Ghost blogging

I guess I probably still qualify as social media virgin. Lots of frantic petting as I try to make up for lost time, but the truth is I’ve only been blogging for 5 months, active on Twitter for just over a year and still cannot really be arsed with Facebook.

Like all virgins, I am therefore somewhat by definition a touch naive. I like to believe that when I follow someone on Twitter or subscribe to a blog, I get to connect with the actual individual I’m interested in.

For example, I enjoy following Duncan Bannatyne on Twitter. I have enjoyed reading his books; he has a very interesting life story, which in many respects he lives out on Twitter, and I enjoy the opportunity to feel part of it. Now if I ever had an inkling that he was not responsible for his own tweets and that he employed a ghost writer or even shared the job out with his PA, I’d be off like a shot.

I’d feel cheated. It’s as bad as a doting fan paying big bucks to watch a mega recording artist perform live, only to discover half way through the show she was lip-synching. It’s probably as bad as removing ones wedding ring before entering a singles bar….

I only found out recently that there is a massive ongoing debate on this very issue. It’s been raging for years.

In the red corner you have the PRs, the seasoned command & control communications veterans and the ghost bloggers themselves. These guys think ghost blogging is an honourable and essential profession, given that their clients are far too busy and important to actually write for themselves.

And if they didn’t do it for them the world would be an emptier place because we’d all be missing out from their nuggets of wisdom, and sparkling wit & repartee.

Of course their clients don’t like them to disclose who they write for – that would be embarrassing right? That could lead to reputational damage right? So it’s OK to do it provided no one finds out. Oh dear. So where is the integrity and honesty in that?

So the red corner argues that professional communicators have always supported CEOs, celebrities and politicians by writing their speeches, their books and their letters since time immemorial. It’s true, and I have no issue with that. But these media are not social. They are not blogs; which have fundamentally changed the rule book.

Needless to say, I am in the blue corner. If I want to read facts about a company, I will read its annual report and check out its website. If I want to understand what makes a company tick I’ll subscribe to its employee blogs and follow its staff on Twitter, where I can connect with them directly. And part of what makes the experience so interesting and the connection so compelling is the blend of work and play; the immediacy; the shared pleasure in sharing; and the free-flow of consciousness.

Actually this blog post was triggered off by a comment I read a few days ago in a piece on www.ragan.com called It’s just ridiculous to argue about ghost-blogging

Try the link, it may work for you. I cannot access it now unless I pay a rather chunky subscription fee.

An anonymous contributor added this in a comment in his or her anonymous defence of ghost blogging (spot the irony): “a highly polished, marcom speak-laden entry, is highly preferable to undisciplined, poorly constructed, rambling from a great CEO who is not a writer”.

I’m sorry I don’t buy this. I don’t read blogs to be entertained by brilliant writing. I read blogs because I am interested in listening to that person. I want to feel connected to the author. I can’t do either if I know the blog is ghost written. If you don’t have time to blog, don’t do it. That’s fine. I won’t think any less of you! But if you are going to blog, be genuine and be real.

I like the advice that Kodak give on the subjectin their Kodak Social Media Tips: “Always be transparent. When you are communicating in social media say who you are and who you work for. Don’t try to be sneaky and plant comments, don’t hire people to go out and say nice things about you and stay away from ghost writing. Be genuine and be real.”

I’m going to leave the last word to an old pro who knows what he is talking about. If I’m a social media virgin, I guess Robert Scoble, is the Casanova. In his 2003 blogging manifesto he wrote: “Use a human voice. Don’t get corporate lawyers and PR professionals to cleanse your speech. We can tell, believe me.”  Scobleizer – The corporate weblog manifesto

Wise words indeed from the undisputed heavyweight champion of the blogging world!

Feeding frenzy on Twitter

Perceived wisdom is that Twitter offers companies exciting new ways to reach out to their customers and build authentic relationships with them. Quite right too – I follow many of my favourite brands on Twitter and certainly feel closer to some of them as a result.

