Tag Archives: communicating

Videoblogging Tips: Getting Good Sound at a Conference

This week I trained four of my Sun colleagues in videoblogging. It was very hands-on training, with the intent that they actually produce a finished video by the end of the two-day course. We started with setting up the cameras and mics right away, and I had them practice following an active speaker (me, imitating Read More…

This week I trained four of my Sun colleagues in videoblogging. It was very hands-on training, with the intent that they actually produce a finished video by the end of the two-day course.

We started with setting up the cameras and mics right away, and I had them practice following an active speaker (me, imitating Jeff Bonwick’s pacing). I wasn’t really thinking about the fact that they were filming me, so I was completely unself-conscious. Which was good in some ways, not so good in others. But some of the material may be useful for videobloggers in general, so I’m editing and posting it in spite of what seems to be inordinate emphasis on my chest.

Upcoming Speaking Engagements

Somewhat surprised to find myself with such a list: June 17, Chicago: at Executing Social Media for Internal Communications I will be part of a panel (of three) on UTILIZING SOCIAL MEDIA TOOLS TO BUILD ENGAGEMENT AND COMMUNITY June 25, Porto Alegre, Brazil: at FISL Aaron Newcomb and I will be speaking on Using Video Read More…

Somewhat surprised to find myself with such a list:

  • June 17, Chicago: at Executing Social Media for Internal Communications I will be part of a panel (of three) on UTILIZING SOCIAL MEDIA TOOLS TO BUILD ENGAGEMENT AND COMMUNITY
  • June 25, Porto Alegre, Brazil: at FISL Aaron Newcomb and I will be speaking on Using Video to Communicate About Open Source Software
  • July 6-8, Wellington, New Zealand: three workshops at the Ministry of Education (open to anyone) on Extending Conversations Through Social Media. Likely Tweetup or other gathering to occur one of those evenings!

And I’ll be doing a poster on videoblogging at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in October.

SxSWi Report – Social Media: Connecting with Customers

Note: This was listed in the catalog as “Social Media: If You Liked it, Then You Should Have Put a Digg on It…”, which I wouldn’t have bothered to attend, but when I walked by the room the title had changed to “Social Media: Connecting with Customers”, which was a lot more obviously interesting to Read More…

Note: This was listed in the catalog as “Social Media: If You Liked it, Then You Should Have Put a Digg on It…”, which I wouldn’t have bothered to attend, but when I walked by the room the title had changed to “Social Media: Connecting with Customers”, which was a lot more obviously interesting to me. This was also one of the few panels that didn’t seem to treat large corporations (and those of us who work for them) as the enemy.

Panel:

  • Chris Bowler – VP Social Media Lead, Razorfish (moderator)
  • Jordan Corredera -  Director of Online Marketing, Carnival Cruise Lines
  • Paula Drum – VP Digital Marketing, H&R Block
  • Malini Ratnam – Digital Media Mgr, Avenue A/Razorfish/JCPenney

First, each panelist gave an overview on what their company is doing in social media (comments on the companies themselves are partly my own, for the benefit of non-US readers who may not be familiar with these companies):

H&R Block

Well-known in the US as a tax preparation service, H&R Block’s problem is that their business is extremely seasonal, running from January (they kick off their advertising season with the SuperBowl) through Tax Day on April 15th. They are trying to use social media to stay in the public consciousness year-round. The overall theme is customer connections to build lifelong relationships.

Tactics include:

  • a tax news widget for tax professionals
  • YouTube contests
  • online community
  • tax-themed content related to other times of year, e.g. back to school, company benefits enrollment periods
  • provide customer service via Twitter and Yahoo Answers
  • helping tax professionals participate in these programs as well
  • along with the Social Media Club, have organized/participated in Tweetups in 10 cities

JC Penney

Penney is a very old retail company, and is trying to overcome a rather musty reputation with younger shoppers: “Trying not to be ‘your mother’s store’.” They have chosen to actively participate in women’s online communities.

Their first big project is the extremely funny “doghouse” video (which I had seen long before this conference, though I had probably forgotten that it was done by JC Penney):

At the time it had had 4.1 million views with a 60% completion rate, resulting in 600 (new) Twitter followers and 1100 tweets/retweets. It was initially seeded from a Penney microsite using Facebook Connect. Traffic crashed the server and led to higher fees. Offloaded the traffic to YouTube.

