At the inaugural W2O healthcare leadership event last month in New York, we had the chance to ask some notable clients, healthcare leaders, and journalists the following three questions:

  1. Does Amazon’s purchase of the Washington Post signal a new era coming for newspapers?  And what is the future of health/medical journalism?
  2. Do you think reporters have all the resources they need to cover complex health/medical topics?  If no – How can we improve the situation?
  3.  “Who is the must-follow person for healthcare on social media?  How active are you online?

Their responses reveal some interesting insight on how social media in particular is having a strong influence on how developments in the healthcare industry are reported on by journalists and absorbed by readers.  And we at W2O, continue to gain insight from our sponsorship of this unique event. Learn more here.

Jim Larkin/Lauren Barbiero – W20 Earned Media Team

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The day Apple introduced the iPod was the day it ceased being just a computer company – not that many people realized that at the time. In fact, Steve Jobs may have been the only one who did. But over the next few years, as succeeding and improved iterations of the pocket music player came out, the idea gradually sunk in that Apple had expanded beyond the realm of the Macintosh.

The notion became permanently etched into the public’s consciousness with the subsequent introductions of the iPhone and iPad. Sure, Apple continued to produce evermore powerful, functional, and sophisticated computers and laptops. But Apple had morphed into a lifestyle company: a purveyor of tools and technologies that make our lives more pleasant, to some degree easier and, in many ways, more portable.

What Apple and Steve Jobs figured out was how those tools and technologies perfectly linked to one another to create a unified whole that redefined for the world what Apple was and what it was capable of doing and giving us.

In a similar vein, it’s unlikely that anyone who draws a paycheck from Nike thinks of the company as a shoemaker. When Bill Bowerman, the exceptional University of Oregon track coach, borrowed his wife’s waffle iron in the 1960s to make the sole for his ideal running shoe, he launched Nike. Little about the company today would be familiar to him.

Today, the company’s Nike+ system allows runners to monitor and track each workout by means of sensors in their shoes to download data through Bluetooth into devices like iPhones. Via a Nike Internet platform, runners can share performance data online and receive customized advice from Nike coaches. Now that’s something Coach Bowerman would have loved.

But that’s only one small part of what Nike does and is capable of today.

Amazon and Google

Amazon is not just an online bookseller. In addition to selling just about any and all consumer products, Amazon is now in direct competition to Netflix, streaming its own movie and TV series catalogues. Rumor has it that Amazon wants to get into the cellphone business, too – with free cellphones, no less. Jeff Bezos just bought the Washington Post. Any guesses as to what that might mean for Amazon (and the Post)?

Google is not just a search engine but, well, Google is now into nearly everything: from tablets, smartphones and the Android operating system that runs them, to office productivity software and advertising.

What these organizations have in common is that they didn’t stand still within the narrow confines of how the world perceived and defined them. Instead, they grasped the essence of their craft and passions, and understood where they excelled. They asked themselves what that implied, where it might take them, and what was possible. And they haven’t stopped asking those questions yet.

Companies too numerous to name hewed to the tight concept of themselves, and continued to practice their trade efficiently and repeatedly. As a result, many of them either no longer exist or are a mere shadow of their former selves.

While being in business in a capitalist system means you must grow, growth for its own sake is ultimately fruitless. What gets people out of bed in the morning and commuting to jobs at places like Apple and Nike is the thrill of constantly reinventing their businesses, of expanding the realm of the possible.

The growth, success and profitability that those companies subsequently realize are the outcomes of that effort, not the reasons for the pursuit. When business leaders confuse the two, the end is in sight.

What are you doing today to reinvent your business for tomorrow?

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 A Perspective on Reputation, Trust, and Purchase Decisions in the Social Age 

John Sacco was furious.  The resident of a small Upstate New York hamlet had just caught up with the media reports that millions of gallons of oil had devastated the Gulf Coast due to a malfunction on a deep-sea oil rig owned by BP.

In the days and weeks that followed, John and several neighbors participated in numerous protests outside of the two BP gas stations in their community.

But as the weeks wound on and the third month of this tragedy began, a funny happened to John and those who vowed a complete distrust for all things BP:  They bought gas from the stations that weeks earlier they had picketed.

Was it because BP lowered its prices?  For John the reason was much more heroic.  He had read on Twitter that the company was establishing a trust fund to clean up the mess and reimburse businesses and homeowners for their losses.

