Tag Archives: government

Eight Conversations Your Customers Want to Have With Your Brand

April 15, 2013

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A brand’s customers represent some of their best resources, yet most brands leave them on the bench

My last post criticized the content that a lot of brands share via social media – the incessant begging for likes and shares, the linkbaiting, and the meme-jacking that brands have adopted in their constant quest for “engagement.” Instead of following some guru’s best practices formula for social media content that will increase your followers, friends, and comments, try to have the conversations they actually want to have. You might be surprised at what you’ll learn and how it can transform your business for the better. The fun, informal banter still has its place, but make sure you balance the small talk with some actual substance. After all, you’re not in business just to amass likes, followers, and fans are you? Next time you’re working on your social media content calendar, start thinking about some of the conversations your customers want to have –

  • Your history. Over the last ten years, I’ve talked with hundreds of clients who have some amazing stories about how their organization/brand/company began and how it got to where it is today. You know that boring “About Us” page you have your website? Breathe some life into that content and make it a story. Believe it or not, your fans are interested in hearing about the history of your brand – why do you think brands like Coca-Cola, Porsche, and Mercedes-Benz have created entire museums dedicated to their history? For those brands that can’t create their own museums, Facebook’s timeline feature allows you to share that history virtually. Look at what Manchester United or Ben and Jerry’s are doing with their timelines for an example. Go and talk with people who know your brand’s history. Listen to the stories. Collect old photos and videos. Share those stories with your fans. 
  • Ideas that didn’t make the cut. Your cutting room floor is a gold mine for social media content. Share those ideas that were discarded and explain why they weren’t implemented. Too expensive to make? Too niche? Too controversial? You might be surprised to find that your fans and followers love them even though your creative department didn’t. Ideas and products that might have been killed before are now becoming alternate endinghugely successful products, and breakout hits because brands now understand that going directly to their fans are often better indicators of success than surveys, ratings, and focus groups.
  • The “why” behind business decisions. Did you just have to lay off some employees? Get out in front of the story and explain why. Talk about the numbers behind the move. Share the long-term view. Be empathetic. But most of all, be honest. Customers understand you run a business and that there are often tough decisions to be made, but they won’t understand why you would be all cloak-and-dagger about it. Talk openly and honestly when the going gets tough and though it might not be intuitive to you, they’ll love you more for it.
  • Challenges. Your social media fans are more than clicks, likes, and followers – they’re potentially important team members that you’re ignoring. Got a product or business challenge you’re struggling with? Open up your data and bring your customers into the process. You might be surprised to discover the value they will bring. Interestingly enough, brands can look to the government for guidance on this as Challenge.gov is a great example of how to create content and get your customers involved.
  • Your culture. Your customers want to get to know your brand, your real brand, not the one ginned up by marketing, but who you really are and what you’re all about. They want to understand your culture, your work environment, the way you do things. Why do you think shows like Undercover Boss, The Pitch, and Restaurant Impossible are so popular? Why do you think Zappos gives tours of their headquarters? Why do you think virtual tours of company offices are so popular? They pull back the curtain on the brands they buy from.
  • New product uses. When you think of the Porsche 911, you probably think of the iconic sports car that rich guys only drive on Sundays. However, did you know that it’s actually a car that thousands of people drive every single day? A car that takes kids to school? A car that has four-wheel drive that you can put your skis on top and take to the slopes? A car that can fit all your groceries and golf clubs? So Porsche went out and asked their customers how they use their Porsche every single day. (disclaimer: my agency created this campaign).
  • Requests for feedback. How are we doing? What could we be doing better? What do you love about us? What words come to mind when you think about our brand? What do your friends and family think about our brand? Just like that annoying guy who won’t shut up at the party, most brands never stop sharing content long enough to simply ask their customers for their thoughts. Sometimes all it takes is a “what questions about our products/services do you have?” to get the ball rolling.
  • Your causes. What does your brand care about? Customers want to know that your brand is about more than just profits. Go beyond just writing a check and a photo opp. Panera uses their website and social media to tell the story of their passion – feeding the hungry of America. (disclaimer: my agency created this campaign). Does your brand contribute money to a local or national charity? Do they volunteer? If so, make sure you get someone there to capture these stories to share them.

