Monday, February 21, 2011

Beyond The 140-Character Mark

Foreword: This week, I invited my good friend, Moksh Juneja, to share the fascinating tale of his travels to a remote village in South India with the help of his tweeps (Twitter friends whom he had never met IRL.) Though this piece was published earlier in an Indian newspaper, I asked Moksh if I could share it on my blog since it's a great story of the power of 140 characters and building a network, one tweet at a time. Moksh is a well-known name in the circle of social media influencers in Mumbai and is regularly quoted on social media trends and issues in leading publications.

By Moksh Juneja



I had to make an emergency visit last month to a remote village in Kerala called Thevalakkara. And Kerala, for me, is as good as Germany — I’d never been there and I don’t know the language. In moments of crisis, we think of our friends — and I thought of mine; my Twitter group.

The first person I thought of was @suddentwilight who, I remembered, studied in Kerala. Assuming she would be able to guide me, I gave her a call. She hadn’t heard of the village I was to go to, so she connected me to someone in her list — @nithinkd — who, although based in Delhi, belonged to Kerala. In fact, his native town is close to the place that I had to reach.

Hearing my exact situation, @nithinkd guided me through an itinerary. I sent him the name of my destination through a DM since I couldn’t pronounce it. He advised me to book my air tickets to Trivandrum and assured me that the logistics in Kerala are very manageable. After taking printouts of the tickets, I called him in panic. I’d booked tickets for Trivandrum, but the printout read Thiruvananthapuram.

A Stranger Offered Me His Car
He offered me his car to drive to the remote village. Just a reminder — I haven’t still met @nithinkd. To pick his car up, I need to reach Kollam. And to help me get there, he connected me to @bijunarayan.So I flew to Thiruvananthapuram, took the Volvo bus to the city, and then met @bijunarayan, who had taken time off from work to help me reach Kollam. He picked me up from the bus stop, took me to Trivandrum station, and bought me a ticket to Kollam.

Before we took the train, we went to this coffee house and I surprised both of us with the amount I ate. I hadn’t realised how hungry I was. While I was hogging on the dosas, idli and coffee, he connected me to @BaluKLM, who travels daily to Kollam from Trivandrum. (It’s how far Pune is from Mumbai).

In Safe Hands
I met @BaluKLM at the platform and realised that even though I hadn’t met these guys before, I was in safe hands. In the local train, we talked, and our conversations this time weren’t restricted to 140 characters. When we reached Kollam, @BaluKLM dropped me off at @nithinkd’s doorstep. Aunty had already received the call from her son, and she handed me the car keys.

Although @BaluKLM left, I wasn’t still alone. @nithinkd was taking me through the directions to reach Thevalakkara. In case of any eventualities, @BaluKLM had already informed @Ivan457, who stays close by in Shaktigualangara, that I was in town. Thanks to my Twitter friends, I reached the village in good time.

As I sat ruminating about Twitter, I realised the power of social networking. It helps in emergencies and is an excellent if you need to plan a trip, because it connects you to people who help. For this trip, the world became flat for me, and I have only my Twitter gang to thank for it.

Moksh Juneja is the founder of Avignyata Inc., a Mumbai-based social media marketing consultancy. Moksh has been at the forefront of social media marketing in India since 2007 and has created campaigns for Sony Pictures, Colors (Viacom18) and more sustained campaigns for Shoppers Stop and Inorbit Mall. In his personal time, Moksh believes in sharing his knowledge and teaches social media and public relations at colleges in Mumbai University and SNDT University. He also conducts workshops and sessions on social media marketing. You can check out his blog here or follow him on Twitter at @mokshjuneja

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Let’s Face It: An FB Post Trumps Nagging, Hands Down

Foreword: This week, I invited my good friend, Leema Thomas, a journalist and assistant editor at Newsday in Long Island, to write a guest post on my blog. As Valentine's Day approaches, Leema muses on the role of social media in her personal life and how it helps her get her way with the hubby in her typical tongue-in-cheek humorous style, which she so often displays on her personal blog, Diary of The Wimpiest Mom.

By Leema Thomas

The power of an aptly-phrased 140-character tweet on Twitter or a status update on Facebook has been well-established. We’ve seen the people of Iran, Egypt and other nations — as well as most businesses, man, woman and child in America — harness the power of social media to enact radical change.

But it was only recently that I inadvertently discovered the power of a Facebook post as it pertains to family life, particularly in my relationship with my hubby. You see, unlike most women, I am not a typical nag, just ask B. I hardly ever throw a temper tantrum or scream at the top of my lungs when I feel that B. did not get around to doing a task he should’ve done 10 yesterdays ago. Screaming and yelling would snuff the life out of me. But, like a typical nag, I might throw around a few hints here and there. After all, women alone are born with this skill that is totally useless at effecting any real change.

So my usual pattern, in all these married years, to enact any change had been to wonder out aloud, for example, “Hmmm . . .this couch would really look better against that wall.” Hubby may be in the other room but I expect that, like most men, he has super hearing powers. I’ll walk away for a few minutes, come back to the room and see hubby planted on the couch — still in its original spot — watching TV or reading the newspaper. By now, seething internally, I shoo hubby away and start moving the couch myself. I’d end up with a pulled muscle or a sprained ankle that I’d expect hubby to take care of later but that’s been the socially accepted and tried-and-true method of getting my man to do what I want him to do in the house.