The cheaper gas… Well, it was an unexpected benefit.  Following the event in the months and years since, John feels better and better about how BP stepped up to the crisis, as do his neighbors.

Note:  Oil giant BP in 2011 reported profits of $5.1billion (£3.2billion) in the three months to September, showing its recovery from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The company’s third quarter profits show massive growth compared to their $1.8billion (£1.3billion) made for the same period last year.


Late Arrival

When Randy Vetrone ordered five books from Amazon to send as Christmas gifts to five different people, she was certain of one thing: they would all get there in time.

But one didn’t.  Arriving several days after the 25th, her friend called to acknowledge the gift.  Randy apologized (none was really needed as her friend was happy about the thought) and then contacted Amazon.

Randy expected the typical apology and probably some type of reimbursement for the shipping.  She also vowed not to purchase anything from the e-retailer for a period of time.  And she was right.  Amazon apologized, provided a discount coupon toward future purchases, and did not charge her for either the book or the shipping.

But Randy kept her word…  up until four months later, when Amazon contacted her and sweetened the pot, so the speak, providing another coupon and free shipping on her next two purchases.  Further, her social communities indicated that Amazon was a “great company” that truly cared about customers and always did the right thing for them.  It worked. Randy purchased a pair of shoes and a movie. She was back.


Evasive Answers

Reading local news reports about how the energy company, which owns a nuclear facility in the region, was having difficulty with safety inspections at said facility, Sarah Munn began to question the integrity of its leadership.   From news reports, it appeared leaders were being evasive in their explanations, and that didn’t sit well with her.  So she went on Facebook to express her feelings.  Dozens of friends engaged in a series of on-line conversations questioning everything from the company’s pricing to the long-terms effects of the nuclear facility in the area.  They decided to create a petition asking the company to be more open about these issues.

The company did just that, scheduling several “Open House” discussions in person and via social outreach to talk about each and every subject.  Sarah, her husband and neighbors attended one of the sessions.  The dialogue was open, clear and forthright.  And while not all the answers were to her liking, she became convinced that the company and its leadership are operating properly.

She now has regular “chats” with the company via a Facebook page and Twitter, forging an ongoing relationship that did not exist several weeks ago.


What’s Going On?

What does all this mean from a reputation, trust and purchase point-of-view?

A number of insights can be gleaned from these three examples.  But first, let’s take a look at some recent studies:

  • 87% of consumers “research” companies online prior to deciding if they will do business with them. This can really hurt the bottom line of a business that suffers from negative reviews.
  • Mixing smart “business” decisions with a clear social communications outreach allows consumers and detractors alike to re-engage with the organization in a less tense environment, increasing comprehension.
  • The fact that only 3% surveyed in a current study never check out brands online before doing business should be an eye opener for every business.



From this, we can conclude that empowering consumers upfront and consistently impacts behavior, including perspectives on reputation and purchase.

Technology is rapidly driving transformation throughout industry. Respondents in a recent survey indicated that social media such as Facebook and Twitter, mobile and online shopping, and promotions and coupons through mobile and online channels are having the most significant impact on their businesses.

  • Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) – 71%
  • Mobile/online shopping – 52%

In this social age – from a reputational standpoint – consumers appear more energetic to work through issues such as poor customer service, bad decisions, and even real crises if the organization shows a willingness to engage in real discussion and debate.  Additionally, seeking and relying on other’s opinions on the same company or subject is often a regular activity influencing perceptions and, most importantly, future purchasing decisions.

The point here is that reputation and trust can often be rebuilt or repaired quicker if organizations are truly sincere and committed to fixing what needs to be broken.  Further, maintaining active and authentic relationships with communities of interest including customers does two important things:

  1. Establishes networks of informed consumers who advise the company when things aren’t right while keeping the company abreast of new ideas that impact innovation;
  2. Allows organizations to balance the argument during times of crisis.

Compare this state of affairs to the way it used to be, when negative news would fester like an untreated open wound. The ability of businesses to counter-balance the often one-sided public debate was severely limited, and company leadership had few opportunities to engage in the valuable back-and-forth dialogues with communities of customers that social media now affords them.

The Social Age has truly upended business and relationships, pointing the direction toward clear, concise, authentic, and open discussion and debate that encourages trust and builds bonds between and among companies, people and groups.

The good news for business leaders is that people will buy again. They just have to believe again.


