Escalation Nation: Twitter Response as Crisis Communications vs. Customer Service

Over the years the scrappy, enterprising advocates at The Consumerist helped consumers escalate their customer service issues by  publishing the direct e-mails and phone numbers of corporate executives, board members and PR folks. Now thanks to Twitter, the extrajurisdictional  (i.e. outside normal customer service channels) royal road to dispute resolution is at everyone’s fingertips 24/7.

Now that anyone can @ message company reps at will, and companies employ ever more sophisticated tools to monitor social media conversations and intercept rants in real time, companies face real questions about how to record, triage and respond without creating new and different problems for their employees.

A tweet by Jeremiah Owyang last year reminded me that a very public pillorying by an über-blogger isn’t necessarily a win for consumers in general, and could lead companies down an expensive, counterproductive dead end if they overcompensate for what might happen if they cross a social media celebrity. In commenting on the debate around the very public dustup between mommyblogger Heather Armstrong (@dooce) and Maytag/Whirlpool  (summarized succinctly by Forbes), Owyang observed, “When Dooce called Maytag’s support line, they didn’t factor in her PR impact –support and marketing MUST be aligned.”

Several only mildly facetious questions come to mind:

  1. Is it now the responsibility of front line customer service reps at large consumer goods companies to escalate every call from someone claiming to have a million Twitter followers? Is that a “red flag,” automatic escalation, or do they have to verify it first? Or is that  up to the first line supervisor? Second line?
  2. What’s the cutoff for special treatment/escalations? 1 million followers? Ranges (e.g. 250,000-499,999 followers gets a free replacement, 500,000+ gets a freebie plus donation to the charity of their choice)?
  3. If customer service reps are now expected to have the skills of online community managers, are they being trained enough? Paid enough?
  4. Should IT departments incorporate a social media ranking look-up as a desktop app for customer-facing personnel?
  5. Is not responding to/escalating all Twitter complaints now considered poor customer service?

Whether twitterati and prominent bloggers actually deserve special treatment is a question for moral philosophers, but social media celebs certainly expect and increasingly receive it because of actual — or merely potential — PR flaps like that one. And social media partisans fan those fears.

But for all their buzz, do these episodes have a statistically significant impact on sales and/or customer satisfaction? Greater than widespread/systemic problems (e.g.  the complaint of an individual with a personal grievance and a large bullhorn vs. large numbers of customers experiencing a pattern of similar problems)?

The Forbes article made two important observations:

  1. Armstrong suffered her own backlash/crisis communications episode as a result, and
  2. Whirlpool’s stock price didn’t take an immediate hit, even in this headline-driven, jumpy market.

I agree with Owyang that customer service and marketing must be aligned, but not to ensure white-glove treatment for celebrity bloggers. Rather, first align them to ensure all customers get the responsiveness they expect, then let positive word-of-mouth do the hard work for you when the inevitable social media diva moment happens.

What if Shakers Blogged?

Maybe it’s zeitgeist, or maybe I’m just noticing more because it’s on my mind, but I’m finding a lot of fodder lately for my mission to motivate legal marketers to simplify their social media and networking activities to make them both useful and beautiful. How would Shakers design a social media strategy?

The first item was a post on the reliably interesting and and useful Social Media Today blog about focusing your social marketing efforts on one or two platforms/activities that you are most familiar/comfortable with and building organically from there. The post itself was a model of less is more. A few simple ideas, well-framed and concisely delivered.

The next item is brutally simple but a great forcing function for productivity: How to consistently write a blog post in 20 minutes or less.

Consistent with that last point, my time is up.

Legal Blogging 2.0: Lessons from Law Student Bloggers

 [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfQsngNoV7I&w=480&h=390]

The first time I wrote about law student bloggers I approached it from the perspective of social media expertise as a competitive advantage in job hunting. In the intervening time I’ve come to appreciate something more transformative in blogs by current law students and recent grads.

In 2001 Marc Prensky famously postulated a bifurcation in the relationship with and adoption of digital technologies between digital immigrants — individuals born before the advent of digital technology who incorporated it to their lives to a greater or lesser extent later on — and digital natives – individuals immersed in digital technology since birth and therefore more naturally comfortable with and adaptable to it.

