Social media, lend me your ears
By Lisa Manfield
May 13, 2011
Everyone knows the key to a good relationship is communication. And half of that equation involves listening. Yet when it comes to the relationships businesses have with their customers, listening—particularly on social media channels—has not been a strong suit. In a 2010 study entitled New Conversation: Taking Social Media from Talk to Action, the Harvard Business Review reported that 75 per cent of companies surveyed did not know where their most valuable customers were talking about them. Nearly 31 per cent weren’t measuring social media effectiveness and less than 23 per cent were using social media monitoring tools.
Only 12 per cent of the companies surveyed felt they were using social media tools effectively, and these respondents consisted mainly of companies that made use of various communication channels and metrics, that had a strategy for social media use and that integrated social media into their overall marketing operations.
And likely those that also focused on listening.
Dell: getting an earful
In December 2010, Dell launched a Social Media Listening Command Center, and it’s fair to say the move was forced on the company. Back in 2005, angry customers bludgeoned the brand in the blogosphere, accusing it of turning a deaf ear to complaints. But times have changed at Dell: nowadays, listening has become more than just a social media strategy: it’s a company philosophy.
And social media has given the company many extra ears with which to hear. “We started our listening program in 2006,” said Manish Mehta, vice-president of social media and community, adding that listening enabled Dell to recognize three types of customers: “customers who needed help, customers who talked nicely about our products and customers with great ideas.”
This resulted in the launch of Dell’s IdeaStorm platform, which allowed the company to capture ideas customers were offering. But it wasn’t until a year ago that Dell got more serious about social media, assigning dedicated staff via its Social Outreach Services (SOS) program and @DellCares customer care and tech support, which operates in 11 languages. “If you need help, that team will reach out,” Mehta said. “The reaction we got from that was amazing. That got us thinking about where else listening could be invented across the company—for quality control, ideating and as an early warning system.”
Realizing that a higher degree of listening would not only solve customer problems but could also improve sales, help in the acquisition of talent and inform product development, Dell decided its social media strategy needed to be even bigger. “We needed to do this at the company-wide level,” Mehta said, “otherwise we might miss systemic or broad-based issues.”
So Dell launched its Social Media Listening Command Center in December, an operational hub based at its Round Rock, Texas campus, designed to allow the company to effectively monitor and respond to communication across multiple social media channels.
Using Radian6 social media monitoring software, the command centre tracks “all social media around the world,” said Richard Binhammer, a Dell senior manager in strategic corporate communications, social media and corporate reputation management, “including Facebook, Twitter, blogs, community forums, YouTube and podcasts.”
If it sounds a bit like a war room, that’s exactly what it looks like, with glass walls and giant monitors tracking social media conversations in real time. The listening centre currently logs 22,000 daily social media mentions for Dell, and it’s not just the number of messages being counted, but also their topics and sentiment, as well as the number of followers and their reputation and location.
How does the company handle such volume? “Not every one you would respond to,” Mehta said. “The ones that are truly actionable are few. If a customer needs help, we help him or her. If the customer is an influencer and has made a great suggestion, we’ll reach out. Dell’s philosophy is around customer choice. If a customer is only used to the phone, then that’s how we help.”
“The objective on the listening front is to hear them all,” Binhammer said. To achieve that, Dell has trained thousands of employees in the art of social media listening and engagement. “People want to connect with the people who are doing the work at Dell,” he added. “So it’s important that we have 5,000 employees trained and embedded across the company.”
Dell’s Social Media and Communities University training program is segmented into four levels. The personal level is for employees who only want to use tools like Facebook for personal reasons, and the training ensures they are informed about Dell’s professional code of conduct. Employees who would like to support and promote Dell initiatives on their personal sites take the enthusiast level training, which provides guidance on issues like privacy, disclosure and Dell’s transparency policy. Employees who formally use social media as part of their jobs receive the professional level of training, while the highest level, that of spokesperson, is reserved for those who not only use social media but who also speak to the traditional media.
Dell likens its approach to a hub and spoke model: while its physical command centre acts as a centralized listening post for social media, it also has ground control teams across the globe, which all have access to the same training, monitoring screen and data. And its vision is to launch command centres around the world. “Listening is in our DNA,” Binhammer said. “It’s not just about customer support. Listening is fundamental to every aspect of our business.”
