28 January 2009

Social Media 101: Know your community

Last week, a Page One PR colleague forwarded me a blog post by David Henderson, "How Not to be a Key Online Influencer." The post talks about a PR executive, James Andrews, from Ketchum who flew out to Memphis, TN to visit FedEx, one of the agency's biggest clients. Upon landing, the exec tweeted: “True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say, ‘I would die if I had to live here."

The comment was caught by a FedEx employee who follows Andrews on Twitter. The reaction was NOT pleasant. The employee took great offense and even questioned FedEx's need to retain Ketchum.

I'm sure Andrews would give his two front teeth to take back that tweet, but it's too late – it's gone viral and he can't. I'm sure he learned an important lesson, like don't use open public forums to openly insult your business partners or share overly personal information. But beyond that, it's important to know your community. Why are you there? Who do you want to reach? What do you want to communicate?

That was this PR guy's first mistake: not knowing his audience.

Muhammed Saleem contributed a post to Mashable today outlining how to "Survive a Social Media Revolt." The key takeaways for dealing with large community backlashes:

1) Communicate even if you have nothing to say.

2) Be forthright.

3) Make it clear that you're listening.

4) Acknowledge your mistakes.

5) Promise to learn and improve – then deliver.

In other words, build a decent relationship with your community and show how you value that relationship. Don't put on your "best friends forever" hat one day, then take it off the next. Sounds fair, right?

25 January 2009

Enjoying the Wonderful World of Disney

It's no wonder that Disneyland is often called the "happiest place on Earth." Visiting the park yesterday reminded me that, besides its affable characters, one of Disney's strongest assets is customer service.

Disneyland is full of cheerful employees whose purpose is to perpetuate fairy tales and make your dreams come true. Why? Disney knows that satisfied customers will spend money and come back.

I realized yesterday what an ingenious idea the "FastPass" was a couple years ago. The premise: give people a ticket to the most popular rides that essentially holds their place in line. The ticket specifies a 60-minute time slot during which the holder has access to the front of the line for that attraction.

The FastPass is great – instead of spending 2 hours in line for the best rides, you can get a FastPass and wait no more than 10 minutes. The marketing behind the magic: now customers have an extra hour and fifty minutes to wander the park and spend money.

It's an easy gesture that makes a big of difference. The Sundance Kabuki Cinemas in San Francisco and many Los Angeles movie theaters give customers a break by assigning seats when you purchase a ticket. Rather than encouraging customers to waste time saving seats in the theater, they offer Zen-like concessions where customers can lounge around until it's time for their movie to start.

In the world of apparel, Nordstrom and Anthropologie are quick to start dressing rooms for customers. They initiate a relationship with customers and take clothing off your browsing hands so you can shop comfortably.

Give customers a break. Offer them a peaceful atmosphere and an enjoyable experience, and they'll be happy. It's a formula that Disney has almost perfected, but it's not magic – it's just common sense.

14 January 2009

The Importance of Internal Marketing

I attended a client sales conference yesterday and was really impressed with their strategy and outlook for 2009. One of the top messages that stood out was, "play together and play nicely... the competition is outside these walls, not in the room."

(That's right - time for a *group hug* just like these puppies.)

As a PR person, I know what it's like to bug people to get what you want, but I hadn't thought about the increasing challenges to staying unified and well-oiled during a recession. After all, if you're worried about potential layoffs, why not start watching your neighbor or competing with that person across the hall?

I think humans are prone to competition – it's called Social Darwinism – but still, sitting in my first sales conference yesterday helped me realize just how important internal marketing can be.

Internal marketing is defined by Wikipedia as: an ongoing process that occurs strictly within a company or organization whereby the functional process aligns, motivates and empowers employees at all management levels to consistently deliver a satisfying customer experience.

I think of internal marketing as creating an enabling culture in which creativity and innovation are encouraged along with responsibility and accountability. It's a very communal approach to organizational management, but I think it's going to be key for companies that want to survive the recession.

I'm not saying grab hands and sing Kumbaya around a campfire, but everyone likes to be valued and given a voice., don't you?

06 January 2009

Yelp user sued for bad review

What better way to ring in the new year than with a court mediation for a super juicy lawsuit served almost a year ago for expressing your opinion on Yelp? That's how a 26-year-old custom furniture builder and San Francisco resident, Christopher Norberg, found himself after writing a negative review for chiropractor, Steven Biegel.

Interestingly enough, though Biegel is on record for having said Norberg's review "unjustly characterizes me as unethical and dishonest," his referral traffic from Yelp remained steady after the review was posted. It decreased, however, after he filed the lawsuit. Sounds like poor marketing and PR to me.

Regardless of how this dispute unfolds, it does promise to set new legal precedent for Yelp users who may have to censor their content in the future. Let's hope that's not the case.

Norberg has started his own vigilante website to protect free speech on Yelp. Elinor Mills reported additional details for CNET News:

The lawsuit, filed February 25, 2008, alleges that Biegel has suffered loss of reputation and business as a result of the review and seeks punitive damages. According to the lawsuit, the review allegedly contained false statements and inaccuracies that suggested Biegel was dishonest and accused him of fraudulent billing practices.

Norberg was treated twice by Biegel before a friend of his told him he had had billing problems with Biegel's office, he wrote in his review. Norberg, who said he did not have medical insurance, was not asked to pay for the visits because Biegel's office said it would try to bill his auto insurance company instead, the review said. Even though the insurance company refused to pay, Norberg did not initially receive a bill from Biegel, he said.

In the meantime, Norberg began getting treatment from another chiropractor who suggested he sue the driver of the car that hit him, Norberg's review said. Norberg eventually settled the case, the review said.

After learning that Biegel's bill to the auto insurer was $550 instead of $125, which was the amount quoted for two visits, Norberg called Biegel, his Yelp review said. Norberg said that Biegel demanded he pay $550 during that phone call, but then said he would waive the fee entirely, according to the review. Biegel later called Norberg and explained that his office bills insurers at a higher rate than patients who pay for service directly because of the higher office costs in dealing with the paperwork and delays in receiving payment, court documents said.

Biegel's office then made a call to Norberg's auto insurance company and learned about the settlement and then called Norberg and demanded he pay $125, the lawyers said. Norberg paid the bill and posted a review of Biegel with a one-star rating on Yelp on November 16, 2007.