A few lessons from #Engagorday

This article was also published on the European Commission’s Digital Team Blog

Engagor Day is an event for all Engagor users and partners which took place in Ghent on May 8th, 2014 at the Eskimofabriek. The goal is to keep them updated on the latest feature additions and everything that is coming up. In other words, the Engagor Roadmap. Moreover, active Engagor users, such as NMBS/SNCB and Thomas Cook UK, presented practical business cases to inspire and inform their fellow users.


Among the introductory presentations and case studies that were discussed, I particularly enjoyed the contribution from NMBS/SNCB. Jean-Marie Hoffelinck (Advisor Online Communications) and Kim Castro (Community Manager) shared the story about the launch of their public transport company on social in 2013 and how they executed this exciting challenge. NMBS/SNCB is the Belgian national railway operator and autonomous government company formed in 1926. Like all public transport companies, NMBS relies heavily on customer care servicing around 850,000 daily travelers and dealing with a whopping 10,000 tweets per month.


Being one of the first customers of Engagor, NMBS started monitoring back in 2011 to get a better grip on how, when, and where people were talking about the company on social. The volume and type of questions were especially important to get a better sense of the social media landscape. To support their launch in 2013, they realized they had to put a great amount of effort into finding the right team and company ambassadors to fall back on.

Opting for Twitter to establish an extensive social media presence was an obvious choice:

  • NMBS relies heavily on real-time communication. At NMBS, it’s all about context. In public transport, a tweet is often only relevant for 30 minutes.In terms of crisis management, NMBS dedicates all of their efforts to replying in a timely manner and proactively updating travelers with relevant information.
  • NMBS needs to solve travelers’ problems within an instant. For example, when someone tweets, “My train looks rather dirty today,” it’s in their best interest to act on it immediately.
  • NMBS wants to continuously improve customer care and give an accurate explanation as to why things went right/ wrong.

One of the most important starting points was a Belgian crisis which affirmed the importance of real-time communication. In 2011, the @stationschefBMO account was created after disaster struck at the Belgian Pukkelpop festival during a severe thunderstorm. This incident proved Twitter was the perfect medium to inform people when all other means of communication (calling, text messages, etc.) were being cut off.

CaptureMobile, and more importantly, social are great means to provide support in real-time. From that point onwards, they really started noticing the significant success of @stationschefBMO (a personal account belonging to one of their employees). It caught their attention because of the positive impact it had on their image spreading some positive vibes for their company in the social sphere.

Due to snowy weather on March 12th, 2013, train traffic was completely down in Belgium leaving hundreds of people stranded in trains and all the other travelers without any means to get to their destination. The country was plunged into a state of complete chaos, and thousands of tweets flooded the Twitter account of NMBS in just one day.

After the disaster, they realized that “it really takes a challenging crisis before you can solve something” and knew they needed to properly utilize tools to better serve customer complaints, feedback, and sentiment. This was another really important factor that forced them to take action and be prepared for any scenario.

In their presentation, the guys from NMBS presented 5 main recommendations from their experience:

1. Be active where your audience is
Before jumping into social media, determine when your audience wants your brand to be active. This way the community managers of NMBS are available in the right time frame, from 6 am to 10 pm, to provide customer care. During that time period, two people (Dutch & French speaking) are responsible for all the replying.

2. Operate with single points of contact (SPOCS) and detailed procedures
One really important thing NMBS learned is to find and involve internal specialists (or ambassadors) before the launch. What can you learn from them? How will they benefit your social media strategy? The next step is to create internal procedures for following up on a multitude of different questions, complaints, situations, etc. (FAQ’s). Refer your customers to your own existing channels. It’s crucial to direct them to your web pages, applications, etc. with links to cater for short, yet smooth replies.

3. Strive for simplicity in handling mentions
NMBS uses only one SPOC and handles every mention on this account. NMBS really stresses on the fact that you shouldn’t look at how your company and team is organized internally when structuring your social profiles. Creating accounts is striving for simplicity, and if necessary, create only one single account or SPOC.

4. Understand and learn the language of your customers
The monitoring phase of NMBS in 2011 was crucial to help them better understand the type of questions they would encounter, and more in detail, understand/learn the language of their customers. Knowing what the customer expects from you is necessary to translate your own internal, and often complex, jargon into a language customers can easily grasp.

5. Great people make up for great social agents
At NMBS, it’s all about identifying the strengths of the company. No company is perfect and there’s no point in covering up your mistakes. Train your social media team to always reply as a human first. NMBS used a specific training phrase for their social media agents to fall back on: “I’m a person at the NMBS/SNCB and I’m going to help you the best I can”. This motto makes it clear to continuously act as human beings, unafraid to acknowledge that you don’t always have access to the right answers immediately. However, you will do the best you can to ensure smooth replies.

