Community management and processes by the example

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Some weeks ago I promised to illustrate my “community management and processus” post with a fictitious but credible example. So, here it comes…

Jack and John are community managers (or, at least, in charge on figuring things out on social media on behalf of their employer). Both are working for an airline (what was a trendy and volcanic topic at the time I thought about the case). Jack is working at AirShy and Paul at AirSocial.

AirShy knows things have to be done one on Twitter, Facebook and all these new medias but is not comfortable with that. The company is used to keeping everything under control, to avoid any kind of risk. On the other hand, people at AirSocial think that if they don’t dive into the pool they have no chance to learn how to swim.

So AirShy decided to occupy the field in the only purpose to have a presence. They asked to someone who likes these new media to deal with this work : Jack. he reports to the communication department but could have reported to any department that would have taken the leadership on this subject.

At AirSocial, people wondered what these medias could be used for. Half of the answer was in que question : things are worth when they allow to serve the customer in a better way. So how could they serve their customers better with new medias ? Deliver information to eveyone, but also to people with individual concerns. That means the company should engage in conversations…about what, with what tone, to what extent ? And what should not be tackled ? Confidential issues of course ! But also what people don’t want to read in such channels. The communication department is in charge but they quickly realized that they had in their hands a pipe that can be used by anyone in the company. Even if it’s still quite vague they decided to start and learn from their own experience. John is told to deal with these media, on the operational side.

At first sight, Jack has less constraints than John. There’s no doubt he’ll achieve better results. Not that sure…

John know what he’s expected to do, the purpose of his job, the goal of his activities, and what he’s supposed to do. He tracks what is said about AirSocial, brings answers, try to be friendly, helpful. He does not go beyond the frontiers he was assigned but, at least, knows to what extent he can go and does not refrain from doing so. Jack is in a less comfortable situation. The range of possible things is wider for him but since he was not given any explicit limit, he’s affraid of crossing an implicit one by mistake. He knows the company will have to assume any of his words, that he contributes to its image and reputation and, since he has neither objectives nor guidelines, he prefers refraining from doing rather than doing wrong.

While John is engaging in conversations, Jack contents himself with occupying the field without taking any risk. Anyway, that’s what he’s asked to do. The one is giving advices, answers, pay a special attention to those who talk about the company, the other is only pushing elements from the newsletter, special offers that are mentioned on the corporate website…the whole in 140 characters. He never answers to questions or engage in a conversation because he doesn’t have all the information needed to answer…he’s not even sure that’s a part of this job.

With time, AirSocial realizes that John needs support. He’s now allowed to “bother” people to get the information he needs to answer customoers online. Now, being on social media is a ful time job. As for him, Jack keeps on “being there” without engaging so much. Anyway, he has no time for that, he’s got a “real” job in the company and does not want to put his carreer at risk for a side occupation that does not look strategic.

Meanwhile, AirSocial is getting a clearer idea of what they want to achieve. They understand that, more than a communication tool, a service tool, twitter is also a sourcing tool for product/service innocation. So, people in charge of customer service, innovation…are taught how to use John inside their own process. John is becoming “one more channel” that can be used to improve their efficiency and they think about how to work better together, build synergies. Objectives and operating models are being refined, it makes more sense in this work and provides him with reassuring guidelines (he know what to do, how to do it, what not to do….and why). The company is also reassured : they know John won’t do anything wrong. He collaborates with marketing, innovation, customer service departments… he has objectives, indicators, and demonstrates every day his contribution to the organization performance..

At AirShy, Jack is still doing his social media stuff. Nothing special, nothing sparkling but no mistake. He’s so “neutral” that the company does not bothers him and the “social things” project is doing quietly but doesn’t go to an upper scale. He’s not bringing any added value but does not make any mistake so why questionning something that prevents from calling the past into question..

AirSocial fears something : some activity peaks are expected because of upcomming hollidays and the quality of their work on social media is becoming famous on the web so they fear John would be snowed under with work. They decide to train people to help John in case of need. Anyway, in a world where it’s impossible to prevent people from talking about the company online and where employees will have to face it, whether it’s their job or not, better being sure that most of them know how to behave and how to use these tools. It also implies to sensibilize the management line in order they can harness these new opportunities.

Then one day, a volcano erupts in the middle of the Atlantic.

At AirShy it’s “business as usual”. Social media tools being not integrated into any process, nobody thinks about using them to manage the crisis. Anyway, it’s too late : such a system has to be thought beforhand and, in such situations, no one can afford improvisation. So it’s better not  to change anything even if some would like to take the most of this opportunity to change things. To some extent, facing such a situation, most people don’t think these gadgets can be of any help because of the lack of awareness, sensibilization, business/process approach.

No surprise at AirSocial : eveything has been thought and designed beforehand, people know how to use these tools to communicate, deal with individal cases and relieve the call center. The task force is ready, processes are known, they only have to do the job. Seen from the outside, people think they are unaware of the danger of using these unstructured channels and operating modes to manage such a critical situation. Seen from the inside, everything is clear and structured. No improvisation, only responsiveness.

The crisis is lasting more than expected. AirSocial is refining its proces, listening to customers, and improves its service. Time seems very long at Airshy and the company is beginning to be pointed at because of its lack of responsiveness compared to its competitors.The poor Jack is being shout at by customerds asking for things he can’t do, questions he can’t answers, only because no enablement process has been set up to support him. And one day things change because of two things :

– the bandwith of the customer care activities has to be improved

– AirShy’s reputation is suffering from not being active on social media while the service delivered through traditional channels is at least as good as its competitor’s.

So AirShy began to do things the AirSocial way. Internauts welcome the initiative and “fans” are proud to see their prefered airline adopting these new practices. It was a risky decision because it was not a part of a crisis plan but anyway, by luck and because of Jack’s skills, everything went well.

Then, one day, the eruption stopped and things went back to normal.

AirSocial is congratulated by its customers but also by all the industry. They proved their strategy was right and even got some new ideas to improve it in the fure. Things are different at AirShyp : after a wheezy start, they also got the industry recognition for the improvement they made. But what was normal for the one was an exception for the other. So, instead of learning from the experience, AirShy dismantled the whole system and Jack is, sadly, going back to his push-marketing practices. Many people, inside and outside of the company are disappointed because the company was so close to the tipping point. Maybe next time ? Jack has many ideas now, he know what a social media strategy should look like, he know what his job should look like…provided someone decides, one day, to stop considering social media as a communication gadget but as channel that can improve operations.

Let’s end this story with a few works about Peter and Patrick. Peter is AirShy’s marketing director, always looking for new talents. Patrick is the head of recruitment who is supposed to provide him with. These “new talents” watched the whole story on the web, read of the papers that were writen by experts. Guess to which company they’ll send their CVs now ? Employer brand is not only about marketing, it’s also about demonstrating everyday that a company is leading its industry in terms of excellence and innovative practices. Peter and Patrick are painfully learning that…but that’s another story.

Communication, communication-de-crise, community management, compagnies aériennes, crise, gestion de crise, processus, réseaux-sociaux, relation client, support