The anatomy of a social media success story: http://ow.ly/9tl8L

The perfect Christmas present for your local @Kwik_Fit branch manager: http://ow.ly/7YCdf

Six ways to take your blog to another level: http://ow.ly/7sgac

Bristol Editor has moved!

August 13, 2010

To here – after an incredible two years, all good things come to an end. Well, in this case, to a new phase. See you there!

As many of my regular readers already know, my answer to this question is a resounding Yes.

The Kwik Fit example, where I utilised a rising audience to highlight life-threatening service from Kwik Fit Whiteladies Road branch in Bristol, has consistently gained 100+ hits per day since the wholes debacle went public online recently.

And whilst it hasn’t caused a shift from Kwik Fit management – at least not publicly, anyway – what has come to light are the following things:

* The Search rankings have stacked up against Kwik Fit for key phrases, such as ‘Kwik Fit reputation’ on Google in a short space of time

* Kwik Fit management are scouring the blog daily for keywords under their senior managers’ names

* Whilst not publicly addressing the issues I highlighted, Kwik Fit are painfully aware of the true cost of poor customer service

The further examples listed on the blog post – now up to around 60 comments – are making it clear that blogs are a powerful and useful online platform for voicing bad as well as good things about companies. The Facebook anti-fan page is doing well, too.

My question is this – have you, or are you considering, using a blog as a forum to express poor customer service?

For those who missed my most popular blog post the first time round, here it is – as published on www.socialmediatoday.com.

No, it’s not one of those ‘Try this e-course and get rich’ blog posts. There aren’t any magic answers or selling systems on the way.

Just a few nuggets of advice for those looking to actually create some cash from the burgeoning social media platforms in 2010.

Here’s what I did.

Back in the Autumn of 2009, I consulted a digital marketing agency up North, setting up and launching a social media services division for them. The idea being to then take this to their key corporate clients, a couple of whom had already been asking for advice and inputs on such areas as generating interest from Twitter and whether a corporate blog would be worthwhile in 2010.

The social media services division included, essentially:

Social media content

Social media monitoring

Online PR

Social media participation

Social media bookmarking

Core services revolving around the basic premise that content must be the driving force for successful social media activities. Within 4 weeks, the division had been launched, following an intensive overhaul of the agency’s social media engagement: this included getting the Team writing articles for online publishing, blogging to a set schedule, tweeting across core sectors and to target audiences, social bookmarking across the main platforms including Friendfeed, and inviting clients to take a closer look.

Weeks 4-12 were essentially about putting together killer presentations, getting pitch dates set and planned in, meeting marketing managers and delivering the ‘hook & hold’ element of the social media services. And the results?

Client 1:

A leading national insurance firm. Inputted on a range of services, including corporate blogging, online PR, social bookmarking, article placement, content development, protecting brand names on Twitter and overview strategic inputs for 2010. The client had contacted the agency directly regarding assistance on social media services. Prices and strategy delivered. First sale.

Client 2:

A global brand supplier of bottled gas to domestic and commercial markets. Pitched on online PR, social bookmarking, developing a range of corporate blogs, social media content, social media monitoring and promotions across Twitter. Integration of content across multiple platforms was a key consideration. Again, the client inquired regarding utilising social media services to win more online attention, drive higher traffic, and deliver greater sales. Prices and strategy delivered. Second sale.

Client 3:

A global brand name in heating solutions and hot water technologies. Required full service solutions, across the entire range of social media, including setting up and running a number of corporate blogs, Twitter promotions, online PR, social media bookmarking, social media monitoring, and production of a colossal amount of social media content during 2010 to engage new audiences during product promotions. The pitch came about from a conversation about blogging. Prices and strategy delivered. Third sale.

So, what’s the message here? How did a senior editorial guy with limited technical expertise manage to engage three very different corporate clients for an agency, to the point where £250,000 sales were returned to the agency within 3 months?

Simple answer.

Passion and belief in the fact that social media represents the best opportunity for companies, individuals, PRs on behalf of clients and anybody who finds online content valuable as a means of communicating key messages, to deliver and keep on delivering into and beyond 2010. Passion and belief that sales will result from killer content across social media platforms.

The days of standard marketing DM pieces to a database-driven audience offline? Gone.

The days of cold-calling new customers using call random centre staff from 6-7pm? Gone.

The days of broadcasting your selling messages in the hope of an ROI at some point? Gone.

Well, not necessarily gone, You can still use these methods of course. Chances are, however, your competitors will be online, in a faster, more cost-effective, engaging and profitable way, utilising the best commercial opportunity in 20 years. Social media, baby. I saw this commercial opportunity back in 2005, when I started managing corporate blogs for UK clients.

Sorry I can’t give you the Agency or corporates’ names – protecting their commercial anonymity is an essential part of the deal. I’d say it is an interesting recent consultancy project example which may well give a few marketers food for thought. Maybe.

And here’s why.

Substantial damages paid by national newspaper, after online story version containing libelous statement went live. Proof that bloggers can – and will – fight for their reputations to be protected. I think it’s a stunning example, but won’t be the last.