The same analogy can be applied to legal social media. While Baby Boom and Gen X lawyers have an uneasy, uneven relationship with blogging and online networking, Gen Y and Millennial lawyers and law students have been immersed in it for their entire undergraduate and graduate careers. While Legal Blogging 1.0 is mired in evangelism for social media marketing and online networking, Legal Blogging 2.0 comes to it organically, with different sensibilities and objectives.

Some distinguishing characteristics I see in Legal Blogging 2.0:

  • Technology and online social connectivity are essential – not adjunct – in both personal and professional life. For those who choose it, blogging is not a chore, nor a necessary evil — and it’s not a “strategy.”
  • Be an interesting person first, then a law student/lawyer
  • Peer mentoring and crowdsourcing are the most relevant and useful forms of coaching. Insights and advice from Version 1.0 legal bloggers are welcome, but not deferred to.

Following are some interesting blogs worth checking out that I believe embody the best characteristics of Legal Blogging 2.0:

World Wide Whit (Jack Whittington) – I like the manifesto-like quality to this post and applaud the mission of Law School Chat:

“As I reach the end of my law school career it has become apparent to me that life would have been incredibly easier over the course of the last three years if I would have had someone to give me a heads up about what to expect throughout law school or just someone to talk to when it all felt like it was too much to handle.

“Jason Tenenbaum, Brian Hoffman, and myself are launching a joint social media venture through Twitter to bring law school students, potential law school students, and attorneys together in conversation about what to expect in law school and how to deal with the many challenges it presents us. It is our vision to create a place where students can go with any questions they may have regarding law school or life in general and give them a broad range of opinions and insights in how to approach things. Most of all we want to create a friendly atmosphere that fosters collegiality among the up and coming generation of law school students with those who came before us and the ones who will follow in our footsteps someday soon.”

The next live Twitter chat with take place March 27, but in the meantime you can join the conversation through the #lawschoolchat hashtag or by email.

Fresh Thought Soup (Mariel) – From “About the blog & Disclaimer”:

“I’ll write about a lot of things: law school and the ensuing hilarity, life lessons, and general happenings.  I hope this is becomes a way to spread the encouragement and entertainment, dispel the mystery surrounding the hallowed halls of law school, and as a way for my friends to keep in touch [or at least feel less like I've disappeared].”

My Mind Rebels at Stagnation (Anonymous) – A recent collection of anecdotes and impressions of the new semester was followed by a very powerful, personal account of “What Planned Parenthood Means to Me.”

Daisy, JD (Just Daisy) (Daisy) – From “About Daisy”:

“I am an attorney married to an attorney, which means my house is full of boring books & equally boring discussions. To make up for the general lack of creativity I blog, I cook & I make fun of the legal profession at every available opportunity. Unless of course I’m feeling sassy and then I’ll offer unsolicited advice on being a law student or a lawyer or the spouse of a lawyer.”

Grammar Rules (That’s a Complete Sentence)

 [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gWwah7ROsE&w=640&h=390]

The following post first appeared in 2010:

Yesterday was National Grammar Day – “March Forth” is the punny slogan/mnemonic — and while the well-ordered, fastidious nationwide observations should have tipped me off, I missed it. Notwithstanding, here’s my short meditation on the enduring utility and necessity of speaking and writing well.

Many logophiles and armchair grammarians of a certain age have a special affection for the old Reader’s Digest feature “Toward More Picturesque Speech.” As a child, for me it was not just a vocabulary building exercise to spice up my school essays, but also the start of a lifelong adventure, in the way that all serious collectors and connoisseurs relish the search for, discovery and display of rare and exquisitely crafted items.

Yes, there was some adolescent know-it-all-ism in there too, but over time I came to realize that grammar — like manners — is ultimately about making people feel comfortable. So even now, in the age of 140-character, thumb-typed communication, attention to spelling, usage and grammar are valuable because they make for clear, easy and enjoyable reading, and they inform the way others perceive your personal and professional brand.

  1. Sloppy writing conveys inattention to detail. What does that say about the quality of the product or service you’re selling?
  2. Glaring mistakes trip the reader or listener, and distract them from your message. A few days ago I was reading a post by a relatively well-known law marketing blogger and encountered the phrase “for all intensive purposes” — and that’s all I remember about it.
  3. Tolerances vary widely. Even if some — or even most — friends and business associates don’t care about spelling, punctuation and the occasional mangled sentence, some will. Is irritating or alienating even a small fraction of your clients due to lazy communication an acceptable loss?

