Spiral Marketing: The More You Know, The More You Can Know

June 24, 2009

Sbarro Isn’t Listening To Its Customers (A Cautionary Tale)

There is really no specific reason this blog post HAS to be about Sbarro Italian restaurant – there are plenty of other brands out there that are ignoring a great deal of interesting and even actionable information about brand perception, consumer experience, quality, etc.  It’s just that, coincidentally, several factors converged today to bring Sbarro to mind: 1) I used to like Sbarro’s quite a lot; 2) I have noticed that the quality of Sbarro’s has declined considerably – undoubtedly a result of the “franchise” effect – and so I almost never go there anymore; and 3) I noticed the following post on Twitter:

“Sbarro’s – never, ever, ever, EVER again. Never, not ever. EVER! #cardboard.”

So I searched Twitter to see if Sbarro has a Twitter account – apparently not.  I then searched Twitter for “Sbarro” and found comments that ranged from good, to OK, to bad – some examples:

mulebennett: @williamfleitch [Michael] Send ’em to Sbarro‘s for an authentic NY slice [/Scott]”

mohalen: @Arrens i thought i heard sbarro‘s was going out of business; i dont believe I have seen any in Ca.”

tastynsweet: sigh im at the mall right now eating sbarro they got good pizza but exspensive lol”

lynnsmithtx: Sbarro‘s pepperoni stromboli has 44g of fat & 2,470mg of sodium – a day’s worth of each.”

tiffany_dorrin: Ate at Sbarro for the first time in a very long time. I felt like I was in high or middle school again.”

BabyFresh360: Just ate some pizza from Sbarro Ewwwwww it was Sofa-King Disgusting…I Feel Sick my Fellow Twits : (“

GoodStuff4Free: Free pizza at Sbarro‘s for students with good grades June 23 http://linkbee.com/70IT

gadbearr: @joshuaharrell Sbarro…. yummmm!!”

So since Sbarro doesn’t have a Twitter account, I went to their corporate website, finally found the “contact us” link in the bottom navigation bar, and clicked on it to get a contact form.  There were 3 choices for my stakeholder role – Consumer, Franchiser and Real Estate Developer.  So I selected “Consumer,” added contact information, and in my message said that I noticed they were missing out on a lot of very useful information, including the original post: “Sbarro’s – never, ever, ever, EVER again. Never, not ever. EVER! #cardboard.”

This is where the story gets very interesting: I posted this comment, and got a rejection message back from the Sbarro’s website saying something to the effect that the “Contact Us” page should not be used to send messages it perceives as negative.  Are you KIDDING me?  Just tell me before I spend the time writing a comment that “We are very interested in anything you have to say, as long as it conforms to our vision of ourselves.  Any observations that do NOT conform to this viewpoint are out of line, and we will reject them out of hand.”

Good to know . . . now.

I am, as I would guess are the majority of you, of the school of thought that believes 1) ANY information or feedback is useful; and 2) I would rather hear negative comments that will help me improve my product or service, rather than flowery platitudes.  I JUMP on any hint of negative commentary, and try to get to the bottom of it.  In fact, some of the strongest client relationships I have ever developed have had a critical juncture, where the client perceived us in a negative way, and by rapidly addressing their concerns in a proactive, forthright and honest manner, I’ve ended up with a much better client relationship and a much stronger advocate of our services as a reward.

Now, it is clear Sbarro doesn’t belong to this school of thought, and while ultimately I believe that to be a fatal arrogance, I am not going to try to fight through the layers of bureaucracy they’ve built to ensure they don’t hear the voice of their most important asset: their customers.  I think, though, that there is a clear lesson for companies a little less vested in viewing the world through their own pre-determined lens.  While the dynamics are different for various sectors and industries, customers keep you in business; in the consumer world, you have an incredibly diverse, mobile and judgmental group of stakeholders that you ignore at your own peril.  And through emerging social media, the ability for those consumers to share good or bad information or experiences is incredibly rapid and remarkably efficient – the tweet that started this whole situation was sent by someone with 750 followers; through that one tweet, she told 750 people to never eat at Sbarro’s.  And that is just one of the 200 Million+ Facebook users and the 35 Million+ Twitter users (to name only two of the social networks out there).

The lesson of this cautionary tale?  There is more information about your brand than you could possibly imagine being shared on these social platforms.  You have two choices as a consumer retailer (or any business, for that matter): you can adopt and adapt your customer-facing processes to gather, assess, and act upon this vast reservoir of information, and through that process refine your view of your strengths and weaknesses, your opportunities and threats, the perceptions and misperceptions about your brand that you need to identify and act upon.