They’ve also set up a Facebook group targeted to women, after finding that segmentation by Penney sub-brands did not work. And they’ve got a customer service Twitter account.

Someone asked what was the ROI on the doghouse video campaign. The answer was that brand awareness, not ROI, was the objective; a hard sell would not have been as successful.

Carnival Cruise Lines

In 2005, Carnival set up a group planning tool built on Community Server. The Cruise Talk forum there grew to 500 posts/day, and was followed by a “scrapblog” and a Twitter account with 1300 followers.

Then came a blog by John Heald, a cruise director, which has become immensely popular, as measured by 100 comments a day [visitor stats were not given].This has grown into a multimedia extravaganza including live chats, videos (quality was an issue), etc. Cruising is inherently social, so this has worked well.

[D here: This is an example of how effective social media marketing can be when tied to a real personality. You can also build community around that person: Heald fans want to talk to each other, there are now even Heald-themed fan cruises.]

Then the moderator asked questions:

How do you set up your organization to participate in social media?

H&R Block: You have to figure out where does this fit. Customer service, communications, marketing, field coordination…? The company isn’t yet on board, we’re still in a skunkworks phase. We’re trading off media dollars with human capital – we have only one person for Twitter, which is a 24/7 job. [But she said later that some resources are being shifted to social media.]

Also, the Federal Trade Commission is changing the legislation about blogging [as relates to professional tax preparers]. We’re still figuring out how to train people, what legal disclosures are needed. Ideally, we’d like tax preparers to be blogging. Education and support are difficult. People need to understand that it’s okay to have your own personality.

JC Penney: Similar situation, we have no dedicated social media team. [Some problem of] brick and mortar stores vs. jcpenney.com. Facebook took off for us when it became a two-way conversation, but that takes dedicated staff.

Carnival: We have an online community manager with two moderators and a social media strategist. Not seeing any particular efficiences from online yet.

How can we measure the results of social media?

Page views, links to transactions.

How does this tie back to brand? How do we make the brand relevant to the new generation?

Word of mouth as brand tracker, but it moves over multiple years.

ROI = Risk of Ignoring

creating spheres of influence, measuring awareness

Traditional ROI isn’t the be-all and end-all – Twitter is free! [except for staff time]

Use Radiant6 to monitor buzz.

Facebook charges $300k for a brand page – Carnival elected not to spend this. Buying a YouTube channel can cost $500k plus media costs.

But you can get started for free.

If you’re going to lead social media [teams], you have to be doing it yourself.

Content creation is expensive.

How might employee culture affect the use of social media in older companies?

An interesting question, but, frustratingly, I didn’t note the answers. Maybe there weren’t any.

D’s Conclusions

A good and useful session, one of the few at SxSWi to address the needs of large companies and their employees.

I was very frustrated that Sun was not speaking on this panel, as we have one hell of a story to tell in this space.

And, even absent Sun’s support infrastructure for blogs, wikis, and video, I could have told them that there are cheaper ways to do this stuff than what Facebook and YouTube are charging for branded offerings.

25 Years Online: Communicating on the Internet Since 1982

Note: This is a heavily revised version of an article that I originally wrote around 2001, now updated for this year’s “significant” anniversary. 25 years online seems like a milestone worth marking! I can say without hubris that I have a talent for communicating online. Which shouldn’t be surprising: I’ve been doing it for over Read More…

Note: This is a heavily revised version of an article that I originally wrote around 2001, now updated for this year’s “significant” anniversary. 25 years online seems like a milestone worth marking!

I can say without hubris that I have a talent for communicating online. Which shouldn’t be surprising: I’ve been doing it for over 25 years.

Compuserve

It began in January, 1982, while I was a student at the University of Texas. My father bought me my first computer, a Commodore Vic 20. For those who don’t remember, this was a computer built into a keyboard (you had to use a TV for a monitor). It had maybe 16 kilobytes of RAM, and there was no long-term memory; I remember perusing ads in early computer magazines for a “stringy floppy” – a way to use a cheap cassette recorder for long-term storage. Games and peripherals came in the form of hardware cartridges that plugged into the side of the unit.

Commodore Vic 20, Computer History Museum

My dad’s excuse for buying this thing was that I should learn computer programming, though the actual reason was that he wanted to play video games while convalescing from knee surgery in my living room.

