Southwest Strikes Back

I don’t know the whole story, but apparently, Kevin Smith (you might know him as Silent Bob) was booted off of a Southwest flight last night because he was too fat for one seat and didn’t purchase two.  He immediately took to Twitter to demonstrate his frustration to all 1.6 million of his followers by telling @southwestair to “go fuck themselves.”

Who knows what’s trued and what’s screenplay worthy.   Honestly, I don’t really even care.  But what I do care about is  a belligerent b-list celeb who wants to make a scene and try to take a brand down with him.  Southwest’s Twitter team immediately responded to the issue via a public tweet and “@reply” to Kevin Smith.  That’s how I learned of the whole thing.

But how should Southwest handled the situation?  They were really screwed either way:

  • If they publicly respond, then they show consumers and followers of each side that they are connected, listening and working on a solution.  BUT, they also bring more exposure to the situation and start take on more of a defensive stance.
  • They might have responded via direct message, but Kevin Smith wasn’t following them back.
  • They also followed up with a well-written blog post explaining the situation to anyone who is interested.

It’s was quite the conundrum, but I think Southwest handled it just about as well as they could have.  What’s to learn here?

  • Respond fast, but be confident in your policies – although Southwest came across as a little desperate in their initial tweets responding to the problem, they resolved all of that in the blog post.
  • Put customer service first and it usually works out – anyone who reads both sides of the story can’t fault Southwest for their willingness to make the situation right.  In almost every example, they apologized and asked for an opportunity to make it right.
  • Apologize for the experience, not the policy – Southwest worded it perfectly when they said sorry for the experience.  If they would have cowered and said sorry for deeming him too fat for one seat, then a huge firestorm would have erupted.
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Do You Have a Twitter Filter?

We had an interesting conversation about managing a brand’s Twitter account.  Some of the questions that came up:

  • What SHOULD and SHOULD NOT be posted on Twitter?
  • How often should a brand be posting on Twitter?
  • How important is conversation?

My conclusion was that every brand needs a Twitter filter.  A Twitter filter is a list of subjects and guidelines that allows anyone and everyone within the organization to understand exactly what to post/plug/mention/discuss on Twitter.

Here are a few things I would recommend considering when writing your Twitter Filter:

  • What is the “sweet spot” for the number of Tweets per day? 5-10? 0-20?
  • What are some of the subjects that your followers REALLY care about?  What percentage of your tweets do you want to be on these subjects?
  • How can your brand’s attitude and essence best be communicated in 140 characters?
  • What is your @reply policy? If your Twitter account is as big as Whole Foods, are you going to publicly respond to every question?
  • What time of day is the best to reach your consumers?
  • What are the chances that this tweet will elicit a response or be re-tweeted?  If it’s low, is it worth sharing?
  • Of course, you could also list everything that SHOULD NOT be discussed/posted on Twitter, but it seems like that would be a lengthy list for any brand.

By the way, in my opinion, a lot of people should put their personal Twitter account through some of these same filters.  Just sayin’.

I’m sure there is more to add to this list, so what would you add?

Is Social Media a Fad?

I’m taking part in a panel discussion this weekend at DePaul University’s Kellstad Marketing Group Symposium.  Our topic of discussion is: Social Media – It’s Not a Fad Anymore.

Really?  We’re already SURE that it’s not a fad?

But what’s your definition of “social media?”  Is it just blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc?  Or is it the intersection of online interactions, sharing and conversations?

If it’s just the current online networks like Twitter, then I say it’ going to be a fad because the technology isn’t going to stop and there will always be new “networks” that break on the scene.  Think about MTV 20 years ago vs the MTV of today.  It’s not nearly as relevant or important now as it was back then and I see social media networks sorting out much like television networks of the past 30 years.

Let’s look at the numbers.  Here are a few examples (as of 4/21/09) of how many people are following some HUGE brands:

  • Direct TV: 3380
  • Rubbermaid: 2769
  • Burger King: 2598
  • HP: 2093
  • Esurance: 293

With big brands like those still talking to small numbers like that, I’m just not ready to declare that Twitter will be around forever.  A brand like Rubbermaid could still go have meaningful conversations with 3000 consumers in one day AT the point of purchase without spending much money.

