Well, who’d have thought it? O2’s twitter-based customer service team can hold their own conversing with customers using street slang. The Twitter exchange between a customer and the official O2 Twitter feed last week – all conducted in slang – has entertained most people in the comms industry.
The timing is interesting because I was on a CorpComms Precise Exchange panel debate with O2’s head of media and comms, Nicola Green last week, where we were discussing social media crises, particularly referencing O2’s outage earlier in the summer – which also earned plaudits.
One of the points I made was that dealing with a communications issue (I hate the term social media crisis; it implies that social media is this separate entity) is that consumers’ response to brands’ faults has a lot to do with their likeability. In other words, there’s an upfront investment from the brand to ensure that it’s liked by its customers. If it is, then they’ll forgive pretty much everything.
Nicola’s response to that was, “fine – but don’t ever take your likeability for granted”. I couldn’t agree more.
But the issue of likeability has been playing on my mind for a while. Why do some brands get absolutely crucified by their customers on social networks when they make a mistake and others seemingly get away with it.
Apple is the perfect example. There have been countless product issues with Apple over the years. I’m not just referring to the recent Maps debacle or not being able to make a call with an iPhone 4 left-handed, but just the day to day problems with hard-drives failing or issues with customer service. It’s not that Apple just market their products better or they look nice – though they are factors – there’s an indefinable element that gives Apple’s reputation a teflon-coating.
The issue of likeability came sharply into focus when I read Likeonomics, by Rohit Bhargava, recently. It’s a must-read book for communications professionals.
In Likeonomics, Bhargava proposes that there is a modern believability crisis that makes our jobs as marketeers and communications professionals difficult. These are factors that mean that people just don’t believe what they’re told by consumer brands, businesses, government bodies and the media any more.
The first problem is that we live in an age of spin – where the truth is often stretched or even broken. When talking about spin, we often think of politicians, but it’s organisations that are guilty of this too.
The second factor is corporate speak. This is well-trodden theory, particularly for anyone who’s read 1984, but it always amazes me that time and time again, organisations revert to language that is devoid of humanity to explain a problem or apologise. It’s worse too when you get the non-apology. It’s one of the reasons why the O2 response has been lauded.
Thirdly, Bhargava identifies the volume problem. We are bombarded with so many messages, social media and otherwise, that it makes people default to a defense mechanism of distrusting everything. I’m not sure I agree with that, but the volume issue does make it harder to reach everyone.
Finally there’s the consumer protection factor. Here Bhargava says that there are so many government agencies and third party groups dedicated to protecting consumers, that ironically this consumer education has made people very distrustful.
You can see that addressing these factors will go a significant way to improving an organisation’s reputation. But there’s more to it than that. Brands, employers, politicians, government bodies and the media need to bridge the “Likeability Gap”. Because everyone is either ambivalent or negative as a default, it takes a lot to make them proactively positive towards your brand or organisation.
Bhargava says that the five key principles to bridge the Likability Gap are:
I’m afraid you’ll have to read the book to find out how these can addressed, but Truth is probably the one that will resonate most with communications professionals (I’ve never met a PR or comms professional comfortable with stretching the truth or lying on behalf of their client or employer).
People respond to unexpected honesty and being provided with unbiased facts. And when served up to the relevant audience, in a timely fashion, in a simple, non-corporate speak, it is very powerful indeed.
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