For the record, I don’t profess to be a grammar expert or master prose stylist, and I am certain that martinets in the gotcha brigade could pick this post to pieces. Rather, for very concrete business reasons I am advocating vigilance and continual improvement in written and oral communication. Presentations and writing are products. Regardless of the power of your ideas, the color, fit and finish also matter, because they differentiate and distinguish your brand.

My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 12/31/2010

 Like New Year’s health and fitness resolutions, blogging resolutions are predicated on increasing frequency — of visits to the gym or of blog posts, respectively. Conventional wisdom in both cases is that success depends on overcoming physical/intellectual inertia through willpower and self-discipline.

Wall Street Journal article  offers an alternative approach to keeping New Year’s resolutions that substitutes advance planning and practice for guilt and shame. Brain research indicates that the part of the brain responsible for willpower is easily overloaded and exhausted, while the parts responsible for linking positive emotions to new habits are more effective at helping you condition and sustain new behaviors.

To illustrate the process, the piece includes a diagram for a metaphorical dance called “The New Year’s Shuffle”:

  • Make a realistic plan in advance
  • Practice in advance exercising self-control in other areas of life
  • Think in advance about what might cause setbacks and slips and plan to avoid those things
  • Plan rewards for yourself when you do new habits
  • Practice focusing on your new habit instead of the old one
  • Expect setbacks and slips
  • Make a plan for bouncing back from setbacks and slips
  • Plan punishments to help you get started, such as denying yourself TV
  • Reduce other life stress if possible
  • Use positive reinforcement 80% of the time, negative reinforcement 20%

Whether you master those steps or not, Happy New Year!

Social Media Trends for 2011: Control, Privacy, Creative Destruction and Geomarketing

This week Gini Dietrich (@ginidietrich) of Arment Dietrich ran a contest on her Spin Sucks blog to crowdsource a ninth (she already had eight) social media trend for 2011, all of which will be discussed on a one-hour webinar Dec. 15.

I’m proud to report that my notion of creative destruction was chosen as one of the winning ideas, rolling up into a larger trend that also incorporates the issues of control, privacy and geomarketing.

My original entry follows:

“Creative destruction will be the next big trend.

Consider reaction to the Facebook messaging announcement.

Data mining and content sharing will make social networking platform providers more attractive to advertisers and investors, but among users, privacy issues will become social media’s equivalent of ATT data plan contracts — despised “necessary evils” that will drive innovation by new competitors.”

“Facebook’s M.O. is to throw new features out there, see how the user community reacts, then apologize and promise to do better when they’re excoriated by the privacy community. It keeps happening, and users feel more frustrated and trapped. Simultaneously, the usability is neglected and remains a byzantine torture.

We have become dependent on an inadequate and unsatisfying monopoly and stick with it because there are no alternatives — yet.

While there are significant barriers to entry for like-Facebook-but-better platforms, I can absolutely see shifts in end user behaviors and tastes, (e.g. it’s just not fun anymore). In the absence of a 1:1 alternative, the competitors might be third-party niche players that build a following of their own through Facebook then split (Zynga is a clear candidate). Similarly, content distribution SAAS vendors could come out with an alternative engagement model.’

Check out all the entries and the interesting discussions they sparked.

My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 11/5/2010

Technically, my posts of the week are tweets. Specifically, the Twitter-driven call to arms and online mobilization in defense of social media for legal marketing. The issue involved is the ABA’s announcement in its Issues Paper Concerning Lawyers’ Use of Internet Based Client Development Tools memo of its intention to promulgate new standards affecting:

  • Online social networking (Facebook, LinkedIn & Twitter)
  • Blogging
  • Facebook and Linkedin profiles
  • Pay per click advertising
  • Gathering information through networking websites
  • Discussion forums
  • JD Supra document uploads
  • Lawyer websites
  • Use of case histories on law firm websites

I’m not sure who first sounded the alarm, but I’ll credit Heather Morse because hers was the first #LMA hashtag tweet on the subject (and I know, like and trust her :) ). Heather’s message was retweeted over the next few days by, among others,  Nicole Carrubba, Auctorilaw, Jesse Wilkins, Nancy Myrland, Lindsay Griffith, Gail LamarcheDeb Cochran, Melanie Green Rebecca Wissler and The Great Jakes.