Maybe the real issue is that mass media is a fad?  Maybe marketers are finally coming to the realization that anything that doesn’t include conversation is a waste of money.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all over Twitter and Facebook.  But I’m also all over talking to consumers any way that I can, which includes at email, retail, at events and anywhere else I can have a meaningful conversation.

Are You Adding or Taking Value?

A lot has been made about Twitter and whether it’s a fad, sustainable and all that stuff.  I think the only way it is sustainable is if people dedicate themselves to adding more value than they take.  If it becomes something where people just sit back and wait for others to post something smart or where they just post meaningless bullshit, it’s going to fail.

Adding Value on Twitter:

Good links, thoughtful tweets, reporting news, sharing interesting life experiences

Taking Value on Twitter:

Constant ego tweets, incomplete sentence @replies, spam, repetition

But isn’t the add/take equation the key to the sustainability of anything?  If everyone tries to game the system it don’t most things fail?  I’m not really sure if Twitter can do anything to guard against this.  It’s really up to us.  We’re the one that will decide if it develops into a community of givers or takers?

My only advice: don’t follow the takers.  And if you really think about it, some of the takers are the biggest names out there.

Another Thought on Twitter. This Time About the Media.

A question hit me tonight: Why is ESPN just barking out headlines on Twitter? Why is the Denver Post doing the same thing?

If you’re a sportsfan, wouldn’t have been cool to interact with someone at ESPN about the Super Bowl today?  And if it’s too much for one person, then segment it by sport (or subject in the case of the Denver Post, or any other newspaper).

This isn’t anything revolutionary, but being barked at is boring. Having a conversation is way more fun.

Don’t use Twitter for Marketing and PR?

I ran across an interesting “tweet” a couple weeks ago. (For those of you not in to the whole Twitter thing, a “tweet” is a message posted on the micro-blogging website called Twitter.)

The tweet directed us to a website called howtousetwitterformarketingandpr.com. Being the curious marketer I am, I checked it out and found out that the website simply says “Don’t.”

I beg to differ.

There certainly is a way for companies and brands to use Twitter.  Southwest (@southwestair) and JetBlue (@jetblue) Airlines have successfully used Twitter to announce new routes, flight delays and have conversations with their consumers.  Comcast (@comcastcares) has used Twitter to help their customers troubleshoot technical issues and have a meaningful conversation in the process.  Whole Foods (@wholefoods) is using Twitter to answer product questions and have conversations with their customers.

See the trend here? The brands that are effectively using Twitter are the ones that are using it to have meaningful conversations. The ones that are using it to simply make announcements are Sturgeon fishing in Lake Michigan. It’s just not going to work. Having meaningful conversations with your customers or consumers doesn’t just apply to Twitter. Creating opportunities to have conversations should be the common thread in every marketing tactic.

Maybe that website’s URL should have been: http://www.howtoactivatemarketingprogramsthatdontallowconversationswithconsumers.com. THEN, the answer could be “Don’t” and I’d totally agree with it.

Making Sense of Social Media

I love Social Media.  And if you’re here reading MY blog, you must too, because I’m not exactly at the top of them thar Google pages.

And, if you love social media, I’m willing to bet you’re on Facebook, Twitter, have posted some YouTube videos, occasionally save stuff to Delicious and maybe even write a blog of your own.  In other words, you understand social media and how it has become an important way to connect with consumers.

