As individuals, we look up to well-known people, historical figures and possibly even our close family members to shape our lives based on experiences.
As institutions/organizations/government we look to other organizations for best practices. That said, for the next coming weeks. I’ll be writing about social media best practices of big companies from around the world so we in government can take some good tips and examples to learn from.
So this week, we’re going to look at Verizon Communications Social Media Strategy.
Verizon Communications Inc. (Verizon) is a provider of communications services. Verizon operates in two segments: Domestic Wireless and Wireline. Its Domestic Wireless’s products and services include wireless voice and data services and equipment sales across the United States. Wireline’s communications products and services include voice, Internet access, broadband video and data, next-generation Internet protocol (IP) network services, network access, long-distance, and other services.
It provides these products and services to consumers in the United States, as well as to carriers, businesses, and government customers both in the United States and in 150 other countries worldwide. On January 9, 2009, the Company acquired Alltel Corporation (Alltel). In July 2010, Frontier Communications Corp acquired New Communications Holdings Inc., Verizon Communications Inc.’s local wireline operations in 14 states.
How to Avoid an Epic Failure
Verizon’s social media objectives (High level)
- Build brand equity – One of the things that Verizon wants to achieve is to have an authentic voice of Verizon consistently across all social media properties (social media channels are called social media properties by Verizon). So the social media experience is communicated through social media platforms and community forums. They measure this by metrics on brand awareness, reputation and positive sentiment.
- Grow sales and revenue from social media audience – This is an aspirational goal for Verizon. They find building the brand, communication and engagement comes first and being able to demonstrate sales and ROI is something that they expect to see grow from that interaction. Verizon measures this with increased sales and revenue from its social media audience.
- Provide online customer support through social media – Verizon provided customer support through social media by listening and monitoring social media sites/forums for questions, issues and complaints. They then engaged and responded to customer questions and issues to build brand loyalty. Once that is done, they measured the results by call deflection, churn and customer sentiment.
Challenges for social media objectives from a customer service point of view
One of the challenges of this particular objective is as a large organization that has large customer bases, large support organizations that exist already, you will have that customer interaction down to science. i.e. How long does it take for a call to come it? How long is your average talk time is? You know exactly how much it costs to serve a customer. And when you look into a medium like social media is what you find out is its not more efficient to use social media from a customer service perspective as of now.
Evolution of Verizon’s Social Media Practices
- At first Verizon, like any other organization had random disparate groups getting involved with social media. For example you get one bright person in one region saying “Hey let’s do a Twitter promotion!”
- And this type of thing started to crop up more and more. After some time Verizon realized that they’ve got a lot of disparate social media properties out there they weren’t sure whether this was Verizon or just its just somebody who’s not authorized to do this or what?
- So there was disparate groups of social media properties and people were starting to ask “Well which one of these 35 Twitter accounts are the ones I should be picking/following?”
- So Verizon decided we need to have a strong centralized effort to make some sense from a strategy perspective and from a brand voice perspective.
- So Verizon created a social media steering council and a social media working team. And this included people form Verizon Business, Verizon Wireless and FiOS organization – the telecommunications side. It wasn’t easy for Verizon to get an across company task force charter. But they did it! They had executive mandate and that helped it to get going.
- Some of the things the task force accomplished on doing were approving the social media properties i.e. if you wanted to put the title or logo of the facebook page or twitter, you needed to go through the right steps to make sure it made sense for the business and that you had the resource to support it on an ongoing basis because the last thing you want to do is throw out a social media property and abandoned it because it can look like abandoned real estate.
- Verizon then developed a social media guideline and did a lot of training with social media practitioners and also made that training possible for regular employees that are interested in social media as well. And it relates a lot to the companies code of conduct.
- They did have some people come up to them and say “Is it really necessary to have social media guidelines when its all basic stuff?” Like “Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal.” But Verizon found that their employees who were active in social media said that they do in fact need guidelines. They said they need to know specifically that if they retweet something that is a rumour, am I telling a lie? Well, the fact is, yes you could be. So it was important for Verizon to think how well this applied to social media and why guidelines and training was so important to Verizon.
- The steering council had the role of being the forum on an ongoing basis for sharing strategies and best practices and also ongoing success metrics development.
One of the mistakes Verizon made in their social media journey
They wanted to have one unified Facebook page. The idea was you’re on the internet available all around the world, so let’s have a unified presence, which to be fair is a fair assessment. One thing that they originally had earlier was a regional FiOS page which was very very successful. But it was for FiOS in the North East and people would go on there and say “When are you going to have FiOS in Arizona?” and they’d respond back saying something along the lines that they are FiOS of the North East and couldn’t quite answer that or had the authority to respond on that matter.
So people didn’t view it as a regional page but a neutral one. And that’s what drove them to create a Verizon general page, so whatever you want, bring it to this one spot and we’ll answer or share it, etc. So they launched the page, had many followers, then Verizon looked at who was attracted to it. And they found out that 90% of people who signed up and 90% of the discussion was all about Verizon Wireless. So it was their intention to make it an all Verizon page but it ended up being a Verizon Wireless page.
So the moral of the story is, you don’t really get to decide what your social media property is. The customers are going to do that for you. And you don’t really get to decide what the content is, their going to drive that as well. So Verizon quickly realized that it didn’t do what they had originally intended for it to do. And on top of that it was difficult to manage because from a customer service perspective if say 90% of the work belongs to this division, how are you going to alternate who handles every tweet or every status update. So that kind of got problematic for Verizon, so they went back to the drawing board and realized that their social media virtual online properties need to mirror their virtual reality.