Measuring communication effectiveness on social media

This article was published on the European Commission Digital Team blog

When talking about measuring effectiveness on social media it is indispensable to talk about monitoring or, as many like to call it, listening. Listening is one of the most important yet it is one of the most often overlooked uses of social media. Listening to where your audience is, gives you an indication of how to address them in the most direct and adequate way.

Apart from that, monitoring leads to reporting and something which we should not neglect is to be “understandable” to the final readers. When you stick around mostly with people sharing your own expertise you might forget that your reports could go to people who are not familiar with your jargon or vocabulary. This is why lately I can’t stop thinking about this scene from “The Internship.

In today’s market, we really have a wide choice upon the indicators we can get. Even though a lot of data is available, that doesn’t mean you should drown in a sea of indicators! Here are some recommendations I would like to put forward on communication effectiveness on social media.

  1. Focus on relative rather than absolute data
  2. Consider engagement as currency
  3. Reports are “Step 1” for your next digital activity

Understanding the difference between “relative” and absolute” helps you gain a deeper sense of what your target audience or the influencers among your community are doing. 10, 1.000, 1.000.000 are just numbers. Whether these apply to likes, shares, retweets or followers, mere numbers won’t tell you much about your social media presence if they are not benchmarked. Compare your latest conference, Twitter chat or digital event with other similar activities. The same can be done for major online events that have had global or more circumscribed reach.

Everybody is obsessed with number and especially with followers. Well, that partly makes sense since the bigger the followership, the highest the message’s reach. So why is Twitter founder Evan Williams advocating a move away from the follower count? “People like the illusion of quantitative success in social media. Numbers are meaningless though without engagement, without interaction with your audience that moves them to action.” Evan Williams is in fact advocating the importance of the retweet over the follower and he’s absolutely right. The number of followers you have is a false comfort and an unreliable metric. But the number of interactions you get is actually very valuable.

While followers, fans, plusses are indeed indicators of popularity, getting followers per se should be a strategic communication goal. Instead of focussing on followers, focus on being engaging, making people share their views, opinions, questions. This is all very valuable content to understand what your target audience and online stakeholders are looking for. Focus on rewarding your followers with interactions and accessbility and don’t forget to be “human” by giving people a feeling that a person, not a machine is running the account.

Reporting is not the end of this. It’s actually the beginning. The insight you have got about your performance, about the influencers in your topic, about the demographics of your conversations will serve as Step 1 for your next activity. This will help you refine your strategy for next things to come. Be more prepared and already build a network of people you want to interact with. Network creation should be one of your goals. A network where you are identified as a reliable and important source of information and expertise.

A review of the European Commission’s social media presence in 2013

Co-written with @AmyJColgan, @PabloPerezA. Published on Waltzing Matilda Blog

Assessing our performances is key to understanding how we can improve. In this post we want to share with our readers about how the European Commission’s central social media accounts have developed – in terms of followership, engagement and the volume of conversation we are now having across our social media platforms.

European_Commission_Social_MediaFollower numbers
Let’s have a look at what the European Commission achieved in 2013 in terms of social media followership of their central accounts.

Typhoon Haiyan on social media

The Philippines struggled to bury the dead and get food, water and medicine to the living Tuesday, four days after Super Typhoon Haiyan claimed untold lives and flattened countless buildings.

“Right now, we don’t have enough water,” typhoon survivor Roselda Sumapit told CNN in Tacloban, a city of more than 200,000 that was flattened by the storm. What they can get may not be clean, she said — but she added, “We still drink it, because we need to survive.”

The government’s confirmed death toll was 1,774 early Tuesday, said Jose Lampe Cuisa Jr., the Philippine ambassador to the United States. The storm has injured 2,487 more, and displaced 660,000 people from their homes.

Patrick Meier already covered the impact of the typhoon on social media here. Meier harnesses the information-gathering power of social media to improve the speed and effectiveness of relief efforts. He’s using a relatively new set of “crisis mapping” tools to assist humanitarian work during the ongoing disaster of Super Typhoon Haiyan (also called Yolanda) in the Philippines. (See “What’s a typhoon?”)

Meier is director of social innovation at the Qatar Foundation’s Computing Research Institute in Qatar. He develops tools, like the just launched website MicroMappers, that quickly sort through online data, from tweets to uploaded photos, and then display the information on satellite maps.