Great content marketing shouldn’t only be about determining what content will lead to the most likes, comments, or followers. It should be about creating and sharing content that tells your brand’s unique story, creating conversations with your customers that lead to greater customer loyalty. You may not want to have these conversations. You may not be ready to have them. You may be scared at what your customers might say. You may not know how to react. That’s too bad because avoiding these conversations is no longer an option. If you aren’t ready to have these conversations, don’t you think that’s telling you something? Shouldn’t this be an opportunity to fix what’s broken internally so that when your customers demand to have these conversations (and they will), you’re ready for them?

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From the Government to Big Brands, From the Left Brain to the Right Brain

June 24, 2012

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Three months ago, I made a huge change in my life. After eight years as a government consultant in DC, I picked up my family and moved to Chicago to work at Cramer-Krasselt. I went from DC to Chicago, from consulting to PR, from government clients to big brands, from the suburbs to the city, from leading virtual teams to being in the office with my entire team every day, from being at the tip of the spear of the #gov20 movement to being just another PR guy prattling on about social media – and for the last three months, I've been trying to adapt to this new life of mine.

As you can tell, a lot has changed, but a lot has remained the same too. I still spend way too much time in meetings. I'm still having varying levels of success managing office politics. And I'm still trying to change the status quo. I'm not ready to say that PR in the private sector is any better or worse than government consulting – it's just different. And for me, different is good. Instead of being the grizzled veteran who's been with the company longer than most people, I'm the new guy. Instead of being the guy everyone runs to for social media advice, everyone here at least knows the basics, with many knowing much much more than that. Every day, I feel challenged. Every day, I learn something new. Every day, I realize I'm in an entirely different world now. Even though I still do PR and communications, the clients and the environment are very different. So while there are some similarities, in many ways, it's like a whole new career.

This isn't to say that one is better or worse than the other – in fact, it's the dichotomy of the two that I'm enjoying. While I find myself learning more and more about branding and advertising every day, I'm also teaching my new colleagues a lot about staff forecasting, team management, performance reviews, and strategic planning too. If I've learned anything over these last three months, it's that the typical PR pro would be more effective if they thought more like a consultant, and that the typical government consultant sure could benefit from some more creativity and risk-taking.

If you've done PR in both the public and private sectors, what kinds of differences have you experienced?

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The Federal Government Can Learn a Few Things from a New State Government Website

June 3, 2011

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Have you checked out the new Utah.gov yet?  According to the press release, the site gets 1.2 million unique visitors a month and last year “processed more than 25.1 million secure electronic transactions through the official state website, mobile-optimized services, automated phone system, and point-of-purchase systems at retail outlets statewide.” Here’s a quick 2 minute video highlighting the new site and some of its features.

UTG2011 from Utah Interactive on Vimeo.

I know I’m a little late in writing about this so I’ll try not to repeat all the stuff that Alex, Andy, Luke, Abhi, and Kristy have already said. Take a look at their posts below – lots of good stuff in these links.

Instead of providing another review of Utah.gov, I’ll instead give you the five things that I hope federal government sites learn from this newest state government site.

  1. Topics not org charts. After eight years of working with federal government clients, one of the things that always drove me nuts has been the prevalence of the “don’t forget about my team” attitude. You know what I’m talking about – you’re working on a new website and everyone on the org chart wants to make sure there’s a link to a his team’s site on the front page. They want their logo added; they want the name of their program/team/initiative/effort front and center. It becomes a very public ego battle instead of a website focused on the user, the members of the general public.
  2. Fast and Accessible. Go ahead and perform a search on Utah.gov. Notice the real-time search like you see on Google? Now try the site from your mobile or tablet device. As I mentioned in a previous post, technology has to be fast, accessible, and reliable before any of your users will care about the cool new features.
  3. Integration. Active participation (and actual engagement!) in social media isn’t an experimental pilot program or one-off effort by the innovation group here. It’s been fully integrated into the website. In some government agencies, the team that controls the website is totally separate from the team that controls the social media accounts. On Utah.gov however, this has all been integrated into one digital presence.
  4. Technology can’t solve all your problems. Let’s go back to that search box. Try a search for the word, “Hunting.” See those first results that come up? Those aren’t generated by Google. Those were generated by the Utah.gov web team after hours of analyzing web metrics and user search trends. While Google’s famed link-based search algorithm may be the ideal solution for crawling the web, it doesn’t always produce the best results when incoming and outgoing links aren’t used as much, like on individual websites and Intranets. Realizing this, the Utah.gov team supplemented the technology with some old-fashioned common sense, and ensured the website users were able to find exactly what they were looking for, even if they didn’t use the precise terms the technology required.
  5. Hits don’t equal success. Utah’s Chief Technology Officer, Dave Fletcher, said that five years ago, Utah.gov had 700,000 unique views a month.  Last month, they had 1.4 million unique views. However, when asked how many unique views they were aiming for with this new site, Fletcher said, “our goal isn’t necessarily to get 2 million or 3 million unique views. I’m not nearly as concerned about traffic numbers as I am about creating an “experience that our citizens will be responsive to, and will enjoy. We are focused on supporting the business objectives of the governor – we want it to be easier for citizens to interact with their government.” Success is being measured by dozens of different metrics including the adoption rate of individual services, e.g., the % of people who are registering their vehicles online vs. offline, etc.