What Verizon did after their tiny Epic Fail…
After going back to the drawing board, Verizon came up with new strategies, they looked at what they need to achieve with Facebook. Verizon Wireless had the need for cool stuff because they had applications they needed to share and download. Their telecom bit was all about high-speed TV and they were very regionally orientated, so they needed the ability to add tabs, plus they had a lot of customer support that they wanted to achieve through their Facebook page. And on the Verizon Business side, a lot of content, a lot of white papers and a lot of techy geeky talk that Verizon needed to share with their customers.
The Facebook pages for Verizon
- Focus on customer service.
- They had 9 people who ended up providing support via that Facebook page.
- They had a separate tab that focused specifically on customer support so that helps the wall content to be a little bit general, tv content, and promotional orientated. Although it’s important to remember that customers go where customers want to go and you really can’t control that but you can gently guide them and nudge them in a certain direction.
The Twitter accounts for Verizon
- Verizon quickly realized that Twitter is used for a more specific purpose and it would be a mistake to put all on one twitter account, like what happened to their Facebook page.
- Twitter by definition is very well-suited for specific audiences and even specific promotions or trade show events.
- On the FiOS side, they had 3 main pages that they focused on:-
- (i) FiOS fans, that talk about new content like ESPN and football.
- (ii) FiOSTV, that is run by a geeky guy and talks about things in-depth and he actually once tweeted that he’s going on vacation. Verizon found that when this happened, they realized that when they had gone to the effort to personalize a social media property, and this is this person and this is what they’re doing, they’re answering your questions, users have some tolerance for the fact that you’re not going to be there all the time.
- (iii) Verizon Wireless (has 4 different twitter properties), and here they have come away from the Verizon uniform branding approach in efforts to stay alive, it needs to change over time.
Verizon’s Business-to-Business (B2B) Approach
B2B requires a different approach. Verizon is very blog focused, they’ve got a lot of content to get out. So they have this policy blog which is really more corporate, a great way to get out the story about Google and Verizon and the news and frameworks that are happening. Verizon also used it as a way to refute any false claims and rumors that happened the last week and so forth.
On the business side, Verizon has 2 main blogs.
- One is a security blog = More text orientated
- One is more general = More graphic orientated
The one does better on readership, hits and engagement = The security blog
The Verizon Security Blog
It’s very limited, all about security, for those who are interested in that narrow topic. They only have four writers, so they’ve developed a fan base.
The Verizon General Blog
It’s open to a variety of discussions including games, data centers, unified communications and etc. But because the topics were so broad, nobody really wanted to get updates all the time. Plus Verizon had about 14 different writers for this and people never really developed their favourites.
Verizon’s lessons learned from blogging – The Killer
Verizon had developed a very cool artwork where figures were filmed in great high-definition and when you went to the page, you can see them and they moved around and talked. So they put out a new blog post and people would click on it on Twitter and then they’d get this fancy artwork and within half a second they were out again. It was keeping readers from getting to the content. So the lesson learned here, don’t try to be fancy on blogs. It’s the content that matters!
New Content Drives Engagement in B2B
In July 2010, Verizon rolled out a Data Breach Investigation Report, which is something they have been doing for the past couple of years. It has all the security breaches that Verizon investigates and comes up with some conclusions and analysis. They used this and promoted in on Facebook, Twitter, and several blog articles that are developed on it and when they sent this out, Verizon saw a huge spike in reader visits to the blog because of the new content.
So moral of the story, a great way to engage with B2B audience is to drive new content and it can be somewhat manufactured. It doesn’t have to be a product and it doesn’t have to be a piece of news.
The Ambassador Team Pilot
Verizon had a team of people who said they that they’re job is not social media but we’re really into it and we would like to help Verizon to get its company message out a little bit.
Verizon’s initially had a lot of concerns about this like “You’re not really in the PR or marketing department, so how can we trust you to say the right thing?”
The other concerns were, “Won’t people mistake you for representing the company?” ,”Wow, you’re going to spending all your time doing this, how are you going to do your day job?”
So if you want to try something that’s a little bit risky, call it a test or a pilot, give executives management visibility of what you’re doing, and do a thorough job training. So Verizon had 24 people who were called from across the organization in different areas to do this pilot.
Benefits from the Ambassador Team Pilot programme
- Employees got closer to the company.
- They identified with it, they learned more about other business units better and they increased their knowledge base.
- They learned to grow bigger ears. So there was real value in engaged employees hearing about something that they knew about because they were in one business unit and then maybe doing an executive escalation to another business unit where the problem had occurred. Where those connections would’ve probably not been made if those people were working just part of their day job.
- The rogue employee issue never materialized. Verizon never had a problem with an employee saying something that they shouldn’t have.
- Lessons learned: Don’t expect to get significant results if you don’t put forth significant efforts. So if you’re thinking of taking employee engagement and build that into the marketing plan? Well, Verizon says not if you’re going to do it with a small group. You need to do it company-wide like Zappos.
- Customers ultimately define the social media property as Verizon learned from the Facebook Page experience.
- Customers choose what content they want to consume. Verizon doesn’t own the message.
- Customers also drive customer support and mechanism, even though we didn’t want to provide customer service via social media because it wasn’t as effective (scientific speaking) but Verizon had to provide it in the end because it was a customer expectation.
- Verizon can’t be solely driven by metrics like efficiency.
- In social media, you need to hypothesize, control your experiment, test, and repeat.
Hope you find this useful.
Liz Azyan is interested in the ways new kinds of social data and technology introduce challenges and opportunities to society. Get involved with Liz’s latest project here.