Dealing with real people, not logos

I’m seven months in to an experiment with how I spend my money online.

  • if I can’t buy something online because a website doesn’t work, or keeps trying to force me to a call centre…
  • …I look for staff on social media, and contact them to try and complete a purchase, or get an answer
  • if this doesn’t work, I buy somewhere else

Why? Because I don’t like organisations advertising at me, when they can’t get the basics of customer service right, online.

There was a difficult decision to be made in January. I had a friend visiting and I wanted to take him to my favourite local pub/restaurant. Their online booking form doesn’t work, and they don’t respond on Twitter. We went somewhere else, and I felt bad for the pub, but still determined.

Runners Need benefited from my spending when I needed new trainers and one of their staffers came to my aid on Twitter, in February.

I’ve also made some fairly sizeable decisions around hotel and venue bookings, based on how usable the online service is, or if it isn’t (frequently the case), then the speed and personality with which staff come to my assistance on social media.

I was spurred on by Nottinghamshire Foundation Trust, who read my original post:

I also saw this, which made me laugh, and persuaded me to get more ambitious in terms of retailer and money spent:

Things were going OK for a while: I booked an entire weekend’s worth of logistics in Norway, online. Partly thanks to an OK airline booking experience (Norwegian Air), but also having had to resort to Facebook for accommodation, because the Norwegian tourism website is a bit of a mess.

I elicited some real-staff reaction from a very big brand, after blogging about some thoughtless advertising.

However, things have started to go wrong when it comes to moving house.

Solicitors and estate agents are tricky to procure online. I accept there needs to be some real-world interaction (not meeting people was never part of my plan), but websites lacking in information, and rambling email correspondence is totally at odds with my world of work.

Cancelling my TV licence was a nightmare thanks to a poor online transaction. I basically gave up, and didn’t bother pursuing any staff online, which was a mistake. The transaction that I abandoned somehow landed in someone’s in tray, and now I’m £65 better off. Bonus.

Car insurance is the one transaction where I have completely buckled. Again, I understand that they need certain types of information, but the basics such as quotes and changes of address should be serviced online. Rather than find a company who supports this, I broke my commitment from December and went with the cheapest option, which involved three painful phone calls. And stamps.

So how am I doing? A mixed bag at best, but I’m going to stick with my resolution and see how far I can take it.

Hidden tweets for grabbing someone’s attention

This post from Andy Baio is a great insight into various hidden features on Twitter.

Despite Andy calling it ‘Stupid tricks…’ I’ve gone back a few times trying to articulate how one of the features might be useful for comms teams.

Here goes.

If you are running a campaign, or making an announcement, you may want to get the attention of a group of different people at the same time: for example journalists or bloggers. You may not have their contact details, just a Twitter account. They don’t follow you, so you can’t DM.

A lot of people (me included) are tempted to publish a load of the same tweets in quick succession, directed at different people.

This doesn’t look great, because if a follower of yours also follows some of your recipients (highly likely in the case of, say, a Government department and related stakeholders), their timeline will fill up with your @ messages.

Your recipients might also notice that you are sending the same message over and over to different people.

What if there was a way you could contact different people with the same tweet, without those tweets appearing in your timeline, or anyone else’s apart from the individual you are addressing? Well, there is a way.

  • While logged in to whichever account you wish to use, go to
  • Start the process for creating a new ad campaign, and select Twitter engagements
  • Go to the Compose panel and write your tweet, mentioning the person you wish to target. Hit the tweet button.Twitter business compose panel
  • Your tweet has been published, but only you and your recipient can see it. It won’t appear in your timeline and no one else can see it, unless the recipient replies, at which point the conversation is public again.
  • No need to continue building the campaign. A record of who you have tweeted in this way will build on the right hand side of the screen.

I wouldn’t normally endorse this kind of approach, of course. You need to put the effort into relationships in good time, and not rely on a random tweet that will encourage someone to write about your story, or change their behaviour. But we’ve all been on deadline and eager to get people’s attention. In these circumstances this might just work for you.

What’s happening to Foursquare?

Foursquare is becoming two apps – a new one called Swarm will take care of those who like to check in and show off to friends. Old Foursquare will help you find places and review them.

This article sums it up neatly.

If you haven’t tried it before, I recommend dabbling with Foursquare. I have used it on and off for four years now and it falls into the slightly disappointing space between my Twitter and email app (indispensable) and something like the Kickstarter app (best intentions but I never open it).

I use Foursquare every day. I am slightly ashamed that I lust over the mayorship of certain locations, but I don’t know why. The places that I frequent regularly don’t have many other users, so I am not building a network or finding any conversations. I guess I just believe in it.

