The Social Contact Centre

to a social networking way of working through the eyes of a Contact Centre manager

Archive for April 2012

The Crowd around the corner

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It sometimes helps to visualise success: On your best day what would be the outcome of your actions. This way of thinking helps to put things in perspective and sometimes to realise that the ‘key’ activity maybe isn’t as key as you thought.

The same is true of social activity. Putting aside crisis management (or worse still crisis creation) there is a huge difference between social media and social networking as far as this is concerned. On the best days, for the best companies, the gains to be made from twittering and facebooking are more about brand-building than direct gains. Social Media is not going to bring you thousands of new customers and in some ways the delivery of customer service through these channels can be more expensive and more difficult to manage that traditional channels.

Social networking however offers some enormous financial gains. Crowdsourcing is already used to reduce the costs of service, research and development and creativity by companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Cisco, and IBM. Billions of pounds of customer service cost are saved every year. When was the last time you had a PC problem at home and Googled the problem rather than ring the helpline?

The pace of change is incredibly fast and there are applications which already look to provide structure to the crowdsourcing model. Look at,, and You may not be ready to embrace the technology (or more likely the culture) to take advantage but for some applications the crowdsourcing approach complately transform the cost base.

I compare to the growth of call centres and the PC. 25 years ago I worked in a company that had a typing pool full of typists and call centres barely existed. The streets were full of door-to-door salespeople selling insurance, encyclopaedias and tea! If someone had described the world in 2012 to me then….

Written by greencontact

April 20, 2012 at 5:48 pm

The Community Manager

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The role of Community Manager is becoming more and more prevalent. As businesses establish their social presence they begin to link it with their overarching brand and marketing strategies. So what should the Community Manager do?

For me the key word here is Community. I’ve banged on before about the importance of Social Networking above Social Media and the irrelevance of numbers in Social Media. A community illustrates this perfectly. The definition of Community is (according to Meriam-Webster):

1: unified body of individuals: as a : statecommonwealth b : the people with common interests living in a particular area; broadly : the area itself c : an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location d : a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society e : a group linked by a common policyf : a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests g : a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society 
2: society at large
3a : joint ownership or participation b : common character : likeness <community of interests>c : social activity : fellowshipd : a social state or condition
The emphasis here is about common interest. To be meaningful that common interest has to be you/your brand/your beliefs. This is very difficult to achieve but some brands have been successful. They have created a sentiment about what they do which is very powerful. In the UK consider Marks and Spencer. When I was growing up I could have believed that this was a nationalised industry; so passionate were those people around me about its activities and trusting in its stability. Think about the Apple community worldwide – advocates, contributors and investors.
That is the goal to achieve. As a community manager the first task is to understand what your community is or could be. If a community already exists, outside your control, the objective is to become an accepted part of it. Google keywords and product names, search for hashtags in Twitter and Groups in Facebook. Monitor them through your social media listening tools to assess the scale and sentiment of what is already out there. Only then can you realistically set the objectives for the Community Manager role.  For example many brands may already have only negative communities – the crowd is always keen to share its negative opinions. Objectives must be based on something real and achievable and so an objective may only be to be an accepted and trusted voice in those communities. Even in a negative environment though, community management can be powerful. Take the example of  Dell Hell – a phrase triggered by this blog from journalist Jeff Jarvis Dell did a great job of listening and using Social Media to respond to a catastrophic situation. Thanks to Mei Lin Fung for this summary of the turnaround
Going forward with the strategy the Community Manager is responsible for:
  • Recruiting – seeking out the people who would enjoy being part of the community. This involves establishing the Social Media groups on the platforms most suited to the brand. ASOS’s use of Pinterest is a really good example of this – it uses a great medium well for the type of brand and the type of customer. The Community Manager in this role needs to be involved in the marketing strategy to use existing campaigns in a way that will attract – e.g. getting hashtags, @s and Facebook pages publicised along with telephone numbers and email addresses.
  • Entertaining – Creating unique content which will appeal to the community. Especially in the early days this is important – you want to keep the notoriously fickle attention (Facebook group active lifecycles are short). Research has indicated that successful community managers are posting 4-6 items of unique content each day. This can be boosted by retweets and other third party content. Remember, this isn’t just retweeting anything mentioning your brand in a positive way but also spreading the word of people who influence you or think like you. This recycling of content is a great way to attract the attention of people you would like to become members of the community too.
  • Engaging – Community Managers need to listen carefully to what the community is saying and engage with it in the voice of the brand. Larger brands will have more than one individual working with the community and although you want their individuality to be apparent, the message will be consistent. Asking questions and thanking are easy ways to do this. Some brands have experimented with engaging with people outside the community through Random Acts of Kindness. As ever Trendwatching have some good examples of this:
  • Interacting – This is the ultimate challenge: to step into the community and treat it as a communication challenge. Dealing with public criticism and customer service situations in an open social media forum is challenging but has huge rewards. It can be a real way of both differentiating the brand (exaggerating the overwhelming positive sentiment) and greatly reducing service costs (through crowd-sourcing).
The Community Manager needs many hats to be able to turn a Community into a Managed Community.

