I used to work at the Giant Corporate Entity (GCE) in the Interactive Communications (IC) department. Despite being in a GCE, IC was a very cool bunch of enlightened professionals trying to make the Internet a better place for our customers.Other departments within the GCE continually tried to thwart us, but we fought on. We even had fun doing it.
During my 2 and a half-ish years at GCE, I wrote a book called, “There Rest of the Internet: What Companies Need to Know Now.” What? You never heard about me writing a book? Well, that’s because I never sat down and actually wrote it. I just thought about it a lot. Maybe one day I’ll get around to it…
Back in early 2005, Awesome Coworker 1 (AC1) hosted the “Best Department Meeting Ever,” in which he pretended to be a talk show host interviewing various members of the department and visitors from other groups in the GCE. A welcome respite from the death by PowerPoint we generally experienced. He pretended to interview me about my pretend book.
Today, I found the interview notes we made ahead of time. I’ve redacted a few things so as not to give away the GCE’s true identity.
AC1: What is “The Rest of the Internet?”
Me: Un-official sites, blogs, message boards…it’s where people spend a lot of time online. Companies tend to think of their own site(s) as their Internet presence, but that’s only one piece.
AC1: How many people read things like blogs?
Me: In raw numbers, blogs don’t matter much. In August of ’04, Consumer Technographics found that 50% of North American Online consumers had never heard of blogs. Younger consumers are more like to have heard of blogs and read them regularly. But all around adoption is growing. A Pew Research study in January ’05 found that 27% of Internet users said they read blogs. That was a 58% jump from February ’04. The bottom line is that readership and attention is growing. The media has been giving blogs and bloggers a lot of ink
AC1: So what’s the general feeling about GCE on the Internet?
Me: I knew you’d ask that. It’s really difficult to get anything quantitative on this, so I did a Google Smackdown.
AC1: Oh, where you give Google two words or phrases and it tells you how many results are found for each?
Me: It’s a fun way to see what is more “popular” online. I chose two phrases, “hate GCE” and “love GCE.”
AC1: And which won?
Me: “Hate GCE,” by more than double. I believe the exact numbers were 2,130 and 895. Again, this is in no way scientific, but it’s interesting that “love” won for both of GCE’s biggest competitors.
AC1: So have you been to a lot of sites that mention GCE? What are people talking about?
AC1: What makes this unique on the Internet? Surely customers who’ve had bad experiences in the past tell their friends in person.
Me: Two things make it different. First, if I tell someone about a bad experience in person, they might tell someone else, but there is no record of the conversation. Online there is a near-permanent record of bad customer service experiences. They start adding up over the years. Secondly, bloggers tend to be thought leaders and have a larger than average sphere of influence.
AC1: So what should we be doing? Should we have a GCE blog?
Me: Well, Forrester recommends against having a blog unless you can devote the time to do it right. Once you have a group of customers engaged, you need to be able to keep them interested. You also have to upper-management support and not have everything you want to say scrutinized by legal and PR. The writing shoul be as honest as possible and you have to have something worth saying. I hate to drop names, but Awesome Coworker 2 has great ideas about how we could start blogging.
What we should be doing is monitoring what’s out there. Forrester suggests engaging a reputation management firm like Intelliseek. Their BrandPulse monitors blogs as well as other “consumer generated media.” We can also set up a RSS reader to search for key terms because many blogs also make their content available through automated syndication.
We can use that information to inform press release and messaging campaigns. All areas of communications and marketing could benefit from knowing what customers are saying about us when they think we aren’t listening.
Did this send an immediate wave of change through GCE? No, but luckily enough people said similar things and, over time, there was change. GCE is all over Twitter now and looking great. I left and went to a younger, smaller company. I thought there would be a better understanding of social media there, but I was wrong. Changing company culture takes patience and persistence. So, if you’re at a company that’s not engaged (or not engaged properly), keep fighting the good fight!