Social Media-Mediated Relationships: Facebook Economics

There’s nothing quite like planning a wedding (in this case, my second) that gives you pause to wonder about our life journeys.  At a certain point, the details are all in place and you are more excited about the event than anxious – until the RSVPs start coming in (or not) and travel arrangements are made.  Then it becomes a strange mix of: “did we offend someone?”  “do they approve?”  “do they care less than we thought?”  “have we grown that far apart from former friends?” It’s this latter question that has me thinking today – I wonder if people change as much as we think they do?  Or if it’s more a process of becoming.

Does Facebook help or hinder our sense of self, and our relationships with long-lost high school buddies?  When I left my hometown in Canada to go to college in the States, I didn’t expect to lose touch with my friends as I did.  When I returned to visit my family, my breaks didn’t align with the Canadian university breaks and I never got to see anyone. This was before Facebook.  Before we all had personal computers with Internet access.  Maybe it’d be different today.  Perhaps I’d have stayed connected.  It took planning this wedding, and looking for old pictures to display at the reception to start to wonder about my long-lost friends.  And I remembered the laughter, the band rehearsals.  I can still hear my friend Jessica’s unmistakably distinct trumpet playing, and my friend Mandy singing “Misty” with the jazz band.  So, I looked Jessica and Mandy up on Facebook, and some other friends as well.  Now I see that Jessica has two kids, slightly younger than mine, but adorable.  I can see Jess in her eldest daughter so clearly.  In some ways, Facebook allows us to think we’ve reconnected, to have a window into the lives of our friends, without really connecting.  I know when her daughter loses teeth, but haven’t reached out to say: “Hi. I remember you. I think of you from time to time.”

One thing’s for sure, Facebook has helped me economize my friendships – for better or worse.  As a parent with young children, I don’t have the kind of time I once did to maintain social relationships.

It’s much easier for me to keep people updated on Facebook about major life events (first days of school, what kind of cookies we’re baking), and to use the “status” platform to reach out for and receive help and support, than it is to spend 30 minutes per week per friend on the phone to maintain those friendships.  As a result, I hardly ever talk on the phone anymore.  In fact, I talk to only two people on the phone, and only because they don’t use Facebook.  Has my life become lonelier and somehow less fulfilling because I’m not spending so much time with a phone glued to my ear? Hardly.  Instead, I am able to play with my kids more, to have a glass of wine on the back porch with my fiance once the kids are asleep for the night, to have infrequent moments of silence and solitude, while keeping my Facebook friends within reach.

So, if you find yourself spending more time at the keyboard than talking into an earpiece, don’t worry. Perhaps you are economizing too, or reaching out to friends over the miles (and saving long-distance charges).  There are many positive ways to use social media to develop, maintain, or grow friendships.

But… a little goes a long way.  Many of us can get a bit obsessed, even addicted to social media, and it can distract us from daily living.  Sherry Turkle, psychologist and author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, cautions social media users against becoming perpetually distracted by their media devices.  Turkle is often interviewed by the media because of her belief (a popoular one among some academics) that social media/technology will negatively impact our interpersonal relationships.  I don’t find this to be the case, but I do safeguard my time with my family.  When I was growing up, we were never allowed to answer the phone during dinner.  The same rule applies in my own house (even to me) now – we don’t answer the phone/door/or smartphone alerts during dinner.  Or at times when we’re playing with the kids. Or in bed.  Or on Sunday mornings before we’ve had our coffee and read the paper.  Most of all,” Turkle says, “we need to remember — in between texts and e-mails and Facebook posts — to listen to one another, even to the boring bits, because it is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate and stutter and go silent, that we reveal ourselves to one another.”  With Turkle’s words in mind, I’m going off the grid for the Labor Day weekend – and encourage you to do the same (as soon as you like this post!).

Tooth Fairy Failings on Facebook

So, you’ve started a Facebook page for your business, asked everyone in your circle (and their circles) to like it, and feel as if this is a job well done.  In some ways, you’re right: getting started in social media is often the hardest part.  But at this stage, your job is just beginning.

Social media is certainly known for its reach (the number of people who view/interact with your message), but the true value proposition is in levels of engagement.  Just blasting your message out on Facebook isn’t going to resonate with your audience.  Similarly, setting up a page and letting the public comment with no interaction from you is unfulfilling.  Social media is a two-way street.  Success requires both listening and interacting with your audience in ways that are engaging enough to keep the conversation going.

Take the Tooth Fairy for example.  Who knew she had a Facebook page?  My daughter, catching me on Facebook, asked me to search for the Tooth Fairy while wiggling her most recent loose tooth.  