One particular area that attracts a lot of attention is Customer Services. Some companies have received very good press through the extension of their customer services offering onto Twitter, and off the top of my head I can think of a few that seem to do this very well: @virginmedia @easyJetCare @starbucks @SouthwestAir for starters.

The company I work for has been experimenting in this area and has had some very positive reactions to real time monitoring and intervention when one of our customers has cried out for help on Twitter.

The recent Vodafone ‘twincident’ was an interesting lesson to all of us exploring the value of using  Twitter in this way. However, on that occasion it appears to represent poor judgement and a non-malicious error by one individual. What happened to a friend of mine last week is very different and just as scary. His company name has been changed to Feeding Frenzy to protect confidentiality.

He noticed a tweet from a customer who was clearly finding the experience of using his company’s core product frustrating. He contacted his customer services team who rolled into action in the hope of helping the guy out and potentially turning a poor first time experience into a much more positive one.

They quickly identified the customer from his profile information on Twitter and put in a call to him to see if there was anything they could do to help. Within seconds of making the call, this was his reaction, live on Twitter:

“Extraordinary. Feeding Frenzy just called me on my mobile, after I tweeted earlier about how fucking hard it was..unbelievable.. Still in shock” 4:57pm

“Not kidding, the bloke says “We see you’re having issues with Feeding Frenzy and mentioned on Twitter” fuck that. Madness madness madness” 4:58pm

“yeah, now I’m over the shock I feel all terroristy, like fuck them.” 5:09pm

What followed resembled a pride of lions feeding on a freshly butchered zebra. A small number of his followers started biting chunks out of the company at the suggestion that the comments were hilarious and they should try and get them trending.

Eight individuals with a combined total of 3,700 followers created sufficient noise to represent over 20,000 ‘negative reads’ within an hour. The story did not trend because it never spread beyond the small group.

I guess Feeding Frenzy were lucky.

I was quite taken aback by this tale. I could not understand how this kind of reaction could have resulted from a genuine attempt to help someone out.

And then it twigged. Feeding Frenzy had intruded on his personal space when they looked up his phone number and rang him. And like a lion feeding on a zebra’s carcass, he reacted violently when an intruder tried to get in on his feast.

So here is my question. Was this an isolated incident representing wholly untypical behaviour which we can all afford to dismiss, or should the lesson from this tale be that Customer Service interventions based on Twitter comments should be restricted to offers of support via direct interaction only on Twitter?

What do you think?

Asda’s Green Room

I’d heard great things about Asda’s Green Room, an online portal where Asda staff can get together to find out what’s happening around the company as well as share their own stories, pictures and videos. What excited me most about it was that anyone can join in. The whole shebang is exposed to Asda customers, shareholders, media – anyone with a passing interest in Asda can and is encouraged to take a look around.

Given that I’m hugely interested in what I see as the inevitable convergence of internal and external communications, driven primarily by growth of social media, I had huge expectations when I paid my first visit. First impressions were mint. It looks great and sounds great. So I scratched beneath the surface a little. I have to say, by the time I left I was feeling pretty disappointed.

OK, so it has only been going for about 5 months. Actually 5 months in social media is probably the equivalent in several years in real-time. There are some signs of genuine interaction with ‘colleagues’ (that’s what Asda call their staff) and customers who have commented on the stories posted by the Green Room team. However, many stories have attracted no comments at all.

When you consider that Asda employs over 150,000 people in the UK, 90,000 of whom who are part time (and therefore presumably have a bit more time for social networking) this does not feel like success.

Lifting the bonnet slightly, I then saw that the Green Room’s own Facebook site has only 200 fans and despite almost daily updates, 2 ‘like its’ were the only sign of interaction going back to November 2009. I didn’t see a single comment on any of the wall posts during this time. The Green Room’s Twitter channel only has 51 followers (52 now – hi Steve!).

Please don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love what Asda have done here, it is ground breaking stuff – truly. I’m just a tad disappointed that Asda colleagues do not appear to have embraced the portal with as much enthusiasm as the very capable Green Room Team clearly have.

Watch this space – I intend to find out why.