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Pinning your hopes on a new social media product?

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ASOS’s Pinterest page

One of my mantras is that “Social Networking is permanent, Social Media is fashion”. Regularly new social media platforms emerge and get publicity and some of them gain momentum. MySpace, Friends Reunited, and Bebo had their time in the spotlight and were superseded by Facebook and Twitter as the dominant platforms. This year has marked the rise of Pinterest and Instagram.

In the Social Media B2B world you can’t afford to ignore anything – any strategy based on any one platform or anything anchored to just Facebook and Twitter is bound to founder sooner or later. You need to keep monitoring the blogs, checking the statistics and talking to customers to understand what’s hot. Trying to make sense of what is happening is more challenging. Is the growth of Pinterest based on new social media users who have found the platform they like, switchers from Facebook and/or Twitter, or does it serve a need which isn’t being addressed elsewhere so that it is a true addition to the social media? It’s too early to tell in my opinion and the best practise is to wade in and try to understand what Pinterest is about. As with most Social Media platforms the concept is really simple and the applications are really easy to use. The big question is always Why? What is it that drives people to move beyond just registering an account and into becoming a daily user and contributor – a content provider rather than a lurker?

The figures speak for themselves. Development started at the end of 2009 and in 2010 the first users were invited to use the controlled beta version. By the end of 2010 there were 10,000 users. The site really took off during 2011 with the launch of an iPhone app so that by the end of the year there were 11 million visits a week and the site was listed as one of the top ten social networking sites. In August 2012 the site was made available to everyone without invitation. There are now 29 million weekly North American visitors and the company is valued at $1.5 billion.

So what’s so attractive about a pinboard all of a sudden? Like most social media applications there is nothing revolutionary about the concept but something has absolutely struck a chord. The company says “Our goal is to connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting. We think that a favorite book, toy, or recipe can reveal a common link between two people.”  Unlike Facebook which is geared around linking up with people through friends, and Twitter which is about sharing what you are doing or thinking to strangers, Pinterest is about linking people together through things. People say that you can tell a lot about someone by seeing their record collection, bookshelf or wardrobe and Pinterest is building on this. It is also building on the growth of scrapbooking and the standard practice of creatives to collect pieces of inspiration in a book.

The applications are interesting and are part of what drives lots of social media usage – they are the way that social media moves from being a passive page to something much more interesting and creative. The examples on the Pinterest home page are of people gathering ideas either for personal inspiration or to crowd source opinion – weddings being organised with input from friends and family, designers gathering inspiration online in a way which previously would have involved a scrapbook.

From a B2B perspective the challenge is then whether to and how  to use Pinterest in a way which is sympathetic to your business objectives and the Pinterest user community. With anything new the risk is that either companies pitch in because they feel they need to have a presence or conversely shy away because they don’t understand what it does. Retailers have been pioneers in this area – they have latched on to the vibrancy of the platform and the behaviours of younger fashion customers leafing through magazines for inspiration. It’s still early days but ASOS are pioneers on many things Social Does it work in terms of money through the till? It’s too early to say but it does have 14,000 followers. The biggest brand on Pinterest, with almost 300,000 followers is The Perfect Palette. The biggest user is Ez Pudewa, a blogger, with 2.8m!

There is an excellent article assessing the power of Pinterest from a marketer’s point of view here by James Carson of Bauer Media.

Written by greencontact

October 12, 2012 at 12:28 pm

50 Shades Can Pay

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There can’t be a soul in the United Kingdom who isn’t aware of the literary sensation which is 50 Shades Of Grey. It has just broken records with  the 1 millionth sale on Kindle. Although marketeers are welcome to read the trilogy they should also be paying attention to the message. Apart from the fascinating demographic and the creation of labelling of the Mommy Porn genre, the phenomenal success is yet another example of the rise of Social Media and Social Networking in a concrete way.

