When “Opinions of Your Own” Can Be Dangerous

03 Sep
September 3, 2012

Something that has become somewhat of a necessary addition to many bio and profiles online is the disclaimer of “opinions are my own and not that of my employer”. I even have it on mine.

It’s a way of employees carving out some own space to say what they want, without impacting their employers brand, reputation, or at worst, bottom line.

Or so many people think.

If I can sum up in one line what I am about to talk about, it is this:


I get new followers on Twitter all the time, and I decide on following back based on the bio, so I read every one of them (if you mention the word MLM, forget it). And last week I got a cracker from a guy called Gene (or the best I can tell from his bio).

He is a rep for a clothing line, also a pharmaceutical tech, and a barber (I know, what the…?). He even adds his employers URL to his bio, and his direct email address.

Wild bio aside, he then gets into his even wilder, barely legible tweeting.

Here’s a sample – a tweet about how gay the car he is driving, references to his friends in derogatory racial terms, something about smoking a bong – and so on. And then, to cap it off, he says “doin’ what I do, don’t give a f*** if they approve”.

In this case, Gene hasn’t made the statement of “views are my own” (probably because he’d have to drop barber from his resume to fit it in), so for all intents and purposes, the company has employed a racist stoner homophobe to represent their brand online (and I know that is a very simplistic way of looking at it, but it’s a first impression you get).

If you do add a disclaimer though, what real difference does it make?

If someone’s values and attitude are so out of whack with those of a companies that they claim a link to online – are they the right person for the job? And not necessarily just a social related job – anything that claims a link back to your organisation.

For businesses, you need to decide – if you want your employees to be tweeting, or indeed on social media in general, how much link do you want back to your company? If they are going to be on there, and you have more concerns than not, should part of your policy be that they not claim they work for you?

For individuals, understand that everything you do online from a social perspective has the potential to impact on your employer. Even if you disclaim it. If you feel that anything you post has the potential to affect your employment with a business, or the business at all, consider what you are sending out. If your opinions are so different to that of your company – are you in the right job?

Interested to hear other points of view.

PHOTO – The|G|

Gerry Harvey’s Pointless War on Online Retail

01 Sep
September 1, 2012

Gerry Harvey has been considered something of a denier when it comes to all things internet.

He sees no value in it, it does nothing for sales, it’s a shiny thing with no long term value, etc etc – and of course, most of the logical, educated online business world disagrees with him.

His profit announcement results yesterday were hardly surprising, and even less surprising was his usual lashing of the internet as a channel. Profit is down 31%, and online sales only accounted for 1% of sales, proving that the idea that people use the internet to shop is rubbish, according to Gerry.

There were a number of comments made in the announcement that, to me, highlighted the fundamental problems with the way he approaches digital retailing.

 “A lot of them [Harvey Norman franchisees] say people do research online and so the number of people that are researching our product online has jumped 25 per cent, but our sales haven’t jumped at all.”

So straight off the bat, I see two things here.

Firstly, franchisees are telling him that people do their research online. It goes to Gerry’s point of view, not really taking an interest in the way people utilise the net, and relying on others to tell him things that most online businesses already know.

The fact that people are researching online is nothing new, and in this statement, Gerry has managed to identify the thing that is affecting his business the most, while at the same time ignoring it.

Understand that not all online sales are created equally. People research online to save time, and make a better decision. There are things that you are still going to visit a store for – to use som of Harvey’s own products, I am hardly going to buy a lounge or a bed that I haven’t sat or stretched out on. These items are about comfort, and that’s not something I can identify online.

What I can identify are these things:

  • Style – do I like what it looks like?
  • Price – can I afford it?
  • Reviews – what do other people who have purchased it think?
  • Stock – is it in the nearest store to me, in the style and colour I want?

Because I can call these things out online, I can also then compare them to other retailers. In fact, in some cases, I don’t even need to go to the actual site to compare them. Because of the time poor nature of most people these days, if they can find one site that compares them all, then that is where they go.

