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A fellow Bulwark employee and I recently attended AZIMA‘s August dinner event: How To Build Social Communities For Your Brand. The night’s speakers was Kevin Spidel, a self described “recovering political hack” who has extensive experience building and growing online communities in the political realm before doing so for more mainstream clientele.

Though the entire presentation was excellent and worth reviewing if you can find a copy, here were the few takeaways that really stood out to me. (Not all the ensuing content was covered or discussed during the presentation, but has simply served as a foundation for the following thoughts.)

Online communities are not audiences. Like the minions, they need direction and support.

“Communities are not audiences”. This is an important starting point to remember. Communities simply don’t happen. They don’t just appear all of a sudden and coincidentally happen to be comprised of people with strikingly similar preferences, passions or habits. Communities form for a reason. If you’re wondering where a given community is in the consumer funnel, forget it! You’re thinking of a different funnel. So don’t think like that. For that reason, communities do not need to be spoken to. They do not need marketing in the raw sense. They are beyond that point. What it needs is direction and purpose.

“Once you have a brand ambassador, forget a digital strategy. You need a volunteer strategy.” As vendors, or as markers, we easily get wrapped up in numbers. “What’s the ROI from last month?” “How was last month compared to like-month from last year?” “This customer just bought our product. How can up-sale him on additional products or services?” These are all statements that stem from the line of thinking that dwells on numbers and upper-right trending charts. It’s too easy to only view a consumer as a potential repeat consumer. Measureable performance is one thing, but when it comes to an organic community in an online setting, that is simply not the case.

Singer Michael Buble let a fan accompany him on stage for an unstaged duet.

Once you have a self-appointed brand ambassador on your hands, the possibilities are limitless. So, stop figuring out a way to keep selling stuff to that individual and come up with with a plan to empower them as vocalists. Provide a way for them to vocalize and share their experience or opinion. Build them a soapbox that they can stand on and say it in their own words. Better yet, let them borrow your soapbox.

If you think about it, brand ambassadors will continuously and willingly purchase your brand, so don’t worry about that. Your strategy for those consumers should be to help them educate and proselytize within their circles – circles that you most likely don’t even know exist and to which you will certainly not have access.

And, the gem of the night: “Loyalty is lack of a better option”. HALLELUJAH!!!

We as marketers have a propensity to pat ourselves on the back at the thought of how loyal our customers have become. We often credit our elaborate campaigns and strategies as the reason our consumers like our product and service so much that they are unwilling to defect to a competitor, even at the temptation of a lower price or additional perks.

WRONG!

Maybe, just maybe, it’s because they don’t have a better option. Or, said different, consumer’s don’t know they have other options. Every company thinks they provide the best products within their industry. Every pizza parlor thinks and advertises theirs is the best in town. Every bike manufacturer sells the “best bikes in the world”. On top of that, each one of those companies’ marketing campaigns suggest they have successfully conveyed that idea and that is the reason they have as many customers as they do.

Now, let me tell you a different story. A friend of mine has been with his insurance agent for close to 15 years. All his insurance is through the same agent. Minus any catastrophic claims, they’ve been through thick and thin with each other. Their business relationship has even survived the possibility of changing to a competitor based on price….until recently. My friend was recently solicited regarding his policy and this unnamed competitor offered the same coverage, plus additional products at a noticeably lower price. Not just a few dollars, but a considerable sum. My friend even consulted with his long-time agent first, to see if he was able to compete with the new competitor. His agent still could not get within the same ballpark. Given that my friend was actively looking for ways to cut living costs, he has now agreed to terms with a brand new face and a brand new provider. Just like that!

An Ohio native, Lebron James was destined to play for Cleveland his entire career. Until Miami came along with a better offer. Even loyalty has as price.

At the end of the day, doing business with consumers or other businesses comes down to three things: price, results and tolerance. Are consumers comfortable paying the determined price to receive the expected return? Are the results in line with the consumer’s expectation, and within reason relative to the vendor’s price? Does the consumer harbor enough tolerance, mentally and financially, to accept the results (or lack thereof) relative to the price and expectation. When it’s said and done the consumer will ask themselves one thing: “Am I getting what I pay for?” Consumers will be loyal to those that get the job done. End. Of. Story.

