Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Keep on Talking in the Free World

What's being said about you and your brand every minute of every day in cyberspace?

Wouldn't you like to know?

Is it possible that all of your best marketing efforts could be completely blindsided by a single incident that gets uploaded, downloaded and unloaded on the masses? Even worse, what if it is an exchange that eventually finds its way to mainstream media? One of the best examples of how social media has levelled the playing field between a single customer and a corporate giant is when Vincent Ferrari jousted with the mighty AOL. Ferrari recorded his conversation with the customer service rep, posted it to his blog and the rest, as they say, is history.

Millions of marketing dollars invested by AOL were essentially flushed down the toilet by this single incident that generated hundreds of thousands of You Tube hits and blog posts. The company was forced to apologize and wound up firing the customer service rep.

But that hasn't stopped the on-line conversations about AOL from continuing:

"Companies generally enforce an attitude of 'you will keep this customer or else' so he was screwed either way. I feel slightly sorry for the guy"

"I freaking HATE AOL. I got rid of them last year, and they gave us a hard time, and over charged us and didn't want to give it back. and they were rude to us over the phone, I should have recorded we are with Yahoo, and we are happy"

"Fuckers took it out on the employee like it was him and not their policies. They trained him to be a jackass"

Can we agree that this would not exactly be the kind of brand image that AOL or any other company would want portrayed on-line or off? A kinder, gentler, machine-gun hand?

According to Radian6 CEO Marcel LeBrun of Fredericton NB, "Your brand is now the sum of conversations about it. Instead of marketers sitting in an office and saying OK, here is what our brand is going to mean so let's buy some ads and push it out there, they now need to be part of the conversation".

LeBrun and his Radian6 cohorts are going where few software firms have ventured, rocking the world with technology that helps clients monitor what's being said about them online. More than 100 PR and Marketing agencies have jumped on the Radian6 bandwagon as well as companies such as Moosehead Breweries and Bell Aliant to discover what people are talking about. As LeBrun explains it, this allows for a strategic view of the social media dialogue.

Thanks to their futuristic technology, LeBrun's New Brunswick-based firm has soared from having only a handful of paying customers and a few employees working out of a one-room office in November of 2007. Today, Radian6 employs 36 people in two offices, with more than 130 customers, including the Interpublic Group of Companies, one of the world's largest marketing, advertising and public relations conglomerates. PR agencies were a natural fit since they were feeling the pain of having to monitor what was being said about their clients on sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. The Radian6 software does the job in one neat, tidy package, giving its users a chance to see things (like the Vincent Ferrari incident) unfold in the free world before it goes viral.

LeBrun is also a dedicated blogger with his "Media Philosopher" page, keeps up with his growing legion of fans on Twitter, and as such has emerged as a figure who not only "gets" what the Digital Economy is all about but has some idea of where it is heading. It was most interesting to read his responses in a recent Globe & Mail on-line discussion.

Noel Hulsman writes: If we could back up a couple of steps, I'm interested in your decision to base your company in New Brunswick. I'm a New Brunswick boy, so I'm not taking any shots at my home province, but it has not been traditionally viewed as a hotbed for tech start-ups. The venture market isn't there. Nor are the big clients. Can we get some insights in your strategy behind remaining in New Brunswick?

Marcel LeBrun writes: Well, the venture market is going through challenging times in all of Canada right now, but there is always opportunity for good companies. Savvy investors look for proven management teams, huge/growing market opportunities and sustainable competitive advantage. I have built previous companies from New Brunswick as have the other executives in Radian6 many of whom have worked in global companies like Microsoft and Alcatel as well as tech start-ups. We need to have a global presence, regardless of where our home base is. For any Canadian company, the US market is several times larger and you just need to make sure you are present in that market and can serve the client's needs well. The really cool thing about working in social media is that geography becomes much less of an issue now that you can participate in customer conversations online instantly, globally.

What do you think the implications are for your business and by extension your brand? Could it be that your brand - seemingly overnight -has become less about geography and more about community? And how your brand is being portrayed in those community "conversations"?

Are you curious to know what they're saying about you?

Would it be good business for you to know that?

"You affect the world by what you browse" TIM BERNERS-LEE


Ian said...

AOL, with whom I am a decade-long member, have been pissing me off for years. Last week I finally made it to the wall, soundly hit it and decided to cancel my account. AOL offered me a free month. Thanks for prolonging the agony. My account will be canceled next week.

I had no idea that others were fed up with them too. Gair, thanks for reading my mind and posting this story.

Darren said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Darren said...

I'm amazed that companies seemingly continue to respond with one mis-step after another. Hopefully they hear the blogs of others and listen. If you don't keep it real customers will make you pay...for real. Kudo's to Radian6 for helping the voice of business keep it real.

Marcel LeBrun said...

Hi Gair,
Thanks for writing about Radian6 and the concept of businesses listening for the voice of their customers using social media.

From the first couple of comments on your post, it is obvious that the AOL example still resonates with people.

We are excited to see how fast brands are moving to now begin listening to customers online and they are seeing the benefits in terms of positive word of mouth as a result.

Great post - well researched & well articulated!
CEO, Radian6

Don Legere said...

Believe it or not, I was trained by AOL c/o ICT Group to do exactly what you saw in the AOL Cancelation video. The agent in question is called a "Save" agent and he must "save" the customer at any cost. (Because we know it is much more expensive the get a new customer than keep an existing one!) In order for the agent to "save" the client, the agent has to ask questions to find out why the client was canceling, but also ask questions regarding uses of the account. Such as "What do you do online?" "Why do use the internet?" And then, from there, the "save" agent would introduce features and benefits that met the clients needs and then hopefully the client would stay on with AOL. It appears to me that this guy knew exactly what he was doing from the start. I've been on the other side of that sucks!

Mike Shanks said...

I have had the same experiance with Bell Canada.

After finally cancelling the account I have been getting personally addressed "junk mail" with all kinds of offers and deals.

If companies like this spent as much time, effort and money investing in their product, service and brand they would not have to chase customers that they have pissed off to such extremes.

I can tell you there are a few companies on my "never again" list. Funny how they are all large, unplugged, and have money to throw around.

Gair Maxwell said...


I am a little surprised by the response to this post ... I am thinking it may represent something bigger. Could it be that brand disconnects like the one at AOL, are actually regarded by the brass hats in charge as merely a cost of doing business? I am trying to wrap my head around the value in seeing a brand create such a piss-off factor. Surely the people in charge must know this happens.

If not, Radian6 software sounds like somethng they should invest in.

Thanks for all the comments on this post and looling forward to hearing from all of you again.