The Social Contact Centre

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

Archive for June 2012

Social Media and Weather

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Picture courtesy @chrisdoidge on Twitter

I write this a huge thunder storm has just passed through making the roof of my contact centre rattle and some car alarms go off. Small beer for some parts of the world but a pretty big deal for June in England. It got me thinking of the connections between Social Media and weather.

The first obvious story is the reporting of extreme weather conditions via Social Media. Facebook and Twitter are ideal media for real-time reporting of activity compared to the effective, but not detailed, radio and TV. If you want to know what is happening right now in your area, to your friends, SM is the way forward.  James Spann has over 90,000 followers on his Facebook page which posts and hosts news about tornados in Alabama. In his own words during the extreme 2011 tornados: “Facebook and Twitter usage was critical… I will tell you right now there are people who are walking around in Tuscaloosa Alabama … because these people got the tornado warning via Facebook or Twitter”. The same phenomenon has been reported for bush fires and tsunamis where real-time is the only time that matters.

Powerful stuff but it also turns out that weather is a common topic on social media, as in everyday life, in less dramatic circumstances. The volume is being exploited by apps such as Metwit. Twitter in particular is a mobile information source and one of the strengths of Social Media over other channels is the volume of hyperlocal information available. In any big city you can have different weather conditions in different parts of town. Most weather forecasts in any other media, at best, provide hourly updates but if I am going shopping in half an hour I want to know whether to take an umbrella or not. Apps such as Metwit give a real-time, hyperlocal (to the extent it can give you updates close to your current GPS position) which is actually meaningful for you.

The other interesting dynamic of social media usage is the impact of weather on usage and how it can be exploited. Retailers are already beginning to use time-of-day statistics to work out when to post offers and the tone of social messages. They already know the impact of weather on fashion and footfall. It figures that people may be more active on social media when the weather is poor and less active when the sun shines. Understanding the community and what they are doing is critical. There is no point in posting offers at times when the community are unlikely to be able to take them up and pointless offering ice-cream on days like today!

Written by greencontact

June 29, 2012 at 9:27 am

Peer Power…why TripAdvisor works

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In recent times TripAdvisor has come under close scrutiny over the authenticity of its reviews.  TripAdvisor has been hosting reviews from travellers since 2000 and there are now around 50m reviews of hotels. restaurants, attractions and locations. For many people, myself included, TA is the first point of call whenever they look for a holiday. So why does it work and what are its shortcomings?

TripAdvisor works on a few levels.


  • Firstly it plays on the inherent benevolence of people. We work too hard to have a poor travel experience and so it makes sense to avoid problems wherever possible. Conversations about holidays are widespread in any pub or workplace and all that TA does is provide a platform for those conversations to be structured. People like to share their experiences to help other people.
  • Where holidays are concerned, as with many other topics, people also like to boast and show expertise to others. We all like to show that we went off the beaten path, found a hidden gem or got a real bargain. TripAdvisor is the perfect vehicle for it. For the competitive amongst us it also allows some gaming with different levels being awarded for numbers of reviews given.
  • TA also tells a more rounded truth. Hoteliers have criticised it recently for having scathing reviews from customers blackmailing the owners. There was noticeably no criticism from them when holiday-makers had to make do with equally Photoshopped and gilded brochures in travel agents. When I buy anything I want to know both sides of coin. Nowhere is perfect but I want to know what the risks are and assess them from my perspective. Criticism that reviews are biassed is ridiculous since every review of everything has been written from the author’s perspective. TA also tells a more detailed truth. General guidebooks can’t tell you which rooms to ask for and which to avoid, whether the wifi is good value or the best place to eat locally and watch the football.
  • It works also because it has a simple but elegant design. It’s easy to search and navigate and is supported on a range of platforms – critically you can use it on the move
  • Finally it works because it has critical mass. 50m reviews (there are 500k in London alone) make it a sensible option – better than any other source.

