PodCamp Toronto

I enjoyed a great Saturday mingling with and learning from the smart and interesting group of people at PodCamp Toronto. PodCamp Toronto 2010 is a free unconference bringing together professionals and hobbyists to explore the cutting edge of new and social media.

The MakerCulture DIY experiment with open journalism is an intriguing project creating content and community through collaboration and dialogue. Wayne MacPhail, who presented with Western student Curtis File, feels that traditional news media aren’t capable of open journalism.

Agreed, old media gatekeepers are still figuring out social media and the blurry line separating authors and audience.

Next on my agenda was Communications in the New Social Media Ecosystem presented by Dave Fleet. Dave simplified his complex ecosystem deep-dive which he first posted in January. His integration message – owned, earned and unearned media working together – is of particular interest to me in light of my new job (I’ll post about this soon.)

Dave mentioned that Molson is doing a good job with the social media marketing ecosystem. Why? Molson has invested three years into SM, generates good content, responds well to feedback and senior leadership gets it. Partial proof of success:  paid media, earned media and owned media all support each other and deliver results such as thousands of community followers and loads of earned media coverage.

The hit of the day for me was The Social Web, Crisis, Response and Reputation Rejuvenation in the Automotive Industry delivered by GM’s  Chris Barger. He shared the trials, tribulations and successes of the beleaguered car company’s ongoing SM program to manage last year’s bankruptcy filing.

Highlights included the 25 to 75 ratio of talking to listening, respectively; community comes first; demonstrate change; small gestures will resonate; let advocates advocate; embrace key influencers; and reputation rejuvenation needs to be sustained. It’s always interesting hearing case studies about crisis management; Chris’ candid insights added to the compelling content.

Thanks to all the PodCamp organizers and sponsors for assembling a strong group of presenters. It’s always fun connecting with smart, talented people.

Public Relations: Customer Service Experts

CustomerServicePublic relations pros are the best customer service reps. Of course there are many great and helpful CSRs working in various client-side customer service departments dedicated to solving problems.  However, it’s been my experience that when customers call the PR team, after not getting any satisfaction through the usual CSR routes, their problem gets solved.

Here’s why, CSRs historically are incented to sell, not to solve.  How do I know this beyond the occasional frustration I’ve experienced with some, not all, CSRs?

A few years ago I was at a large client’s internal all-team meeting for the quarterly pep rally. One of the CSRs asked the leaders at the front of the room, “how can we do our jobs when we’re trained to sell more services instead of being trained to deal with the questions and problems most of our customers call about.”  This question led to a lot of murmured agreement that threatened to hijack the meeting.

Trained to sell and not to solve? No surprises there, but that meeting certainly confirmed suspicions that still linger.

Conversely, over the years my colleagues and I have taken calls from the customers of a few clients who found our names on a news release after being unable to contact the CS department.  We’d listen to the customer’s problem, provide answers, give relevant CS phone numbers and email addresses, promise to contact our clients if needed on behalf of the customers, and also point out that even though we were the client’s PR firm and not connected to the customer service department, we would make sure the customer’s problem was solved.

Based on my firsthand experience with PR/customer-service-problem-solving, I’ve told a couple close contacts struggling with defective products and poor customer service to call the manufacturers’ PR departments; which they did, to finally get their problems solved.

Good PR pros are many things: strategists, anthropologists, psychotherapists, media junkies, problem solvers, etc. We also know the importance of stakeholders enjoying positive brand experiences. Based on this undeniable fact, PR pros are the best brand ambassadors and customer service reps.