We’re less than 48 hours into the launch of the new site and I’ve already seen Hillary Hartley and other members of the Utah.gov team out there addressing some of the feedback they’ve been getting so I know there will be some changes taking place over the next week or so. That’s why I’ll be keeping tabs on Utah.gov from 2,000 miles away – I’ll be interested to see how their users have reacted to the new site and how they are (or aren’t) using it.

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Insulate Open Government Efforts From Budget Cuts

April 24, 2011

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Numbers And Finance

To be successful over the long-term, Open Government efforts can't be a separate line item on the balance sheet

With the recent news that several major Open Government efforts including USASpending.gov, Data.gov, and FedSpace may be shut down due to budget cuts and that the Pentagon has disbanded their social media office, many people in the #gov20 community started wondering if their social media, Gov 2.0 and Open Government programs might be next. People rushed to their dashboards to develop PowerPoint slides that illustrated the impact that their social media and open government efforts.

  • “We have 5,000 Facebook fans – an increase of 143% over last year!!”
  • “Our retweet % has increased by 45% since last month!”
  • “Half of our web traffic results from click-throughs on our Twitter posts!”
  • “Our Open Government site is one of the Top 5 most popular open government sites!”
  • “Our datasets have been downloaded more than 1,000 times this month!”

Here’s the thing – if you’re only using metrics like these, you’re probably next on the chopping block. While they may be impressive to you and to others in the #gov20 community, this approach only marginalizes the impact of open government, making it something that’s a nice-to-have instead of a must-have. Guess which one gets the money when budgets are tight? Social media and open government will only be successful over the long-term if and when it becomes integrated with larger organizational efforts.

The problem is that most open government initiatives have been stood up and led by separate teams – the social media office, the New Media Director, the Open Government Team – rather than by existing functions within the enterprise. This makes open government and/or social media a separate line item in the budget – something that can literally be crossed off on the balance sheet when budgets are tight.

Instead of bragging about having the best blog, open dataset, Facebook page, or Twitter account, try pointing to the impact you’ve had on other people’s ability to do their job. Five thousand Twitter followers don’t mean a whole lot to senior leadership, especially when they don’t even know what Twitter is. However, if the customer service department can point to a 20% increase in customer satisfaction because they’ve integrated Twitter into their processes, simply cutting “social media” becomes less of an option. Instead of pointing to how many times your open datasets have been downloaded, try showing how the number of FOIA requests your organization has received has declined because the data are now freely available.

If you want to ensure the long-term viability of your open government and social media efforts, you have to demonstrate the impact you’ve had on other areas of the organization and how you’ve saved them money and/or improved their performance. Cutting an “Open Government Team” is pretty easy if that’s the only reason for its existence. However, what if:

  • the FOIA team stepped up and said that if the the Open Government Team were cut, their budget would have to increase to handle the corresponding increase in FOIA requests;
  • the customer service team says that customer satisfaction has increased because they’re using the social media channels established by the Open Government Team;
  • the public affairs department can point to a 20% decrease in negative press because they’re using Twitter to engage proactively with the media;
  • that recruiting says that the number of recruits has increased by 22% since they started using Facebook;

To insulate your Open Government efforts, stop talking about Open Government and start talking about how your efforts have positively impacted other areas of your organization. Integrate your open government efforts into other parts of your organization instead of building your open government empire. It’s a lot easier to cut something that’s contained within one team than something that’s pervasive throughout the organization.

*Image courtesy of Flickr User KenTeegardin

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