Monitoring your brand health – part one.

I have been wanting to tackle this idea again for a little while now, and recently a few thoughts have come together into this two-part blog post. This post, part one, is about listening and responding to bloggers. My next part will be about the free tools you can use to monitor the web and how to put them together in an interesting way.

Part one: listening.
Many people say that the first step to getting your brand involved with social media is listening. In other words, listen to what people are saying about you or your company in blogs, on Twitter, Facebook or any other social media applications. I agree; listening will help you understand how people perceive you in a qualitative way, and will inevitably lead you to social media opportunities organically, rather than trying to blindly decide where your first opportunity exists while sitting in a corporate boardroom.

I first spoke about this topic over a year ago at the Washington Credit Union League annual convention in Spokane in 2007. Almost a year ago I addressed it again at a Net.Finance conference in New York. Here is my slide deck from that conference:

What makes a post worthy of a response?
In my view it’s really simple:

If someone puts some thought and effort into their post, it deserves a response.

This means that Vancity sucks! and Vancity rules! don’t merit a response. But someone who has something to say (positive or negative) deserves, at the very least, to know we heard them (for obvious reasons, I still haven’t run across a middle of the road post that demonstrates great thoughtfulness). In a perfect world, we’d further the discussion with our response.

How do we respond?
I always like to respond with a comment from the most appropriate person in our organization directly on the bloggers’ post about us. The appropriate person in this case is determined by a combination of expertise, business unit and the amount they “get” social media and would be willing to respond authentically. I have taken on the role of gatekeeper and sometimes coach our staff on how to respond so it sounds natural and not too sales-y or formal.

The response can also take the form of an email (many bloggers have their email addresses visible somewhere on their blog) or a phone call. It depends on the sensitivity of what’s being discussed.

A recent example.
Recently, we had a blogger join Vancity. Or rather try to join Vancity. This one meant a lot to me because the blogger does PR 2.0 and joined partially because of the social media initiatives I’ve helped to create, like ChangeEverything.ca. But upon trying to join Vancity, she didn’t have the experience that she (or we) would have liked. You can see the original post here: The social media disconnect: let’s not change everything.

Ouch!

We have a wonderful guy as our Director of Operations in our Business Banking division named Bill Corbett. He responded on her blog and emailed her privately. The next day they spoke on the phone. Bill’s very genuine, he didn’t try to sell her to come back and give Vancity another try. He just talked about what happened and some things we’re working on internally to address exactly what happened to her. He didn’t over-promise or give her a better rate. He was just a person talking to another person about what happened. It wasn’t about blame or getting to an instant resolution. But he treated her with respect and humility and authenticity (as I said, Bill’s amazing).

What can happen.
This is a great example, because the next day, after Bill spoke to this blogger, she posted this: The power of listening: Vancity steps up to the plate. This is a textbook example of what you want to have happen. We all make mistakes, and what happened was unfortunate, but we were authentic and listened and spoke to her as an equal and turned this public detractor into a potential future member, and maybe even an advocate.

Why respond at all?
If someone emails or phones us, we respond to their issue immediately. And yet these are private communications. Not responding, in many cases, may well have no impact beyond the individual member. But a blog post is public and becomes part of your record as people Google about your company to see if they want to bring their business to you.

I’m not advocating not responding to emails or phone calls, I’m saying we need to add blogs into the mix. Because this is new and unfamiliar territory, I have taken on this role as gatekeeper and wrangler of responses. If you’re reading this, maybe you play a similar role in your organization. Or maybe this is an opportunity to become even more invaluable to your company. Or maybe you can identify the right person to act as gatekeeper, and help them get up to speed.

Who should do it?
The more senior I get, I still feel it’s important for me to play this role. I know the internal players in our organization, and they respond to me and take me seriously. Getting the right person to respond (like Bill in this last case) is part of getting it right, like the job of a director casting the right actors in suitable roles, it takes a smart, sometimes senior player. It also gives me a strong sense of our brand health, and how we deliver on our brand promise.

