A Good Social Media Marketing IDEA: Identify, Deliver, Empower, Amplify

josh-bernoff-covario-inflectionpointIt’s not easy to empower and trust employees to actively participate in your organization’s social media strategy, says Josh Bernoff, but it’s absolutely necessary. If you’re really lucky, staff members will actively try to cause trouble for you. And you’ll like it.

Bernoff, Forrester Research Idea Development SVP and co-author of the bestselling “Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies”, talked success in social media and how to best influence organizational change as the keynote speaker on day two of Covario’s INFLECTIONPoint 2012 conference. His latest book, “Empowered: Unleash Your employees, Energize Your Customers, Transform Your Business”, was co-authored by fellow Forrester analyst Ted Schadler.

Empowered Customers & Complaints Gone Nuclear

He began with the story of blogger Heather B. Armstrong, @dooce on Twitter, having a negative customer service experience with appliance brand Maytag. After tweeting her dissatisfaction to her many loyal followers, Maytag found themselves the subject of a nuclear backlash.

It’s a story we’ve heard a thousand times: company fails to resolve problematic customer issue, customer takes to Twitter, company gets hate-bombed and swiftly learns the true cost of one negative experience in the age of online mob mentality. To understand how this happens, says Bernoff, you have to understand how everyone is connected within an organization.

Best Buy understands. One of their employees coded a system giving hundreds of employees the ability to use the Twitter handle @twelpforce. Employees were trained and empowered to listen, respond and engage; they became known as customer connectors. Without the support of management right up to the CMO, though, the innovation of that one employee wouldn’t have meant much at all and would likely have gone unnoticed.

Best Buy had created an environment that allowed this to happen. “Only an empowered worker can influence an empowered customer,” said Bernoff. “Only through empowering your own staff can you create an environment where you can accomplish these things. It’s a hard thing to do, but it’s necessary with the speed at which business moves right now.”

Customers are already empowered, especially those influential in social media. You can’t stop it, you can’t control it; you have to work with it.

Treat Your Customers as a Channel, Leverage Influencers for Maximum Effect

Bernoff has a handy acronym to help marketers remember just what it is they’re supposed to be doing about those loud, popular, influential people who are going to be talking about your company, whether you like it or not. (We don’t mind acronyms when they’re not evil like, say, SOPA or PIPA, for example.)

Treat your customers as a channel, he says, and remember: IDEA – Identify, Deliver, Empower, and Amplify.

Identify your mass influencers. Bernoff pointed out that 6.6 percent of people online in the U.S. generate 80 percent of the 265 bill influenced impressions; that is, when one person influences another through social channels. These are your Mass Connectors. They are the people spreading a message – and you want it to be your message.

Deliver groundswell service. Reach out to those engaging in social channels.

Empower customers with the information they seek, in a format they can easily use and share. Bernoff points to the success of autotrader.co.uk as an example of a company using a mobile app to deliver content in the format customers preferred.

It was so successful, in fact, that the used cars app became the top downloaded iPhone app in the UK within weeks of launching. “Take the people who have the most influence, give them mobile information, and they’re going to talk about you – and positively,” he said.

Finally, amplify your fan activity. Ford’s Scott Monty used this strategy for maximum effect in the pre-launch phase of their Ford Fiesta. He chose 100 people to become “The Agents,” based on their social connections, and leased them a car free for 6 months. These 100 influencers boasted over 4 million total Twitter followers and generated 7 million YouTube video views; by the time the car launched in the U.S., Ford had over 11,000 pre-orders to fill.

Social Maturity & 10 Ways to Make the Right Kind of Trouble for Your Organization

According to Bernoff, companies move through defined stages of social maturity. Those organizations that successfully move through this process become industry innovators. Social can be coordinated by one or two people, but you should never have one person in charge of all of your social, he warns.

Rather, empower people within the organization to challenge the status quo, ask questions, and innovate. “I make trouble, that’s what I do. I look to make the company do things they might not ordinarily do,” said Bernoff. “If there’s no one uncomfortable with what you’re doing, you’re not out there where innovation happens.”

So how do companies deal with all these rulebreakers in different departments? “You might not think customer service is part of your brand effort, but in a world where Heather can tell millions of people about her Maytag, you might want to think differently about that,” he noted. Companies must work towards an environment where employees participate in the conversation and become partners in moving the organization in the right direction.

If you happen to be one of those employees, and let’s face it, there are a lot of troublemakers and disruptors in marketing, here are Bernoff’s 10 things you can do if you want to make trouble for the company in a way that’s productive:

  • Tap into your friends; don’t be afraid to leverage your own connections.
  • Develop a reputation for excellence.
  • Don’t whine, fix things. No one likes a whiner.
  • Ask why. It’s one thing to say this is screwed up, it’s another thing to ask questions.
  • Work extra hours on the right things.
  • Develop a peer relationship with your managers.
  • Get good at apologizing.
  • Don’t touch third rails.
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Don’t be afraid to put your job on the line. You never hear about people losing their jobs for innovating.

It might feel wrong in your gut and run counter to everything you believe, to encourage or even participate in this debauchery. However, fostering an environment where troublemakers are welcomed and leveraged, rather than discouraged or tuned out, just could be the best move your company could make in the age of social media.

Josh Bernoff was the Day Two keynote speaker at Covario’s INFLECTIONPoint event, following an excellent conference opening keynote on analytics by Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane.

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