Larry Bodine amplified the issue with a “RED ALERT” blog post, a CMO Forum LinkedIn group discussion thread and the #ABAREGS Twitter hashtag.

The social media buzz on the topic picked up so much volume and momentum that it inspired the Voldemort-cum-Andy-Rooney of legal blogging (who I never mention by name or link to) to puke his trademark self-righteous bile on it in his “22,500 Tears” post.

I applaud and commend the clarion calls for thoughtful attention and advocacy on the issue, but I also net out with Adrian Dayton on the “silver lining” of this kerfuffle:

“Thousands of lawyers are waiting in the wings afraid to use social media because they aren’t sure how to use the tools – and there is such little guidance from state bar associations and the ABA that many are simply staying away.

“It is about time the ABA took look at online marketing and helped provide some assurances to so many attorneys that look to these governing bodies for advice.  As lawyers it is our responsibility to let the ABA know our opinions on the topic.  The ABA is accepting comments until December 15, 2010 to guide them in their decisions - feel free to make your voice heard.”

My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 10/15/10

How would you — or the partners — react if your firm were featured in a blog post entitled “Four Law Firms That Don’t Suck With Social Media”? A post about financial services firms on the Bazzarvoice blog this week — an organization that usually evangelizes about understanding customers and speaking their language in social media — was notable for its tone deafness. After the snarky headline, the post is somewhat complimentary (in a backhanded sort of way), but I couldn’t get past the cringe factor. The author actually exacerbated the situation in the comments section by sharing that the headline choice was made because 1) it mirrors the title of the CEO’s upcoming book and a previous blog post by its outgoing CMO and 2) he was more interested in easy linkbaiting than in crafting a catchy headline that “doesn’t suck.”

If he’s genuinely interested in learning about how professional services organizations react to variance from expected and normative behaviors, he’d do well to read Heather Morse’s post “The Banana Story and Lawyers” on The Legal Watercooler.

For most small and solo lawyers — especially those just starting out — LinkedIn is a much more cost- and time-effective social media marketing strategy than blogging (I’ll go into that in greater detail in an upcoming post). This week Samantha Collier provides an interesting and useful tutorial on LinkedIn’s new “add sections” profile option.

What an ’80s Pop Song Can Teach Lawyers About Social Networking

You know all about “earworms,” right? Those distracting song fragments that you can’t get out of your head? Well, whenever I start contemplating a “tips for better blogging”-type post, I start hearing “Talk Talk” by the eponymous ’80s British band. Specifically, the refrain: “All you do to me is talk talk.” Allow me to explain…

One of the chief reasons why many legal marketers have a hard time attracting readers, tweeps and other assorted varieties of followers is that they focus on monologues rather than conversations; posting on their own blogs and eschewing the comment section of others’. The “cocktail party” is a common metaphor in social networking parables — I’ve used it at least once myself – and Jay Fleischman offered an excellent version on Lawyerist yesterday.

And today Gyi Tsakalakis posted a short meditation on “The Value of Saying Hello”:

“By saying hello, you are increasing the number of potential client contacts that you encounter throughout your day. From there, it’s simple probability. The more chances you are presented with for new clients, the more new client relationships you are likely to develop.”

Whether it’s a link in one of your posts, a guest comment on another blog, a tweet or a Facebook “like,” make time to “say hello” and let people know that you’re listening.

Now, does anyone have a good suggestion for getting rid of earworms? Counterpunching with the chorus of “Wheel in the Sky” usually knocks it out for me, but “Talk Talk” is a stubborn one for some reason.

The Interesting Parts of the ABA’s Legal Technology Survey Are What It DOESN’T Say

Annual surveys make good (read: popular) copy, but unless they have insightful scope and keen survey instruments, those reports frequently turn out to be incomplete social science of limited practical value. Survey formJudging from the ABA’s press materials and Adrian Dayton’s summary, the 2010 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report: Web and Communication Technology” unfortunately follows that pattern. It appears to tally surface-level indicators of social media participation, but does not drill down far enough into that data to reveal meaningful, useful information.

Isn’t it time that legal marketing got past the “gee whiz” bandwagon stage of social media participation and started seriously studying its application and effectiveness?