What I found was magical enough to get us both interested: some really great art as the cover photo.

But wait – with more than 950 million active Facebook users, why does this famous fairy only have 1,579 likes?  One could argue that Facebook might not be the most effective social media platform for the Tooth Fairy, as most kids are under 12 when they need her (and my kids won’t have Facebook accounts of their own until at least 12 if I can help it).  It’s important to find out which channels your audience uses and meet them there.  Plenty of parents are on Facebook (guilty), using the platform to share the wins and woes of parenting.  Some parent-kid teams have worked together to post on the Tooth Fairy’s page.

What is missing, and could perhaps drive engagement here, is interaction.  Maybe I’m the only one whose kid asks 1,000 questions per minute and doesn’t rest until she’s satisfied with my answer, but what does the Tooth Fairy have to say for herself here?  Are there fairies-in-training that can respond to these kids?  Without a bit of communications infrastructure, or at least a little follow-up, these kids’ questions are unanswered.

Today’s social media tip is: Respond in kind.

Perhaps the Tooth Fairy did take the time to respond to these kids by leaving a few coins under their pillows. But, if I were a questioning kid, searching the Internet (with my parents!) for answers, I wouldn’t consider this Facebook page to be an effective means of communication with the Tooth Fairy.  How could I even be sure that she’s reading it?

If your customers or potential clients are taking the time to reach out to you, be it through a tweet, a Facebook post, or a comment on your blog, it is imperative that you take the time to answer them on the same medium.

If you are a parent searching for the Tooth Fairy, disappointed that this blog post has been more about social media than proof of her fairy-ness, here’s a more interactive site that’s suitable to view with your kids: The Real Tooth Fairy.

Crisis Communication: Planning Ahead So You Can Go with the Flo

Flo, the Progressive Girl

This week has been a public relations nightmare for Progressive Insurance Company.  Headquartered in my hometown, many of my friends work for Progressive. Just a few days ago, I attended a Cleveland Indians game (we lost, big time) at Progressive Field.  I sat in a section filled with people wearing Progressive t-shirts and never once thought that the family-oriented people around me might be capable of the apparent mis-truth telling (to put it nicely) of which Matt Fisher is accusing them.  His well-titled blog post, My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance to Defend Her Killer in Courtwent viral this week, creating a public-relations maelstrom that threatens to permanently damage the Progressive brand.  Let me be clear: I am so sorry for both the Fisher’s tragic loss and the frustratingly sad re-living of the event that they had to endure during the trial.  We pay a great deal of money to insurance companies just in case of accidents, flooding, theft, etc. But having insurance is really just the illusion of protection. There are so many laws to protect insurance companies, so many contractual loopholes, that I have yet to find a way to benefit from my homeowners insurance. (“Sorry your pipes leaked inside your wall, but we don’t cover leaking pipes, only explosive ones”).  This post isn’t an insurance rant though – it’s about how Progressive could have reacted to Fisher’s accusations and better managed the story in social media.

Google “Progressive Insurance” right now.  Go ahead, I’ll wait…  After the paid insurance ads, you should see that the 2-5 items on the first search page are news stories with headlines like Progressive Is Inuman, and Online Post about Refusal to Pay Fatal Accident Claim Goes Viral.  This is the power of social media: in just a few days, Fisher’s post has received more than 11,000 comments, and a ton of media attention.  Because of one case, about 800 people are talking about Progressive right now on Facebook, with comments that run the gamut from “shame on you” to more engaging and potentially brand-killing posts:

And what does Progressive have to say for itself?  On their blog, Understanding Insurance, Progressive expressed sympathy and denied involvement with the defense of this case.  We may never know what the whole truth here.  But, Progressive dropped the PR ball here!  As the company was bombarded with accusatory Tweets, its social media team pasted and repasted the same few sentences to each concerned individual.  Wil Wheaton, former Star Trek actor, created a “Progressive PRbot,” mocking Progressive’s PR mishandling of the story.

When I think of Progressive’s marketing campaigns, two trends emerge. For years now, Progressive been transparent in its sales pitches – going as far as offering the quotes from several different competitors on its website so you could make an informed decision and compare prices.  Flo, the Progressive girl, resonated with customers and gave the brand a human face.  Combined, the transparency inherent in the brand and the popularity of its Flo campaign set the company for social media success.  So, what went wrong? Progressive failed to really listen to the complaints, to respond in kind on the platforms used to submit complaints, and to honestly admit their mistake (or at least the conflict of interest).    It could be argued that Progressive took too long to respond to Fisher’s original post.  Fisher blogged about Progressive Monday evening, and Progressive didn’t respond until 2:00pm Tuesday.  Whether it took that long for word to get back to Progressive that Fisher had taken his grievances public, or they knew about it but failed to realize how influential he might be, contacting him directly, perhaps even just paying his family the $760,000 may have saved the company money in the long run.  Things happen at lightening speed these days, and as communicators or managers, we are often forced to respond without the time to really think things through.  Being aware of potential reputation crises and having an action plan in place will help companies maintain better control of the story.