What this means for retail is simple – if it’s too expensive, too far away, not in the colour I want or people don’t rate it, I’m not going to make the effort of going into the store.

Products like whitegoods, electrical and computing goods are different – they’re more functional and usability is the same, so there is a likelihood that ordering these online is a much more price driven focus.

But look at the statement – people researching on the site has JUMPED 25%, but the site only represents 1% of sales. It’s entirely possible that the number of people researching and the number of people purchasing are not that far apart.

”…but then when you check with Myer or David Jones, whoever, JB Hi-Fi, Good Guys, it’s nothing of their sales, somewhere between half and 1½ per cent. I get out there and tell it like it is, but I get bloody castigated and pilloried.”

The reality is that online sales only make up about 4.9% of total sales of total retail sales in Australia. 1% is not bad. For the retailers he mentions, perhaps they don’t consider that share of sales as much as an issue.

What it says to me is that the expectation was set too high by Gerry to start with, a fundamental misunderstanding of how people use online to buy products. He is prioritising pure sales over everything, without consideration that if he invested in the channel and gave it the attention and understood how people use it, then perhaps he could facilitate a better experience and in turn, sales.

 ”You have to have it, the problem is that as a public company you have got to give the spin, so every company is out there giving the spin and we do the same thing.”

Spin shouldn’t be a substitute for a strategy.

If Gerry doesnt believe in online, then get out of it.

Any team within an organisation tasked with creating a viable online environment will never succeed unless supported and empowered. Basically whoever manages digital for Harvey Norman has just been told that everything they’re doing is of little value to the company.

”You devote all this time to your omni-channel and integrated … and you go on with all this bullshit and the result is that it is 1 per cent of your sales. But if you don’t go on with the bullshit you are out of fashion, you are not with-it.”

“I am reluctant to do it but I do it, because if I don’t they label me a dinosaur. I’m out there labelled as a bloody dinosaur.”

Unfortunately, it just all seems a bit late for Gerry. His lens is about how many people buy his products, not how people shop online.

His attitude towards a channel that has impacted the way people shop in general, the fact that he was late to the game with an online solution, and an ongoing refusal to believe in it as something other than a percentage of sales means that he has missed the point by so much, not even one of his GPS units can help him find his way.

For anyone selling online as part of a multi channel strategy, I can summarise my thoughts in a few points:

  • Understand the product your selling online, and the consideration cycle people must go through to buy it. Is it low consideration and uniform function, or is it something tactile that people will research about and then come in store?
  • People are doing their research online, not only on your site, but your competitors – how are you facilitating that process for them?
  • If you don’t believe in the channel, don’t start it – you need to commit to making it a success, because it doesn’t have trading hours

Keen to hear any feedback or thoughts.


Customer Service is More Than Saying You’re Sorry

27 Aug
August 27, 2012

Carrying on from my post last week about Facebook fanning social media fires, this week I had a friend make a public complaint to an airline on their Facebook page.

Due to an issue with the display of their website on her computer, there was an error to her booking, which she rang up to rectify as soon as she made it. It seems their solution was to pay more than the original flight as a fee to correct the issue.

Now, there are two major customer experience issues here.

The first is the website. If you’re in the business of taking people’s money in return for services, your website needs to be absolutely clear and readable on any browser and screen resolution (well, except IE6 – no one should ever use that. Ever.). Why? Because if it’s not, it leads to what happens next – customer errors that mean they have to contact you further to fix them. If you expect your customers to abide by your “rules” and use the platform you have given them to interact with you – make sure it is usable.

Secondly, and even more surprising (or not..) was the response from Jetstar to the Facebook complaint:


Now Jetstar and most low budget carriers are notorious for their fees, charges and low tolerance policy – at the actual gate. 5 minutes later than you should be – forget it.

But here they have a mistake that has happened and within a minute, attempting to be rectified. What it demonstrates to me is a lack of empowerment of, or even investigation by of whoever it is managing their social media.