There is a perception that if comments are posted online, rather than in print, they don’t hold the same weight or force – not so, of course, as this case has clearly highlighted. Content is powerful, irrespective of the medium on which it is conveyed.

Maybe that’s why Kwik Fit have maintained complete silence over this corporate reputation debacle throughout the whole of 2010.

This might be one of the trickiest questions to face businesses and individuals getting engaged with social media platforms – after all, although raising profile, increasing online awareness, and positive impacts on Search rankings all come as part of the deal inherently with social media engagement, some tangible ROI (such as an ideal client) via social media activity is a bonus we can all relate to.

Here’s how I look for an ideal client via social media:

It’s all about relevance, and thinking like your customer. Start by looking at which social media platforms you’re engaging on, sharing links, posting blogs, and ask if your ideal client is likely to be exposed to your offerings.

Make sure that you’re posting material which is relevant to them – their sector, niche, industry. Use relevant keywords for their business in your social media content, and connect with key players in their industry.

Observe the conversation, see what’s being discussed in your ideal client’s sector. Add value and expertise into the online comments, highlight how you can help – without selling – and point towards useful content across the web.

Give, give, give. Leave any agendas or hard sell out of the conversation, engage and add value. Consider, for example, connecting your ideal client with contacts in your network who might benefit their business. It’s likely, for example, that you will have at least one contact who could buy services and products from your ideal client. Connect them up, leverage your network.

Have a plan and stick to it. If you’re going to target, for example, IFAs then engage half a dozen with a view to converting one into a paying client.

Remember, the sales cycle via social media is longer than other marketing routes, but it usually provides a lower cost of sale and longer client retention, based on a more personal, trust-based business relationship.

One of the hardest things about finding an ideal client social media is the perception of having to let clients come to you. This is only a perception.

If you’re working your social media platforms with defined strategy, your inputs, comments and networking advice to your targets will draw them to you over time, leading to increased conversations, added value, and that wonderful question ‘So, what could you deliver for my business, then?’ which is the sweet spot of social media engagement for me.

Here are the key facts, in my experience, for finding ideal clients via social media:

  • Forget all traditional marketing thinking and techniques.
  • Don’t use sales-based language, and don’t ever write a proposal.
  • Observe, then engage.
  • Add value, help, network, use Search keywords in your content.
  • Work social media platforms with a defined strategy, not randomness.
  • If you’re looking for a quick win, re-think why you’re using social media.

A great example of finding an ideal client using social media, for me, happened like this:

I wanted to engage a medium-sized, secure, stable PR agency as part of my client base. PR agencies are exposed to clients who require expert consultancy, who listen to the agency’s advice and usually follow through with a purchase.

PR agencies are also ideally placed to utilise social media content services to their clients, thus keeping the cost-of-sale at a low point for me. I white label for the Agency. Simple.

So, how did it pan out?

I observed then engaged with a long-standing PR agency, with a solid client base, covering the entire UK. I offered inputs and advice, pointed the CEO to a few relevant articles, talked about the digital marketing agency I worked with in 2009 (and the £250,000 in social media services revenues I delivered to them via their existing client base within a 12-week period), and offered to provide further content to him.

Nothing pushy, no selling – just advocacy of a mutually-beneficial, profitable business relationship at some point in the future. Zero risk for him, and no lengthy, expensive buying-in of resources, skills, new specialised staff.

No brainer, really.

One of the Agency’s clients enquired about social media platforms a few weeks later. The CEO asked me to prepare materials on their behalf and white label a sale through – which happened within a fortnight.

Agency gains new revenues, at minimal cost, and I deliver the work, on virtually zero cost-of-sale. An ideal client, too, because they have in excess of 18 clients who could all be potential targets this year.

End result? Ideal client sourced and secured with paid work in place within nine weeks, via social media platforms. A definitive ROI from strategic activities.

So, the next time you wonder if social media engagement is really worth it, ask yourself- am I really working it, or just present without a purpose?

Happy trails.

If you thought that a bit of negative online PR didn’t hurt businesses, look at this outstanding article from Mathew McDougall regarding the ongoing BP oil spill. The corporate PR fallout is proving as damaging for the company (estimated at $14 billion to date) as the environmental impact on Mother Nature.

It raises the question for me – can a business afford not to monitor, measure and manage its own messages online?

In this age of constant online comment, blogs, tweets, customer forums, 24-7 News sites and the ever-increasing power of individual platforms – such as the recent impact of Nestle’s share values from the implosion of their Facebook Fan page – it seems more important than ever before for companies to address issues online as soon as they are raised.

We’ve seen the disastrous effects of non-positive action, denial, finger-pointing and the like in recent weeks here, too. That particular blog is costing Kwik Fit 100 customers per day, but in the absence of a responsible management team on board, one expects nothing more – or less, really.

So, my top tips to handling negative online PR? Well, three simple steps really:

* Be open and transparent in approaching the issues.

* When you’ve listened to the issues, listen some more.

* Do whatever it takes to put it right. Whatever it takes.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.