Will Social Media Replace Contact Centers with Advocacy Centers?

Last night I had an interesting conversation with Frank Eliason (aka comcastcares) via Twitter.

This all started because Shel Isreal asked a question many are asking right now: Do brands belong on Twitter? I think this is an interesting question – which primarily goes to weather or not the “community” will accept brands on Twitter. That being said I think the answer is already baked in. They are already on Twitter – and for the most part – Twitterers seem happy to have them there.

The more interesting question is – as I put it in my exchange with Shel Israel last night:

the question isn’t should they be here -but how do u scale beyond single person and maintain effect & persona…

This was the stimulus for my conversation with Frank Eliason

more after the jump…

Continue reading “Will Social Media Replace Contact Centers with Advocacy Centers?”

Being in the Conversation – Social Media and your Brand

The current trends in Social Media Brand Monitoring focus around your PR/Marketing agency. They provide tools to create nice reports telling you what the public perception of your brand is – and perhaps some alerts when something “bad” happens.

Led by Radian6 – this trend is very powerful and shouldn’t be ignored. But the real questions facing you (COO, CEO, VP of Product) are:

  1. Is there any real advantage to cleaning up after the perception is already created?
  2. If so – how the heck to we operationalize that?

The first question goes to the advantage of quickly (in near real time) engaging, participating and correcting the issues that cause a negative brand perception. As I’ve said before – the urgency is preventing the perception (and attendant backlash) from becoming the story. The real danger is having the original negative perception create a story – the story about how the Social Media universe erupted in outrage. That story will repeat and re-enforce the initial negative perception and create another, more subtle and destructive one – that you are not listening, empathetic and responsive.

more after the jump…

Continue reading “Being in the Conversation – Social Media and your Brand”

Defining your Brand – One Conversation at a Time

I’ve spent a large part of my professional life dealing with the realities of having conversations with customers. In every type and size of company imaginable. And there is one single reality that holds true:

Your brand is what your customers say it is… regardless of your best Marketing and PR efforts.

With the rise of Social Media this reality is even more true. Not because you ever really controlled you brand – but because word of mouth just got global, social and the biggest megaphone you could have ever imagined.


It used to be a single pissed off customer might only impact 10 or 20 people over the course of 3 months. Now a single dissatisfied customer with a Twitter account or Blog can reach hundreds of people in a single day. And, as a rule, if you are doing (or not doing something) that makes customers mad, you do it to more than one per day.

So feel free to create all the marketing material and press releases you want lauding your superior product or service and you commitment to great customer service. In the old world that might have worked. But today it simply can not compete with the conversations your customers and prospects are having about you. You are what they say you are.

If you want to really impact your brand – and how it is perceived by your customers and prospects, get in the conversation.

Your PR and marketing staff will tell you to invest in Social Media Monitoring tools like Radian6 and Techrigy to gather Social Media data to analyze for your next marketing campaign. And I concede – monitoring what is said about you is a positive first step. The challenge with this strategy is that you are still trying to control the conversation.

What you need to do, what you should be doing is participating in the conversation.

Provide Solutions, Inform, Listen and Respond

The most important branding you do (and can do) is in the conversations you have with your customers and prospects.

Think I’m nuts? Great – Let’s look at two examples:

Motrin’s Blunder:

Motrin released an ill conceived ad. And it isn’t that they didn’t realize their mistake – it was that they weren’t engaged in the conversation. Because of that there were 4 days to allow the controversy to reach significant proportions.




Exploring Social Media: The Motrin Moment Impact of Social Media


Ford’s ScottMonty:

ScottMonty from Ford is actively engaged in Social Media. And because of that he is able to react in real (or near real-time) to negative and positive brand messages. This allows Ford the opportunity to actively engage in the conversation and refute false perceptions and reinforce positive messages.






The takeaway:

Analyzing the data and reacting is about how fast you can “clean up the mess”. It pre-supposes you can megaphone your brand message and shout down those who have a different point of view.

By participating in conversations about your brand you have the ability to prevent situations where the perception becomes the story. You have the ability to turn negative experiences into positive brand affinity moments that increase your customer loyalty and enhance your brand in the eyes of those watching. And in this new Social Media world we are all watching.

It is time for Applications that make Communications an Advantage for Small Businesses

The current trend in communications is more (and more) communication technologies, providers, mechanisms and buzz words. Social Media, VoIP, Blogs, Wikis, Unified Communications, TelePresence, WebMeetings, SMS, IM, Chat, Mobile, MicroBlogging, etc.

You can hop on any tech site and see daily skirmishes over which technology is the best – or how you should leverage social media in PR and Marketing. But at the end of the day we are doing an awful job creating applications that solve real challenges faced by Small Businesses – which is ironic, because communication between businesses and their prospects and customers is a significant source of pain.

