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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Doug Meacham on Bridging New & Old - Social Media Series

This week's guest for Flooring The Consumer's Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old is Doug Meacham.

Doug Meacham has a passion for the customer experience, innovation, brand engagement and social media. That's what his blog - NextUp - is about, and it's something he has considerable experience in given his current role as Multi-Channel Retail Consultant for IBM and a rich history with Circuit City Stores.

I love how practical and relevant Doug's advice is. Take the retail experience wisdom he shares in The Flooring Display Challenge - Part I. Or his post, Your Blog is a Cabin in the Woods which gives you a feel for how best to use social media to create a worthy customer experience and bridge the old with the new.

Doug contributed "The Digital Playground" to The Age of Conversation 2 - Why Don't They Get It? - the book that 237 authors from around the world collaborated on to benefit Variety, the children's charity. [Per a previous post, The Age of Conversation 2 - Why Don't They Get It? is now available on Amazon. Would you consider purchasing it, if you haven't already?] His chapter explores how social interaction on the web comes naturally to millennials...

For those of you in the Richmond, VA area, I have wonderful news for you! Doug has been busy since February launching a local Social Media Club chapter for Richmond, VA. The group is on http://twitter.com/SMCRVA and Facebook with a website coming as soon as socialmediaclub.org rolls out its new web platform.

As Doug explains "the first event took place last month. It was more of a mixer to introduce the local chapter to the attendees and to provide information about what we were planning to do with the club over the coming months. Around 140 people attended. The next event takes place on June 9 and will feature a panel of local journalists from a variety of media channels to discuss the impact of social media on the news business. It sold out (150 seats) in 6 hours! Lots of demand for social media guidance in Richmond!"

C.B.: Doug, how/why did you get involved in social media?

Doug: I first got involved while at Circuit City in 2006. I was working on developing a strategy for getting the organization more engaged in idea creation. I saw social media tools as a great way to engage 36,000 employees across a highly distributed organization. The tools were primarily used for insight sharing and idea generation.

This was a bit of a skunkworks project. Initially sanctioned as part of a larger innovation team effort to try to make the organization more adaptive, I proposed a series of "Insight Sharing" initiatives, all of which involved some sort of social media or collaboration tool. The innovation was subsequently shut down, but I went ahead with building in internal blogging platform using Wordpress and recruiting people across the organization to participate. It was strictly a word of mouth thing flying under the radar to avoid pushback from management. The idea was to generate interest and create value before showing it to decision makers. Unfortunately, my position was eliminated before we could reach that level.

C.B.: What do you like most about social media?

Doug: From a personal standpoint, social media has allowed me to tap into a network of amazing people. I learn from them every day and often apply those those insights in my day to day work. From a business standpoint, I am a bit obsessed with great customer experiences. Social media, when used in the right way, gives organizations powerful tools to engage with and get feedback from both customers and internal associates.

C.B.: What do you like least about social media?

Doug: Unlike traditional media that tends to be controlled and managed, social media is in the hands of people. As more people are getting involved, the volume of content being produced keeps growing making it increasingly difficult to find the really valuable content in the noise. I am also a big fan of Twitter. As its popularity has increased, so have the spammers.

C.B.: How has social media changed how you interact with the marketplace as a consumer or customer?

Doug: I often look to Twitter first to get product recommendations or to discuss an issue directly with a representative of the business. I don't usually read company blogs. I haven't found any companies that offer content which is compelling enough to get me to add them to my read list. For many retailers, the company blog looks a lot like a promotional email telling me about products and services that they offer.

C.B.: What 5 suggestions do you have for companies to implement so they can more effectively bridge old media with new media and connect with end users?

1. Whether you have started using social media or not, the first thing companies must do is determine what social media channel (if any) is going to help them connect with their customers. A denture adhesive doesn't need to establish a presence on Facebook, at least not yet. Go where your customers are.

2. Listen

3. Listen some more. What do you hear. Are people talking about your brand? If not, then why? If they are, then what are they saying? Do they love you? Do they hate you? Are they helping you to increase your customer base or lose it? There is a lot of value in those conversations. Use it to your advantage.

4. Offer something of value. Companies often make the mistake of treating social media like another advertising channel. Remember, these are places where your customers spend time with friends. Imagine if it was a physical place. Would you go in shouting your latest offer? Would you plaster your ads all over their walls? I don't think so. Instead, look for ways to add value for your customers. Find opportunities to turn bad experiences into good ones, but then take it one step further and look for ways to address the sources of problems your customers are talking about. Engage with people who are singing your praises; they are your biggest cheerleaders.

5. Lower your expectations. Social media is not a magic bullet. ROI is difficult to evaluate and for that reason, it may be a difficult sell to the C-level execs. Don't expect to see material results immediately. Your 3000 Twitter followers are not going to raise you stock price next quarter. You're talking about a cultural change for your organization and that takes time.

C.B.: Any other thoughts to share about the effectiveness of social media in forging stronger relations with customers and how best to do so.

Doug: Active participation in social media is rapidly growing across key demographics. Your customers are forging on-line relationships with each other and sharing stories about their experiences with you. Company participation in social media is no longer optional. Its effectiveness at forging stronger relationships is highly dependent on who your customers are and how you engage in the space. Leveraging social media to add value for you customers and to promote transparency is the best place to start.

Thank you, Doug!

Comments? Questions? Feedback?

Are you participating? If not, how are you experimenting? What's working? What's not?

How do you offer your customers value?

For additional insights from participants in the Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old, please visit The Entire Bridging New & Old Social Media Series.

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