Or you can adopt the second option – the Sbarro option: only listen to what you want to hear, and filter and tune out the rest.  I would not recommend this option, but if you take this course, understand that you do so at your own risk.

Kev

June 19, 2009

Twitter Vs. Facebook? That Is NOT The Question

It has become popular occasionally to ask whether one would pick Twitter or Facebook if you had to choose.  The question, hypothetical though it may be, makes no sense – the implied choice is based upon a false analogy.  Taken to the extreme, the question is about the same as asking whether you would prefer a black phone or a black photo album.  But in this rush by the social media “gurus” or hobbyists to “pick what’s best,” I think they are missing the forest for a few trees, some of which – like MySpace – may or may not be around in a year.

I think the important question, and perhaps the question that people are trying to answer when they get is this discussion, is how do we understand best how to use social media.  And how we best understand the use of social media is a lot like understanding how to best build a house (to use an old analogy).  I don’t look in my toolbox, see a hammer, nails, saw, level and square, and suddenly understand how to build a house.  Similarly, I cannot look into my “social media toolbox” and understand how to build or influence a group of people.  I need to first build my blueprint – my end-state vision of what I am trying to accomplish – and then, understanding the goal, I look to my toolbox to determine which tools I will need and how I will use them to accomplish that goal.  And in any social media campaign – which may be as mundane as building your own personal influence, or as business critical as creating a social marketing campaign that seeks to reach an audience that is immune to more traditional marketing techniques – these goals, these “blueprints” will be as different as the people or the businesses they are meant to support.

Those who know me know that I believe very strongly that the world is full of answers – ask someone a question, and you are highly likely to get an answer.  And since you’ve gotten an answer, you assume everything is great, and you act upon that answer.  The only problem is that, in over 20 years of consulting experience, I’ve rarely seen efforts go wrong because a company couldn’t get an answer to the question they posed; they have gone wrong because the company asked the wrong question to begin with.  The implications of this point are that objectively, an answer can be right or wrong given the question you ask, but the “rightness” or “wrongness” of the answer you get doesn’t help you if you started with the wrong question to begin with.  And I have, and have very often seen clients, ask bad questions for which they get the “right” answer, which leads to a totally disastrous result.

Getting back to the subject of this post, I am saying that “Twitter vs. Facebook?” is a badly formed question; it has no chance of getting beyond personal preference to a more unified view of the social landscape, and how you become a part of the conversation taking place there.

So what are the right questions? I think the first question any individual or business has to ask is “what are my goals for a social marketing campaign?”  I can’t give you a cookie cutter that fits every industry, although in a later post I’ll consider some “value chains” that you may seek to influence with social media, and how those relate to questions you must answer to develop your goals and strategy.  The blueprint for the house depends on the house you seek to build.

But once you’ve had the architect come round to help understand the house you need, the house you want to build, how then do you apply social media tools to the building of this house?  One option I am tempted to try is to create a dartboard, with slots for various SM tools, and 3 darts – then use any tool you land a dart in.  This appeals to me only to the extent that a) it’s kind of funny; and b) I always drink when I throw darts.

But for the sake of this discussion, I will let that go, and instead assert that there are certain characteristics of social media represented to a greater or lesser degree in each of the social media tools and techniques.  There are also other tools that amplify the effect of these characteristics, but I’ll save that for later as well.  To support a mental model for evaluating these tools, I personally think these 9 characteristics are highly relevant:

  1. Reach – how many in my “social graph” can I reach with a given message.  Note that reach is relative and I believe closely related to specificity – while I may be able to “reach” a whole lot of people on Twitter without any notion of specificity (or targeting) of messages, I may reach far fewer individuals on LinkedIn, but the people I reach are much more valuable because my message is very specific to them.
  2. Interactivity – does the tool of choice allow for near real time interaction, or is it less interactive (Am I talking on the phone or exchanging letters?)
  3. Speed – how quickly could my message propagate to a given number of people?
  4. Repeatability – how efficiently and effectively can I repeat a message I receive to share it with other users?
  5. Specificity – given a social media tool, how specific or diverse can I expect the body of messages to be?
  6. Depth – How “deep” is the information provided in a given message?  Is it a headline, or an in-depth posting on a specific topic?
  7. Persistence – if you view a conversation as evolving over time, then any given topic within that conversation has a “window of time” where it is the focus of discussion.  How long does a given message persist in the conversation – how long is the window open for someone to receive the message?
  8. Searchability – Given that messages persist within the window of the current social conversation for a limited period of time (a “meme”), how easily can I recall information once it has passed out of that window?  In general, the greater the depth of the information, the more searchable it is.
  9. Measurability – to be honest, this is a placeholder right now in my opinion.  I think we are in the mode in the social media space of “inventing” science, without having gone to the trouble of correlating a specific measure to a specific outcome.  I think many are working toward getting us there, but I don’t believe we yet know what measurable outcomes correlate with true business (and / or reputational) value.  Until we do, measurability has to be taken with a grain of salt . . .

