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Autospeak-Straight Talk

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There is an under appreciated difference between a story and an idea.

A story is captivating and memorable. It entertains and often stays with you for longer than you thought it would. An idea, in contrast, is a spark. It happens in a moment and then it’s gone. And if you missed it or if you never acted on it … then you lose it.

Recently I’ve been to several storytelling events. One gathered together a dozen innovators to share their stories on human behavior. Another curated every form of storytelling you could imagine – from stop motion Vine video creators to street opera singers. Each offered an amazing collection of stories that entertained and inspired. And I remember those stories.

Today I have been moderating an event filled with ideas instead of stories. The Corporate Social Media Summit in San Francisco (#CSMSF) is the second edition of a popular series from the Useful Social Media team that includes a flagship New York event, the West Coast edition today, and a European edition next month. In listening to more than a dozen brands sharing their experiences with social media – there were several ideas that emerged which got people talking. Here are just a few of those ideas:

1. Deflection Isn’t Engagement

As more brands turn to tools like Twitter for customer service – one of the increasingly common strategies is to “escalate” issues to the call center. What this actually means is that brands immediately engage with customers who share a question via Twitter by telling them to call the 1800 number to speak to a customer service person. As Adobe Director of Strategy and Business Development Jeff Feldman shared in the opening keynote session, this type of deflection isn’t optimal. Instead, brands that aspire to provide great service need to answer questions in the channel they are asked (unless you truly need to access their private information, of course).

2. B2B Is Better Than B2C For Social

Thanks to the visibility of efforts from leading brands like Coke and Oreo’s, it is easy to focus attention on the role that social media has taken in helping major consumer brands to create lots of buzz and some engagement. Instead, Dell’s Global Director of Social Media Richard Margetic pointed out that social media is actually better for B2B brands because they tend to be far more about relationships than B2C brands. As a proof point, he noted that more than 9,000 of Dell’s employees have gone through social media training and are allowed to represent the brand in their engagements online.

3. Social Gratitude Is Powerful

It is no secret that people passionately share stories and images of pets online. So when Kat Smith, PETCO Director of Social Media and Commerce took the stage to talk about how social media could engage pet owners – the opportunity was pretty obvious. Still, the big question was how a brand in the popular pet category could engage with these passionate pet owners in a way that wouldn’t just try to upsell them more supplies and materials. One great strategy Kat shared in her presentation was the power of offering validation to customers. Simply by having the brand like customer’s Instagram photos, for example, PETCO could offer tangible proof that it was listening and engaged in its community. And this one act caused intense consumer gratitude … which then led to engagement and conversation.

4. Solve Unique Problems

As often as we hear about social media offering yet another channel for brands to interact and solve customer challenges, there may be situations that social media or social customer care is uniquely positioned to solve. One example that Kimarie Matthews, Wells Fargo Vice President of Social Web shared was of a customer tweeting about there being trash outside of an ATM machine. This is exactly the sort of thing that no one would ever call into a 1800 number and wait on hold in order to report. Yet thanks to this tweet, the brand was able to respond both to the customer as well as respond by actually correcting the problem and cleaning up the trash!

5. Treat Everyone Like An Influencer

In a highly entertaining presentation about the state of the travel industry, disruption, handlebar moustaches (for Movember!) and being Canadian – Flight Centre Global Social Media Leader Gregg Tilston shared a powerful story about the nature of influence. Using the example of how you might be influenced differently to attend a food related event whether you hear about it from the newspaper versus a restaurant versus a chef versus your best friend … he noted that the most influential source among those is probably your best friend. That is also the source among those listed with the least ACTUAL influence when it comes to potential reach and size of their network. So who is truly influential? His ultimate conclusion: “Treat everyone as if they have a Klout score of 80.”

6. Social Can Force Convergence

Telling the story of how the Clorox brand thinks about social media, Helen Lee shared how increasing conversation online inspired far more convergence and collaboration among all of the more traditional silos of the marketing organization – from advertising to PR to in-store promotions. One interesting conclusion her presentation raised was to turn one of the most often cited challenges about social media into perhaps its greatest opportunity. As brands struggle to align efforts among multiple teams and divisions, the crossover potential of social media may become the driving force to actually help make it happen.

7. Focus On The Audience You Have

As audiences shift and the attention paid to social media platforms evolve, segmenting an audience is a consistent challenge. One of the downsides of this challenge, as Ammiel Kamon from Kontera noted, is that sometimes brands can get romanced or misled into focusing on creating content and messages for the audiences they want instead of the ones they have. The key is to remain connected to the audience you have today and grow that organically rather than dreaming of a nonexistent audience you wish you had instead.

8. Avoid OverEngagement

What if greater engagement wasn’t the ultimate goal that every brand should aim for? As Charles Schwab VP of Owned Media, Content & Client Marketing Helen Loh shared, “money is important, but sometimes people don’t want to engage with it day in and day out.” As great as the temptation may be for any brand to think that customers always want a brand interaction, the reality is that most of the time they probably don’t. Understanding customer journies and engaging customers at the right moments along that path is more important, according to Loh – and something that really allows the promise of content to connect with social media.

9. Don’t Measure Social Media, Measure Initiatives

In an interesting caution against taking data from a unique effort and overestimating its ability to define the entire value of social – Thomson Reuters Senior Director of Social Strategy Jen McClure shared that the real key to understanding the power of your efforts is to separate out what the results are truly telling you about what went right and wrong, and how to apply those learnings effectively.

10. Find Opportunities To Delight

Southwest Airlines has built a reputation around having a personality, and as Senior Communications Specialist Christi McNeill shared – this extends to creating opportunities for staff to build on the strong culture to delight customers with service. KLM Manager of Social Media Karlijn Vogel-Meijers also shared several new initiatives that KLM is pursuing which have the potential to truly drive the airline industry forwards. Already launched is a unique feature on Twitter that allows anyone to see the average response time for KLM to get back to you on a tweet you send directly (on average, it is 23 minutes). In addition, a soon to be launched idea she previewed at the conference was a new program called Wannagives which will allow consumers to pay for a surprise gift to be delivered to a friend or loved one in flight.

By Rohit Bhargava founder of the Influential Marketing Group