A lesson in Blogging…. from an unexpected source

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The social lines between business and personal are blurred – when you share you share. In my view you shouldn’t control followers, readers and friends other than to control the activities of abusers and spammers. As such, I use my personal social activity as a learning point for my business activity and vice versa. I can test things in one environment and compare with what happens in the other.

Blogging was a new thing for me and I waded in wholeheartedly as ever. The research indicates that Blogging is the social activity that can have the most direct influence and is therefore potentially the most powerful in a business environment. In my mind, it is also the hardest to execute. With this view my efforts were almost exclusively focussed on content as I started my first personal blog. It began almost like a journal – extended ideas and opinions and trying to follow the same format as I use for Twitter (1:1:1).


[Picture source: Barry D via The Book Of Worlds]

What I found was that it doesn’t work in the same way – there isn’t immediately a community to write for or respond to in quite the same way. It takes much more to attract people. The writing is much more demanding because to me, there is a greater need to be interesting. It’s harder to maintain an overall theme and structure – and harder to visualise the goal. For my personal blog, this is fine – I don’t mind if no-one follows me and its both cathartic and fun for me to write. In the business world a blog has a greater significance and can be either brand-building or brand-eroding.

It took my avidly social daughter (who follows my social activity with an amused eye) to read my personal blog and to give me the killer consumer feedback. “Dad, you need to lighten up” she said – “change the format a little and do some shorter, less opinionated pieces. You are also using the hashtags wrongly. If you want to attract an audience you need to use the right ones”. This from a girl whose blogging on fan fiction topics is very popular. “And you’re using the wrong platform – Tumblr is for images and microblogs”. I looked into it and found a useful summary of the platforms: It figures that not only do you want a platform where the functionality enables what you are trying to achieve but also you want a platform where your potential followers and customers are likely to be (there’s no point banging away at MySpace if everyone is on Facebook).

I’m lucky to have the insight and I’m humble enough to listen, I’ve changed the format of my blog and I’m finding it easier to write and more fun as a result. I’ve transferred everything across to WordPress (some good conversion tools by the way) and I’ve tidied up my tags (the tag clouds are quite a good visual sense check).

Written by greencontact

April 10, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Social Media

Here’s the nub of the challenge: How do you turn Twitter followers and Facebook friends into customers and influencers? The answer is that you can’t. There’s no magic formula that makes it happen. Social media is not direct marketing, its much closer to PR in my opinion.

In the old days (puts on slippers and gazes into the middle distance with a slight smile), the stereotypical business social networking was on the golf course, through the Freemasons or gentlemen’s clubs. I witnessed plenty of sales wining and dining but all this activity was about getting under the skin, understanding a bit more about what makes someone tick, finding out who else they know – not predominantly about getting a signature on a contract. People buy from people – importantly from people they like and trust and so it figures that your Social Media activity should be about being likeable and trustworthy.

