Friday, 5 December 2008

Social Media part 13

In this last post on the current series, I'll give some examples of "Embracing" the customer using Social Media. In fact some of the examples I've already given in previous posts relating to supporting, etc. overlap into the embracing arena. This is because Social Media tools are just that - tools - and the use you put them to can vary.

Also, all of the previous activities - from listening through to supporting - are in fact aspects of embracing, differing in emphasis and degree.
Before listing some examples, let's rehearse what a good "embracing" Social Medium channel would look like:
  • Listening: It will provide a means for customers to tell us what they're thinking about us and our services.
  • Talking: It will provide us with an opportunity to respond to our customers' feedback and comments - this is critical because it demonstrates that we are listening and taking them seriously. It also provides us with an opportunity to ask questions and elicit further feedback - not just about fixing things they comment on, but on developing improved and new services.
  • Energising: It will give our customers added value that inspires them to become active agents on our behalf - both in terms of acting as our agents within their communities, and in terms of doing more feedback to us on how we can improve.
  • Supporting: This added value needs to be useful to them both in terms of their own needs and to help them act as our agents. We're already very familiar with the role of intermediaries such as Citizens' Advice, but the model for working with individuals is somewhat different.
Put all of the above in a package that demonstrates effectively to our customers that we are developing our services based on their input, and you have a fully embracing medium.

Improve existing services

2collab is a great example of this. It's a development of the scientific publisher Elsevier. Like many publishers, Elsevier faces competition from digital media and the online world. Rather than fighting this, they have engaged with it in a way that adds value to their published research papers. 2collab is a database of published researchers (describing their areas of expertise) thus providing a resource for scientists looking for collaboration, especially across disciplines. In addition it uses social bookmarking (like Digg - see post on 4th November) to allow readers to tag and rate research papers. Not only do the readers get added value from this, Elsevier can see how readers react to different kinds of content and build new indexing / searching services in response. Elsevier's Jay Katzen says that the company now sees itself more as an "information solution provider" than a "publisher" - by enabling researchers to connect to each other in new and better ways.

So how could we do something similar? The TidyOldham website mentioned in my post of 20th November is a good example of something we could use because it already has the kernel of the features we need - it does the listen and talk parts already, and to some extent is an energiser because you can imagine people spreading the word about this site to others in their community. But it could be taken further. Here are some examples (I'm sure there are lots of others):
  • Allow people to tag and review our responses - when we post the "after" picture, this could be linked to a tagging / reviewing facility (like Flickr's or YouTube's).
  • Build a database of the types of reports and responses in TidyOldham - this would help us to see whether there are patterns in how our responses are perceived: for example do people think we're better at cleaning up graffiti than fly tipping?
  • Make the database available so that people can see examples of previous reports grouped by category (e.g. all fly-tipping, or all reports in Royton, or all 5-star rated responses).
  • Add a review and improvement section (discussion forum style) and connect it to the database / reviews (similar to Amazon's book reviews).
  • Include regular updates to show how we're planning to improve services based upon this feedback.

Create new services

2collab is also an example of this. When Elsevier started their work on this site it was to enhance researcher use of their products (i.e. the research papers they publish), but they soon realised that the networking aspects had added value, and the collaboration database was developed out of that - a new service altogether.
I'm not suggesting that we somehow "invent" something new - we're not an innovation and development organisation. But we can do similar things to Elsevier - we can learn from the ways in which our customers use our services to develop new ones responsively.
Using the TidyOldham example again, over time we'd build up a picture of the following (these are just examples):
  • The types of reports - e.g. is fly-tipping or graffiti the main thing that gets reported? 
  • Ratings of council responses against type of report - e.g. are we generally good at clearing fly-tipping quickly, but not so good at graffiti?
  • Hot spots for different types of issue - e.g. popular fly-tipping locations
Apart from the second item above, we could probably work this out anyway, but the difference here is that this information is based on what people are reporting - i.e. it's directly related to our customers' issues rather than the underlying raw data. For example there may be more graffiti than fly-tipping, but fly-tipping gets reported more because it bothers people more.

Armed with this information we could report this back to our customers and ask for their suggestions about how the issues could be improved. For example if graffiti comes out on top, we could ask for suggestions on how to both clean up more quickly / effectively, but also how to prevent it in the first place. In terms of the response this could lead to the formation of self-help community groups who we train and equip to do the clean ups (this helps us too!) and provides them with the ability to react more quickly when things occur. In terms of prevention, it could lead to the formation of community arts groups who actively engage the graffiti perpetrators in more valuable and positive actions.

I hope you'll see that the ideas stem from the interactions with our customers. I'm not suggesting we should actually do the service improvements described above - they are examples of what might arise out of this interaction. The key is to develop mechanisms that allow our customers to tell about these things and then to work with them to develop improvements and new services. That's embracing!

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