All this technology isn’t making the situation better for small businesses and their customers – it is making it worse. How many ways does a person need to make a phone call? How many “channels” of web reviews, posts, comments and rankings can a small business legitimately afford to monitor and react to. It is a deluge – and for the most part it is noise. And because of that signal to noise gap we are missing the real opportunity – Why aren’t we creating applications that leverage communications to make transactions easier (for both seller and buyer) and more efficient?

We’ve all seen it whether in our own small business or in our transactions (or attempted transactions) with small businesses. Annoying appointment reminder calls, customers who fail to show, unreturned phone calls, calls outside business hours, unanswered emails, frustrated blog posts, bad reviews, etc.

How many times have you attempted to get a contractor to simply show up to give you an estimate? How many times have you (Mr. contractor) shown up to do an estimate to find no one home? How many hours a day does the salon owner spend calling to make sure her appointments will show up… and how many don’t show up anyway?

Improving communications between small businesses and their prospects and customers is a huge problem space that has been largely ignored. It is a massive opportunity to improve both the lives of small business owners, by helping them acquire and retain customers and at the same time make them more efficient; and small business customers, by making small businesses easier to do business with.

I’m not just telling you this – I’m obsessed with it. So much so that it is now the entire purpose of cosinity. It is the whole point of page2call – helping small businesses get better at customer acquisition by making them easier to do business with and allowing them to better track the effectiveness of their online presence.

I’ve spent years (too many years) solving these problems in fortune 500 companies. And while I admit – most of the time large companies use these technologies as barriers to communication – that was in every instance a failure of vision and will. For fortune 500 communicating with customers is a cost to be minimized. For small businesses communicating with prospects and customers is a matter of survival – and when leveraged as an advantage a key driver of growth.

I know creating these applications for small businesses is nearly as sexy as another micoblogging service, or anything you can stamp social media on, but it does have one significant advantage. 25 million target customers who have no problem spending money to acquire and retain customers.

Verizon Jacks SMS Rates

I use – as does cosinity – SMS for a variety of communications. This morning – my SMS service provider Clickatell – notified me this morning that Verizon had decided to charge an additional 3 cents each for SMS sent from an “application”.

That means the average SMS sent to a Verizon user will cost between 5 and 7 cents.

Obviously this is highway robbery and completely unjustified. As has been pointed out hundreds of times – SMS is the lowest network usage and network cost to a provider – so this has nothing to do with increasing costs, it is pure profit.

If this isn’t reversed I’ll be forced to discontinue SMS services for Verizon Wireless users.

I’ve included the email below.


Dear Brian ,

Alert: US Carrier – Verizon Pricing Increase announced (October 8, 2008)

Please be advised that US carrier Verizon Wireless has announced that they will be charging an additional 3c per SMS for all application originated mobile terminated messaging beginning November 1, 2008. This increase will apply to standard rate and premium programs only through the Verizon Wireless network. Transaction fees will not apply to Free-2-End-User, Mobile Giving or Non-Profit organizational programs, according to Verizon. In addition, it has been reported that Verizon Wireless customers are no longer receiving a delivery confirmation notice after sending SMS messages – a long-time standard SMS service feature popular with subscribers and available on other carrier networks.

As your trusted partner and the voice of over 8,000 Clickatell customers to the wireless carrier industry; we believe these sudden and significant pricing and service changes made by Verizon are detrimental to the mobile industry as a whole. In response, we are working with several partners and industry leaders to strongly voice our concerns about the impact these abrupt changes from Verizon will have on the entire messaging industry. Additionally, we are working to obtain more information on specific policy details and timelines.

Unfortunately, Verizon Wireless has provided little in the way of an explanation as to the reasons behind these announcements and abrupt changes. At this time, your Clickatell account representative and our support centre will not have much more information to share about the reasons behind these changes. However, please be assured that we value your business and know that we are doing everything reasonable and within our power to influence Verizons’ decision as we understand the impact this may have to you, our customer.

For more information on pricing changes please refer to your Clickatell agreement and/ or our standard terms and conditions: http://www.clickatell.com/company/terms.php

Yours sincerely,

Clickatell Carrier Relations

Tel: +27 21 910 7700

Fax: +27 21 910 7701


Jingle Networks Launches Voice Ad Network


Thank you for calling <insert big company name here>. Your call is important to us. While you are waiting we will now subject you to ads for products from <other big company name> for which you have no need, did not call to get information about and which you will find utterly annoying. You see if you are impertinent enough to bother us about anything OTHER than giving us more money we will need to make money from you doing so… because – frankly – we really don’t give a crap if you annoy you… we just want your money.


