Monitoring your brand health – part two.

In part one of this series, I gave recent examples of when we respond to bloggers when they blog about Vancity. In this part, I want to talk about how to monitor the conversation so you can find those opportunities to respond.

The most basic tool – Google Alerts.
I have just changed the way I monitor the health of the words ‘vancity’ and ‘azaroff’. I have had Google Alerts set up for a couple of years now, so whenever a blog post, news article or web page is published that mentions ‘vancity‘ or ‘azaroff‘ I am alerted by email as it happens.

This helps me keep up with the conversation as it happens about my company or about me personally. Most of what is written is totally ignorable, and most often the post is not even about us. Vancity is a slang term for Vancouver (“Just landed in Vancity, ready for some skiing“), and is also the name of an art-house theatre in town (“Waiting in line to see the sci-fi, chop-socky, Korean anime slasher pic sequel at the Vancity Theatre“). But occasionally I hit a post worthy of a response.

Why should you monitor?
Truth be told, being the first to know puts you in a particularly good position within your company. You are the one with knowledge, and can raise issues. For an organization like an FI where a lot of people don’t get how this works, it almost makes you a magician. Use it! Nothing gets people excited like an extreme blog post, whether positive or negative.

How to monitor.
Monitoring what people say about Vancity is taking more and more time. I have my Google Alerts set, as I described. I also used to monitor Technorati, but stopped at some point because it just wasn’t top of mind. And I have found some good stuff using Twitter Search, but these were manual and I just don’t do it that often.

I was having lunch with my friend Gregory Krysa (“All social media is inherently authentic.“) recently, my equivalent at Aritzia, and he told me what he’s doing to monitor his brand’s online reputation. This is so simple, I almost hesitate posting it in case you are all already doing this and I’m the last one to the party. But here goes…

Using RSS as the aggregator.
So this is the stupid-easy part. I already use Google Reader daily to keep up with all of you guys and your blogs. Well Gregory simply said that all of these services have an RSS feed.

I mean duh!

So if you go to Google Blog Search and look up your company (I’ll use “credit unions” as a proxy) and sort by date, you can see all mentions of your company in the blogosphere starting with the most recent. This page has an RSS feed. You can see it if you use a browser that automatically discovers feeds, or you can see it in the left-hand column of the results page.

Google Alerts also allows you to subscribe via Google Reader instead of email. Google Alerts let you do a comprehensive search so you can get sent news, websites and blog posts. Google Blog Search allows you to do an advanced search, so I can remove words like “theatre” so I skip posts about what’s playing at the Vancity Theatre. Find the one that works best for your needs and add it to your preferred RSS reader (if you don’t yet use an RSS aggregator, I’m not sure I can help you).

Beyond Google.
Technorati also has RSS feeds included in their search. Look up your company in Technorati and then see that there’s a little RSS icon at the top-right of the centre column of the results page. For some reason, Google Reader was finicky with this, and it took a few tries, but it worked.

Now do the same thing in Twitter Search. In the right-hand column, there’s a link to the RSS feed to this result. Voila!

Now check Google Reader.
So then I created a folder within Google Reader called “vancity”, and put all these feeds in there, along with the feeds from our main website and from

It isn’t perfect.
I haven’t found a way to check Facebook. Facebook is a closed community, and there aren’t RSS feeds. If your needs become this sophisticated, perhaps it’s time to invest in a blog monitoring service who can add this dimension to your search. If you use one, please leave a comment and let me know which one you use and whether or not you are satisfied. I imagine we at Vancity are ages away from needing that.

I hope this was useful as a practical way to start understanding the word of mouth that is happening online about you or your organization. Let me know if you’re already doing this, or have better methods. I have just set this up, and it’s already been phenomenal.

I look forward to your comments…

Three years of Resolutions about change.

Viva la resolution!It started in 2006, the year we launched

We began what would become an annual tradition: our Viva la resolution! contest where anyone could come to the site, name the change they want to make about themselves, the community or the world and blog about that change at least three times.

The winners would be selected partly by user selection and partly by the moderator, Kate. The three top choices would receive a Vancity Visa Gift Card worth either $1,000, $500 or $250.

It has generated some great content for the site over the years, including the truly amazing EnviroWoman and her pledge to live plastic-free.

So this year, we’re doing it again! If there’s a change you’re interested in making, come to this site by February 28th and dig in!

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 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.


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 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 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!