140 Characters

When Twitter first launched and I heard it had a character limitation I thought “how can users say ANYTHING meaningful in 140 characters?” Originally, Twitter seemed best suited to following celebrities and letting followers know what you were doing – serving a limited (not to mention easily duplicated) function at best.

Though it may have been slow to catch on, Twitter has evolved into something much bigger.

In business to business publishing, “news trackers” have become increasingly common to provide customers with relevant, timely information, with short headlines that help users filter what they do and do not want to read in greater depth. As the need for content on mobile devices has increased, limitations to the amount of content people want to view on their phones has pushed publishers to adopt a similar model to Twitter’s character limitations.

Today, even Twitter is used more as an information source than it is as a way to keep track of specific people. Rather than follow Chris Brogan to know what he had for lunch, we follow him for the the valuable knowledge and information to which he can connect us.

An evolution in the way Twitter is used has seemingly revolutionized the way that we filter information.

Roll Up the Rim is Back!

Today marks day one of Tim Horton’s yearly Roll Up the Rim competition slated during periods of the year when coffee consumption is typically at it’s lowest. I thought this would be a good opportunity to re-post a piece I wrote last year on the growing perception of the contest based on online consumer reaction.  Is Tim Horton’s doing enough to keep customers interested in Roll Up the Rim to Win?

Please Play Again

Last month I blasted McDonald’s for their free coffee giveaway and praised Tim Horton’s for the brand loyalty they’ve developed, in part through their Roll Up the Rim campaign. However, just over a month into Tim Horton’s annual contest, I’m back to acknowledge the shortcomings of my initial comments.

The free flow of communication and information online have allowed consumers to have a much stronger voice when it comes to criticizing brands. No longer can companies hide from their deficiencies without feeling the wrath of harsh consumer feedback through various online channels.

Please Play Again

A search for “#TimHortons” on Twitter will quickly highlight the consumer perception of the coffee shop’s Roll Up the Rim campaign today. Many customers are clearly upset with both the success rate they’re experiencing and the quality of the prizes they receive when they do actually win.

Today, companies are forced to be more responsible for their marketing efforts, and while the online space allows for greater interaction with customers, it also comes with an open line for criticism. This is not necessarily a bad thing if brands are able to respond to feedback through positive change; however, companies unwilling to make the effort must tread carefully. If Tim Horton’s is not careful, they’ll quickly find more and more customers refusing to ‘please play again’.

How the Online Can Benefit Small Businesses

I came across this quote on social media today that I really feel is a great representation of how small businesses can take advantage of online channels to project specialist knowledge to wider audiences of target customers:

“Taking the time and having the patience to build authentic relationships is the name of the game. You have to be out there offering helpful content and resources for free for a long time before you will develop a following. And you have to understand that of the people who follow you, only some will actually buy products or services from you. Companies have to be willing to openly engage with community members via blog comments, Twitter responses, etc. Putting your messages out there without regard to community reaction will simply not do.”   – Alexandra Levit

Small businesses have always had the advantage of specialist knowledge or capabilities that have allowed their products or services to thrive within the communities they could reach. Now, with platforms like YouTube and Twitter, specialists can share their passion and love for their craft to touch and inspire larger audiences than ever before. In the online world, customer service and real interactions are what drive the value businesses provide to their customers, and new communication channels are undoubtedly evening the playing field for the smaller players that have the foresight to take advantage of the opportunity.

Brands that Do More Than Apologize

Has the ease of mass communication online changed the meaning of the word ‘sorry’?

Too often, I find companies are using the online space as an opportunity to apologize for mistakes without really facing the music and doing something about them. When a company makes an error in judgement or a bad decision, I’d much rather hear ‘we messed up and here’s what we’re going to do about it’ than ‘sorry’, knowing full well that nothing is going to change.