Having already proven my complete lack of programming talent in a Pascal course my freshman year of college, I didn’t get far with programming the Vic 20: I could print my name to the monitor in different colors, and that was about it. I wasn’t very good at Space Invaders, either. But we had also bought a modem, and that was how I found out what computers are really for.

There must have been a coupon in the box, because I joined CompuServe, at that time the province of a few thousand elite geeks (though I guess we weren’t elite enough or geeky enough to have already discovered the joys of online via ARPANET).

Compuserve in the early 80's, Computer History Museum

And the first thing I found on CompuServe was the chat rooms. The analogy used for online chatting in those days was CB radio (anyone remember that?), so everyone was encouraged to use a “handle” instead of a real name.

I have said that I’m no good at programming. One thing I am good at is finding the bugs in other people’s programs. I somehow, inadvertently, managed to enter CompuServe’s chat rooms the first time via a back door. As I entered, the system asked for my name (instead of a handle). So I typed in my real name. By the time I realized my (or the system’s) mistake, my fate was sealed: everybody knew me as Deirdre’, and I have simply been myself online ever since.

(Just as well. I wouldn’t have known what alias to use anyway; I have spent so much of my life explaining how to spell and pronounce my name that I now cling to it stubbornly – accept no substitutes!)

I was immediately popular in the chats, because in those days men vastly outnumbered women, and I was young and single (and said so). One guy told me that he thought it was because Deirdre’ in print looks rather like “Desire”, and because I wrote well. An added advantage was that I could type fast!

It was all pioneer territory in those days, and there weren’t many of us, so we went to some trouble to get together in person. About a dozen met in Austin, then some of the same group, plus others, met in Dallas. True to our geekiness, our big activity during that trip was going to see Return of the Jedi, though we’d all already seen it at least once. (One of the guys was Filipino; he told us that at some points the Ewoks are speaking Tagalog: “Oh, what a beautiful golden thing!” they say upon seeing C3PO.) It was one of the CompuServe crowd who introduced me to the concept of fan fiction.

The photo at the top of this page, added Jan 6, 2008, shows the old CompuServe crowd, circa 1983. Photo passed on by Ken, from the site of Mike Stickles (in the orange striped shirt) who, sadly, passed away a few days ago. He was, among other things, a piece of Internet history: he and “Silver”, seated together center, were the first people to have met and married online.

Time magazine ran an article in 1984 titled: X-Rated: The Joys of CompuSex. Of course they had to emphasize all the sensational elements, and end on a sour note about a woman who “grew so addicted to CompuSex that her husband walked out.”  The mainstream media today are still fond of studies “proving” that people who spend a lot of time online are lonely introverts who can’t deal with real life.

As for me, I didn’t have much time to get addicted. CompuServe cost $6 an hour, and after some months my dad got tired of paying the bills. Cheap/free local BBSs just weren’t good enough, so I was offline. But my online education had been well launched.

In 1984, while visiting my dad in Jakarta, Indonesia, I worked for six months in the Commerce section of the US Embassy there. I did various secretarial work on a Wang word processing system (I had previously learned word processing on a self-contained Philips terminal, and electronic typesetting on a machine the size of a refrigerator). The Wang was a centralized, mainframe-type system with terminals and tractor-feed printers that were always jamming.

Because all the terminals were linked to a central server, the Wang could be used to broadcast messages to every terminal in the embassy, or to send a message directly to anyone whose logon name you knew. The feature wasn’t obvious; I noticed it when an announcement was broadcast to us all. I wanted to use it to send messages to my friends, but couldn’t figure out how to originate a message. I asked the system administrator, who sniffily told me that messaging was not for use by plebeians like myself.

That wasn’t enough to deter a curious mind. The next time a broadcast came through, I noticed that the menu at the bottom of the message included reply options. One of those options got me into the message system. I could then send private messages to my friends: as long as we kept the system open by replying to each message, we could use it to originate new messages whenever we wanted. My first system hack!

The admin never noticed until one of my friends made a mistake. We had just returned from an island weekend with a bunch of Marines (don’t ask), and she tried to send me a mildly obscene message reminiscing about it. She hit the wrong menu choice, and broadcast her message to the entire Embassy. The first person to see it was the Ambassador, who was not amused.

