Marketers retrain for a brave new world at “Social Media Boot Camp”

| Oct 1, 2009

More than 50 local marketing pros went through a not-so-grueling “Social Media Boot Camp” in order to better understand and harness the power of online communities as a corporate marketing tool. The all-day boot camp was offered by the Boulder Marketing Group and held Wednesday, Sept. 30, at the Spice of Life Event Center, in Boulder.

Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are the best-known examples of Social Media, the mushrooming, Web-based communities that are reshaping the way people and businesses interact. Wednesday’s five Boot Camp sessions focused on Social Media success stories, forecasts, and how-to’s for corporate marketers.

“Qwest Takes Customer Service to Twitter” was the opening session, with Margaret Fogarty and Michael Crowley, of Qwest Communications, joined by James Clark, of Boulder-based Room 214, the social media agency Qwest chose to launch their ambitious 2008 pilot program known as “Talk to Qwest.”

social-media-bootcamp-1The program targets tech-savvy Qwest customers who vastly prefer online interaction with their friends and service providers. Using survey results, Qwest quickly identified Twitter as the best tool for the job, and created a team to follow Twitter discussions about Qwest, specifically any frustrations with their level of customer service.

PICTURED AT LEFT: At Wednesday’s “Social Media Boot Camp” – Debbie Anastasi (r.), president of the Boulder Marketing Group, thanks conference speaker Guy Murrel, a principal of the Catapult PR-IR agency, in Boulder.

Twitter is a free, Web-based service that allows users to instantly send “tweets” (updates) to their “followers” (update subscribers). Tweets answer just one question – “What are you doing right now?” – but because those answers are limited to 140 characters, they tend to be concise and emphatic. For example, one person might tweet, “Aarrggh! I’ve been on the phone with Qwest for 20 minutes and they still can’t explain this weird charge on my bill!” Within seconds, hundreds of followers could be reading those words on their computer screens or mobile phones. This kind of accelerated word of mouth is increasingly influential in expressing both the good and bad sentiments about a company.

Qwest tweets back

The Talk to Qwest team carefully follows such discussions, and when they identify a customer with a specific and actionable problem, a team member tweets that customer and offers to help. Customers are often pleasantly surprised to discover that these Qwest team members are not only Twitter-savvy, but also eager to advocate on their behalf. In many cases, the Qwest person is able to ‘cut through the red tape’ and swiftly resolve the customer’s problem.

The early success of this program is contributing to Qwest’s slow-but-sure rise in customer satisfaction surveys, where it has long hovered near the bottom rung. However, the program now faces a new challenge — how can they scale-up a program that relies so heavily on relatively scarce senior employees with above-average expertise and dedication?

In a session called “The Future of PR: New Opportunities in a Changing Landscape,” Guy Murrel explored how press relations have migrated online. In the print era, PR departments doled-out the official company line and acted as a gatekeeper. Now, PR is shifting to more of a listen-and-cultivate role, with much quicker response times. The days of news embargoes, national press tours, and massive hardcopy press packets are rapidly vanishing.

Guy, a principal in Catapult PR-IR, a Boulder press agency, has seen print journalism morph into the amorphous and less formal world of online reporting and blogging. Corporate press releases can still play an important role, however, with the alumni of what he called the “University of Cut & Paste.” A well-written, keyword-rich press release is often quoted more extensively by journalists of all stripes, thus giving the company more influence in shaping its story.

184 million blogs worldwide

In “Social Media — Moving Beyond the Buzz,” Janet Eden-Harris, of JD Power Web Intelligence, shared several key facts in her fast-moving and entertaining review of the ever-evolving Web: Chinese just passed English as the most common language on the Internet. Nearly 60% of Internet users are over 35. A large majority (75%) have undergraduate degrees, with 42% also having graduate degrees. And the number of blogs (web-based journals) just hit 184 million worldwide and is climbing steadily.

Janet’s group at JD Power is a leader in making sense of this online tidal wave of authors and opinion. Using advanced computational linguistics and NLP (natural language processing), JD Power’s analytical software can filter millions of blog posts and apply context-based rules to deliver near-human insights into the global chatter. Linguistic systems can now identify an audience’s Gender and Age Groups with startling accuracy. Analyses of such intangibles as “sentiment” and “influence” are finally becoming detailed and reliable, allowing online marketing managers to sleep better at night!

A lunchtime panel discussion of “Social Media for Small-to-Medium Businesses” had Tracey Floming, of HiveLive (now a unit of RightNow Technologies), join James Clark and Mike Crowley for a free-form discussion of relevant resources and online community publishing tools. and were cited as popular sources of how-to’s and trend analysis. In addition, the implementation and ethics guidelines for online communities were also a hot topic with the audience.

Corporate blogs that engage readers

“Building Reader Engagement Across Corporate Blogs” was front line feedback from Doyle Albee, the president and New Media director of Metzger Associates, a Boulder-based PR and marketing communications firm. Doyle writes daily on multiple blogs, either as an article author or a commenter on other people’s posts. The Contact Me page on his website,, is an impressive collection of his many online addresses and roles, underscoring the fact that he passionately practices what he preaches.

Doyle’s low-key presentation was both enjoyable and highly informative. He walked the audience through the considerations and steps required to create and maintain a blog; the need to post regularly; tips on content generation, the crucial need to practice good Netiquette; and the wisdom of thinking twice before hitting the ‘Send’ button. His was definitely the voice of experience.

Tracey Floming took the stage again for “The Why’s and How’s of Using a Branded Online Community,” the closing session. Her company, HiveLive, is an online community provider, offering a full-featured publishing platform for companies large and small, including Mattel, Adobe and Boulder’s own Rally Software.

Community platforms

Tracey outlined the steps involved in choosing the right community platform, making the case to senior management, and tracking the ROI. In some cases, the ROI is surprisingly easy to demonstrate — for example, when National Instruments created an online community for its LabVIEW software users, nearly half of the tech support workload shifted to the community forums… and most of that support was provided by the users themselves in the form of shared tips and troubleshooting. National Instruments’ support costs dropped and the community platform paid for itself within months.

Wednesday’s “Social Media Boot Camp” provided a wide range of useful information for all levels of marketing pros. The boot camp organizer — the Boulder Marketing Group (BMG) — is a 17-year old educational and networking association for local marketers on the client side.

Thomas Krasomil is a marketing communications manager, a longtime BMG member, and a freelance copywriter. To contact him, send email to [email protected].