ING: banking on engagement
While banks aren’t typically known for their conversational prowess, ING Direct Canada has been lauded for its efforts to both listen to and engage with customers online. Already recognized for its unique approach to banking, ING was a natural fit for the culture of social media. “Our culture is predicated on transparency,” said Mark Nicholson, head of digital and interactive for ING Direct Canada.
“Even the CEO (Peter Aceto) has no office.”
Nor does he have any qualms about tweeting, maintaining an active Twitter account and extending that engagement to real life, where he hosts tweetups across the country in ING Cafes. “He’s very active in social media, and that’s half the battle,” Nicholson said. “He gets it.”
ING Direct Canada also maintains an active presence on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, but “Facebook is where a good chunk of our engagement takes place. We get tons of inquiries, which we respond to actively,” Nicholson said.
“We’re there to engage with consumers,” he added. “We’re not focused on sales.”
The company has used its Facebook page to run campaigns and to gauge customer feedback on new products, such as its new THRiVE Chequing account. “We launched the product in preview fashion and invited customers into the preview to get feedback,” Nicholson said. “Then we made improvements based on the feedback.”
And much like Dell, ING listens across the Web using what it calls a Conversation Index. “We built the Conversation Index to monitor the entire conversation around Canadian personal banking,” Nicholson said, “and we index our voice around that. We do benchmarking against competitors measured over time, and a ranking system comes into play with regard to positive and negative tonality. We’re measuring return on participation more than ROI.”
The company uses Spreadfast for social media management by its small in-house team. “We assign questions to experts, and the answers come back to the team to vet before they go live. This creates an audit trail,” Nicholson said, adding that social media training at the company consists of “indoctrination by trial and error.”
ING Direct Canada has also made use of social media for internal communication purposes, enabling employees to share ideas and vote on them. “Anyone can post an idea and expand on it,” Nicholson said. “It’s very useful for process improvement and networking.”
Gatorade: drinking the Kool-Aid
Much like Dell, Gatorade’s thirst for social media engagement led it to establish a Mission Control Center at its headquarters in Chicago. But unlike Dell, Gatorade’s control centre is staffed with a combination of employees and “social media digerati including Fleishman-Hillard, VML and OMD,” said William Morris, marketing manager and Mission Control director for Gatorade Digital. “Each of these agencies has representation in the room, which provides cross-agency collaboration and brings subject-matter expertise to the team. Each of the Gatorade Mission Control staff members also comes equipped with an athletic background, which helps bring the perspective of a competitive athlete to the room.”
Gatorade’s goal is not only to listen and enhance its relationships online, but also to optimize media-buying decisions, drive new product innovation and integrate the digital space into the fabric of its culture. Its current social media channels include Facebook and Twitter, “but as we shift the conversation toward sports performance, we continue to identify new and innovative social networks to establish presence on,” Morris said. “We want to position Gatorade as a sports performance leader that knows athletes better than any other brand by listening to and learning about the real needs of real athletes and engaging in real-time dialogue.”
Gatorade receives 500 questions a month through its Mission Control, and uses tools like Radian6 and Parature to weed through the questions and provide proper customer responses. “We don’t seek to control conversations or opinions relating to Gatorade products but we do enter the conversation where inaccurate information is being shared,” Morris said. “We avoid conversations regarding personal taste and take note to help evolve our brand and products in the future.”
The company tracks comments, likes and retweets, number of fans and followers, impressions per post on Facebook, sentiment, online share of voice and volume of specific keywords related to the awareness and health of the brand. “This helps further Gatorade’s understanding of athletes to engage in more authentic, real-time dialogue, enhance relationships and drive product innovation,” Morris said.
And it’s allowed Gatorade to launch innovative campaigns designed to capture the ears of its audience, literally. Last year, when Gatorade noticed social media conversation around a song it had featured in an ad for its G Series products, it quickly worked with the artist to release a full-length version of the tune 24 hours later, which it offered to its Facebook fans and Twitter followers.
Product innovations like this are more feasible when informed by real-time social media data, but if a listening post is beyond your means, Dell’s Mehta assures it’s not necessary for everyone, particularly companies that are just getting started. “Let’s not make it complicated,” he said. “Listen, get a sense of volume, sentiment and tonality. Then decide how aggressive to be. Start by listening and you will learn a lot.”