Building Positive Relationships

For corporate social media success, building relationships with customers is essential.  After all, their support is the foundation upon which a company’s reputation and business is built.  Honest, reliable, and trustworthy interactions are what customers are seeking from companies, and if they find a reason to be distrustful of one business’s practices, they can simply take their business elsewhere.

Honesty is a key factor in building a successful online relationship between business and consumer.  In order for a company’s online message to appear authentic, it must actually be authentic.  Mashable’s Ted Rubin’s article on creating online relationships explains that not filtering out negative reviews or comments of your company is essential because “no one believes 100% positive feedback anyway.”  Customers will have opinions of your company, and they are entitled to voice them.  Being aware of critical messages in the online community about your company will only help you to know where changes are necessary.

No company has a perfect reputation, and having a realistic, conversational online persona can lead customers to positively perceive your brand.  An article from the Social Media Examiner states that “the more we expose our vulnerability and show something that is not normally considered to be a strong business persona, the more people in the online world will know we care.”  In Lauren Metz’s previous post, she explains how Citigroup used Twitter to gain customer service feedback from customers.  As Citigroup’s social media engagement shows, trust is more easily established when customers feel that your company cares.

Company trustworthiness in turn creates a personal relationship with your brand advocates – who according to Rubin are “people who are so delighted by your product/service/brand that they can’t wait to tell their friends and their whole social networks about the experience.”  High return rates will come from these brand advocates, as they will spread positive word-of-mouth advertising to those in their (rapidly expanding) social networks.

By: Claudia Pitarque

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How Zappos is Corporate Blogging the Right Way

Online retailer Zappos.com has gained a reputation in years past for impeccable customer service.  The site boasts free shipping both ways, a year-long time frame for returns, and according to ChiefExecutive.com’s article “Top Ten CEO Blogs,” ”gives a penetrating look into the shoe marketer’s plans, challenges and insanely customer—focused culture.”

The issue of transparency is one that presents itself often in the world of successful corporate communication.  Consumers like to be able to know what’s going on “behind closed doors” in a company being able to know whether or not the company actually holds true to the values it advertises is important when brand loyalty and trust are concerned.

Zappos’ CEO and COO Blog stays true to its namesake, with posts being made by CEO Tony Hsieh and COO Chris Nielsen, both very recognizable figureheads in the company.  Hsieh takes transparency to a whole new level, sharing full corporate emails written by other C-level executives with readers.  Also, Nielsen used the blog as a medium to announce that the company will no longer ship to Canada and shared the reasons behind the decision, mainly because Zappos’ impeccable U.S. customer services were not up-to-par in Canada.

The blog also includes a live Twitter feed alongside the posted content and also displays keywords and links to popular archived posts.  These additions aid in usability, another highly necessary component of corporate blogs.

By: Claudia Pitarque

SeaWorld’s Effective Social Media Strategy in Handling their “Killer Whale” Crisis

In February 2010 during a performance at SeaWorld, killer whale Tilikum grabbed seasoned trainer Dawn Brancheau by the ponytail and pulled her underwater, killing her in front of a live audience.  Brancheau was loved by those who worked with her and was one of only a dozen trainers at SeaWorld allowed to work with Tilikum, the largest, most temperamental whale in the park.  The story spread like wildfire and live videos were posted on YouTube and other news channels after being sent in by audience members.

SeaWorld representatives immediately responded to the crisis by using social media with a tweet and post on Facebook, acknowledging to the public that they are aware of what happened and are responding to it.  The company knew there would be extensive media coverage on an incident like this and made sure to face the media head on rather than ducking the attention.  The head trainer at the park was made available for public questioning about the training and care of the performing whales.  SeaWorld also canceled upcoming whale shows and deactivated it’s light-hearted, related Twitter account “belonging” to Shamu, a visual icon of the park.

Both SeaWorld President Dan Brown and CEO Jim Atchison spoke with the media in post-attack press conferences, further utilizing the crisis management strategy of “transparency” discussed in Amy Neumann’s Huffington Post article “5 Steps for Crisis Management Utilizing Social Media.”  According to Neumann, it’s important to “acknowledge the hardship” and make public updates as real-time as possible in order to give people the real story and provide answers, rather than avoiding the media hoopla.

The positive reputation SeaWorld had earned throughout its years of operation came to the aid of the company when negative comments were being posted on their Facebook page in the wake of this tragedy.  Statements like “Stop making money off of exploiting animals!! Free the whales!” were not acknowledged by SeaWorld representatives but instead by loyal supporters coming to the defense of the company.  According to a SunSentinel article on the incident, this reaction was “the best of what a company can expect from social media: building customer relationships and earning brand loyalty” – two things that prove to be in a brand’s favor during crisis communication.

By: Claudia Pitarque

Expedia Harnesses the Power of Social Media with “Find Yours” Brand Campaign

Over the past fifteen years, Expedia has established itself as the world’s leading online travel agency.  Many online travel agencies seem to have the same information-heavy feel, with potential customers plugging in the days and times they wish to travel and receiving a slew of available hotels and flights at the click of a button.  As the company grew to include 150,000 hotels on their site and drew millions of visitors a day, they decided a brand re-haul was in order to properly utilize the “unparalleled scope” they had achieved in the online travel industry.  Launching their “Find Yours” campaign in July 2012, Expedia sought to break away from “the commoditized feel of online travel booking” and instead find a way to engage their customers, making the brand personal as well as functional.  The new tagline will replace the company’s old slogan of “Where You Book Matters.”