The ABA’s “Book Briefs” blurb cites the following top-line findings:

“When asked whether they personally maintain a presence in an online community/social network such as Facebook, LinkedIn, LawLink, or Legal OnRamp, 56% of respondents answered affirmatively, compared with 43% in the 2009 survey and 15% in the 2008 survey.”

What does “maintain a presence” mean? Does it still count if they signed up for an account but have not updated it for weeks or months? How frequently do they post to or update each profile? Also, what does “personally” mean?’ That they write and post the content themselves, or that the account pertains to them personally (as opposed to their firm) and their marketing staff helps?

“The highest percentage of respondents report maintaining a presence in LinkedIn (83%), followed by Facebook (68%) and Plaxo (18%).”

Again, how frequently do they visit these sites, what do they do while there and what specific results is that participation generating? Much has been made of data indicating lawyers spend more time on Facebook than on LinkedIn, but that in itself is a poor predictor of its efficacy as a marketing platform unless you have data on their primary activities and expected benefits from that participation. There’s a lot of non-business stuff to do on Facebook; not so much on LinkedIn. In marketing parlance, you have a more “intentional” (there for a specific purpose) and “qualified” (likelier to be receptive to what you’re selling) audience on LinkedIn than Facebook. Participate in Facebook if it works for you, not just because it has buzz momentum and all the cool kids are hanging out there.

“Respondents in the 30- to 39-year-old age group are the most likely to report that they maintain a presence in an online community/social network (77%, compared with 72% in the 2009 survey), followed by 68% of 40- to 49-year-olds (compared with 58% in the 2009 survey), and 50% of 50- to 59-year-olds (compared with 35% in the 2009 survey).”

What useful conclusions can be drawn from that? It appears to be a fairly typical adoption curve by age group. Either confirm that or identify unexpected findings and tease out their meaning.

“Large-firm respondents are the most likely to report personally maintaining a presence in an online community/social network (63%, compared with 57% in the 2009 survey and 13% in the 2008 survey); 52% of solo respondents (compared with 37% in the 2009 survey and 15% in the 2008 survey) maintain such a presence.”

Now that’s interesting! Did they bother to mine the data for reasons why that might be? Maybe because large firms have marketing staffs to help “maintain a presence,” while solos lack the time/resources OR don’t anticipate sufficient near-term ROI to justify that investment.

“The most common reason respondents report for maintaining a presence in online communities/social networks is for professional networking (76%), followed by socializing (62%), client development (42%), career development (17%), and case investigation (6%). Three percent chose the “other” category.”

Aren’t socializing, client development and career development just broad and overlapping aspects of professional networking? More concrete options like “speaking opportunities,” “reputation and awareness,” “client leads” and “new job opportunities” would have yielded cleaner data, and ”professional networking” could have taken the place of “other.”

“Far from being a time waster, nascent efforts at social networking are yielding fruit. Ten percent of respondents report that they have had a client retain their legal services as a result of use of online communities/social networking.”
Actually, that conclusion irks me the most because the data to support such a conclusion clearly isn’t there. To make such a determination you’d have to know how much time respondents put into social networking, how many direct leads those activities have yielded, how much of total new business is attributable to leads from social networking and how much the resulting client engagements were worth. Even the credible and creditable Adrian Dayton fumbled this data point, saying “While 10% may seem small, it represents a dramatic shift in law firm attitudes towards social media.” No, it reflects client behavior, not law firm psychology.

What if a lawyer who responded affirmatively to that question spent 10 hours a week on social media last year and got only one matter, but it represented nearly half of his billings? Then yes, that’s certainly not a waste of time. Conversely, what if another respondent, this one working at a Big Law firm, spent the same amount of time on social media participation, also got one retainer out of it, but it only amounted to less than five percent of his total billings? He might have gotten more — and more lucrative — leads after doing a free CLE session at a bar event.

Here’s another way to look at it: How “dramatic” would it be to learn that 10 percent of respondents report that they have had a client retain their legal services as a result of use of Yellow Pages advertising?

Legal marketing has thrown its lot in with social media for many good reasons, but also for some bad ones — uncritical acceptance of and enthusiasm for generalized, anecdotal data chief among them.

I’m willing to allow that the additional data and analysis I’m looking for might be found in the full report, but at $350 per copy ($300 for members), I’m not going to take that gamble based on what’s been reported so far.