The online space actually offers a pretty interesting way for organizations to reach customers and show them that they’re sorry rather than just tell them. Use the opportunity to reach a mass audience of potential and current customers to update them on progress being made to right your wrongs. Re-build your brand’s reputation and maintain a consistent dialogue with the people whose opinions of your brand are most important.

I believe the meaning of the word sorry has changed, but it’s not too late to make it mean something again.

Negative Feedback

I’ve talked at length in the past about the best feedback being the criticisms existing customers are willing to provide about your company’s products or services.  Online channels have created a platform for customers to voice their opinions publicly.

Below, Mike Kujawski discusses how companies should throw away their fears and take advantage of opportunities to capitalize on the valuable insights negative feedback can provide.

How Twitter Can Be an Effective Research Tool

Beyond its usefulness as a means for improving customer service, a tool like Twitter can be used to gather valuable information and in turn assess the needs of your target customers. It is important to remember that most people don’t know what they want, so asking them directly is more or less a waste of time and resources.

Instead, we must learn to ask the difficult questions that uncover the insights that will help improve the products and services that we offer. What a person likes is far less valuable than understanding what people dislike. As long as a company is willing to do something about it, negative feedback or conversation about a product will undoubtedly provide the most significant long term return.

Twitter provides a unique space for like minded individuals to connect, share information and communicate their opinions. It’s in spaces like these that we must learn to analyze conversation and determine the right questions to ask when conducting traditional market research. Conversation sparks opportunity for real opinion and the valuable insights that come with recognizing customer needs beyond those that are most obvious.

Customers can only tell you what they want based on what they recognize as possible, but its the job of a marketer to define that realm of possibility. It’s our job as marketers to get beyond the answers we already know and recognize that there are increasingly effective channels for doing so online.

Using Social Media for Customer Interaction

In a time when many companies have begun providing information for ‘free’ through blogs, webinars and other online channels it can be difficult to put real a value on published content.  There is a fine line between providing information for free and providing additional value to existing and potential customers. The consumer perception of something that is free is that it’s more disposable than something they’ve paid for. Providing too much (or the wrong content) for free could act to devalue your existing products and services rather than promote your company’s position within its industry.  It’s important that you understand these online channels as not only an opportunity to build your brand, but as an opportunity to provide better value and improved service to your customer base.

Online channels are special because they provide an opportunity for communication and interaction to scales never before achievable offline.  As I pointed out last week, 81% of holiday shoppers read customer reviews online.  What people can learn about your products and your brand online is an important part of the selling experience and acquiring new customers.

Do not be afraid of negative comments or feedback.

Many companies shy away from what are actually huge opportunities to build a more prominent presence online, simply because they are concerned that negative feedback will damage their reputation.  The truth is, if customers have a problem with your product, they’re probably talking about them anyways.  By avoiding feedback, you’re missing an opportunity to improve your products and learn what customers really want.  Truly progressive companies are the ones that aren’t afraid to tackle criticism and feedback head-on.   If customers have insights that aren’t being properly communicated, one could actually make the argument that, by avoiding regular feedback, organizations aren’t properly servicing their customers’ interests.  In most cases, customers will appreciate a company’s efforts to get to know their needs and will be happy simply knowing that they are being listened to.  

This Pizza Tastes Like Cardboard

Domino’s Pizza is an example of a company that used negative feedback to improve their product offering.  Despite being ranked first in pizza delivery and value, feedback received by customers helped management recognize the need for an improved taste and renewed product image.  One of the most frequently heard comments they received was that their pizza tasted like cardboard.  Domino’s has since gone back to the drawing board to create a new, better tasting pizza they believe will help improve their product’s reputation. They’ve embraced social media outreach to help reinvent their brand (see video below). If they hadn’t asked though, they never would have known what people really thought. 

For more on the online project visit:  www.pizzaturnaround.com

It’s not enough to listen to only the people who happily purchase your products on a regular basis, because they’re probably going to buy your products anyways.  When it comes to social media we need to embrace the opportunities it creates to get to the heart of our customers problems and figure out what we can do to alleviate their pain points.