Joe Megibow, Expedia’s vice president and GM stated the company wanted to bring back a personal touch to the travel experience.   He explained that “in a world where every traveler and every trip is unique, ‘Find Yours’ is our effort to capture the magic of travel and to make travel personal again.  With more travel options than anyone in the world, no matter who you are and what you are looking for, we can help you ‘Find Yours.'”  As a part of the campaign, travelers are encouraged to submit personal photos, videos, and stories of their traveling experience with Expedia via Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.  Harnessing the social media sphere even further, Expedia offered monetary prizes or all-expenses-paid trips as incentive to get users involved in the brand’s re-haul.  For example, the company encouraged bloggers to compete against one another for who can post a travel photo best exemplifying a given keyword, and invited young filmmakers to created a short film interpreting “Find Yours” from a cinematic perspective.  Winners of this contest would be featured in a 60-second Expedia spot airing on national television.

Expedia’s tactic of incorporating customer feedback into their brand message is one explored in Susan Gunelius’ article “10 Laws of Social Media Marketing.”  Gunelius explains that companies must follow the “Law of Reciprocity,” when marketing, stating that “a portion of the time you spend on social media should be focused on sharing and talking about content published by others.”  The “Find Yours” campaign proved that Expedia valued the personal experiences and opinions of their consumers, and wanted to harness the marketing power that consumer-to-consumer networking can bring.  By incorporating customer opinions and needs into their advertising, users will be more likely to share Expedia’s content and spread the word.

By: Claudia Pitarque

Corporate Transparency as an Aid in Crisis Communication

In March 2012, a Vegas-bound JetBlue flight had to be emergency landed in Texas after one of the plane’s pilots began acting erratically and screaming abut al-Qaeda, Iran, and Afghanistan while the plane was in flight.  The pilot was locked out of the cabin by his co-pilot during the incident, causing a scene that led several passengers to restrain him until the plane had emergency landed.  Coverage of this incident was widespread across both local and national news channels, and JetBlue was forced to act quickly and address the situation in order to prevent damage to their reputation.

Results of a survey released in April 2011 by the Canadian Investor Relations Institute (CIRI) and PR giant Fleishman-Hillard found that “the biggest mistake companies make during a corporate or operational crisis is a lack of communication and transparency” and stated “few companies have a crisis plan in place that incorporates social media protocols.”  This point is perfectly illustrated in the fact that JetBlue created their Twitter page on March 28, 2012 – the day after the incident occurred.  This seems to suggest that the company did not have a social media strategy in place that would be capable of addressing a sudden crisis immediately and effectively.

JetBlue CEO Dave Barger appeared on The Today Show in an interview with Matt Lauer the following morning in order to address the incident.  Lauer begins to press Barger for more information surrounding the pilot’s reputation around the 1:08 mark, asking if this behavior could have been predicted.  Barger immediately changes the subject and begins praising the “follow up of the crew, and then the customers” to bring the attention back to JetBlue’s effective handling of the situation.

In addition to the JetBlue figurehead’s appearance on NBC, the company also took to their blog, BlueTales, to address the situation and provided three “updates” on the situation throughout the day it occurred.  The blog allowed users to post comments, providing a method of feedback consumers as well as a way to bring public opinion on the crisis to light.

As this example illustrates, corporate transparency is an invaluable tool when addressing a company’s crisis.  JetBlue didn’t seem to have all of its “social media” ducks in a row prior to the incident, but by utilizing Twitter, TV appearances, and BlueTales to provide situational updates to customers, they were able to address the crisis both quickly and effectively.

By: Claudia Pitarque

Best Practices for Corporate Bloggers

In David Wyld’s (management professor at Southern Louisiana University) blog “Marketing 2.0: a primer on blogging for executives,” he highlights the growing trend of blogging and explains how the ever-expanding blogosphere can be a successful communications tool for business executives.  Though corporate blogs can serve as an effective means of communication for from management to employees and consumers alike, there are of course risks involved upon implementation.  Employees from reputable companies like Wells Fargo and Google have been let go because of the over-sharing of corporate information they published on their blog.  Several “best blogging practices” articles advise companies to have a clear set of employee blogging guidelines in place to safeguard against this issue.

In social media blog Mashable.com’s article, “10 Tips for Corporate Blogging,” creators of corporate blogs are advised to choose an appropriate design theme, avoid blatant marketing, welcome criticism/commentary, humanize the company, and incorporate social media, among other things.  Several corporate blogs serve simply as an extension of marketing practices.  If a corporate blog only pushes the product and is filled with blatant advertising, chances are many readers will have little incentive to return back.

Offering the opportunity for readers to provide feedback directly and the incorporation of social media onto the corporate blog were two points in the article that reappeared in another Mashable.com article entitled “15 Excellent Corporate Blogs.”  BBC News’ blog “The Editors” allows readers to chime in and offer their opinion on BBC News coverage, while eBay Ink’s blog incorporates social media by featuring a live company Twitter feed along the right side of the page.

As both of these articles explain, only the corporate blogs that effectively incorporate audience feedback, humanize the company, and stay professional yet personable, are the ones that will succeed in the ever-changing blogosphere.

By: Claudia Pitarque