Sunday, January 27, 2008

Kia's Making an Effort, Social Media Made it Happen

I wanted to write this before I forget. My Kia issues have been resolved. After just 2 weeks of venting my Kia frustrations via social media outlets, they finally contacted me to help us move toward a resolution.

Suffice it to say, my happiness can be bought. Essentially, I'm a cheap date, and I'm a sucker for some nice words and a little effort. I'd rather be in a positive relationship than a negative one, so I'll keep up my end of the bargain if they will. Are you tired of the cliche's yet? I'll move on.

Anyway, the Kia customer service representative who I'm working with said something interesting during our talks. Though Kia received my complaint letter via snail mail back in August 2007, it wasn't until they saw one of my numerous social media posts that they acted. Apparently, there are some sites Kia monitors, and one of my rants came to their attention.

He alluded to the fact that Kia, and other companies he was familiar with, are still trying to wrap their heads around these types of conversations being posted on the web, and how to go about mediating them. Given my interest and research into the topic of companies using social media, I'm not surprised.

I'm only disappointed that it had to go this far. That I had to invest the time and effort to post my grievances online -- all the while getting more angry -- to finally get their attention.

But I was a little surprised (and very pleased) that the customer service representative didn't ask me to remove or update any of my posts. I've decided to update them voluntarily, because I feel it's the responsible thing to do.

Batman and Cross Industry Viral Techniques

I've been thinking about Batman lately. More specifically, I've been thinking of the way the entertainment industry leverages social media and viral marketing campaigns months (years) before the launch of a movie -- like Warner Bros has with the upcoming Batman movie -- and if this strategy could be used in other industries.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article about Heath Ledger and how his death might affect the Batman viral advertising campaign, seeing as how Ledger plays the Joker, and it is largely centered around his character. This campaign, designed by 42 Entertainment, began last May at, touting a Gotham City politician, and slowly blossomed into focus on the Joker.

The campaign is centered on user participation, encouraging fans to learn more about the movie by sending them on scavenger hunts and playing games. Popular film news sites were also supplied with updated viral information, and microsites devoted to different aspects of the movie were created. Participants in the Batman journey were rewarded with trailers, posters and photos.

Viral campaigns are designed to create word of mouth promotion in an under the radar sort of way. It is becoming the norm, especially with big-budget movies, to attempt to generate buzz early on hoping it will help recoup some of the enormous financial costs associated with movie production. TV shows leverage this kind of engagement with the audience also -- both Lost and The Office (two favorites of mine) make use of participation-based social applications to promote their shows.

But I'm wondering if viral advertising like this can be used for non-entertainment industries. It obviously appeals to a certain type of consumer -- one who has a vested (obsessive?) interest in a product/service and who is not only web savvy but is willing to sacrifice his or her disposable time to this activity.

The industry, too, must have a product/service that lends itself to the elaborate, complex, and extended-timeline qualities this type of viral marketing entails.

So, what about fashion? Trends in fashion are not easily predicted a year in advance, but a fashion obsessed consumer might feel privileged to get a sneak peak on the direction of next seasons colors or silhouettes.

Education? Universities may be able to build excitement for prospective students by targeting high school students (male athletes?) with snippets of messages or podcasts featuring prominent athletes and coaches, or encouraging participation in complex online games with rewards like sporting event tickets (I can't help it, I'm thinking of my alma mater, Ohio State University and the football team here -- Go Bucks!). Sporting organizations in general are comparable to the entertainment industry, and could certainly leverage viral campaigns, if they don't already.

Apple, Harley, Disney -- these are some companies where "elaborate, complex, and extended timeline" could fit into their marketing advertising strategies. I'm still fuzzy on how these qualities apply to other industries. CPG? Healthcare? But I just wanted to put my thoughts out there before I move on to my next random idea.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Use Your Name Wisely, Have No (few) Regrets Later

How often do you leave a comment on another blog? A review site? A forum? Do you use your real name? Or something off the wall, like kittyclaws39, 123abc, or buhby (these just came to mind...for the record I do not use these names).

I use my name. But not Kathy Milette, the name most people know me by. I use Kathryn Milette. Why? I don't know...I just started and stuck to it. If you do a search for Kathy Milette, you'll most likely find out about my rowing career in college. If you search for Kathryn Milette, you'll find my social media involvement. If I really analyzed it (it doesn't take much effort), I use the name Kathryn Milette for professional reasons. I only post comments and thoughts that I won't (hopefully) regret anyone seeing, either now or 10 years from now.

I sometimes imagine the political impact if our current presidential hopefuls used social media outlets when they were kids. It's already relatively easy to find dirt on any one of them. But what if those hopefuls had had MySpace pages where they posted racy pictures of themselves from a frat party? (I wish this were the case for a certain Oregon mayor who shall not be named, but hers were posted intentionally and recently.)