Jingle Networks Logo

A few months ago, we wrote about Jingle Networks’ intention to start a voice ad network that would see companies that receive a high-volume of calls place ads during caller wait time. And according to the company, that service has launched today.

Known for its 1-800-FREE-411 service, Jingle Networks’ voice ad network will allow any company with high call volume to insert audio advertisements in their calls and attempt to take advantage of the company’s installed base of 130,000 advertisers. There’s currently no word on how the revenue will be shared between Jingle Networks and its partners.

In-call advertising is quickly becoming an important element in increasing revenue while callers wait. But the question remains: will wait times, which already annoy callers, upset them even further now that ads will be piped through the phone? You can bet on it.

[From Jingle Networks Launches Voice Ad Network]

I swear… when I read this I actually threw up a little bit.

Seth Godin & the Myth of Launch PR

I love reading Seth’s posts. He always manages to shine a light on something that is not only true… but also leads us to think beyond marketing and PR and ask some fundamental questions about why we are entrepreneurs and how we create a business.

New startups can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars racing after a dream: a giant splash on launch.

Just imagine… a big spread in Time Magazine, a feature on all the relevant blogs, a glowing review in the Book Review. Get this part right and everything else takes care of itself.

And yet.

Here are some brands that had no launch at all: Starbucks, Apple, Nike, Harry Potter, Google, William Morris, The DaVinci Code, Wikipedia, Snapple, Geico, Linux, Firefox and yes, Microsoft. (All got plenty of PR, but after the launch, sometimes a lot later).

I’m as guilty as the next entrepreneur. Great publicity is a treasured gift. But it’s hardly necessary, and the search for it is often a significant distraction.

It works for movies, in fact, it’s essentially required for movies. But for just about every product, service or company, the relentless quest for media validation doesn’t really pay. If you get it, congratulations. If you don’t, that’s just fine. But don’t break the bank or your timetable in the quest.

[From The myth of launch PR]

No question – Seth is right.

Here is the big question… Why do you WANT that big launch PR splash?

You say “because it is great for the company”:

The fact is… even if you get it, you are probably not ready for it. Point of reference – Cuil. Cuil had great launch buzz. Made a huge splash – and an ever louder thud when the reality failed to meet the buzz. Maybe the product is great, maybe not… but if you are not ready (technology, process and people) to handle the rush of interest and the glare of the spotlight it really won’t matter.

And let’s face it… that giant thud is very, very hard to come back from. So before you go off feeding the hype machine be sure you can deliver (technology, process and people) the goods… otherwise you’ll just get exposed.

So, what is your motivation? Here is the dirty little secret every entrepreneur needs to acknowledge, understand and guard against.

That PR splash – it isn’t about the company… it is about YOU.

YOU want to look like a genius… YOU want to be the new darling of the Silicon Valley echo chamber… YOU want to get invited to the Googleplex to have lunch with Sergey and Larry… YOU want Sand Hill Road to beat a path to your door…

And that is great… congratulations. But what you forgot is that building a company has nothing to do with any of that. It is about creating an offering backed by a company (again, technology, process and people) that can deliver on it. It is about delivering value to your customers. PR and Marketing are supposed to help you make the company visible and compelling to potential customers… not boost your self-image.

It isn’t about YOU.

Another solution to avoid Automated Call Hell

There have been many of these over the last few years… none all that successful. The problem (as I see it) is that you don’t know when or why you’ll need to call one of those annoying toll free numbers… and at that point it is too late for the application/service.
That being said… as someone who worked with Fortune 500 companies building those annoying IVR (interactive voice response) systems – I have to ask… when will you learn? They should be for the customer – they should offer what the customer wants and needs, not what you want them to do. The problem is the standard IVR pushes what the company wants you to do and hides what you really want to do…
It is simply poor design. What I’d love to hear about is the companies that have really well designed VUI(s) (Voice User Interfaces) that their customers love to use. Or, is that simply not possible using voice?

Add this to your list of must have iPhone applications. Direct Line (iTunes link) is a service that helps you automatically navigate phone trees to get right to an operator (exactly what companies don’t want you to do).

Install the application, browse of search the included companies, and select the one you want. Direct Line then calls the number and preselects the appropriate choices to get you to an actual person.

The service operates much like Bringo, which we wrote about in 2007, but since it works directly from your iPhone it saves you the extra steps. In my testing it mostly worked, although it failed to get me through to operators at two companies (Air Canada and AT&T). No worries, though. Just send creator Michael Schneider an email at support@thisistech.com and he’ll update the database.

It’s well worth the $0.99. Direct Line joins DataCase on my list of must have productivity apps for the iPhone.

[From Direct Line Saves iPhone Users From Automated Call Hell]