Posts Tagged ‘social networking’
Crowdsourced comments on sites such as TripAdvisor are proving increasing popular with consumers. Rather than rely on company self-promotion or professional critics growing numbers of people prefer to read comments from ‘people like us’ even where they do not know them personally.
It becomes a numbers game in the sense that if enough people over a period of time rate something good there is a good chance we would too if we went. Equally you can avoid those hotels, attractions and restaurants that score badly. In this sense no amount of advertising and glossy brochures will attract people who read these ‘crowdsourced reviews’. We are happy to trust the ‘wisdom of the crowds’ and discount a few bad reviews if they seem out of place compared to the majority.
The Travel industry has recognised this growing trend and is hosting a social media conference next month to help organisations understand the potential of this new media.
As someone told me when they came back from a week in Cornwall earlier this month. The hotel they stayed in asked them to fill in a feedback and comment card but also added ‘If you had a good time could you write something on TripAdvisor please’. That shows the hotel understands the power of social media and social networking.
An interesting article from Fresh Business Thinking about how important Social Media can be in helping support online buying decisions.
Certainly if we look at the growth of Forums and ‘Fans/Friends’ pages on social networking sites plus ‘crowdsourced’ feedback sites like TripAdvisor we can see (and maybe have personally experienced) the value and power of 3rd prt recommendations.
As Seth Godin is saying ‘Tribes’ – creating, supporting and engaging with people who are interested in your brand – is very important. What is really exciting is that social media and networking is easy to use, needs very little budget and yet by using it companies can become big-brands. With a lot of fans using social media to share their experience (good and bad!) they can in effect become part of the story by telling their friends. This ‘cascade’ communication can grow to a sizable number so providing a powerful communications network to support commercial activity and promotion.
The Prime Minister will be making a speech today about Digital Britain. The likely content has already been written about so expect:
- Universal access (digital inclusion) by 2015 or 2020 and high targets by 2012
- Funding of the above via some form of public levy
- Major reduction of ‘front of house’ public services (job centres, benefits offices etc) and provision via online services (as happens with car tax) so allowing the PM to talk about ’savings and improved access’
The provision of services online should provide considerable cost savings even after the expense of developing the necessary web sites and IT systems. It has been said that providing a service face-to-face is upto 10x more expensive that via a call centre which in turn is 10x more expensive than online. This is sometimes refered to the 10:1:01 metric. Whatever the real costs – and they will vary – the savings of not having to maintain a network of offices must be considerable.
But – and this is a big but – as I mentioned in my presentation at the recent Kable event on Managing Public Sector Data held in London – such changes are only cost effective if a high percentage of transactions can be completed online. Where the National Indicator 14 (NI14 ‘avoidable contact’) is missed then costs escalate as people miscomplete the necessary forms or abandon the process part way through. They then have to be proactively contacted or responded to via a call centre or be able to serviced via some form of physical presence.
Incomplete forms and errors will be the critical cost element. Every intervention will cost money to correct so reducing the savings. There will come a point where the system is overloaded and not enough ‘back room’ staff are available to clear the errors. We regularly see news reports of systems with big backlogs resulting in delayed payments or some form of customer fail.
In my presentation I actually used a personal real life example of a poorly designed web site and process versus a ’smart form’ or iForm based one. In my case whilst the form could be completed online it had to be printed off and signed, witnessed and then posted on with a fee. That is no problem except I must have misread the instructions as I completed the form incorrectly and so it was returned. I completed what I was asked but then had it returned a second time as there was a further error (why they did not spot this the first time I cannot say). It was them returned a 3rd time (!!) with a further error but I found this one impossible to work out what to do and had to phone the telephone Help Line. They themselves were unable to advise what to do and had to seek further internal guidance while I was put on hold. After following their instructions and posting off the form I called the Help Line to check all was in order and was told it was now being processed. Having been given a date for the expected confirmation letter back I called when it was overdue by a few weeks to be told there was a ‘bit of a backlog but it would be within a few days’. After almost 2 weeks I finally got the confirmation letter.
So in my case there were in effect 5 or 6 ‘avoidable contacts’ which would think would have cost a fair amount of time and money to process. I am not sure but I would not be surprised to learn that the fee charged for the service was exceeded by these ‘avoidable contact’ costs.
A process that I thought would take a few weeks lasted almost 3 months! In the commercial world if there were alternatives I would tell my ’social network’ contacts to avoid using them. Even with a Government service if there were alternatives such as going to local offices I may recommend people to go visit them and not use the online service. If enough people did this the Govt could miss their take up targets and so not make the projected cost savings.
So what could be done to improve the customer experience and reduce the transaction costs?
- Make the online form intelligent. Link sections that have to be completed to other sections and if not filled in flag it as an error.
- Only show sections of the forms as necessary. In my case it was a 12 page form – in full. A number of sections were not to be completed depending on previous answers. Hide the options and only activate if required. A simpler, less busy presentation will reduce likely error completion.
- Only allow the forms printing for signature or online submission when all have been completed and no errors (as far as the system can tell!) have been made.
- Use ‘pop-up’ text and video based instructions as both a user activated option and where sections have been completed incorrectly
- Allow ‘crowdsourced’ comments and feedback from previous customers. For example I had my own specific experience. I cannot imagine I would be the only one. If there was a Forum or Community section I could share those experiences and add my own tips on how to avoid the problems I had. It maybe people from the Help desk can also provide quidance and suggestions by commenting on my comments. These could be sorted by topic and shown as an overall resource or selectively displayed like the video at each relevant section. The objective being the same – increase successful online completion and reduce errors.
- Finally there may be 3rd parties (organisations like citizens advice and local charities and support organsiations etc) that can help. Maybe the web site can have an ‘access local help section’. The Call Centre Help team would still be there but if local offices are closing and some people still need ‘face-to-face’ help this can be done in the community. They themselves may have helpful advice online that can allow the transaction to be completed rather than the citizen needing to physically visit the offices.
Last week Hitwise US (who track website traffic) announced that Facebook had overtaken Google as the most visited web site on the internet in the US.
Robin Goad of Hitwise UK looked at the data and using UK research shoed that Google was still the most visited site and based upon UK v US web usage differences would likely remain that way for some time to come over here.
The news that Facebook is ‘now more visited than Google’ received coverage of the national media including Channel 4 News.
It is not surprising that Facebook is catching up Google in the UK and is already the lead in the US. Facebook has 400m members worldwide and if a lot of those check the site everyday then that is a lot even more in the lead!
So what is the relevance for businesses?
Many businesses understand the value of Google in terms of customers searching for products and services to buy. As a result many businesses ensure their web sites are Search Engine Optimised so they appear high up on the search engine rankings. Some have Pay Per Click ads and others worry about marketing and promoting their businesses in the local press and service listings like Yellow Pages and attending business networking events. In othyer words they spend time and effort (and money) promoting their business.
Just what can they do to with web site to get more visitors and then turn them into customers?
With the size and reach of social networks and the power of product recommendation comes another challenge for many businesses. How to practically participate and how much time to spend doing it? With Word of Mouth/Mouse recommendations becoming very important (think Amazon recommendations based upon yours and others purchase and viewing history and TripAdvisor for ‘crowdsourced’ reviews of hotels and holidays) businesses need to be thinking of how they can get a participate.
With the news that people are visiting Facebook more than they do Google means it is even more important businesses start to develop a social networking and communication strategy before their compeitors do!
A great post by Brian Solis sharing data on the demographics across 19 social networks. By drilling down into the data Brian highlights the age profiles of people overall and across each of the 19 networks.
This is very useful if planning a campaign to ensure clear targeting and ensure building ‘communities of interest’ is a success. It also helps explain why President Obama and his team did not focus on only one or two sites but had profiles and activities on 15 sites.