Crisis communication planning is a vital component of any social media strategy. It’s like playing the Worst Case Scenario game with your fellow employees.

Play this game with your co-workers as a team building exercise!

Just in case you are reading this from atop a tree you climbed to escape an elephant stampede only to find that there’s a hungry python slithering toward you, here are my tips for survival in the social media jungle:

Be prepared.  

  • Assemble all the players, with full support of your public relations and investor relations departments, marketing, and legal, asking them to develop a crisis communications plan that includes protocols for escalation of issues and lists contact information for heads of departments.  Document the plan(s) and make sure everyone has access them.
  • Consider developing a “dark” site that’s not live, but is ready to go in times of crisis when speed is imperative.
  • Practice!!!  Set aside a day every few months to run crisis drills where the team practices how to respond to brand-threatening crises and then evaluate the efficacy of your plan.

Listen, Listen, Listen!

  • Remember that in social media, the conversations will happen with or without you.
  • Routinely monitor the conversations developing about your organization online and identify potential issues.

Engage

  • Honestly and openly engage in conversations, and don’t shy away from the ones that may cast you in a negative light.
  • Admit mistakes.
  • Don’t repeat the same response to every complaint.  If people take the time to complain, they want their voices heard. PRbots don’t put fires out – they douse the flames with gasoline.
  • Respond in kind.  Address concerns on the channels in which they came to you (i.e., if your complaints come in Tweets, respond on Twitter).

Learn from Mistakes

  • We all make mistakes, but only some of us make those mistakes work in our favor.  Circle back after the crisis passes and ask (preferably with the same participants who helped design and implement your crisis communications plan): How did this situation get out of control?  What actions did we take? Did we follow our plan?  What would we do differently next time?

Note: Social media is fast! As I was writing this post, Progressive released an announcement indicating that it reached a settlement with the Fisher family.

Measuring Success: Social Media’s Not Just Child’s Play

For some reason, many of the most important parenting moments happen in the car, driving to or from school or the grocery store.  It’s when the kids ask the BIG questions that have been on their minds: Does the sun still shine at night even though it’s dark? Where does all that trash go?  How do babies get in your tummy (YIKES!)? And yesterday, my four year-old son asked, “Momma, can you get me an air guitar?”  Without hesitation I cupped my hand, reached over the passenger seat and presented the air to him.  “Sure, I have an air guitar right here!” Apparently, he was more than a little confused about what an “air guitar” might be.  I thought I was handing him what he asked for, but when I did so, I got the usual “NO MOMMA!” response.  How am I supposed to know what he wants when he doesn’t know how to ask for it?

Is he a race car until proven otherwise?

Many companies and organizations are in the same place when it comes to social media – they know they want to use it, or should use it, but aren’t sure what the end result might look like.  As a mom, sometimes I feel like I have to read my kids’ minds in order to figure out what mysterious creature of the night has taken over their bodies, resulting in fits of tears (my secret trick, start with a hug – who cares why? If that doesn’t work, try a story, a nap, or a walk outside).  As a communications professional, I can’t go around offering cupped hands of air to my clients, nor do I particularly want to hug them or read a cuddly story.  Using social media once caused me to curl in the fetal position under my desk – and like most fear, that was because I couldn’t define it.

“Mom! I did it!” (Yes, he did, if he was trying to climb six inches off the ground).

 

The first step of any social media plan should include defining the organization’s goals, figuring out how they can be enhanced by social media, and determining how we will measure success.  Unlike the air guitar, social media sites offer us many (often free) ways to measure the success of our social media plans, including web traffic, search volume trends, increases in followers/friends, the time spent on a site, the number of recommendations or reviews.  A successful campaign might double or triple the number of friends your organization has on Facebook, the number of retweets each time you post, increased sales, increased your share in conversations (the number of times your company/organization is mentioned online), or an increase in number of volunteers or donations.  A recent AdWords campaign led to three times the number of visits to my blog. Unless my mom was really bored one day, that’s a huge increase!  However you define success, it’s important to step back on a routine basis to evaluate whether or not you are doing what you set out to do, if your original goals are still relevant and where you want to go from here.