The work started as fan fiction which in itself is an enormous subculture. Time magazine ran an excellent, non-judgemental article on fan fiction The Boy Who Lived Forever. While most people may not be interested in the subject matter, I am always interested in numbers. hosts over 2 million pieces of original fan fiction covering a wide range of genres with the Harry Potter section holding over half a million pieces. There is an associated infrastructure of competitions and editing which most people are unaware of. Other interesting similar areas are the huge gaming and roleplaying worlds. When the Maryland Association of Certified Public Accountants sets up a headquarters on CPA Island in Second Life you need to start paying attention.

EL James moved her stories from a fan fiction website on to her own website after some comments about the content of some stories and then rewrote some elements to take away the direct character references to Twilight and then published as an ebook and by a small Australian print-on-demand publisher. Sales grew through word-of-mouth recommendation and book blogs until finally in 2012, news agencies identified the phenomenon driven by viral marketing. With phenomenal pace, references, spoofs, parodies, huge increases in sales of ereaders and spinoffs are appearing in a way that only social media can drive. Even sales of a piece of music referred to in the novel have increased.

50 Shades Of Grey is a huge success story with important messages:

1. It is a superb example of success of Web 2.0, user-generated content shared for peer review.

2. It is an example of a new business model with money being made from ebooks rather than physical books

3. It hints at the possibility of crowd subcultures to be understood and developed in the way the CPA model has

4. It demonstrates the entrepreneurial opportunity created by large numbers and low costs/barriers to entry

I’ve still not read the books but well done EL James!


Written by greencontact

July 16, 2012 at 9:20 am

And the winner of #Euro2012 is… @AdidasUK

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Last Sunday, the Euro 2012 football tournament had a thrilling climax with a 4-0 win for Spain over Italy. The event was momentous because in doing so Spain broke a number of records -first team to defend the title, highest winning margin in a final, first team to win three major tournaments in a row… This was a big event with Twitter reporting that when the fourth Spanish goal went in there were more than 15,000 tweets per second beating the previous record for a sporting event of just over 12,000 for the last three minutes of February’s Superbowl. There were 16.5 million tweets worldwide during the Spain vs Italy match. What this means is that this is a hotspot for anyone looking to promote or gain followers. If you have anything to say about football or to the following demographic you need to be there.

After my earlier post about the Formula 1 social media activity I thought I would check on what the some of the Euro 2012 global sponsors did with the event.


They made a magnificent effort. Their @adidasUK site was tweeting throughout the final. They linked their new #takethestage Olympic ad by trailing its launch after the final whistle. They also ran a promotion based on offering a discount on the online store according to the number of goals scored. Overall the site retweets relevant sporting comment and is highly interactive. They are a really good example of a joined up strategy.


Compare Adidas’s work with that of Canon. The @CanonUKandIE site hasn’t tweeted since March. @Canon – the official web communications site has NEVER tweeted. I couldn’t find a single tweet during the final. You would have thought they could have made excellent work of Instagram with some great live action shots – especially via their @Canon_Camera site. A real missed opportunity


A similar story to Canon – The @CastrolUK site hasn’t tweeted since February. The US sites seem to be very integrated with motor racing enthusiasts but I couldn’t find a comment on Euro 2012. Interestingly there is a trace of previous specialist Castrol sites set up for previous tournaments

Coca Cola

The @Coca-ColaGB site is doing a very good and personal job tracking the Olympic torch relay – another of their sponsorships. The main @cocacola is a massive multilingual undertaking which congratulated Spain on Sunday but there was very little other comment


A mixed bag for @ContiUK. The team did a good job with regular tweeting about the event and competitions running alongside it – guessing the scores and spot the ball. Strangely silent on Sunday though which was a missed opportunity for them.

This isn’t all the global sponsors by any means – merely the first five alphabetically. You could also argue that of the ones listed Adidas is the most directly associated with the sport. However, my response would be that Social Media offers an excellent way for any brand to have their say – anyone can tweet during the final and use the hashtags.  The work of @AdidasUK is obvious from their Klout scores over the period. They raised their overall Klout score from 71.66 at the start of the tournament to 73.44 at the end. The main driver for this was their Klout True Reach – this measure takes out all the spam and bots and looks at the real people who act on AdidasUK content. This went up from 69,995 to an astonishing 93,239.  Another interesting characteristic is that there is a clear build up to England’s game with Italy on 24th June. All stats dropped off immediately after the game but the team at @AdidasUK did a really good job of building them back up again and they have a legacy from the event to work with.