Fees and rules are at a businesses discretion – they have created them, they can break them. To penalise a potential customer for an experience issue with the website should be an exception to “fare rules”. Consistent application is fine if you have people realising their mistake days or weeks after they make their booking. But immediately?

Even if the person(s) monitoring and responding to Facebook issues is not empowered, the initial response shouldn’t be “we know it’s harsh, but suck it up”, which let’s face it, is what this amounts to.

It should be an apology, and an offer to investigate rectifying the problem. The fact that the response came 15 minutes after the original post means that nothing was done to even investigate the possibility of an issue (15 minutes is a reasonable SLA for simply responding)

Sorry doesn’t cut it. Customers – new, old and potential – expect much more from businesses now.

PHOTO – dolescum via Flickr

How Small Tweets Can Mean Big Love For Your Brand

18 Aug
August 18, 2012

I woke up the other morning with the strangest craving for a hot chocolate. I don’t usually drink them, but for some reason just needed one.

Sadly, the necessary ingredients weren’t in the cupboard. So I had to settle for a coffee.

As someone who pretty much runs on coffee, I tend to drink Nespresso when I’m at home (have you ever tried to grind beans and froth milk while holding a child? And no, this isn’t a paid post of any kind).

So just for fun, I tweeted Nespresso.

Now I’m a realist when it comes to brand responses on Twitter. As a social media manager, I know and encourage the importance of them, but understand that it’s rare to get a response unless its a customer service issue. There was a research piece produced by Amex earlier in the year that said that while 25% of people who tweeted a brand expected a response, only 9% actually got one. Safe to say, I was in the 75% with this tweet.

So I was surprised when my phone beeped later that day – they had tweeted me back.

Now, in reality, the tweet doesn’t mean much – they’ve passed it on, have a great day. Considering a hot chocolate pod would probably be outside the realms of the way their machines operate (they’re built to push hot water through coffee), the idea’s probably going to stop there.

What it does do for me though as a consumer is make me feel a bit warm an fuzzy about the brand. I now know they are is listening, and are taking the time to talk back to the people who buy their product. For most consumers too, it’s this little glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, the thing they’ve asked for or are seeking will happen.

It’s these really small interactions that can mean big things for you as a brand. When was the last time you made one of your customers feel special, just because you could? Have they offered you a suggestion on something they would like to see? If so, did you thank them for it, or did you just file it?

Think about how you can surprise and delight your customers today, for no other reason than making them feel like they are heard.

And in future if you’re reading this while drinking your Nespresso hot chocolate – you’re welcome.

PHOTO – yon garrin via Flickr

Is Facebook Fanning Social Media Fires?

14 Aug
August 14, 2012

Target’s social media slamming today (rightly or wrongly) is just the latest in a number of social media fires that has gone viral.

While I know that there are many people who agree with the points of view expressed by people on brand Facebook pages, I know that my feed lately has been populated by my friends liking statuses posted on walls as diverse as 2UE, KFC,  Jetstar and now Target.

Up until about a month ago, I never saw this kind of activity floating through my feed, but now it seems like there is one every day. Which leads me to my question – is Facebook fanning social media fires and making it more challenging for brands?

The algorithm that Facebook uses (Edgerank) to determine what it is that you see in your feed relies on a few different things – recency, affinity and weight.

Recency and weight make sense in the context of these updates, as they amass a lot of likes and comments in a very short period of time.


However, when I consider affinity, it’s a different story.

What I tend to see a lot of is status likes from people who I don’t interact with a lot or at all on Facebook (sorry friends), so factoring affinity just doesn’t seem to work.

So I ask again – what has Facebook changed to surface these kind of posts in my feed and make me take notice?

Is there an end game? Are they looking to shore up promoted post revenue by making brands surface their responses and positive content to the masses?

Is it a deliberate move, unhappy coincidence or something else?

What do you think?