Building and nurturing communities within your brand has an intrinsic way of bypassing all of that. Healthy communities are comprised of believers, and even their faith in the brand will be tested. That’s normal. As you continue to educate and monitor your fold, the likelihood grows that their trust and belief in your brand will stand the test of time.

Don’t Yelp Unless You Mean It

Posted: December 17, 2012 by SteveOnTheBike in Marketing
Tags: , , ,

A Fairfax, VA woman was recently ordered to pay a fine of $750,000 after a judge ruled she not only left a fictitious review on Yelp, but that it also cost the contractor she hired north of $300,000 in lost business.

In the summer of 2011, Jane Perez hired Christopher Dietz to perform construction on her home. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong! According to Perez’s user reviews on Yelp and Angie’s List, Dietz actually damaged her home rather than repaired it. She also claims he billed her for work that he did not perform at all. Oh yeah, she also accused him of stealing jewelry because he was “the only one with a key”. And somewhere in between all that, she accused him of trespassing. And, (yes, there’s more) to top it all off, they are old high school classmates.

Dietz Development’s Yelp Profile

It’s nice to see that at least one of them graduated.

Classmates aside, the judge’s ruling poses an interesting precedent in the online review world going forward. Will more businesses try to defend themselves against what they feel are false reviews? Do they only have a legitimate defense if they can prove there are a significant amount of lost wages? What is considered admissible evidence for both parties? And what really happened in history class between Perez and Dietz?

Hind sight is always 20-20, but you have to hand it to Dietz for sticking up for himself and seeking damages. Would Dietz have sought retribution had there been no financial loss? Probably not. When it comes down to dollars, especially 300,000 of them, people will usually get serious about protecting it. It seems like the most realistic and easiest way to get rid of a negative review would be to ask the customers who actually like, and would recommend you, to write more positive reviews in order to bury the others.

At the very least a business owner should feel obligated to respond to any unfavorable post in a timely and professional manner. While that customer may have a legitimate argument, it bodes well for a business when it faces the music and appropriate, and publicly, addresses any concerns. If you’re a business, and going to compete in the big-kid world, you can’t be childish when a grumpy customer decides to throw a tantrum. Even a non-response can be viewed as more disingenuous than responding unprofessionally.

It is against rules to pay or offer incentives to customers to write positive reviews online. That certainly makes sense. If a customer is going to write a review it should be because they want to share their experience with your company, for better or worse. But I say business owners should be making their customers aware of their online profiles, even encouraging them to leave a review at their discretion.

As a word of advice, just assume that every single one of your customers intends to leave an online review of your business. Assume they are all Yelp addicts. Assume that right after you leave their house, or they walk out of your office, they plan on going straight to Google to leave a review on your profile. And, if you’ve never thought about it, assume that for one reason or another, their experience with your brand or employees is going to find its way on to either Facebook or Twitter. Probably both. (In fact, just right now on my Facebook timeline I spotted a picture that is going viral right now of a dentist that allowed his patient’s dog to be present in the room during the procedure. If there’s one thing I know about the animal kingdom, it’s don’t mess with dog lovers.)

But DO deal with angry Yelpers. That’s good business.

Google’s announcement of its new +1 feature looks like an obvious attempt to compete with Facebook’s “Like” button. If you like a page’s content, you’re able to +1, or vote, for Google’s link that takes you there.  And just like that your friends with whom Google associates you will be notified that you +1ed the page.  Since this has been announced, much has already been said regarding the usefulness of the feature.  In the long run, we thought +1 was just going to be another Buzz or Wave.  Great in theory, but failing in execution.

Or…What if Google’s +1 is really just a Trojan horse for all those spammers and gamers in cyberspace?

The Plot

I’m going to be Mr. Journalist here for a minute, and disclaim that I’m not going to reveal my sources, but let’s just say that I have a few friends that work for the search engine.  One of them I co-captains with on our high school cross country team.  The other dated my sister and owes me several, very large favors.