But women of all nations who have access to modern social media tools such as Facebook, have I got a status update for you. Ditch nagging right now. Sure, it is a time-honored strategy but a totally useless one and we knew it the minute we were born. And, if your man is low-tech, the sooner you open a Facebook account for him the better.

Just last week, the power of social media was the subject of a conference in many parts of this world, including one in New York and San Francisco. The purpose of Social Media Week, per its website, was to bring “hundreds of thousands of people together every year through learning experiences that aim to advance our understanding of social media’s role in society.” Had I attended the conference, I’d have narrated my recent experiences of how social media — Facebook in particular — helped change our family dynamics.

My first experience using this social media tool instead of nagging to get a task done at the house happened quite by chance. About mid-January, while passing by the Christmas tree still standing in all its glory in the living room, I pulled out my BlackBerry and mused on Facebook: “I suppose I will have to wait till Valentine’s Day for the Xmas tree to come down.” Now, my hubby hardly ever posts a word on Facebook but he’s better attuned to the happenings in the virtual world than to a word I say. After posting my update, I ran out for some errands and came home to witness a miracle — the Christmas tree in various stages of undress.

Being a social scientist to some extent and a journalist to a full extent, where you need at least three sources to establish credibility, I decided to repeat the experiment. The second time, I went straight to hubby’s Facebook wall and mused: “C'mon babe, where’s my java?” Shortly after, hubby delivered the much-needed caffeinated drug for me and a good friend. I took to hubby’s Facebook wall boldly again to post: “please for my sake charge your phone.” I’ve since been able to reach B. at all times of the day and night, and hear his sweet sound live.

So, ladies, while we are taught not to air our dirty laundry in public — and I strongly advise caution here — I urge you to wise up and leverage your social currency by tapping into the powers of social media.

Of course, the Christmas tree has yet to be put away in its box but we still have about two days before Valentine’s Day. Plus, I think hubby has a gripe of his own and before he posts anything on my Facebook wall, I had better retire my Christmas lunch bag right away.

A journalist, Leema Thomas is an assistant editor on the night news desk at Newsday in Melville, New York. She is also a blogger, injecting a dose of humor and a touch of irreverence in her musings about her kids and family life.  She graduated from New York University with a bachelor of science (cum laude) in Communication Studies, with specialization in broadcast journalism. Check out Leema’s blog, Diary of the Wimpiest Mom at http://wimpiestmom.blogspot.com/

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Apology Lessons From The Groupon & Kenneth Cole Debacle

Flickr Creative Commons/runran
We all mess up from time to time. We make mistakes – whether it’s in our personal relationships or our work. From an early age, most of us are taught the rules behind apologies – you should only say sorry when you really mean it and saying you are sorry means you won’t repeat the same mistake.

This week was an interesting one as far as apologies are concerned. First, Kenneth Cole angered people on Twitter by relating their new spring collection to the situation in Egypt. Soon after, Groupon’s Super Bowl ads offended people for appearing insensitive to serious issues in Tibet and elsewhere. (All this was topped off by the NFL and Jerry Jones apologizing for 400 fans not getting seats at the Sunday Super Bowl.)

Though Kenneth Cole posted a slightly more extended apology on the company’s Facebook page, they initially tweeted this reaction: “Re Egypt tweet: we weren't intending to make light of a serious situation. We understand the sensitivity of this historic moment –KC”

Groupon’s CEO fared no better as his apology, delivered in the form of a letter, was considered both defensive and, in essence, a non-apology.

Which brings me to the question, what’s the right way to apologize, especially in crisis situations? From a public relations standpoint, I think three things are essential when issuing an apology:

1. Timing
With even small issues snowballing quickly online, timing is a critical element in offering an apology. The fear of legal liabilities is usually the biggest reason for remaining silent. But silence can often be seen as arrogance or even indifference to the situation and issuing an apology can help diffuse the situation and prevent greater damage.

2. Saying it like you mean it
This sounds obvious but it can be difficult to be in the shoes of the person tasked with delivering an apology -- blame it on ego and our tendency to be defensive. But in a crisis, nothing is worse than a half-baked or insincere apology. To say it like you mean it, your apology should at least acknowledge and take some responsibility for the mistake and express regret, if not offer a way to rectify the situation.

3. How the apology is delivered and who delivers it
When a crisis breaks out, people turn to online social media channels to discuss, vent out and pick it apart. It’s always a good idea to first issue an apology using the same channel (and then over other channels as well.) If the crisis broke out over a tweet, tweet an apology. The 140-character limit can make it difficult but you can always post an extended apology later, as Kenneth Cole did on their Facebook page.

Who delivers the apology matters a great deal too, especially when people are outraged, offended and slighted. It’s usually a good idea for the CEO or some other top-ranking executive to deliver the apology to make people feel that the company has taken the incident seriously and values its customers. (At least, Groupon and Kenneth Cole both got this right, with the apology being delivered by their respective CEOs.)

What do you think makes for a good apology (and how did KC and Groupon fare?) Are there any situations where apologizing may not be the best option from a PR perspective? I would love to know your thoughts.
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