I wasn’t online regularly again until 1993, when the book Fabrizio Caffarelli and I wrote together (“Publish Yourself on CD-ROM”) was published. It was one of the first books in the world published with a CD-ROM, which contained a demo version of Easy CD 1.0, and a screen-readable version of the book itself.

I had wanted to publish the electronic version of the book in Adobe’s new PDF format (which I’d heard about in the course of my work as a journalist for Italian computer magazines), but that wasn’t quite ready at the time. I used instead the same FrameMaker software I’d used to lay out the book, along with a hypertext reader supplied by Frame – I negotiated the rights to include this on our CD, which I believe was the first publication to use it. (That company is now owned by Adobe).

Designing the electronic version of the book was also a formative experience: I became adept at hypertext long before I saw the Web.

The book mentioned our CompuServe address and that we’d be glad to hear from readers. Hear from them we did, because the disc didn’t work! Something had gone wrong in manufacturing, and no one at Random House had thought to test the disc before binding it up with the book.

That was my first experience with online customer service. I was just sick over the whole situation, but Random House quickly had a working disc duplicated, and arranged shipping so that anyone who contacted them could get a replacement quickly. Once this fix was in place and easily obtainable, I was pleasantly surprised at how forgiving our readers were. In a way it was a bonus, because the mistake spurred people to get in touch with us who otherwise would never have bothered.

By then I was working full-time for Fabrizio at Incat Systems, writing software documentation. I spent time with customers on CompuServe, mostly because I enjoyed it, but I also suspected that it would become important someday. (I vividly remember sitting in the back of a bus on my way to work in Milan, reading a Seybold Report about the World Wide Web – the first I’d ever heard of it. That memory sticks oddly in my mind; even then, I guess, I sensed that the Web was going to be big in my life.)

My early online activities for Incat consisted in hanging out in the relevant CompuServe forums (I eventually started a section just for our software) and answering email.

The Internet

All my best ideas about supporting customers online came from the customers themselves. It was a customer who suggested that I get out on the Usenet to defend our products; that’s where I first met Dana Parker, another of the three “grandmothers of CD-R” (the third is Kathy Cochrane). Dana and I locked horns at first, and for a while I was convinced that she was a man – the only other Dana I’d known had been male.

When Incat was bought by Adaptec in 1995, I had already begun creating Web pages, in hopes that with the new company we’d be able to get them online. (I had been searching for a web host for Incat; one early provider told me frostily that our company was far too small to afford their services.) I had created 30 pages about CD-R technology and our software, using Microsoft Word’s then-minimal HTML capabilities, and what I already knew about hypertext.

I arranged a meeting to show my pages to the person then in charge of the Internet at Adaptec. I didn’t contradict her when she commented on the amount of work that must have gone into these pages, but then she said casually: “I understand that you also do other things for Incat?” Er, um, yeah… all of the software documentation, usability, and a lot of the marketing materials. She never forgave me for that.

It took six months after the acquisition to transition some of my activities to other departments at Adaptec, including the documentation I had been doing. I didn’t mind getting out of writing manuals; I’d been doing it long enough to be bored. But I had no idea what Adaptec intended to do with me, nor, apparently, did they. Somewhat randomly, they stuck me in marketing. I met my new boss, Dave Ulmer, in February of 1996.

I couldn’t have been luckier. I told Dave what I’d been doing online (CompuServe, Usenet, answering email, web pages) and he said: “Fine, do more of that.” And that’s about all the direction he ever gave me. He not only understood the Usenet, he was frequently and visibly out there himself.

The rest, as they say, is history.


Nov 16, 2013 – New photos added from yesterday’s visit to the Computer History Museum, which I highly recommend.


this post is now part of a series: Global Telecommunications: A Personal History

Communicating with Your Customers

Someone anonymous claiming to be an Apple employee launched a blog (now vanished) to discuss his/her thoughts on Apple’s communications with its customers. This was big news in the blogosphere, because Apple is notoriously secretive and uncommunicative. The only Apple product I own is an iPod (I had a Mac SE 15 years ago, my Read More…

Someone anonymous claiming to be an Apple employee launched a blog (now vanished) to discuss his/her thoughts on Apple’s communications with its customers. This was big news in the blogosphere, because Apple is notoriously secretive and uncommunicative.

The only Apple product I own is an iPod (I had a Mac SE 15 years ago, my first and last Macintosh), but I have read the few entries on this new blog, and the accompanying reader comments.