Likeability in the Social world is about participation. If all you do is advertise the latest offer it doesn’t really add to the crowd. Imagine you walked into a crowded conference networking session, picked up a glass of complementary champagne and proceeded to tap people on the shoulder and sell to them. The conversion rate would be very low and there would be a string of people around the room discussing your behaviour. The social world is very similar – you build a meaningful network and get to know them better. The rule of thumb is that your contributions are a third interaction, a third adding content and only a third promotion. This isn’t a lot different than the crowded room. You’d walk up to a stranger and try and understand a bit more about them (where do they work, what do they do, are they enjoying the event…) before then giving some of the same information to them. You would then use the information you’ve shared to find common ground or to explore an area that interests you in more detail (“so you worked in Dubai for a while..what was that like” or “are you affected by the Euro problem at the moment?”). The point is that you have to work at it to find a foothold and then you need to listen and learn before you have permission to lead. LinkedIn is growing in stature as far as this is concerned – join groups and participate.

And this is where trust comes in. You’ve spent time getting a foothold but you can lose it in a moment. Remember, the objective of any networking activity is more about PR and help than it is about selling. If you are able to sell it is a surprising by-product rather than the reason for being there. What you do have is an enormous focus group, on-hand expertise, access to other contacts, suppliers if you need to find them. Be honest, be genuine and be personal.

The final point in my view is to try and turn the virtual into the real. If you meet someone, try and find their presence in the social world and follow or friend. Similarly, if you follow or friend someone in the social world, take the opportunity to introduce yourself if you find yourself in the traditional world – social media is not an alternative.

Written by greencontact

April 10, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Opinion

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SM Influence – myth or reality?

So the focus of social networking for business is influence: to move The Pile. Defining influence, if it even exists, is harder. Celebrities clearly have influence. In early 2011, 50 Cent allegedly made $10m when he suggested followers should buy into a stock that he had a holding in. Even outside the social world an endorsement from celebrities can drive up sales of products -whether its Delia Smith using a kitchen device or books featured on daytime TV. All well and good but these are individuals wielding their power, not companies. Some celebrities’ presence on social media is now being controlled by management companies purely for this reason.

Lets assume we don’t have a celebrity on hand – what does influence look like from a business perspective? There are tools available which attempt to measure social influence – PeerIndex and Klout are the two main ones currently. They analyse the social footprint (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, LastFM, Foursquare etc) and attempt to give a weighted scorecard and a profile to users. In Klout’s case it equates influence with the reaction of your audience – how many of your tweets are retweeted but also attempts to gauge the reaction of the most influential people by the same terms. Realistically, this isn’t a meaningful measure – it begs the question “influentual in what?”. My personal Klout score is 42 and Klout believes I’m influential, believe it or not, about Jewellery, BP and sausage. I pray that no-one associated with any of those is reliant on me to spread the word.

The connection between social media content and influence is tenuous and research results vary. Knowledge Networks The Faces Of Social Media found that social media users are 15% more likely to purchase from companies that advertise on social media. The research also showed a wide variance of impact across different categories. Other research suggests that the response rate to direct advertising is less effective than traditional direct marketing methods.

Influence is controllable by us – we can control who we follow and therefore who is likely to follow us back. We can create a target list of who we would like to be our friends and followers and create content which is likely to interest them. Influencers of us are likely to be potentially the influencers of our target audiences – journalists, local information providers, industry bodies, competitors, suppliers etc. One thing which is easy to lose track of in the virtual world is geography – in the search for numbers you end up with an audience across the world and realistically, no matter how “on topic” some of these are – they are not going to be able to help you in your objectives (they may be a gateway to others who are however). The unique nature of social media is that once the relationships are established you have a vehicle for communication several times every day. You can’t do anything until you have a network and understand it well.

