the exact same interaction and documentation as any other channel. So basically we do have it set up where we ticket, open a ticket, an internal ticket for a customer region. Susan for example – would reach out to a customer, ask them for their contact information. Again, in most places we try to reach out to the customer to give out their contact information and then call the on the phone one on one. We try to do most interactions with the customer, especially with anything that’s obviously customer-specific information, one-on-one. And we try to keep it that person who initiates the response and interaction with the customer. We keep that same person no matter how many different instances. So it’s always, whoever opens it, has to close it out with the customer and make sure they’re satisfied. And then in many cases we get positive tweets on twitter for that person/AT&T. I think several hundred so far that are positive.
Susan: And we see the same thing on Facebook. It’s funny, before we really went down this road there was a lot of discussion around if you should try to do customer care on social media and there was a lot of “oh my god, that will be like having all these negative things in our social media properties.” “What if its just people complaining and everyone will see?”
And the effect of it has been really stunning. Shawn was talking about how we use to always be a trending topic on twitter. That is virtually never the case now. I mean this is a really rare instance of a company having a really big problem that was essentially solved. Sort of doing the simplest thing you could possibly do, which is talk to people.
On Facebook where there was even more trepidation about oh my god its going to be on the wall and everybody is going to see it. You know what we see everyday is people on the wall saying, “Thank you thank you thank you.” “Thank you customer care Tatiana.” “Thank you Natasha, thank you Jonathan, you guys are great.” What we also see all the time is somebody will come on and complain and another user will come on and say:
“Just wait these guys on Facebook are amazing, they’ll help you.”
It’s been a long time in the making, but Yahoo!’s new site is now available. This fresh look attempts to be more like iGoogle, with a column for favorites on the left side of the page. The cool part is that when you scroll over a category, a box pops open on the screen, enabling you to view your Facebook profile (for example) without even one click. You can also add favorites such as WordPress, Flickr, many news outlets such as All Things D and WIRED, and even Gmail (yes, Gmail.)
Check out the site and let us know what you think of Yahoo!’s new look.
Corporations no longer able to leverage “old media” to reach mass or niche audiences with messages are moving their budgets online to new media channels. Channels that are up for grabs in the agency world. And guess what? PR agencies have the early leg up on owning these channels.
PR leads marketing in the management of all social media communications channels.
In 51% of organizations, PR lead digital communications compared to 40.5% where marketing leads
PR is responsible for blogging at 49% of all organizations. Marketing is responsible for blogging at 22% of all organizations. PR is responsible for social networking at 48% of all organizations. Marketing is responsible for social networking at 27% of all organizations.
PR is responsible for micro-blogging at 52% of all organizations. Marketing is responsible for micro-blogging at 22% of all organizations.
Capitalizing on the fact that social media is relationship-based, a top PR characteristic, and that we specialize in creating content, a big part of social media, it’s not that surprising.
However, a troubling stat caught my eye on Mashable earlier this week, given that PR and communications are leading the way with social media. An August 2009 survey by Mzinga and Babson Executive Education found that 84% of professionals using social media – in a variety of fields – don’t currently measure the ROI of their social media programs.
RED FLAG. No wonder the head of the PRSA is calling out the entire industry to establish measurement standards – Fast. The fallout of Madison Avenue, combined with the digital media evolution, is a huge opportunity for the communications and PR industry. One opportunity that we better get right – with measurement. If we’ve learned one thing from our peers in online advertising, it’s that today, companies pay for measurable ROI. While Google may not have been recession proof, it’s successful because it efficiently provides and measures ROI with its search marketing services. If we hope to move corporate communications where we believe it belongs – into a key component of marketing’s media planning stage, we better make numbers (more than 3)a top priority.
Have you been using Twitter or Facebook more frequently the past few months?
If so, you are one of the 14 million plus people in the U.S. that logged in to Twitter.com (this figure doesn’t even include TweetDeck or Twhirl traffic) and 91 million plus people that signed on to Facebook in the last year. Mashable recently reported these figures, noting that the uplift in traffic could be attributed to the increasing number of mainstream media and entertainment outlets now using the social networks.
The Boston FOX affiliate is one local example of a news station that has been successfully using the platforms to connect with their audience. Every morning, the anchors ask viewers to post questions and comments to their Twitter account, then address some of the tweets on air — it’s pretty cool to engage in that instantaneous communication with the people that just a few years ago might have been referred to as “talking heads.”
With Twitter and Facebook growing more than 75% and 23% respectively last month alone, the media outlets that embrace these platforms and harness the power of digital media will surely prove to hold their ground in this tough economy. Every week, another traditional media outlet seems to fall prey to bankruptcy or threat of closure, yet what amazes me is that that the “surviving” outlets aren’t jumping out of their chairs to enroll in Digital & Social Media 101 to learn how to adapt to this trend!
Here is a tip for the Boston Globe: “Meet your audience where they want to be met.” If I can’t name one person on my hand that subscribes to the print edition of the newspaper, yet can name at least 50 people that visit Boston.com regularly, chances are you need to update your business model and embrace the digital wave (perhaps promote your Twitter account in a place where it doesn’t take me 2 minutes to find it on the homepage!)
With APRs on credit cards doubling out of the blue, investment options dwindling and banks tightening their loan policies, RaceTalk connected with Kim Muhota – CEO of Pertuity Direct – to discuss how online social lending could play a significant role in freeing up consumer credit and helping the U.S. pull out of the financial market meltdown.
A financial services industry veteran, Kim provides insight into the current credit crunch and how social lending (otherwise known as peer-to-peer) is quickly becoming a viable alternative to traditional banks.
