The Importance of a Social Roadmap

an interview with
Pete Abel Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications, Suddenlink

As part of the qualitative portion of our soon to be released Social Media Fitness Study, I had the pleasure of catching up with Pete Abel, SVP of Corporate Communications at Suddenlink.  What I especially like about Pete is his candor.  While he and his team are doing lots of smart things with social media including the development of a cross-disciplined team, a disaster plan and a road map, he fully acknowledges that they need better metrics, a belief most of his peers share.  Enjoy the interview and stay tuned for more insights from other smart marketers in the days ahead.

DN: Can you speak to the benefits of having a cross-disciplined team in place to manage social media?
Starting from the premise that social media is all about having – and maintaining – conversations with customers and other stakeholders, we believe the best, most legitimate conversations are achieved when a diverse group of people participate, each bringing to the dialogue their own unique perspectives and skill sets. To be clear, our approach is not the wild west. The members of our cross-functional team are not renegades. We consult; we coordinate; we check and verify with each other. But at the end of the day, the quality of the conversation is improved – and our customers seem to be happier – when they hear from more than just one voice, or one group with one perspective.

DN: Can you tell me how Suddenlink came to have a social media disaster plan in place?
About three years ago, I was at a thirtieth birthday party for one of my nephews. In the midst of the celebration, I was notified that a disgruntled customer had opened up a Twitter account with a handle that used our company name, preceded by an expletive. Within a few hours, this customer had accumulated dozens of followers and an even longer list of tweets from other disgruntled customers. Eventually, we got our decision-makers together, formulated a reasonable response strategy, implemented it, and the crisis diminished. But that experience underscored for us just how quickly issues can surface in social media and take on a life of their own. We knew that, but we hadn’t experienced it first hand until then. From that point forward, we were compelled to become better prepared. Granted, the “disaster plan” we have in place today is not all that complicated. It’s essentially a monitoring program and communication chain, one that helps us make sure we promptly identify issues and react accordingly, with all the key people involved. But even with just those basics in place, we tend to sleep much better at night – and, I’m confident, we’re in a much better position to respond than we were three years go.

DN: Can you talk about the challenges of establishing KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for social media?
We have some informal metrics in place. For instance: “How many customers are we helping each week, and of those, how many are we transforming – in the language of Fred Reichheld’s book, The Ultimate Question 2.0 – from detractors to promoters?” But we can and need to do more. Several questions remain: “What does that more look like; how do we get there; and what does it cost – not just in dollars but in human resources?” To use a semi-tired analogy, our team members often feel like they’re trying to sweep back ocean waves with brooms. How do you measure the success of an effort like that? Recently, we started reviewing tools that will help us collect, analyze, visualize, and report on the tone and trends of various conversation threads relevant to our company. From that base, we hope to establish more robust and better-informed objectives or key-performance indicators – and track our progress against them.

DN:  Could you speak to the advantages of having a social media road map in place?
After we had a reasonably sound social media program up and running, members of the team started coming up with new (and often very intriguing) ideas about what we might do next. Tina Simcox – from our customer experience team – was a particularly energetic idea generator, and she still is. Unfortunately, as with all organizations and all ideas (social media or not), we had to face the reality of limited resources and make some tough decisions. So we sat down and started mapping out the art of the possible: What are all the ideas; which of them are the most important/critical; which will deliver the nearest term bump; what do they cost; what can we do today; what might we be able to do tomorrow? The discipline of that process helped us get some of those great ideas up and running; otherwise, I fear none of them would have been implemented. Saying all that, I’ll confess, after we worked our way through the first version of the roadmap, we let it lapse. I’d guess we’re not the only organization guilty of doing so. But we need to get back to it. It’s critical to making sure we’re not resting on our laurels or running off in potentially unproductive or even counterproductive directions.

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