Many of the commenters decry the blogger’s anonymity, saying that it proves that the blog is a fake perpetrated by Apple itself as a publicity stunt. Some blogs have recently come to light claiming to be produced by individuals who “just happen” to love a company or its products so much that they would dedicate time to blogging about it, but these blogs turned out to be funded by the companies in question (e.g., Wal-Mart). Such subterfuge cannot long remain hidden in the teeming online world: when thousands of minds attack a puzzle such as “who’s really behind this blog?”, it gets solved very quickly.

The Apple blogger him/herself points out, reasonably enough, that to be identified by the company could cause her to lose her job (most of the commenters seem to assume the “Masked Blogger” is a man, while I, for no particular reason, think she’s a woman).

The Masked Blogger’s avowed purpose is to start a conversation about what Apple could be doing to communicate better with its customers. She’s asking the right questions, and some of the answers are useful. It therefore doesn’t matter whether the blog is genuine, because Apple is reading it. Whether they read it to see how their PR experiment works out, or to try to identify their rogue employee, the conversation about conversation is taking place – and Apple, volente o nolente*, is listening.

Whether they will learn anything is another question. It surprises me that this conversation is still needed. All the “new wisdom” floating around the blogosphere about how companies should communicate with their customers (the current vogue, of course, is that they should use blogs) follows principles that I invented for myself over ten years ago, starting in CompuServe forums (yes, I am a geek antique).

You want to communicate with your customers online? It’s not rocket science.

The basic principles are:

  1. Be honest. This doesn’t mean that you need to spill your guts and tell every company secret, but everything you do say must be absolutely true. And, when you know there’s a problem that affects customers, say so, especially if asked point-blank. Don’t imagine that you can pretend ignorance, or hide behind spin and subterfuge – you can’t.
  2. Be real. Not every problem is going to get fixed quickly and not every customer is going to be happy. If you explain what steps are being taken and how soon you (reasonably) expect them to take effect, customers are surprisingly forgiving. Most will love you just for showing that you’re listening and trying to help. Sometimes you can’t fix a problem; not everything customers say they want is even possible. When I worked for Adaptec/Roxio, I frequently used the line: “Fast, cheap, or perfect – pick two.” Most customers understand that businesses cannot supply everything for nothing. If you can give a reasonable explanation for why you can’t do what they’re demanding, or can’t do it as fast as they would like, they get it. And they appreciate being spoken to like capable adults. Weasel-speak only shows contempt for your listener; no one likes that.
  3. Be yourself. Perhaps because I started out “talking” to people personally in forums (and never wrote marketing copy for a living), it always came naturally to write in my own voice. I was surprised at how well people responded to this, telling me: “we, as customers, like the feeling that we are dealing with a real person, not a machine producing corporate ‘happytalk’.” NB: This did not mean that they wanted to hear about my vacations or what I ate for lunch or my views on politics, nor did it mean that I could tell someone he was an idiot even when I thought so – I represented the company and, when you do that, you ALWAYS have to be polite. And careful: sarcasm usually backfires online, and even mild irony gets over-interpreted.
  4. Be strong. It’s a hard job, representing a company online. You’re highly visible: when the shit hits the fan, you’re the first to get spattered. Because people are accustomed to being treated badly by every other company, their default assumption is that you, too, are out to screw them, that your niceness is just a ploy, it’s all a PR stunt, etc.NB: OF COURSE it’s a PR stunt – everything that you do in the name of your company where a customer can “see” you is marketing and PR (whether you – or your company – realize it). Every employee in any company who ever has contact with a customer has a chance to make or break the company’s reputation – maybe just with that one customer, maybe with many who will hear by word of mouth about that customer’s experience. What is that if not PR?

    Be prepared for suspicion and abuse. Just keep smiling, and nice them to death. Trolls get bored quickly, and they are a small minority, no matter how loud. The silent majority will respect your patience, good manners, and tolerance. In fact, if you hold out long enough, they will start leaping to defend you!

  5. Believe. Being nice under duress does take a psychic toll, so you’d better be doing it for a company, product, or cause that you believe in. And it’s fine to defend your belief passionately: people respond to passion, even if they don’t necessarily agree with you on its target.

Okay, I’ve told you everything you need to know. Now get out there and talk to your customers!

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