Q: Celent predicts that by 2010, there will be $5.8 billion peer-to-peer loans made in the U.S. – an 800% growth from 2007. Why do you think peer-to-peer lending has taken off the way it has?
Peer-to-peer lending has grown quite fast over the last 2 or so years for a number of reasons. Most recently, there is the issue of the liquidity crisis which means that even the prime borrower or small business owner does not have access to credit as they did a year or two ago. Traditional providers are also raising prices pretty aggressively to drive more revenue growth and compensate for added risk – and this impacts the consumer adversely.
There is also the fact that P2P loans are installment loans and are therefore very transparent and user friendly – in other words, there is no penalty pricing, hidden fees or anything like that. The P2P marketplace offers good potential returns for lenders and allows individuals to participate in a vibrant community of borrowers and lenders. So there are multiple compelling reasons why P2P is becoming more of a main-stream alternative than it was just 2 short years ago.
Q: What are the benefits of taking out a loan on a social lending site, as opposed to a traditional financial institution?
Social lending sites offer loans that are well priced (typically between 6.9% – 17.9%) and have fixed rates. Alternatives like credit cards have been increasing their interest rates across the board and have gotten very aggressive with penalty pricing and unfair fees. Social lending sites offer a loan product that allows you to go through the application and approval process in minutes; any time of the day.
The no-hassles loan option is a much better alternative to having to go into the branch, dealing with paper work and high fees. Further, it’s a great social networking opportunity where borrowers can tell their story and lenders can get to see where their money is going. Most of the lenders and borrowers are like minded individuals looking for a better deal than what they are getting from their bank.
Q: JPMorgan Chase — the largest credit card issuer in the U.S. — recently began adding a $10 fee to borrowers’ monthly balances (which accrues interest) and raise minimum payments to 5% from 2%. Is social lending a viable alternative to credit cards help consumers mitigate debt?
Absolutely. The fact that the loans are fixed term and fixed rate loans means that the consumer knows exactly what their loan payment is going to be and they know exactly how long it will take them to pay off the loan. It’s a great mechanism to get proactive around managing debt.
Q: Do you believe that social lending can play a role in helping to reverse the current economic crisis?
Yes. The current economic crisis is driven in large part to a lack of liquidity in the credit markets. Any option that provides much needed credit liquidity will help solve the current crisis – and the social lending model allows for the liquidity in the credit market by the consumer themselves. So in many ways, it’s the consumer driving the solution directly by participating in the social lending marketplace.
Q: How do you see the social lending space evolving in the next 9 – 12 months, following the October 2008 decision by the SEC to crackdown on the industry?
The recent regulatory changes raise the barrier to entry and increases the price to play in the space for the various companies out there. Most importantly, it provides an added level of regulation which is built to protect the consumer – and that’s always a huge positive. I think we will see more people adapting to the social lending marketplace as it continues to gain awareness and traction broadly. As a result, there is a good chance that we will see one or two innovative banks and financial services companies looking to partner with some of the social lending players as a way to get a head start into what is positioned to become a great customer acquisition channel.
For more of Kim’s thoughts on the current credit and liquidity crisis, you can check out his posts to the Pertuity Direct blog here.
Disclosure: Pertuity Direct is a Racepoint Group client
Have you ever counseled a client about participating on Twitter? Then you should probably know that in the future, there is a good chance that micro-blogging will come with a price.
According to Marketing magazine and TechCrunch, brands using Twitter for commercial purposes could very well start getting charged fees – a decision that could affect the thousands of companies (Twibs currently reports 3,482) that engage in the community every day.
Twitter Co-Founder Biz Stone commented on the decision, saying:
“We are noticing more companies using Twitter and individuals following them. We can identify ways to make this experience even more valuable and charge for commercial accounts.”
This new business plan for Twitter could be very similar to the business plan that won Silicon Alley Insider’s Create Twitter’s Revenue Model Contest last week. The plan, submitted by a Publicis Group named Denuo, was aimed at charging corporate marketers for two things:
• Access to opted-in users willing to field the occasional question from brands
• For dashboard access to deep user analytics.
These could be two of the major add-ons that Biz Stone and Twitter look to provide for commercial accounts to increase value for the fees they aim to charge. This would be great for the brands such as Dell that have successfully leveraged Twitter to drive revenues, to the tune of $1 million.
While it’s clear that Twitter has quickly evolved into a next-generation marketing tool, it seems to me that this decision could potentially impact the consumer more so than the brands. Twitter is not only a vehicle for message delivery/selling – it’s also a platform for customer service/listening (see post on “micro-listening” here).
Let me tell you – when I was having difficulty connecting my universal remote, I sent Comcast a Tweet in desperation asking for help, and Frank Eliason helped fix the problem within minutes. (Mind you, this was after an hour searching for the answer online and reading through every print booklet.)
I hope these fees don’t discourage brands from participating on Twitter, as it’ll be the customer that bears the brunt.
Michael Arrington has been a Web 2.0 lightning rod over the past year, announcing he plans to break every embargo he wants, attacking PR people and even banning the Associated Press. To his credit, he’s dealt with a lot of people willing to do almost anything to appear in TechCrunch, but from an outside perspective, it seemed like he always enjoyed the fight.
Apparently Arrington has had enough. While at a conference somone walked over to him and spit in his face, which was his sign that he (finally) needed to take a vacation. Arrington will be writing stories through this week, then plans to take a vacation to a beach without his iPhone to determine what he will do next:
I’ve decided the right thing to do is take some time off and get a better perspective on what I’m spending my life doing. I’ll be taking most of February off from writing, and decide what the best future for me is while sitting on a beach somewhere far away from my iPhone and laptop. I’ll be continuing to write this week and cover news from the World Economic Forum in Davos, then I’ll take time off starting next week.