Perhaps the most powerful barrier for large organizations using social media well is the fear that if they give up control something bad will happen – someone will say or do something that brings discredit to the brand. Yesterday I commented on Kotex who have transcended this fear. Kotex did this because they could see that changing the conversation about a taboo subject was actually the liberating POV. But most organizations don’t have a secret taboo at their heart. So how can they:
- Be personal
- Be immediate
- Be edgy
- Be effective
How can they solve the paradox of the core issue of the Cluetrain Manifesto and offer a personal and human conversation – “These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.”
I called up Baochi Nguyen, who manages the Social Media Program at Boingo, to find out. I called her because as a user of Boingo, I had been so impressed by how human and personal Boingo was on Twitter. I had had a couple of issues that were picked up in minutes and I found myself talking to a real person with a name who fixed my minor problems in minutes and who as a result now gives me confidence as I travel that I have a companion that is by my side ready to help. Boingo and Baochi seemed to have found the way and I wanted to find out – first hand – what that way was.
At Boingo, Social Media is not some add on, but is core to the philosophy. Customer Care is the core idea for as in any service, if there is a problem, how and how fast you fix it is actually the deal. For travellers, access to WiFi that is up and easy to get is now a critical service. After all, I am an addict, aren’t you and isn’t Wifi becoming as important as your IP?
Most of the service issues are handled on the phone, but Boingo’s public face and voice is Twitter and Facebook. Baochi is located right next to the service folks – steps away. Here a monthly Buzz Report is read by the senior team and the CEO and Baochi collaborate several times a week on hot topics coming out of the social media channels. This is no afterthought.
Boingo’s SM effort is not a sales and marketing effort. Nor is there an ROI demanded for the SM work – this is not a sales channel. It is where Boingo LISTENs to what is going on. “It is an invaluable channel for feedback where we are part of the conversation about us.” I asked Baochi how they staffed the role. She told me that because SM is 1) Part of the corporate goal of offering world class customer care and 2) Is a critical conduit for customer feedback and suggestions on Boingo’s service and software , the position demands, not an entry level of new person but someone intimately familiar with the technical world of the service and also was fully conversant with the strategy. The role is like being a navigator on a ship.
The position is one of high trust based on experience and interaction. So here we see the core of the solution to the Cluetrain paradox. Trust. Central is to place the work in the strategic role of “navigation”. Second as with all “navigators” Trust has to be found in the person that you select to do this work. The person has to interact as a matter of course with the key parts of the organization – for her information and her channels are the optimal way to see through the noise and chaos of the modern market. Thirdly it is best to have a “Framework” for where she interacts with the public.
Baochi and a cross functional team that included senior management spent a great deal of time in developing the framework in which Baochi would have freedom to operate. This is not a set of guide rules abut what she says but a place in which she has room. The Boingo Framework includes:
- Talking about Boingo
- The Community
- The environment
These areas were chosen with care to match up the known interests of the Boingo users who tend to be travellers and tech enthuisiasts.
Boingo does not speak about anything outside this framework. They also set categories for these elements for weight. So 25% is about Boingo 25% for tech and so on.
Baochi sees her role also as providing a “Companion” for those on the road. It’s ironic because that is exactly how I felt as a customer – that I was not alone.
A key element of this feeling is that Baochi has “Super Fans”, a group of customers who have formed a real relationship with her and Boingo. These Super Fans are the group who so enjoy their Boingo experience that they regularly evangelize Boingo’s services – without any prompting from Boingo. Baochi spends the first part of her day catching up with the fans and so deepening the friendship. I think that this is a very important insight. It is the secret to Laura Conaway’s success at Bryant Park, Planet Money and now Rachel Maddow. This inner core of relationships builds further trust and offers the enterprise an unparalleled access to deeper insight and support and to more connection.
Here is how the science works for this idea. What really matters is not the total number of “fans” you have but that you have a core of no more than 150 who really care. This is the leverage and Baochi and Boingo has intuitively played this card.
So in summary what are the lessons for you:
- SM offers the best navigation for a turbulent world – so it is not an after thought buried in the marketing department but an adjunct of the office of the CEO
- Trust is the key – the person who has the role has to be known to the senior team as a colleague and be given a framework where she has freedom
- The job is Listening and interacting
- Best helped by developing a small core of less than 150 people who are your social guides
You can do this can’t you?
Disclaimer – I have no connection to Boingo other than being a customer.