Earlier this week, I attended a PR Week conference on reputation management strategy. A chance to take the temperature of client and agency thinking on measurement of corporate and brand reputation; a chance to network with peers, rivals, clients and prospects; and, a chance to reflect on best practice. And perhaps - above all - a chance to think, to reflect on the dominant themes shaping industry understanding of how best to assess the impact of earned media and stakeholder opinion.
Practitioners, both agencies and client side, are all now well aware of the ways in which social media has changed brand and reputation management for good. Brand custodians now see only partial control as the new normal, and new paradigms and orthodoxies are really starting to take shape. And while many have built and are proud to showcase new methodologies of reputation measurement, what surprised me was that so many are still making up their minds about what they should be measuring, how and why.
And that focus is the nub of continued confusion, I think. If you're focused on the outputs of comms and the impact of these outputs on reputation, you're only ever going to scratch the surface. What matter are outcomes. It's not so much what's been produced - from retweets and likes to good old-fashioned column inches - it's what those outputs have done to change attitudes, behaviours, beliefs and advocacy. And it's only by linking communications measurement to business objectives and outcomes that we can know if there was any point doing what we set out to do.
The conference got off to a blistering start, with Conrad Bird from the Prime Minister's Office giving a compelling case history of the six-department GREAT Britain campaign. Just ten months old, riding on the coattails of the Olympics and triumphant in its recent "BOND IS GREAT Britain" activation around Skyfall, the campaign has already grown UK plc by a claimed quarter of a billion pounds on a ten-country investment of just tens of millions.
We learnt lots from Sky, Shell and Arcelor Mittal. I found Arcelor Mittal's Ian Louden's definition of reputation particularly appealing: Reputation + Aspiration = Brand, where Reputation is what people remember about us based on what we've done historically, Aspiration is our future promise, and so Brand is the whole concept of who we are, of what we stand for.
The savage independence of Stephen Jolly, Director of External Affairs and Communications from Cambridge University, was a blast of fresh air after lunch. In the same session, we also learnt that Mumsnet now makes as much as 25% of its revenue from insight alone, conducted directly with among its membership.
The day was rounded out by two barnstorming performances. First up was Alex Pearmain, the head of social media at O2 with whom I shared a platform earlier this year to launch the #smcustomer research we at Echo had conducted with Fishburn Hedges. Alex's storytelling about the dynamics and lessons learned from adopting a tongue-in-cheek yet respectful tone of voice during O2's mass outage last year are getting richer and more rounded. Alex will be missed when he moves on from O2 in the near future, but O2's loss is very definitely Brands2Life - and its clients' - gain.
The keynote to close the day came from PwC's Head of Reputation and Policy, Richard Sexton. He skilfully pulled together a number of key strands about earning and maintaining trust. He boiled it down to having more authentic conversations with the people and stakeholders who matter.
Delivering on your promises.
Doing the right thing.
In the age of social media more than ever, you can't demand to be trusted. You have to earn it.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @samknowles
Great partnerships yielding considerably more than the sum of their component parts.
Yesterday evening it was my enormous pleasure to host and to chair a debate on the social media customer. "What's next ... for customer service and social media?" marked the formal launch of a joint research project on the #smcustomer, conceived by the digitally-savvy PR company Fishburn Hedges and reputation research experts Echo, Ebiquity's reputation practice.
The difficulty of the job of chair is in inverse proportion to the quality of the panel; the higher quality the panel, the easier it is to be unobtrustive and pass all but unnoticed. Fortunately, we were blessed with a very high quality panel, made up of:
- Tara Evans (@taraevans), personal finance journalist for This Is Money, part of Daily Mail Online.
- Alex Pearmain (@AlexPearmain), head of PR and social media at O2.
- Kyle Thorne (@VirginAtlantic - though not all by himself), social relations manager at Virgin Atlantic.
- Eva Keogan (@nixdminx), head of innovation at Fishburn Hedges, and blogger extraordinaire.
The event was very well attended - standing room only in Fishburn Hedges largest (and capacious) room. 75+, from the client, social media and consultancy worlds.
Panel and audience addressed the way social media is fundamentally redefining the relationship between consumers and brands. We debated whether improved customer service for the #smcustomer can be explained simply as VIP treatment for those that shout loudest and most publicly (no, if you were wondering). We concluded that social media will continue to deliver better customer experience, and is not just a flash in the pan. And we explored the different models of how brands should respond to keep up with what their customers are increasingly expecting.
But pictures and film are much more impactful than words. So we've decided to host the film of the entire debate, here. And for those with five rather than 75 minutes to spare, here are some vox pops from the panel.
It's such a huge pleasure to work in partnership with complementary agencies that really Get It. Fishburn Hedges really get the importance of benchmarking and measuring reputational issues, of using intelligent insight to drive operational, messaging and overall communications strategy. Last night's event was a clear illustration of this approach.
I can't wait for our next and subsequent engagements.
British consumers are increasingly turning to social media sites to 'hashtag' and 'bashtag' brands, rather than calling their customer service centres.
Brands also feel the change, and are starting to work out the best ways to engage and tackle the social media customer.
Echo Research and Fishburn Hedges identified six actionable insights that well-known brands, such as Barclaycard, BT and Sainsbury's often practice, such as 'choosing the right battle - but entering it fast' and 'not letting social media define you'.
But how did we reach this conclusion? To start with, Fishburn Hedges ran an online poll with 2,000 consumers nationwide, followed by in-depth interviews, conducted by Echo Research, with several blue-chip companies, including PepsiCo, HSBC and Oasis.
The social media savvy brands were more than happy to speak to us about topics including: their use of social media, who is responsible for their social media sites, whether they've ever experienced a customer backlash and how they dealt with it, and how they publicise their use of social media sites.
At Echo Research, we often conduct qualitative interviews to get to the heart of an issue, while probing and prompting our way through a series of questions and answers. We find that this traditional - analogue! - method is still one of the best for understanding a customer, stakeholder or opinion former, to ensure that an opportunity or threat is understood in depth, so that clear recommendations can be accurately passed to a client.
However, as our research shows, qualitative research works exceptionally well when hand-in-hand with quantitative research. The findings are more substantive and robust, yet also are rich with ideas and opinions. On this occasion, merging the insights from customers and brands offered a truly holistic picture of the current situation from both sides of the cash till to ensure that the findings are more insightful, powerful and genuinely actionable. We also have the technology to make sense of social media through our Echo Sonar platform, sorting the digital wheat from the chaff, enabling brands and companies to understand whether there is genuinely a storm brewing or whether it's just in a teacup.