Or if they posted some strong, questionable opinions to a political forum? Opinions that youth, idealism and naivete influenced, but came roaring back to bite them in the you know what 30 years later.

When choosing to use your real name in social media circles, you are essentially etching your opinions and thoughts in stone. Only this stone is indexed by search engines and is highly retrievable.

It may sound premature and doomsday-ish, but I think this is a good lesson to teach our kids in this online, engaged, interactive day and age. Not only is it safer for children not to post personal information online, but it's probably a wise career move, too. They won't care now, but they will probably (definitely) regret some of the things they made public when they were just being stupid kids.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Customer Journey Starts With Me

In my troubles with Kia (by the way, they got wind of my social media blitz, and gave me a call this week -- I'm encouraged, but more on this situation later) I've discovered something important about the customer journey.

The journey doesn't start at the door, to either a brick and mortar store or to a brand's landing page. It doesn't start with a company at all. It starts wherever the customer begins their own individual journey that minute, day, year. And this starting point matters. Let me tell you why.

I'll use my Kia experience as an example. When I have a problem with our van and have to bring it in, my experience does not start once I walk through the customer service door. It starts when I have to pack toys, snacks and juice bottles and extra changes of clothes and diapers -- necessities for time spent in a waiting room with two toddlers.

It continues when I have to bundle my children up and cart each one out to the van individually over sometimes icy sidewalks or snow. Barring any frozen door problems -- in which case I would have had to maneuver the children through the front doors and wiggle through to the back seat and buckle them in -- we all drive 20 minutes to the Kia dealership.

That's when the journey really starts. So if my Kia has multiple problems, and I have to experience this tedious journey often, it would be appropriate if the reception I get at the customer service door acknowledges and tries to mediate my troubles. After all, they've got my extensive service history at their fingertips.

You can translate this into an online experience as well. For instance, during the holidays, many people are using the web to shop from a variety of stores.

But if your website is hard to navigate, or your site has a tricky spelling and doesn't show up in search, or if it takes a long time to load, a user may be turned off to your brand. Not because any of these problematic qualities in particular, but because in comparison to the other sites they have been to, yours is not measuring up.

When I write stuff like this, I'm always looking for the takeaway. In this case, recognizing the starting point of the customer journey is important, because other brands, and other experiences, set expectations for your brand.

You may not be able to control these externalities, and you may not always be able to live up to such high standards. But you can do your best to make your destination in a user's journey as painless and as pleasurable as possible by paying attention to their activities and interactions with your brand (your store, your site, the experience you offer).

And being helpful (i.e. a site's ease of use, or a store's quick and successful product fix) and friendly (i.e. a site giving recommendations based on past preferences, or a store's acknowledgment and apology of excessive service visits) -- not either helpful or friendly -- goes a long way in a customer relationship.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Observations on the Twitter Experience

I've been using Twitter for almost a month now. I finally took the plunge to join after Jeremiah Owyang published an article about his Twitter experiences.

Taking the plunge sounds so dramatic. What was I waiting for? I was kind of intimidated. I really didn't know what I'd have to say and I didn't know anyone who used it. But Jeremiah said he'd follow me (well, anyone that added him) if I (we) followed him. So, I was guaranteed one "friend," and I joined.

It's been a very strange experience. It took a while to understand the time line. And I felt a little more comfortable once I read Caroline Middlebrooke's Twitter Guide. I follow more people (26) than follow me (13), which is fine since I still really don't know anyone anyway. My rationale is the more people I follow the better feel I'll have for the Twitter experience.

Most people I follow or who are following me I "know" in the sense that I've seen them on other blogs or social networks. But some I haven't a clue how we got hooked up. Besides people, I also follow w00t and Hoosgot.

Initially, it seemed like everyone was just sending out random updates into the cosmos. Some tweets are self-promotional ("Check out my latest blog post"), some are slice of life ("Feeling sorry the redskins lost"), some are personal ("Happy Birthday, Tumar"), some are more professional chit chat ("By using Anchor Free to get around Hulu, the up speed improves as well"). Conversations are really all over the board.

Strangely enough, is still feels like a close community despite the fact that it's not immediately apparent who is following who or who is talking to or answering who (did you follow that?!). And in my case, though I rarely directly respond to anyone or have anyone respond to me, I don't feel like an outsider.

And, no, I'm not a lurker. While I have used Twitter to get the scoop on some stories to Mixx, I still post what's on my mind or what I'm doing. But it has taken a while to get comfortable enough to do so. Twitter really blurs personal and professional. And it's a surprising difficult hurdle for me to leap.

In my one month's experience with Twitter, I've come to the conclusion that one would have to be incredibly organized, attentive, and selective if they were going to go either strictly the personal or professional route. But they would be all about what web 2.0 is NOT -- closed, exclusionary and in complete control.