A couple of visits to Spain in the past 18 months have proved to me that there is potential for businesses. In Barcelona every bar, cafe and restaurant that I visited (and I visited many) had a Foursquare presence. In fact, I didn’t bother with the guidebook – all food, drink and coffee stops were decided on the strength of other people’s reviews, and the deals on offer. Most businesses on Foursquare appeared to offer a check-in deal – show themyou’d checked in and claim your free glass of wine, tapas etc. Brilliant.

A restaurant receipt with Foursquare discounts With this in mind I don’t quite understand why the check-in action is being taken out of the mix. However, that’s just me. The handful of people I follow certainly display the sort of behaviour that Foursquare want to hive off with Swarm (see what I did there?).  They check in all the time, but never contribute any reviews or photos.

If you too are a secret Foursquare fan, I urge you to check out of the closet and share your experiences. Foursquare may be splitting in two, but I think there is more to come.

Image courtesy of

The generation game

Met my new nephew for the first time. It was quite an experience, particularly when there hasn’t been a baby in our family for twenty years.

At ten days old he was tiny and, I realised, a blank canvas. Sure, some environmental influences will quickly shape his understanding and outlook, but for these briefest of moments, he’s completely fresh to the world.

After I had reluctantly let him go (he was mid way through the cycle of eating, sleeping and what-have-you), the first thing I did was to tweet a photo of me holding him. A bit indulgent, but I was genuinely very proud and couldn’t help myself. I’ve since kept abreast of his movements via my brother’s profile on Facebook.

It dawned on me afterwards, that my little nephew will never have control over his online footprint. He’s online from birth, through photos and his family’s status updates.

I understand that of course no-one can ever completely erase themselves from the web, or only with great difficulty. However, for people aged 20 or over, it’s likely that you could have made a conscious decision to not join any social networks, or produce anything online under an honest identity.

For my nephew though, he has been born into a cradle-to-grave digital world.

This got me thinking of other generations and my Great Great Great Uncle Richard. I blogged a little about him previously. It seems almost unbelievable to me that someone ‘normal’ who died in 1937 has a digital footprint of any size. And yet, without any planning on his part, and a little bit of digging around on mine, Uncle Richard of Walthamstow can be found in several places online. These include the London Gazette’s digital records, census returns and an ancestry website where various people have built a profile of him.

He wasn’t famous, infamous or particularly notable for any reason. Some family paperwork made me think he was worth a few bob. But the network that built up around him as I searched the web has given me something akin to LinkedIn in terms of number of people and detail (does Klout have a way of scoring your influence among dead Victorians?).

So it seems there are very few of us, possibly a generation or two, who have had an opportunity to opt in or out of a personal online footprint. And even for those who opt out I imagine it is hugely difficult to stay offline.

As the web continues to be recognised as a marketplace full of conversations, not just an extension of broadcast media, it’ll be increasingly crucial for individuals, like my nephew, to have their voice.

Thanks @southernrailUK

Its never really fashionable to praise railway companies. They make commuters like you and me late, miserable and charge a handsome premium for doing so.

One thing that Southern Rail do well though, is to use Twitter as a customer service channel. I have been commuting on their lines almost every day for the past three years, and when they joined Twitter officially, I thought they were, frankly, bonkers.

The tirade of abuse that appeared in my timeline each day, aimed at Southern, was phenomenal. I was sure they would be overwhelmed with angry and less than constructive messages. In fact, they have handled it really well and I have been quietly impressed for some time.

There seems to be someone at the other end 24/7. There is personality, regular updates, apologies, suggestions for alternative routes and commitment to feed back comments and complaints.

Don't take my word for it. Test them with a tweet.

I would love to know if they have measured the impact on customer satisfaction or levels of traditional correspondence.


Are there rules for social media?

One aspect of my job that I quite enjoy is trying to better equip my colleagues to 'do' digital.

For selfish reasons, it means, hopefully, that BIS can deliver better digital engagement in the future, because policy makers understand some of the tools that are available for engaging with their audiences.

In the past few years these sessions seem to have moved from 'why' to 'how', which is good. However there is an assumption that social media can be taught in a paint-by-numbers way. I reckon people struggle to find the confidence when there isn't a crystal clear process, accompanied by a rule book.

For this week's session I was asked to present on The rules of social media. This didn't feel right, so I asked an open question on Twitter, to see what people thought. I was overwhelmed with lots of useful responses. Rather than re-work all the comments in to a predictable PowerPoint deck, I put the responses in to Storify and played it back to the audience, discussing comments and sharing links as we went along.

The feedback was good, and the people i was speaking to seemed to value the fact that not all the responses from geeks. So I'm sharing this here as an idea for anyone delivering similar presentations in the future: