(3/12/2010) After leaving the last SXSWi Content Strategy session where the presenter passed out chocolate chip cookies, I couldn’t believe my eyes upon entering the large ballroom for Brian Solis’ session, “How Your Brand Can Succeed in the New Web.” There on a table were rows and rows of inviting, orange, bubbling mimosas.
“I’m nervous,” Solis admits, smiling. “I didn’t expect this many people.” While I didn’t get a cookie at the last session, I did luck out and get one of his complementary beverages.
Over the past few years SXSW Interactive has grown immensely in popularity, so a note not only to presenters but to attendees – prepare for the rooms to be packed. And for attendees, get there early or you’ll be sitting on the floor.
If you’re in the realm of social media and marketing, Mr. Solis, principal of FutureWorks, needs no introduction. The timing of SXSWi comes soon after the January release of his latest book, “Engage: The Complete Guide for Brands and Business to Build, Cultivate, and Measure Success in the New Web.”
So what is the New Web? As we’ve seen, social networks have significantly contributed to the change within the online world. Most of this session was dedicated to how this medium has put more power in the hands of the public; power that can elevate a company or open the drapes on its inadequacies.
“Someone cares about what you’re sharing. They want to know you and follow what it is you have to say,” Solis explains.
As those in business embrace social media as a medium for sales, marketing, customer service, and community, we’re just beginning to build best practices for social media as a viable and practical online business tool.
So…HOW do you get people to care about what you have to say? HOW do you get people to then ENGAGE with your company?
To answers these key questions Solis invited some of those whom he featured in his book to join him on the SXSWi panel stage.
One guest on the panel was one of the founders of Foursquare, Dennis Crowley, who announced that Foursquare had 540,000 after the company’s one-year anniversary. It’s no so surprise that location based services such as Foursquare and the Austin’s Gowalla are considered to be the next companies and technologies to watch at this year’s SXSWi.
Crowley explains how Foursquare has changed the way people are connecting in the physical world and with brands or small businesses. “Have you guys seen any of the mayor specials on Foursquare? We started seeing this last summer…we started seeing local businesses printing out their own flyers and hanging them up on their doors saying, ‘Show us your Foursquare screen and we’ll give you a free cup of coffee.’”
This inspired Foursquare to work even more with venues to offer specials to customers through their service, and at the time of this session there were 1,500 vendors around the world participating. Solis points out that this social media medium has become so powerful because it is a direct, unsolicited endorsement of any company, large or small. And when the Foursquare user posts their check-in on Twitter and Facebook, which they’re able to do from their smartphones, the reach of that viral vote is expanded even further.
Another on the panel was Frank Eliason from Comcast, who is responsible for turning around his company’s level of service (remember the infamous YouTube video?) through the @comcastcares Twitter account, using enhanced quality in service as a marketing component.
Brian asks, “What have you learned about customer service?”
“Engaging in your customer makes them the biggest advocates for your brand,” Eliason answered. Comcast had learned about social media to improve their service and in the process, developed a personal interaction with his followers to a level he didn’t expect.
“Companies do social media from brand perspective,” but Eliason realized this engagement had become something more on the anniversary of his daughter’s death, when he was off of Twitter for the day. People who didn’t even work for Comcast but followed @comcastcares jumped in to offer answers to customer questions and help those in need. “Companies don’t understand social media and the connections that are possible.”
Agencies used to use focus groups to gain feedback for a client, where it is an ad campaign or whether a frequent buyer program is delivering on its value and promise to the customer. Now social media is that immediate, direct channel for feedback. “Everything starts with listening and research,” Solis said. “Understanding what it takes to be meaningful and what matters most in an exchange.”
So, who owns social media within an organization? “People own social media,” Solis ask matter-of-factly. “Ignorance is bliss, until it’s not. It is our job to know who those people are. The entire company has to have an outward presence. People expect to be heard.”
The need for social media monitoring topic came up, citing the Southwest Airlines debacle with Kevin Smith as an example, where Smith tweeted about getting kicked off a flight because of his girth.
Jeremiah Owyang, a web strategist on the panel then asks, “What could they have done to avoid that problem?”
“All these business are flooding their service teams to Twitter. What companies aren’t doing is fixing the phone line, the email system,” Eliason adds. “People are doing it from a PR perspective, but that won’t improve your service department.”
Solis presented what’s known as the Backchannel, the action and conversations taking place that you may not see, like people in the audience Tweeting about this panel or why AT&T sucks. Finding these conversations and engaging in them, which sometimes may require leaving your comfort zone, is only part of the strategy – along with creating a conversation workflow, a listening agent (social media monitoring tools), and path for collaboration – in order to scale social media successfully.
But in the end, Solis reminds those in the audience that, “Social media is about sociology and psychology more so than technology because it’s the people behind the technology that matter. This requires substance, thought and empathy. They need to believe in what you’re saying. Be the ‘we’ in the social web instead of the ‘me’ in social media.”