insight, social media

The Curious Case Of Dr. Pro And Mr. Troll

Four months into a company that’s heavy on social media, and there’s one thing I’ve discovered that I never expected:

All of us here have split personalities.

Without realising it, we’ve all been acting as two people with the accounts whose social media profiles we manage.

Personality 1: Dr. Pro. The nice guy is the one who handles the Facebook Page or Twitter profile. Who creates engaging, nice, rather paavam content. Puts it up dutifully. Carries on conversations. And just generally generates the numbers that keep clients happy.

Personality 2: Mr. Troll. Between posts, our social media man turns into the social media troll. Tweeting out to the brands his fellow content writers manage, joking with them, even criticising them to some extent.

It’s interesting how quickly, easily and often I’ve seen this change in behaviour online. Not just in others, but in myself too.

It’s rather natural, actually. One, all of us who dabble in social media are expected to be influencers. We all use our personal networks to promote our brands. And we all try to be funny on Twitter so that we get more followers – just to say we’re this much closer to Lady Gaga.

Two, when we’re not posting, or thinking about posting, we’re just being ourselves. As people, we have every right to express ourselves, even if it means cracking a joke or two at our brands.

And three, we also tend to talk to brands hoping for a response. So that a few of the thousands of followers of the brand will also follow us after being drawn into the conversation. That’s my conspiracy theory, anyway.

The catalyst to write this post was a Twitter conversation I had with one of our brands.

This is hardly a conversation that should bother me. It was a joke, meant without malice, just getting cheeky with a boy band signed on to the record label.

The question is: at what point do we draw a line?

Let’s not consider defamation and vulgarity. Any digital professional who defames or gets vulgar with his brand deserves to lose the account.

But are we allowed to criticise when we believe we’re justified? Are we allowed to laugh at our brands when they say something stupid (through the keyboards of our fellow creatives)? How far can those boundaries be pushed? Do those boundaries change from client to client?

Do we get to play audience or do we have to stick with being admin? Am I allowed to tell a brand on social media – in an individual capacity – that I do not like its product, even though I may be directly or indirectly managing that account in a professional capacity?

I suspect there isn’t a right answer to this question. And I’d love to discuss this. Do leave a comment, and let’s carry on this conversation.

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how to, social media

How To Manage A Brand’s Social Media Conversations

Too many cooks can spoil more than just your appetite.
Every brand wants to be on social media.

After all, when ad agencies, digital agencies, online publishers, social media agencies, brand consultancies and just about everybody on Twitter is shouting on and on about social media, brand managers are eventually going to listen.

There’s no question that social media is exciting. That it’s a platform for deep, meaningful engagement with the consumer. Or that it reduces CRM costs. And increases customer satisfaction and retention.

It’s one thing to get on to social media to create meaningful conversations with one’s consumer. It’s quite another to manage it.

To decide who will manage social media conversation for a brand, we must understand two things: who the stakeholders involved are, and what the aspects of a brand’s social media are.

There are several entities that need to work together to build a brand’s social media effort – the client, the agency, the digital agency (sometimes the same as the agency), the social media management (SMM) agency, the media agency and, very often, the online publisher.

Similarly, there are several aspects to a social media campaign. Some of these include viral marketing, engagements, announcements, CRM through online conversations and website promotion. And, whatever the objective of the social media effort, it requires the brand to speak with one voice, that’s in keeping with the brand’s tone in mainline media.

The challenge? When every stakeholder wants to use social media to support its work on the brand, who will ensure that the brand presents a cohesive, coherent and consistent face to its online consumer?

Sherlock Holmes once said, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the answer.” I’ll apply the same principle to figure out the answer to my question.

We’ll begin with the online publisher. Typically, an online publisher makes money by selling advertising space, branded editorial content and, in a few cases, offering creative solutions for the same. It needs social media to promote the content it creates for the brand, but that’s about all. A publisher is generally too occupied with managing the campaign’s efficiency to get involved in managing conversations – and neither is it set up to do so.

Next up, the media agency. It’s close to the brand, understands the business and the consumer, controls where the money is spent. But creativity has never been a media agency’s strong suit – and getting people’s attention on Facebook and Twitter takes a certain amount of creativity. So, we cross the media agency off our list of possibilities.

Now for the social media agency. These guys would make great partners in theory, but I have three problems with them. Firstly, they don’t understand the brand’s voice very well. You can see that in the case of brands like Tata Tea. Jaago Re has a voice of it’s own – distinctive, youthful, fresh and provocative. I don’t see that voice in its social media effort on Facebook. And, after having devoted three years of my career to Jaago Re, it hurts.