But how do you make sense of social media to other people?  How do you “sell” it as an important part of your marketing plan?  I think it’s totally fair for people to ask the question, and it’s our job to prove its value.  Here’s how I’m doing that:

  1. In the beginning, go rogue. It will take a little time to build a meaningful base of Twitter followers or Facebook fans, so do it on your own in your spare time.  Once you have some impressive numbers, start to share the story.
  2. Connect the online conversation with real-life events. Use social media to promote events or promotions and show your internal audience how you increased traffic by using social media.  A tweet-up is a great way to do this.
  3. Find and send out articles about brands using social media to grow sales. Duh, right? But the important part here is that you have to keep doing this.  You’re not going to convince anyone right away.
  4. Conduct your own training. You might have to tailor your training to the type of person you’re talking to.  The Common Craft videos are useful for a variety of audiences.
  5. Get people to dip their toe in the social media pool. Convince them to gign them up for various social networking platforms and see what sticks.  One person may love Facebook, another might love Twitter.  But if they’re not living it, they’re probably never going to get it.

Thoughts on Being a “Twitter All-Star”

I was lucky enough to represent Flying Dog Brewery in a recent article that highlighted us as “Twitter All-Stars”.  Click here to see the article.

After reading the final product (which I think is well-written and highlights some great uses of Twitter), I came up with a few additional thoughts.

  • The real power in Twitter is the conversation.  It’s fine drop links and post TwitPic, but loyalty comes from interaction, so monitor the number of “@ replies” and direct messages to measure the effectiveness of your tweets.
  • Who are the people/consumers that have a high level of involvement with your tweets?  These are the people that respond to your questions, look at your TwitPics, send direct messages for product information.  Know who these people are, and find ways to increase your interaction with them.  But be sure to keep it on their terms.
  • Be prepared to respond.  Unless someone on your staff can carve out some time to respond to questions and interact with your followers, you may want to reconsider your Tweeting.  If you Tweet right, you’re gong to get questions on product/service availability, sponsorship requests, advertising pitches, consumer complaints, consumer compliments and everything in between.  Obviously, some of these interactions may not warrant responses, but most will – so be prepared.

One final thought: Twitter is still really new and looks really stupid to the people that are just finding out about it.  If you’re one of these people that doesn’t really get it, but is curious about all the Twitter talk – take the 30 day challenge.  Open an account and post at least one tweet, everyday for a month.  Don’t force yourself to do anything more than that and you’ll get a feel as to whether it’s right for you or not.  And if it’s not right for you, it probably not right for your brand – yet.

How We Use Web 2.0 to Start Brand Conversations

I’ve looked all over the interweb for a simple, social media/web 2.0 flow chart-diagram-type-thingy.  Most of what I have found is really technical (like this) and goes on the theory that everyone knows and uses EVERY social media application.

So I got to doodling today and came up with this:

Web 2.0 Brand Communication Flow Chart

Maybe this is overly simplified, but this isn’t intended for all you blog-reading geeks.  It’s more for people who work on the brand side, with small budgets and want to get the word out.

Here’s how it works:

  • Content is developed.  It can come in the form of photos, in-store displays, videos, promotions and more.
  • That content is packaged up and formatted for a blog. (I really considered adding “website” in that box, but decided against it).
  • From there the content is shared in your favorite social networking and bookmarking websites.
  • THEN, the content is promoted on Twitter.  Personally, I see Twitter in a world of it’s own and different than blogs or social sites.
  • That’s it.  Pretty simple.

But give me your thoughts.  This is by no means perfect or finished.  It’s just a starting point.

The Twitter Experiment

I’m about 1 month and 94 updates into our Flying Dog Twitter page and here’s what I think so far:

  • We grew our “followers” by 20% when we mentioned the Twitter page in our email newsletter
  • Consistently posting “updates” builds “followers”
  • There are other brands that are experimenting with Twitter – Southwest Airlines, jetBlue, BMW and GM to name a few.  Personally, I like following brands on Twitter as long as the updates have some substance.
  • I try to post at least one Flying Dog update per day because I believe that there should be at least one thing we want to tell our consumers per day.  The exercise of thinking about what I want to tell consumers helps me stay connected with what resonates with consumers.
  • I’m not sure if we’re reaching the right consumers in a meaningful way, but it’s worth a try.  All it costs is time and as a marketer, it’s helping me stay even more connected to the brand.