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Today I have the pleasure of moderating a panel at the Holmes Global PR Summit. The title of the panel is, The Emergence of Social Commerce, and I will be joined by Becky Brown, director of integrated media at Intel (paid, social, SEM) and David Witt, director, global digital marketing and brand public relations at The Hershey Company (both clients).

During the discussion, we will talk about the convergence of communications and analytics and how that is resulting in an evolution of how we view the paid/owned/shared/earned media model. In many respects, earned is becoming the leader and will increasingly guide the effective use of paid media, in the future. The result of this new alchemy is the birth of “social commerce,” which enables communicators to create demand and drive revenue. We are now capable of building social commerce strategies that evolve our overall sales strategy, as well as effectively position our brand’s story. The panel will discuss what is working and what challenges lay ahead.

As a preview to our panel, I was able to catch up with Becky Brown to ask her a few key questions that will help frame our conversation. Below are Becky’s answers:

What is social commerce?
Social commerce means different things to different companies. For Intel, for example, we don’t sell anything directly to end customers (we sell through the eco-system and partners), so our social commerce is how we enable those sales through other manufacturers. On the B2B side we have something called our Online Sales Engine which is designed to capture leads through social and our, and nurture them through the sales process into the right hands of the companies that can provide them the right product and / or service. On the B2C side, social commerce is humanizing and extending our brand online turning that emotion into a desired purchase behavior that drives action into retail or through our computer manufacturers.

Is your company “doing” social commerce or helping other companies leverage social commerce?
We’re “doing” social commerce across our business and consumer markets. We’re also enabling our partners to market through and with us along the process through our content strategy. We know for business professionals, they are interested in Hot Topics (e.g. Consumerization of IT, Big Data), and we’re using these to guide and develop the conversations and content that provides value to our communities and engages in peer to peer conversations and relationships. For consumer, we’ve been testing new social platforms that help us tie sales directly back to our partners and retails, we’re also doing some pilots with social SEM as an integrated approach to driving sales through our social communities.

What role do you see in providing the right content in the right channels at the right time play in social commerce?
Everything, literally everything in social comes down to content. Period. And before you can develop the right content you need to develop your own social content strategy. This is not your brand strategy dusted off for social, this is how your brand talks, responds, visualizes, engages in communities online. How do you want to be perceived, do you have opinions on things, where do you take risks, etc? When you have your content strategy, you then can look at how to deploy that content onto the right channels. These channels should work together in concert globally – understanding that the markets are different in China as they are in Germany. The best part of social is that everything is measurable, so you can constantly be turning the dials on your content to maximize your greatest impact – driving toward that emotional connection that drives purchase intent for your brand.

Is your company thinking about social commerce? If so, what is your approach?

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If the title reads like an old Batman comic, it might be because the online retailer Zappos is becoming a force for improving the sometimes tenuous connection between e-commerce and social media. Or it could just be the funny brand name.

Zappos rolled out “PinPointing” this week, a service that lives on their site and recommends products based on the photos their costumers ‘Pin’ on Pinterest. In a single step, the online apparel store, run by Amazon, has integrated social media properties with its online store, tested a new business model AND found a way to utilize Pinterest’s impressive 20 million users.

Zappos’s goal with PinPointing is to improve engagement and brand exposure by increasing the number of Zappos product pins on Pinterest, with the ultimate goal of increasing sales. The company plans to measure the conversion metrics, especially in lesser-known departments like Wedding, Couture and Housewares (areas that align nicely with Pinterest’s demographic and content), to measure the success of the service.

To use PinPointing, users go to the site and enter their Pinterest account name. Zappos generates recommendations based on prior pins, using brand, material, color and product keywords to inform product suggestions.
While there are still some glitches to work out with the technology (a Pinned photo of a grey dress with blue sandals might bring up a recommendation for grey men’s jeans and grey sneakers), PinPointing could solve the business model puzzle for Pinterest.

Here at WCG, with our emphasis on Social Commerce, this is an especially significant step as Zappos experiments with the monetization of a new platform. PinPointing, which incorporates Pinterest’s platform of organic referrals, shows there may be a more subtle way for Pinterest to make money than taking the route of Ad Revenue. Even with existing business models for social media, there’s been no clean solution to merging the interests of online sales and social communities. But Pinterest, with its high volume of organic referral traffic, may just be the perfect social media channel to bridge that gap.

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