So I think these are important characteristics to assess with any given social media tool, just as I can (and at times have tried) to measurethe “Hammerability” of a hammer, a screwdriver, a pair of pliers, and a random piece of metal.  You may have a different model for how you think of these tools – if so, great, write your own blog post and send it to me.  But using my characteristics, I’m going to apply them to several types of social media tools:

  • Twitter – the fastest growing social network on the interweb (it’s the internet, or the world wide web, folks!), and a micro-blogging platform.  Say anything you want, as long as it is 140 characters or less.
  • General Social Networks – a social network based on interpersonal social relationships; in all likelihood, I could have named this Facebook and no one would have disagreed.
  • Business Networks – a list of contacts and discussions related to business topics, such as LinkedIn, Plaxo, etc.
  • Special Purpose Social Networks – social networks related to a specific group or topic, business or social.  This may be a local area mother’s group, or a collaboration community for a given business, etc.
  • Blogs – dissertations and commentaries on a specific topic (don’t look now, but you’re reading one, by the way).

This is by no means meant to cover every social media tool and variation thereof, and as I said earlier, it specifically excludes tools, such as StumbleUpon, that I would argue are used to amplify one or more of the characteristics above.

What I have done, based on the characteristics and types of social media I’ve outlined above, is assigned (somewhat) subjective values to each characteristic for each social media type and created a Radar map.  All other things being equal (many times they are not, but let’s skip that question for this post), then the goal of a social marketing strategy should be to cover as much area of this graph as possible:

Social Media Radar Map

Social Media Radar Map

Now, it may not be obvious from the above, but if your goal (in general) is to cover as much area of this graph as possible, you have to use multiple social media tools to do so.  To illustrate, I can see from the radar graph below that while Twitter gives me great immediacy and interactivity, it does not give me a great deal of depth of content or persistence; blogs, on the other hand, do provide the depth and persistence, but without the interactivity.  By combining the two, however, I can cover a large area of the graph:

Twitter / Blog Radar Map

Twitter / Blog Radar Map

As you can see, by combining Twitter with Blogging, in a coordinated marketing campaign, I can cover a lot of important social media “territory.”  The other interesting thing to note is that Facebook and Twitter do not cover the same area, but if I combine Facebook and blogging or Twitter and blogging, I cover a great deal more area.  In fact, by combining Twitter and Blogging, I cover virtually ALL of the area that Facebook is covering: should we then be surprised that two top priorities of Facebook are to make it more interactive (like Twitter), and to begin to incorporate blogging elements?

Twitter / Facebook / Blog Radar Map

Twitter / Facebook / Blog Radar Map

A couple of points, for the sake of completeness: in a very specific context, specialized social networks and business networks deliver a great deal of benefit (within that context).  My discussion above is meant to serve to illustrate the general principles of a broad-based social marketing strategy, and therefore I have disregarded to a large extent the advantages of a very targeted campaign using these niche social media tools within a very narrow context.  That doesn’t mean they are more or less important than other social media uses; it only means that the hypothetical “house” I was building did not conform to the constraints within which these more specialized tools may be much more effective than broader based social media.

I also intentionally disregarded Authority & Credibility as characteristics of the social media platforms.  I don’t think it is possible to say that, because you have a friend that you think knows everything there is to know about subject XYZ, that this person can objectively be thought of as authoritative and credible.  Questions of authority and credibility aren’t characteristics of the social media tools and platforms I spoke of here, but result from the response to the content appearing on these platforms.  In this case, all of the members of the conversation will judge the authority and credibility of the information, rather than the medium itself.  @naomimimi and I were speaking yesterday of a “clique-ishness” that still persists on Twitter – the “Twitterati” tend to feed each other’s sense of authority and credibility.  As these platforms become more widely established and egalitarian, I believe that the merit of the ideas and thought leadership will supplant the “reputation” of the individual posting the content, leading to a much richer and more informative landscape of ideas and opinions – a much more highly functioning “hive mind.”

So ultimately, I think there are those that can and will answer the question of Twitter vs. Facebook, or any one social media tool or technique vs. the other – for themselves, given their personal preference.  I believe that a much more interesting question, however, is how do we evaluate and employ a suite of social media techniques to conduct a robust, wide-ranging, energetic, and informative social marketing campaign.  What house do you want to build, and how do you best employ the social media tools available to build that house?

Kev

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