More recent blog posts about Vancity:

  • I’m a credit to my species – The blogger opened an account at my local branch on Commercial Drive in Vancouver and had such a good experience she blogged about it. Our branch manager added a comment welcoming her to his branch.
  • Progress Report: New Years Resolutions – This blogger listed his New Years’ Resolutions, among them moving from the largest bank in Canada, RBC to Vancity. I added a comment about the New Years Resolution contest currently running for the third year on ChangeEverything.ca and got a regional branch director to respond as well. This prospective member also Twittered about this specific resolution.
  • A rare post about money stuff. – This blogger praised one of our Investment Specialists and started a really nice conversation that became a Vancity love-in, which is especially important in this economic climate. I sent this to the advisor who was blogged about, her boss and her boss’ boss as a congratulations. She called the member privately to thank them for their post.

It’s about community.
It’s gratifying that most posts about us are positive, and the response can be a simple thanks. When a blog post isn’t positive, often they are constructive and helpful and are about things we need to improve upon. They can be challenging to read, because they touch a nerve, but they are incredibly helpful to us. I recommend taking them with that kind of attitude and avoid getting defensive and resistant. That isn’t productive.

We’re a community-based organization, and the blogoshere is a community we joined when we started ChangeEverything.ca. Getting to this point where I have a lot of allies at Vancity who see the value in responding to bloggers is the result of a soft, slow effort, but it is paying off. It takes a while to get the organization to this point, but trust me, it’s amazing and heartening when you get there.

In the next part, which I’ll publish next week, I’ll share how I’ve changed the free blog monitoring tools I use to more effectively get a sense of what’s being written about us online. Stay tuned, and Happy New Year!

Brother, can you spare some social capital?

I enter the New Year feeling pretty damn lucky. I have a job I love, and believe I have enough job security to weather this economic storm. But ultimately, you can’t ever be totally sure. Over 2009, I am sure some people I care about, perhaps some blogging friends, perhaps even some of my readers, will lose their jobs. It will be a tough year, and between my friends in marketing and advertising and my friends in the financial sector, it will surely be an interesting ride. Who could have guessed where 2008 would have gone? (Well, some of you might have.) I certainly make no predictions for 2009.

And ultimately, that’s why I love LinkedIn. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a bit of a LinkedIn junkie. I can’t quite explain why. It’s not that social, there not a lot to do there. But having been through the dot.com implosion, getting laid off twice as a result and watching countless friends lose their jobs made me realize that I need to be in a perpetual state of job-hunting readiness. Having my Rolodex, resume, and personal references in one place makes a lot of sense (which is what LinkedIn does at its core). I periodically groom my profile, make sure to add new people I meet or current people I know who pop up as new connections and look at the professional changes happening in my network.

Having that social capital at a constant state of readiness is just plain smart. If I ever make a move — and for my fellow Vancity colleagues who read this, let me reiterate: I certainly hope I don’t anytime soon because I have the greatest job I can imagine — I have an instant network to reach out to to start developing my next opportunity.

Writing an insightful blog and being on other networks like Facebook and Twitter (which I love, but have abandoned recently and aim to come back to) is also very important to maintaining, evolving and expanding your network, which increases your social capital (assuming you’re being authentic and have something useful to say).

All of this really came home for me when a guy I know, Warren Sukernek, Senior Digital Strategist at the VML / Wunderman Network in Seattle was laid off recently. Warren is well connected with 500+ connections on LinkedIn (working in a web-related field helps this number of connections because, like me, Warren’s connections are far more likely to be part of LinkedIn already), he speaks at conferences (I met him when we spoke on a panel together at an Internet marketing conference in Vancouver this past September and immediately liked his experience, good humour and ideas) maintains a well-regarded blog about Twitter called Twittermaven, and, not surprisingly, he has a large following on Twitter. So when Warren became a statistic in this economic collapse, he did what I’ve never seen anyone else do. He was extremely transparent about his situation, and reached out to people he knows like me to inform them of his situation and simply ask for help. He’s a very nice guy, so he did this in a very low-key and yet direct way. It made me want to help. And I clearly wasn’t alone, as we’ll see very soon.