Twitter is about engaging and participating, and its about letting go and learning from others. You don't have to divulge the most intimate parts of your life, but you also don't need to be super professional, precise, or perfect. It's okay to tell your followers that you're taking your son to baseball practice, or give them advice where they can buy a good sump pump (yes, this has happened), because you'll just as soon give point them to free keyword sites, recommend a great business book, or request some feedback for a new blog article. All in 140 characters or less!

I still look at it as more of a Learning About Twitter exercise than an engagement tool. But I hope that will flip flop. I think there are a lot of people like me who see a great potential in Twitter, but haven't figured out what that is yet.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

9 Ways Social Media Can Hurt a Brand

*Note, this article was originally only a very brief bullet point summary of the full article, which was posted earlier this week on Court's Internet Marketing School. But social media can damage a brand that is slacking in their responsibilities to the customer, and I didn't feel the bullet points did the article justice, and it was getting under my skin! The article now posted here (which is slightly different than the original) can also be seen on Gooruze , my favorite online marketing network (any time I can give it a plug I will!)

I have a beef with Kia, the automotive company. My experience with them and my Sedona minivan leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But why should you care? Because, with social media, I now have so many more interesting ways to have my voice heard -- if not by a company that doesn't seem to want to listen, than by a community of consumers who rely more and more on peer reviews and recommendations. And I'd like to share these ways with you, in case you've got a beef of your own.

A couple of years ago, I would have gone through the following motions to log my complaint.

  • Talk with a company representative
  • Write a complaint e-mail to whatever contact is listed on the corporate website
  • Do a little research and write a complaint letter cc:ing various managers and executives
  • Contact a consumer hot line and maybe the better business bureau

After a bit of brainstorming, below are a list of ways a person could leverage social media channels to broadcast their displeasure with a company.

Write an Article and Pay Attention to SEO Copywriting Best Practices
Post it on your blog or be a guest blogger. You don't need to be a professional to do some SEO best practices, like pay attention to page titles and picking keywords to use throughout the article (plus combinations and variations of them).

Make a Web Page While in a Spiteful Mood
If your not in the mood to do it from scratch, set up a webpage the quick and painless (and free) way using Google Pages. Buy a domain name and point it to your page if you want it to seem a little more official. You could also make a Squidoo Lens for some attention from the Squidoo community. And if your feeling particularly spiteful, post positive reviews of the competitors products to your pages.

Put a Video on YouTube
In the case of Kia, I think potential Kia minivan owners would be interested to watch me try to put three toddlers into the carseats of our Sedona, in the middle of winter, with both sliding side doors frozen shut (not to mention all the windows, so no drive-thru coffee on a cold winter's day. Boo-hoo.)

Exploit Your Social Networks
Join social networking groups that could sympathize with your cause. Unfortunately, the people in these groups are already in your camp, and it is more a place to let off steam. If your comfortable with being obnoxious, join groups that love the company in question and air your woes on their message boards. You could also download an widget application that lets you post reviews of your stuff, like "IGot" for Facebook. Don't forget to tweet your network on Twitter with quick quips about the company.

Troll the Company's Corporate Blog, Seek out Sympathetic Blogs, Pitch Your Woes, Comment Your Complaints
Leave a message (or two) on the company's corporate blog to get your voice heard. Also, find blogs that might be sympathetic to your cause and might help you get some traction to your web page or video.

Submit to Social News and Social Bookmarking Sites
With any luck, readers might submit your article to places like Mixx, Digg, StumbleUpon, Sphinn...pick your flavor. And bookmarking to places like or Furl will help gain some added exposure.

Don't Forget the Complements
There are so many complement community sites that, if one was willing to put forth the energy, they could spread their message of displeasure all over the web. For instance, complementary sites to my Kia concerns might be places for parents to talk to each other, like IVillage or ParentsConnect -- communities with message boards and forums discussing children and everything associated with them, including recommendations for minivans.

Leave Ratings and Reviews on Relevant Websites
This is probably the most obvious complaint route with the least time investment required. Just copy and paste your reviews anywhere than will let you.

Finally, Encourage a Vicious Cycle and Go for a Chain Reaction
As a last and final step, shoot your family and close friends an email (or a tweet or IM), including your web page URL and your YouTube link. If you're passionate enough about a poor customer experience to spam your loved ones with your troubles, you're bound to get some sympathy, and maybe a forward or two along to their friends and family.


The tactics above may not be a good fit for every person who is angry with a company and wants to be heard. For instance, I realize I'm a bit passive aggressive -- I made a web page about Kia, but would never leave comments on their blog. But social media gives the average consumer new places to vent, to rant, to share, to provoke, and to discover a community of like-minded souls. The list above is a launching pad for some of the most obvious places to reach others with your thoughts and experiences -- both positive and negative. What are some other ways we can get our points across?