Secondly, most SMM agencies today aren’t organised very well. They don’t have the resources or, very often, the domain knowledge to execute all that they promise. Plenty of them are startups trying to jump on to the bandwagon, or fly-by-night operators. I’ve been on the receiving end of a poor SMM agency…and it isn’t a nice place to be.

Thirdly, SMM agencies are not yet very high up on the pecking order for marketing managers. You can judge that by the irregular stream of updates on certain Facebook Pages and Twitter profiles. It means the marketing manager isn’t updating them very often on what’s going on in the company…and a brand that doesn’t tweet very often is as good as a brand that doesn’t tweet at all. Knowing what content to put up can be an SMM agency’s bugbear.

Next we move on to the creative/digital agency. They understand the brand and its voice. They know what’s going on, and hence what to tweet. Sounds good? Yes, except for one fundamental problem. Agencies handle multiple clients. Which generally means lots of work on the plate. In the rush to meet deadlines and expectations of clients and accounting executives competing for their time, creative folks simply don’t have the bandwidth to handle consumer conversation in a timely and effective manner – which is what social media is all about.

That leaves us with only one option that ticks all the boxes – the client. So how do you help your client manage his social media conversation?

What the agency needs to do is this: hire a dedicated resource on behalf of the client to handle his social media conversation. This resource will be a print journalist, someone who knows how to spark conversation with his/her news headlines. He/she will be paid for by the client, and sit at the client’s office, embedded into the marketing team. He/she will be trained by the agency to understand the brand’s tone of voice, and will liaise with all the brand’s stakeholders to provide social media support to their marketing innovations.

Several brands have started doing this. I have had fruitful interactions with Jet Airways and Le Royal Meridien Mumbai, to name a couple. The former resolved a query relating to their frequent flyer programme in a matter of hours. And the latter created a relationship with me, incentivised me and eventually made me a paying customer.

It’s not so surprising, really, that the responsibility for social media conversation is best rested on the client’s shoulders.

After  all, who better to speak for the brand than the brand itself?

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clients, digital, social media

Frog Blues (Or, How To Screw Up On Social Media)

unfortunately, kissing this frog had left the princess a little...blue

Being a digital communications professional, I get very excited to see brands I like or use establishing a presence on social media.

Unfortunately, not every brand knows how to use social media appropriately. Neither do they realise the damage they can do by misusing it.

Here is a story that’s more a personal experience than a case study.

Blue Frog is on social media. They have a Facebook Group(many in fact, to keep up with their numerous members) and a Twitter account. A quick visit to their social media pages will show you that they use social media to:

  • Announce schedules and upcoming gigs
  • Give out further information on said gigs
  • Share good music
  • Drive people to Blue Frog with incentives and contests
  • Respond to conversations

Keep in mind that last one. ‘Respond to conversations’.

Now for the story.

The wife, a friend and I heard that Indian Ocean were playing at Blue Frog. Being longtime fans, we decided to go. It was too late to book a table, so we figured we’d just go hang with other general janata.

frog tweet 1

The line stretched really far back. Then we overheard someone asking a bouncer, “How many people are in already?”

“400,” replied the bouncer.

“And how many do you plan to let in?”

“700.”

We shook our heads, dug fingers in our ears to make sure we’d heard right. 700 people packed into that (relatively) tiny space?

We had.

When we entered, there was no room to move. We dug out a space at the bar and hung on for dear life. The concert began. People kept entering, squeezing past us in tight confines, smelling of sweat and booze and stale cigarettes. Others went out for a smoke, and came back in, pushing and shoving on each leg of the journey.

It was so bad, we could hardly focus on the awesome music Indian Ocean was playing. It was like listening to a CD in a car.

Irritated, I tweeted.

frog tweet 2

I waited for a response. After all, @thebluefrog had tweeted something just nine minutes earlier. Surely they could not ignore this message.

They did.

A girl standing beside us began to feel claustrophobic, and sat down on the floor, leaning against the bar. A spontaneous group formed around us, with the guys trying to cordon off some space using our bodies to block the relentless crowd.

And still the gates remained open.

Now I was bloody upset. Blue Frog isn’t cheap. The ticket cost Rs. 300, and the first round of drinks (a beer and a martini) set us back Rs. 1400. And it just wasn’t feeling like an experience worth paying for.

frog tweet 3

No response.