We have the 2012 Olympics coming and Twitter are expecting many records to be broken during them (social media as well as athletic). Coca Cola are already on the ball with this but how are Acer, ATOS, GE, Visa and P&G coping?


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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Image courtesy of

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

Collaborative Innovation… the mid-term review

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Some time ago I blogged about our experience with Yammer as a  collaborative innovation tool. My company is an  contact centre outsourcer working for a wide range of clients. I wanted to find a way of improving communications and allowing much greater participation in the business decisions.

In 2008 we introduced a social intranet site to be the central repository of information (FAQs, stats, training notes etc). The social element was through encouraging interaction by loading agent and manager-generated content, sharing congratulations through virtual cards, and blogging. I started blogging in 2008 and also incorporated interactive chat as a further channel.

The lesson learnt very early on was that people want to have a say, they want to engage in their employment if they are given the opportunity to do so in a flexible and easy way. Through researching social media I identified some of the companies who were offering collaborative innovation tools and began talking to Spigit. I really loved the concept of engagement and gamification – as a fan of Freakonomics and having spent a lot of time in Sales I understand the power of motivation. The bit I struggled with was the business case. All the case studies seemed to be from those mythical mega corporations with unlimited budgets who just have to have the latest thing. I’ve also already covered the challenge of the sceptics in the world of social networking. When I was looking at the tools available they all had a not-unreasonable but nonetheless “leap of faith” price tag.

After researching for a while it became one of those “nice to have” projects which was on the back burner. There wasn’t an obvious payback that I could express in a business case and also it was incredibly difficult to explain to people who didn’t even have a Facebook account, let alone those who have teenage children that do!

Then came my own leap of faith – the Yammer Friday when we launched the free version of Yammer. People loved it, user numbers skyrocketed and people started to create their own groups and then…. we had a lull.

The reservations we had about Collaborative Innovation, aside from the business case, were:

  • Could it be self-propelling or would we need to cheer lead?
  • Would it be time-consuming; taking people away from real work?
  • Would our community keep the distinction between personal and business social media?

The experience was interesting. The initial burst was definitely followed by a lull as people ran out of the initial energy. We were caught in a hinterland where people couldn’t use Yammer knowing that the people they wanted to communicate with were going to be there because we still only had around 120 users and at any one time only 20 would be online. There were two things we realised here. Firstly this is a different type of communication – much more like email than instant messaging. When people relaxed about this everything ran more smoothly. Secondly, expecially when there are low numbers you do need a “cheer-leader” someone Liking, responding and asking questions to tease out usage. We now realise that over time your generals-on-the-field emerge and do the job without thinking about it.

The time-consuming response was a difficult one. Some people think of social media as exactly that – a waste of time. In my mind I think of social media as a natural activity which has inherent benefit through communication. We haven’t done any detailed study to show exactly what the impact is. I use a time monitoring tool – RescueTime that tells me I have spent (as one of the more active users) around 2% of my time in the last month using it. Yammer’s own studies show that there is an offset in that the time to complete collaborative tasks can be reduced and  there is a clear reduction in emails.

Finally, the crowd has performed exceptionally well. We have found that as long as the groundrules are clearly defined, people conform and contribute. We have had discussions about personal motivation, staff satisfaction survey techniques, dress code etc and the tone has been totally professional, informed and sensitive. As a manager what I have found is that the crowd sorts many of the day-to-day issues amongst themselves without needing managers to intervene as the party pooper. We have also seen that the most regular users are people that otherwise would not have registered as the big contributors to our business – they have a lot of experience and opinions which wouldn’t have come to light in any other format. We are now also in the more mature phase of implementation and seeing users take the technology and apply it for their own purposes. Imagine my delight to see a developer posting different colour schemes for reports and asking the crowd which looked best!

We now have well over 350 users and are engaging with external stakeholders in our networks. Our next project is to make collaborative innovation a more structured part of our business and to drive KPIs associated with it.



Written by greencontact

May 29, 2012 at 9:40 am

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.