The Undiscovered Country of Presence Management

ghosts We asked for it. We wanted companies to come to us on our turf, to speak with us on Twitter, to participate with us on our blogs, to be on Facebook, and the like. But this doesn’t come naturally to many companies (especially larger), and it also doesn’t line up all that easily with existing internal work flows and job descriptions.

I mean, who is the right person at GM to Twitter? (They put Christopher Barger in Comms). Who’s the right person at BestBuy to be everywhere? Keith Burtis is everywhere (no idea what his official line of command is). Should the CEO blog? Not always. Not unless they’re Jonathan Schwartz.

Who runs all this is a huge issue to companies. It’s also the blood in the water that agencies smell from miles away as an opportunity. (This includes me, by the way.) And then there’s “we, the people,” those consumers that want to feel a genuine connection to these companies, not just marketing-ese pretending to be part of the fabled conversation.

Let’s rip into this a bit. This will be part 1 of 2. (Part 2 is about casting your nets.)

The Phone Tree Analogy

In thinking about who should man the various potential positions that social media provides, the question comes back to how you want to use it. Customer service? Marketing? Sales? This isn’t the same as putting up a website. In fact, think of it like this: a website is more like an automated phone tree, you know, “for English, press 1.” Social web presence is more like giving out everyone’s direct line.

Let that sink in. It’s every bit as much work to manage the relationships that come with online presence as it is to answer your phone without the robots to block people’s attempts. The payoffs are about the same, though. People appreciate the human touch of reaching someone online and having a “real” interaction. It might cost a little more, but it really shows a different level of care and service.

Is your company ready for that? Could your organization see shucking the phone tree in exchanged for a heightened sense of business contact? That might be a good gating question to consider. Hint: just having one person on the “phone” will rarely be the right answer.

And as for which employees should be involved in this, let’s get there a bit at a time. Because in lots of cases, the answer is “more than one,” but we’ll come to it.

Want to go a little deeper?

The Name Game: Who IS This?

How should a company identify itself online? Should you use the corporate brand? Should you be an individual representing the brand? What happens when the individual who’s built up all the credibility leaves?

I’ve seen it done all different ways:

  • @JetBlue – run by @MorganJohnston says it should be the brand first. He says it shouldn’t be about him.
  • @LionelAtDell and the rest of the Dell horde all use first name ATDell as their nomenclature. I prefer this, but have heard why that’s harder for people to search and find.
  • @WholeFoods tweets interesting things, for a grocery store. It kinda works, and yet, I always am left wondering “who.”

If you’re going to do a multi-person-using-one-account kind of implementation on a service like Twitter, use CoTweet, which comes with the recommended nomenclature of having ^CB at the end of tweets, so that you’d know “@chrisbrogan” was the driver of the @ShatnerRules group account (for example). This, at least, lets people know who’s at the helm.

Now, where should you be?

Where Are Your Fish?

Just because Oprah’s on Twitter doesn’t mean your customers are here. They might be hiding in forums, or very big into YouTube. Does your company need a Facebook group? Not always. Who’s there that you want to connect with, and what are you going to do for them there?

Deciding where to establish presence on the web is every bit as important as who should be at the helm of the various presence points. This also relates to understanding what you want. Are you there just to put a good face out for the company? Great. Then pick one or two places to start, see how people respond, get involved where you can, and work on it from there.

One way to find where people are talking about you is by using listening software. Tools like Radian6, Techrigy, and Scout Labs (to name a few that I like) can help you find where the conversation about you is hiding. (Oh, and if you don’t find much, don’t feel bad. It’s a good time to start stirring up some.)

Start with no more than 2 or 3 places for your presence. Maybe that’s “blog + linkedin + facebook.” It could be “linkedin + twitter + special forum.” And from the moment you start an account, think hard about what you want out of that point of presence. Are you there to answer customer service issues like @ComcastCares or are you hoping to just be a warm presence, like @LenDevanna of EMC (who has no actual “requirements” on him for Twitter, that I know of – correct me, Len) ?

Expectations and What Comes Next?

Let’s say you build a pretty decent stream of conversations on Facebook. Maybe it’s your junior comms person and they’re just drumming up excitement for a new product that the people want. Everything’s going great, and there’s an active group, and people feel like they’re being treated like humans. Know who comes next?

Marketing. In some companies, they come crashing down from the hills like angry Mongol raiders, set on converting people from interested community members into hot leads to purchase. They start asking to push materials down the community channel. They ask for lists. They push for opt-ins for email marketing.

Is it the right move? Not as listed above. Not if that’s not how you set the presence up to begin with. It will feel like horrid bait and switch. People will flock away pretty darned fast if you switch them over into convert mode. They’ll also hate you if you just pull up stakes and run after the product is launched. If they’ve committed to talking with you at those points of presence, they want you there for the long term.

Be wary of this. Think further out than a single campaign. If you set up the direct line, you have to be willing to answer it for more than the short term.

Checking In

Tomorrow, we’ll talk a bit more on how to get your feet into it, and where agencies can help, should you need/want that. We’ll also talk about what I think agencies shouldn’t do for you (but that’s my opinion).

What’s your take on this so far? Scary? Good? What you expected?

Photo credit peasap

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