He would have been foolish not to reap the benefits of his impressive online presence to turn this sad affair into a great opportunity, which meant getting over whatever social stigma exists around losing your job and go public with this information immediately. In addition to reaching out privately to his network, he relied on the platform for which he’s most well known and
Tweeted his predicament. He also linked to what he calls a social resume, which is a resume housed in a blog, the first I’ve seen of that, and quite a good idea for an intense job-hunting phase. He got a number of responses via Twitter, and I’m sure even more direct and private messages. He utilized his status on LinkedIn (which is where I learned about his situation), updated his blog to thank his supporters, and I’m sure harnessed whatever other social networking sites he inhabits.

And then things got kicked up to another level. Another blog I follow posted about Warren’s newest career turn. And this blog has 248,000 subscribers. Warren got a boost from Church of the Customer, a top marketing blog. They wrote about Warren much the same way I am, examining how he used his social capital to take control of a situation in which most people feel victimized and helpless. They know him as a fellow participant in the Word of Mouth Marketing community, The Society of Word of Mouth. The thing is that the blog writers, Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, are well known authours, having written Citizen Marketers and Creating Customer Evangelists (if you don’t read their blog, check it out).

Being involved in social media in a meaningful way, in other words contributing social capital to a relevant and receptive community, now would have its rewards for Warren.

Warren blogged again, thanking his friends (like Jackie and Ben) for their support and linking back to the amazing blog coverage he has received in a post simply titled I’ve got great friends. In his blog post, he also tells his readers what they can do if they want to help him. I was impressed that Warren asked for the help he needed in a way that was polite, respectful and yet also overt and direct (I wrote him a LinkedIn recommendation as a result). And again he linked to his post in Twitter and his LinkedIn status.

So Warren is smartly cashing in some of his social capital that he has earned through his work, his willingness and even eagerness to share his knowledge and ideas online and at conferences, and his online social activities. I look forward to seeing where Warren lands. My sense is that he’ll have some choices in front of him early in the New Year.

Should the inevitable downsizing that will occur in 2009 affect any of you directly, take a lesson from Warren Sukernek and cash in your social capital to seize the day. But to do that, you need to have cultivated that social capital and have it in place for when you need it most. Because trying to build it when you actually need it will simply be too late in the game to be of any use.

I’ll add one more parting thought. If any of you know of or need a great social media-savvy digital strategist, don’t hesitate to contact Warren. Good luck Warren and Happy New Year!

I’m nominated for a Best of 604.

Best Personal Site or BlogSo evidently I’ve been nominated for a Best of 604 Award in the Best Personal Site or Blog category. Also, ChangeEverything.ca has been nominated in the Best Group Blog or Multi-Author Site category.

If you have a second, and it really only takes a second, please consider voting for azaroff.com here and for ChangeEverything.ca here.

Also, hat tip to Tony, a friend from elementary and high school whom I’m now connected to on Facebook for letting me know. Thanks Tony!

It’s all about me…

In front of the Mendenhall GlacierTwo cool things happened to me today that I want to tell you about.

The first thing is that I gave my presentation to the Internet Marketing Conference, which is happening today and tomorrow in Vancouver. It was only a 25 minute slot, which is short, but I delivered it in about 15 minutes, so we had time for some good questions. I usually like longer slots to get into more details, but it was fun to give a short, tight presentation instead.

A couple of people blogged it, which is a first for me, I think.

Miss 604 live blogged it, which I appreciate. And one of the sponsors, Techvibes summed it up nicely.

The second thing is that my friend TJ McCue published an interview he did with me. I’ve known TJ for about a year, and we met… um… hey TJ, how did we first meet? Anyway, I admire TJ for his smarts and entrepreneurial spirit. He’s always got something cooking, and it’s usually pretty interesting. He blogs on the Dun & Bradstreet content portal called AllBusiness.com. He ran an article called Why Bother with Blogging or Social Media. It’s a good piece, and may be part one of two.

Enjoy, and thanks for this indulgence…

NOTE: Here’s part two, it’s called Why Bother with Blogging or Social Media, part two