Two statistics stand out:
- the biggest group of users at 57% of all those online are aged 35+
- the 25 – 34 year old age group only places at 3rd largest with 18% share and after 35 – 44 (25%) and 45 – 54 (19%) age groups.
Well at least that is what research from the US is suggesting.
This is the link to the blog posting of the company that did the research – Retrevo Inc – an online consumer electronics company in the USA.
When researchers ask if people checked Facebook or Twitter after they had gone to bed and not just throughout the day almost half of reponders said they would.
Even more interesting was the answer to the question about where they were prepared to be interupted by Facebook or Twitter ‘at any time’. It would seem that quite a few are prepared to be interupted and get social online rather than have sex.
The research did not investigate the differences across the age groups so we will never know if the over 25’s have sex less than younger people so do not get the problem of being interupted as often or for some other reason. That is one for the Social and Behavioural Scientists to investigate.
From my own non-scientific research (asking people about their habits during my Web 2.0 and social media training courses) I know that most people sleep with their mobile phones by their bed. They check first thing in the morning and last thing at night for messages. Younger people usually check Facebook and similar social networking sites and older people their ‘Blackberry’ or similar mesaging services. A number of people will use their laptops/netbooks in bed but everyone has their mobile phone (Only 4 people out of over 300 said they left their phone ‘downstairs’ or ‘in their briefcase/handbag’)
There is another interesting split in the people in my courses.
Recent graduates (average age 21) are almost 100% Facebook – only a handful out of the hundreds I have worked with said they were not on Facebook but quickly add they are on MySpace or another social networking site. Twitter is hardly ever used and only a few use LinkedIn.
Business people who attend and so are already established in a career (aged 25 – 45+) are more varied. About 20% are usually on Facebook, about a third are on LinkedIn and 10% on Twitter.
Penguin are famous for their ‘Classic’ series of books. When I was at school we had a book buying club. Each week we paid a small amount into a personal fund and once a month (or was it less frequent?) had the choice of a number of books published by Penguin.
I remember the excitement we had discussing with classmates what book we were going to select and ensuring we did not duplicate our choices so we could then swap them after reading them. That was the start of my life long love affair with books and reading. It continues today with a study full of books and bookcases throughout the house. No doubt if we had access to blogs, Twitter and Facebook back then we would have had cyber-chats and shared information that way.
A few years ago in an earlier blog I wrote about Penguins creative use of podcasting to listen to interviews with authors. It is nice to see it has just had its 3rd birthday.
When audio podcasts are added to book readings online and at special events, author tours and ‘meet the author’ evenings we can see how traditional book promotion can be blended with digital media. Add in social media in terms of building a community and engaging in conversations with it and we can see how a new classic form of product promotion can be created. One that provides a richness of experience and interactivity and conversational engagement via comments and feedback.
Can it only work for authors? No. Everyone with a story to tell (and a product/service to sell!) can use the medium of podcasting (audio or video) to help create and engage with a community. Is it worth the time and effort? Yes. If you make a monthly podcast it maybe listened to by a few dozen, a few hundred or maybe thousands of people. Whatever the number it is highly unlikely any business – except a multi-national with call centre staff – will have the time or budget to contact that number of people every month. Also would you want to contact them every month or would they for that matter? No. But someone may choose to listen or watch each month.
Podcasting is a wonderful way to keep people updated about your businesses news. But how do you get the content interesting enough to attract and retain an audience? You probably already know how to engage and talk to potential customers. You know when you have their attention and when you are boring them. It is the same with an audio or video podcast but without you seeing people yawn or obviously stop listening! You do need to consider carefully what ongoing information or news would be interesting so you can create a ’series’. You can always ask the audience what topics would be of interest. Include a request for comment in the podcast but also ask via any social media tools that you use such as Twitter, blogs or Facebook etc.
A good rule to use when considering podcast content is ‘edutainment’. If people enjoy time in your company when you are networking and learn something (about you and your product) then they will come back. Many organisations have created a loyal following who in turn have used social networking and Word of Mouse marketing to spread the word.