I can tell you that this will all come to fruition tomorrow when Google pulls the meanest April Fool’s joke ever conceived since the beginning of the internet.  Google knows that the only people that know about their +1 feature are SEO pros and marketers.  Some of the coding was leaked prior to their public announcement, but they know who is using it and who is already seeing the feature in their search results.  Google, one of my friend’s teams to be exact, is already tracking a couple half-created bots and have their eyes on a few more key targets that they expect to have something up and running by tonight.

This will be Google’s Trojan horse, sent among an unknowing city of Troy.  Troy welcomes horse.  Greek, Google, makes inside the fortified SEO’s wall.  Troy is overtaken.

Red carpet for you Lemming.

Who’s going to save the Lemmings?

The social wave is HUGE. Many people and companies are hoping on their surfboards for the very first time. Google is trying to find a way to police the waters.  Large companies are entrusting their brands into the hands of SEO and marketing firms.  Their job?  Get ranked.  Get seen.  Garnish page views.  Amass Facebook Likes.  Rack in Retweets.  Stack on Shares.  Etc, etc.  N..E..way possible.  In recent weeks we’ve seen big names like Forbes and JC Penny get hit for black hat link building. The Kung Fu Panda chopped a few more heads off. But Google’s not stopping there…  The +1 feature is to weed out those that game our social circles.

Think of it like the old Lemmings game.  Certain lemmings in the crowd have a specific assignments that benefit the group.  Some of them even sacrifice self for the betterment of the team.  Google just sent a lemming headed for the nearest cliff holding a giant “+1″ sign.  Their upcoming weeding tactics will be more sophisticated and much more stealth, but their first effort is for the masses.

We know quite a bit about pest control and a little about SEO.  Let’s just say that there are a lot of bugs that are about to get squashed.

Taco Bell is the first ever to use a promoted tweet to make an official statement about their lawsuit.

Taco Bell promoted tweet about lawsuit

Taco Bell promoted tweet about lawsuit

I arrived to work exceptionally early today.  I got my tabs and windows up and running and noticed something that looked completely normal.  Taco Bell was promoting a tweet.  Sweet!  I was hoping for a free taco.  Or, better yet, a free Nachos Bell Grande!

Turned out that this promoted tweet was much different than any other I had ever seen.  Taco Bell was using their promoted tweet to release an official company legal statement regarding a class action lawsuit from a California woman regarding the quality of their beef.  No free tacos.  No half off discounts.  Rather, a one page statement of legal jargon and adamant statements by Taco Bell’s President and Chief Concept Officer.

Should Taco Bell Promote a Tweet about their Lawsuit?

I’m not here to argue the validity or falsehoods of this lawsuit.  In all honestly, its not even going to detour me from eating there.  I love their food.  In fact, this has prompted my co-workers and I to go there later today for lunch.  And we’ll all probably check in on Foursquare from there.

To me, the debate at hand, from a marketing and public relations standpoint, is whether or not using a tool like a promoted tweet is the appropriate or effective way to issue such a statement.  This was the first I had even heard that Taco Bell was being sued over such a claim.  Would I have even found out about it had they, themselves, not pushed the issue in front of me?  When I notified my boss of the tweet and apparent lawsuit, he knew nothing either.  However, my other two co-workers did have knowledge of the lawsuit.  They had heard about it on the radio before today.

At first I thought it was an ill-advised move.  Why go around broadcasting your controversies?  And why would you pay a platform like Twitter to do so?

Then my public relations degree kicked in (Yeah! BYU, class of ’06).  The more I thought about it I have only one word:  Brilliant!  Yeah, Taco Bell is going to inform more people about the lawsuit than probably would’ve found out about it in the end, but it’s better that you be the one informing them than a bunch of angry customers, and bloggers, and Twitter users, and news achors, and Facebook updates and aspiring writers.

Just consider the speed at which Twitter and Facebook function?  It takes literally minutes for someone or something to be a national trend for all the wrong reasons.  With today’s social media boom, wrong reports and ill-speaking travels like wildfire in windy conditions.  If the history of public relations and publicity has taught us anything, it’s better to get out in front of an issue before you have to chase it down.

Still a bold move? Yes.  I had never seen anything like it.  Was it a wise, bold move?  Only time will really tell.  But for now, I say definitely.