The band announced that they’d be back on Sunday for all the fans who couldn’t get in. Blue Frog tweeted about the repeat gig. Apologised for the long lines. Apologised to individual tweeple who tweeted about not getting in.

And somehow missed out on apologising to me.

An hour-and-a-half into the concert, we decided that it wasn’t worth it. We left. Before the band had played Kandisa, their signature song. And before we left, I lashed out on Twitter for the last time.

frog tweet 4

Needless to say, we didn’t.

How did Blue Frog goof? You might say that they did apologise, they did plan a repeat gig.

But I say that they focused (and continue to focus) on reaching out to prospective consumers, enticing them, wooing them. And completely ignored those of us who had already bought the product and weren’t happy with it.

@thebluefrog continue to sell on Twitter, announcing gigs, responding to praise. “All is well,” to use a much-abused line.

But unless they begin to respond to all conversations rather than just the happy ones, they’re gonna have a social media fire on their hands…sooner rather than later.

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digital, social media

Is Social Media Keeping Us Honest?

Jhoot bole, Twitter kaate

The wife and I were chatting about the Sunburn festival the other day, and I mentioned that I was following Nikhil Chinapa (the main man at Sunburn) on Twitter. He was posting live from the event – interesting little nuggets about how they were putting the show together.

My wife said, “Celebs post such rubbish. It’s all a PR stunt. How do you know it’s even true?”

And that got me thinking.

Isn’t social media actually encouraging brands and personalities to be more honest?

As the wife points out – brands and personalities need to be honest in all media. But the consequences of dishonesty are greater in social media. The medium is such that everybody’s a journo. Anybody can write a blog. Anybody can share it with a thousand friends. And a million strangers. News doesn’t break, it snowballs in social media.

With brands, the need to be honest is rather clear-cut. Follow any brand on Twitter or Facebook, and you’ll see they’ve all got some things in common:

  1. They’re all trying to be very friendly to their intended consumer. Some of these are the very brands you’d swear never to touch with the long end of a barge pole after a bad experience.
  2. They’re all trying to build a unique tone of voice. Few are succeeding. I think their social media copywriters need to look at some old VW ads for inspiration…or hire me instead.
  3. They’re trying to keep their consumers engaged with interesting content. Games, contests, humour, what-have-you.
  4. Finally, most importantly, they’re all being bloody honest! They’re putting on a human face. They’re replying to consumers. They’re admitting to and apologising for mistakes. And giving customers better service online than in person.

And what are our celebrity friends up to?

  1. Most celebs on Twitter give their followers a glimpse into their rich, privileged and highly exclusive lives. Like the film director who talks about parties, shoots and media issues. Or the Bollywood Badshah who gained 28000+ followers in one day, for expressing some rather soppy thoughts and feelings.
  2. They try to be funny too. Like the Swannatron who’s currently stalking the South African batting line-up.
  3. Some of them talk issues. Or rather, get their volunteers to do it for them.
  4. Some of them have quit Twitter after rants and racist outbursts. Others post pictures of their wife in scanty underwear.
  5. But, once again, whatever they say or do on Twitter, there’s a common undercurrent of honesty running through their profiles.

Why?

For brands, it’s clear-cut. If you lie, you will get outed. If you cheat, the world will know. If you refuse to accept responsibility, your sales will decline. It takes just one post from a disgruntled ex-employee, a competitor or just about anyone. There are enough reporters out there (social media journalism is fast catching on). Not to mention all the strange people who follow big brands and will cackle gleefully as they type out (or retweet) the tweet that will destroy them. And, most terrifyingly, there’s Google, with its awesome real-time search. What brands must remember is that you won’t need to fix a social media PR crisis if you’re gonna prevent it by being honest.

For celebs…it’s a little more complicated. They could bullshit us – lie about the casting couch, bitch about rivals, talk about parties that never happened…you get the picture. We’d lap it all up. Spread the gossip at parties and at the office water cooler. Thing is, Big Brother is watching them all. Waiting for just one error of judgement to print that headline news story. SRK lies about attending Big B’s birthday bash! It takes just one jealous rival to break Omerta. And cause (in some cases, irreparable) damage to the concerned celeb’s image. So it makes sense for the star’s PR agency to tweet honestly…even if the stories make you wanna puke.

Let not the lesson be lost on us ordinary folk. (Don’t you just love alliteration?)

There’s a new sheriff in town, and his name is social media.

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