Much of the tabloid criticism has focused in on the banality of some of the reviews and the lack of detail in some areas. This I think is part of its charm – it has a truth about it. Most B&Bs are samey and most customers are just looking for value for money, a clean bed for the night and a good breakfast. There isn’t an essay there. Hoteliers and restaurateurs should embrace TripAdvisor as a free market research provider – giving the feedback they only get if they incentivise. They should take criticism objectively and try to be better at what they do. TripAdvisor’s own research suggests readers think the reviews have an accuracy level of over 98%. I have spoken to B&B owners who feel that TripAdvisor raises people’s expectation – they expect Hotel service at a B&B price and therefore they are going to be disappointed. I have also seen hotels who feel their livelihood has been ruined by a malicious review. When something is bad though, I think it is really important that this is aired. My most-read review is of a hotel in Barcelona which was fine for most of our needs but had particularly awkward front desk staff – they should be told. My second most-read review is of a hotel in Spain which was cheap and cheerful but very enjoyable – it had over 1000 readers within 7 days.

Unfortunately, as a customer I have visited hotels without looking on TripAdvisor and then seen the problems retrospectively. One hotel in particular, which has had millions spent on it still has some enormous fundamental problems and the staff are holding the place together. Review after review point this out but seemingly nothing gets done. What I now do, and I believe that most people are becoming social-savvy now. Is to search for hotels in an area which meet the price you are able to pay and then read the reviews. Discard the ridiculously high ratings while noting the points they raise. Discard the terribly low scores while doing the same. If you read the reviews in the middle you’ll soon pick up the recurring themes and pick the best option for your particular needs.

Of course TripAdvisor provides this service for the traveller but there are other similar sources of peer review – Amazon product reviews, Mumsnet product reviews, specialist forums in niche areas e.g. DIY, automotive, gardening and decorating. As a producer it is vitally important to track what your peers are saying about you and to react positively. If your product stinks; fix it. Don’t blame the consumer for being unhappy.

Don’t forget the golden rule though – if you take advice from TripAdvisor or any other forum you should write your own reviews too!

Written by greencontact

June 25, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Making the right noises

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image courtesy


One of the biggest fears surrounding social media is the fear of “getting it wrong”. After years of building a brand through traditional channels, some inappropriate Facebook comments or tweets can be front page news. Whereas in traditional above or below the line communications weeks of work and wordsmithing from professionals can create a polished message, social media really thrives on keeping it real. This means greater frequency and less polish.

None of this is completely alien. After all many customer’s experience is driven primarily by their own exposure to the brand. All the polished advertising in the world won’t offset a poor customer service experience or disappointing product reliability. The difference with social media is that the conversation and the experience is in the public gaze and for many businesses this is the reason why the first steps into social media are led by the marketing department.

Celebrities and politicians are accustomed to this and their experience has a lot of interesting parallels. They know that whatever they say is broadcast around the world and analysed in detail. As a result they have a team of scriptwriters and briefings to prepare them on the key points to make and the pitfalls to avoid. What seems like a wonderful gift to make a pithy comment is in most cases just the result of hours of hard work and practice. It is also clear that the most successful politicians and celebrities are the ones who are able to go the extra mile. We can all think of the gaffe-prone personalities who use it to their advantage. That public vulnerability is part of their attractiveness – by displaying weakness it adds to their trustworthiness – whereas the more polished performers are seen as “spinners”. The perfect social media voice embodies the brand values in a human way and by doing so makes the social media effectiveness move into the customer service and direct sales arenas.

Undoubtedly there has to be a clear strategy over what the “voice” is which is being portrayed but then the message has to be delivered by real people and not actors in my opinion. When social media is turned over to agencies it becomes anodyne. Consistent, well crafted and lively but ultimately uninteresting. The way to make it work well is to employ people who understand the medium but also who believe in the message and to empower them to make the right decisions. Much of social media communication is common sense and the  errors have been made either by people who don’t fully understand the medium or by people who are acting the voice. This is the attraction of some of the celebrity Twitterers for fans – to see the thoughts and ideas of people written in their own words. There is no rulebook yet in this area but some general thoughts are:

1. Always work to a plan – what are you wanting to communicate if you get the opportunity? What are the words you don’t want to use? Who are your friends and followers – make sure you constantly analyse the effectiveness of the crowd and what their characteristics are. You should know where they live, what proportion are active customers, what proportion are purely promotion-hunters, staff, journalists and suppliers. Who are your top 100?