They have been doing an incredible job by continuously feed their TweetClicker and ImageClicker with new tweets and images. I invite all people involved to join this huge collaborative effort us to provide Ushahidi’s UN partners with the situational awareness they need to coordinate their important relief efforts on the ground. The results of all Ushahidi’s clicks are displayed here.

Social Media has become a necessity during a disaster. To help with assessments, OCHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) has asked the Digital Humanitarian Network to activate their volunteer base to first assist with media monitoring and mapping for Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) then to help scour social media and other online platforms for information about damage and impact that is being posted by affected people in the Philippines.

The purpose of the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHNetwork) is to leverage digital networks in support of 21st century humanitarian response. More specifically, the aim of this network-of-networks is to form a consortium of Volunteer and Technical Communities (V&TCs) and to provide an interface between formal, professional humanitarian organizations and informal yet skilled-and-agile volunteer and technical networks.

Typhoon_Haiyan_social_media Continue reading “Typhoon Haiyan on social media”

The grass is always greener on the other side…and so are analytics tools

There are literally thousands of social media analytics tools out there. When you get accustomed to one tool sometimes you might get the feeling that you are missing out on something and that other analytics tool can offer incredible, flashy and (apparently) indispendible features that would ease your work or provide you with some data which will help the enrichment of your social media reports.

This is something I always try to stress as a social media analysts: the fact that other tools may offer “more”, doesn’t mean that other tools can offer what you actually need.

There are 1000s of tools out there offering more or less the same data, stats etc… and that try to differentiate themselves by adding some (sometimes insignificant) features.

The question you should ask yourself is “what data do I need in order to produce a good report about my social media activity, campaign or project?”

Secondly, you should investigate which tools provide this data.

Thirdly, among the tools you have identified, you can choose the one you think is the most user-friendly.

If you do the opposite (checking what features a set of tools can offer and then go for the most “complete one”) your quest will be biased by some “needs” you possibly don’t have while analysing your social media activity.

Don’t get me wrong, experimenting doesn’t hurt. So, I do encourage you to try different tools (if time permits). But when making your final choice, I would recommend sticking to the points above.

Be silent, or say something better than silence

When I was a kid, my music teacher was always stressing the importance of silence. “Knowing when to stop the music is as important as to know when to play the music.” Years later, I understand how this also well applies to strategic communication.

The famous quote from Pythagoras “Be silent, or say something better than silence” resumes in a nutshell the most effective principle of business internal and external communication.

Let’s get practical. In maintaining corporate relations being concise is golden. It is a symbol of efficiency, professionalism and diplomacy. I’m not saying that supplementary information is categorically bad but the line between complementary and superfluous is very thin.


Keep it simple stupid: the double S paradigm in communicating research

One of the best pieces of advice I have been given in my career in communication and PR was fair and square: “When talking about complicated research you have to keep it simple stupid”. This double S adjective (Simple-Stupid) is absolutely the best way to express how a communication strategist must be while communicating research. Only years later, I found out the the K.I.S.S. is actually a well known concept in strategic communications.

Albert Einstein used to say that “if you can’t explain it, it means you have not understood it”

“Simple” is too small. It is hard to get complicated messages across in a simple way. I.e. how can you explain a set recommendations related to economic or fiscal policy to somebody who doesn’t have any background knowledge on the topic. The answer is you also have to be “stupid.”

If you are not able to write in one line the main message of a research project it means you haven’t understood it. If you haven’t understood it, it means you can’t communicate it. Don’t try to fix and re-fix your lack of knowledge to pretend you know what you are talking about. It will backfire. Instead have researchers, or better the authors themselves to help you understand it.

You will look (and sound) better by saying “I would rather get a better grasp of this topic and come back to you” instead of starting mumbling and sweating just for the sake of saying something. It will affect your overall credibility and reliability for future projects and assignments.


Solidarity goes social: a praise to Synthesio

Salesforce Marking Cloud has confirmed it is cutting another 200 jobs, after the social media monitoring company shed more than 100 jobs last fall.

A Salesforce spokesperson said in an email statement the job losses follow a recent acquisition of another company.

“Combining ExactTarget with our existing Marketing Cloud provides synergy, and we will be reducing our total headcount by approximately 200 people globally to reflect this opportunity,” the statement said.

Consequently to that, Synthesio have tweeted the announcement below

Is this just opportunism, mockery or true solidarity to those who are now going to face some serious problems looking for a new job?

I like to think it is the lattest and that social media really gives a solid contribution in helping people finding new job opportunities.

Big respect for Synthesio who both offer a very valuable product and display outstanding corporate communication skills.