Ad:tech Panel Urges Deliberate Approach to Social Media

  |  November 6, 2009   |  Comments

Participating in social media can help a brand in many ways, but to be successful, the brand's strategy needs to tie social media into business objectives.

Participating in social media can help a brand in many ways, but successful strategies must tie into business objectives, agreed an expert panel at ad:tech New York on Thursday.

Many brands are beginning to realize the importance of participating in social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, but they can get overwhelmed by the noise if they're not careful, according to Pete Blackshaw, EVP of digital services for Nielsen Online.

"There's very little we can't learn about brands today thanks to social media. It's the world's largest focus group, and it can be infinitely revealing of a brand's value," Blackshaw said. "But we need to figure out how to put a filter on that data so it can inform brand strategy."

That filter can come in part through third-party tools such as those offered by Nielsen, Radian6 or ScoutLabs, but it also needs to spring from internal groups within the organization, said Bonin Bough, global social media director for PepsiCo.

At PepsiCo, Bough is looking at social media holistically, involving all of its 300,000 employees in some way, whether that's educating them about their personal representation of Pepsi's brands, or ways that the employees can act as a filter in their everyday jobs. "You need to be able to listen, and respond in the right ways that will drive the bottom line," Bough said.

PepsiCo's customer relations team is considered the "front line" for both listening and responding to customers, he said. That's the value of a company like Zappos, which has set the bar for using social media in customer service. "Amazon didn't buy Zappos because they didn't know how to sell shoes. They bought them because they didn't know how to create their customer relations model," he said.

The issues a brand faces when it's not prepared to listen and respond to customers is illustrated in what has become the textbook example of poor response to a customer relations issue on social media: United Airlines' "United Breaks Guitars" incident.

To recap: earlier this year, Canadian musician David Carroll witnessed baggage handlers roughly handling his expensive guitars. Not surprisingly, he found the guitars were broken when he retrieved them. He felt United was not taking responsibility for its mistake, and so created a song and video that went viral on YouTube, and has now been viewed nearly 6 million times.

The biggest mistake United made was not addressing the issue right away, according to Kay Madati, VP of audience experience at CNN Worldwide. "They had to have seen the video, but they didn't respond to it," he said. "They should have first acknowledged the issue was going on, then been transparent about the solution."

It would have made sense to go back to social media, where the negative brand messaging was spreading, to share their side and explain how it was a mistake, and what was being done to make sure it was never going to happen again, Madati said.

A bad situation like the "United Breaks Guitars" incident can be turned around, by paying attention to the customer, showing genuine concern, authenticity and humility. "They provide an opportunity to turn a 'badvocate' into an advocate," Bough said. "Mea culpas do work."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin Newcomb

Kevin Newcomb joined ClickZ in August 2004, covering search marketing and other online marketing topics. He has been reporting on web-based businesses since 2000.

Before the bubble burst, Kevin was a marketing manager for an online computer reseller, handling copywriting, e-mail marketing, search marketing and running the affiliate program.

With a combination of real-world marketing experience and years of business journalism, Kevin brings to ClickZ a unique ability to deliver news and training materials that help online marketers do their jobs better.

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