2. Read everything twice. Typos shouldn’t appear in brand-representing social media

3. Encourage personality. To deliver the volume of communication is going to involve a team and ideally you want your audience to get to know them as ambassadors for your brand. Consider your social media feeds almost like a talk radio station and build metrics to back it up. Who are your audience at different times of day? For example as a retailer you can build up a pattern of when offers are going to be made and generate excitement around it while encouraging audience participation.

4. Don’t shy away from dealing with customer service problems. Don’t suppress, deny or make excuses. Apologise and put it right in the public glare. Everyone make gaffes but you must never lose trust.

5. Think about your crowd and how they can help you. If your social media just relies on special offers and competitions it is very superficial. What about asking your audience to help design your next advertising campaign by giving you slogans, success stories and even designs. What about building a crowdsourced service capability by harnessing their expertise on your behalf.

6. Always recruit the sort of people you want to communicate with. Remember, it’s not a numbers game. Think about the opportunities for acquiring and set this as a target. Which journalists would you like to be followers? What cars do your ideal customers drive and where do they live? Target your social media communicators to draw them in and make them engaged followers.

And finally, if you don’t feel confident in taking the first steps… ask yourself why. In my opinion social media highlights weaknesses which need to be addressed regardless of whether you choose to have a Facebook presence. Equally, if they aren’t addressed, they will always going to limit the “truth” in your communications; social or otherwise.


Written by greencontact

June 18, 2012 at 10:52 am

Flexing your social muscles

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So you’ve built up a healthy size of community through a concerted recruitment effort. You have a few hundred Twitter followers and a ton of friends on Facebook. You’ve got a blog going where a few people visit every day and check out your latest wisdom… So what?

The single greatest challenge in Social Media is the “so what?” question. Until you can answer it, the sceptics are dead right in their assertion that Social Media is merely a fad. How can you prove that all that effort is worthwhile. I discussed earlier the concept of Return on Influence rather than Return on Investment but, whatever you measure or call it, at some point you need action.

Klout and other similar measures are great but they are a leap of faith – they are a metaphor but nothing more. As an example, my personal Klout score (based predominantly on Twitter) has fallen from 43 in mid-May to 40 now in mid-June. During that time my followers have increased steadily. What has changed is the type and nature of my activity. In mid-May I was lobbying on a local activity which involved engagement with followers. Last week I was on holiday and didn’t tweet at all. Now I have returned I am back in a steady but balanced pattern of activity. You can’t be shouty and acquisitive all the time, and your community will not thank you for it if you are – you could easily lose friends and followers as a result. What you do need to know is that when you want to do something, people will hear. So what can you do?

1. Make a note of when things work well. I know clearly what was happening when my Klout score was at 43. I know the types of tweets that people liked and the way to drive up engagement when I want to. Remember the good times, not just the scores.

2. Take the opportunity to ask questions or run polls. You may think you know the answer but questions are a really easy way to test the water. Ask a question several times in different ways and different times – what works best for your community? When are they listening and when do they have the time to answer? If you ask the question in lots of ways and get nothing back the chances are you’ll get the same response when it really matters.

3. Take time to analyse your community using the free tools that are available. Out of the big number, how many are active – when did they last update their status? When was their last tweet? How close are they to you, your companies locations etc? How many are competitors, suppliers, spammers and volume acquirers rather than potential customers? Can you work out how many real ‘engageable’ members there are to your community?

4. Develop industry-related content and gauge the reaction to it. This takes away the brand-related element from the debate and checks whether it is “you or your brand”. For example, an independent retailer in the current climate could generate content based around original blogging, tweeting and retweeting discussing the current state of Britain’s high streets and the impact of the Portas review. The community may more readily engage with non-brand specific thoughts and ideas than they would with your own latest offers and promotions. This is an interesting way to approach the challenge. It sets a benchmark of what could be achieved and creates a vehicle for gently introducing your brand through sharing experiences and relevant material.

5. Consider crowdsourcing solutions. Use private messaging and DMs to ask individuals their opinions. Ask them what they thought of your tweets or status updates.

Written by greencontact

June 11, 2012 at 10:14 am