How you establish relationships is a whole different subject and requires openness, creativity and eloquence.

Written by greencontact

April 5, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Posted in Opinion

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The gulf between personal and business

There’s a big difference between personal and business Social Media. Its much harder to tweet meaningfully about your business and to post updates that are interesting. Personal social media can be personal whereas business social media is fettered by brand and confidentiality. The network you build is also more challenging – I still value local Twitter followers more on my personal Twitter account but it doesn’t really matter who your community consists of – there is no objective. With business social networking, whether you like it or not, the raison d’etre of having a social presence is to do business one way or another. In my opinion it is very difficult to use Twitter as a business with a business @name – far better to use Twitter clearly as an individual and declare who you work for.

One way to look at it is to reverse engineer the process – who do you really want to communicate with and what are you going to use social media for? For a retail shop it may be that all that really matters is to communicate with geographically local people, press and influencers. For an online business it doesn’t necessarily matter where people are but influence and press may be more industry-based.

The “what are you going to use social media for” is more important. Realistically the main role of social media tools for business is PR, brand, and possibly customer service. Its not a sales channel. I believe you need to launch with the emphasis on PR and brand awareness and only tackle customer service when you understand your social footprint better. Brand awareness sets the tone of all communications (original content and retweets) but PR is about identifying the journalists, publications, bloggers, and competitors you want to influence and make these targets for follow backs and friends. This is where use of lists, groups, and hashtags come into their own.

Written by greencontact

April 5, 2012 at 11:57 am

Posted in Opinion

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My Conversation Prism

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The Conversation Prism (detail) Brian Solis and JESS3

Here is a detail from one of my very favourite infographics by Brian Solis and JESS3 which illustrates superbly the huge Social Media map. As Communicators we are surrounded by a swirl of comments about our brands, our markets, our competitors and our companies which can be bewildering without some structure and filtering. What this highlights is the need to be aware of the conversation and the need to have a clear communications strategy.

What you can’t do is bury your head in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist. It still staggers me how many senior managers are completely unaware of the nature and impact of Social Media and the opportunity of Social Networking. Even more so, the extent to which they see them as entirely negative.

My focus has been to familiarise me with the different Social Media types as a committed user. Going around the Prism I am an active user of:

LinkedIn, Quora, WordPress, Blogpulse, Twitter, Yammer, Facebook, SocialMention, Tweetdeck, Amazon, TripAdvisor, Youtube,  and Spotify

an occasional user of Flickr, Picasa, Digg, Reddit, Google Answers, Hootsuite, Tripit, vimeo, and lastfm

and I have used but moved on from Tumblr, Blogger, and Foursquare.

Just looking round the prism again I am interested in exploring Crowdspring and kaboodle a little more and, demonstrating the speed of change, I also use Goodreads, Pinterest, and Soundtracking.



There are some important messages here:

1. Make yourself familiar with all the social media types and stay on top of trends. Really use them because until you are a participant it is very difficult to judge the nature of the community – you can’t just put a toe in the water. Staying on top is vital. Right now Pinterest is the fastest growing new social media type and some businesses are already using it effectively.

2. Explore which channels are most relevant to you. Proactively: where are your target audience active and in what way. Reactively: where are your customers. Where do they recommend and where do they complain.

3. Finesse your usage. Particularly with the high volume channels (Twitter, Facebook and blogs) try different clients and understand the functionality of each. Find the one that suits your usage profile and stick to it. Find tools which aggregate and filter feeds to meet your needs. This will reduce the workload.

4. Design a  communication strategy which links together different media types so that when you have something to say it can be quickly spread across the communities you want to engage with in an attractive way but which conforms to the expectations of each.

There is a similar diagram for Social Networking – which first opened my eyes to the scope and opportunity: The Future Of Money: New Lenses of Wealth. Now somewhat dated but nevertheless inspirational



Written by greencontact

April 2, 2012 at 9:39 am