‘Birmingham – A digital opportunity’

The Digital Revolution

I was recently at a Birmingham Business Breakfast Club event and the guest speaker – Simon Jenner, a technology entrepreneur – gave an inspiring and motivating talk regarding the position of Birmingham as a digital hub.

As we are all becoming increasingly aware, the digital landscape is changing and technology appears to be influencing everything we do.

A great example of this is Uber. Simon explained that within a 4 year period, the company has gone from nowhere to being a $50bn business and the biggest taxi firm in the world. Yet they own no taxis and no taxi drivers – they are a truly digital business.

Brummies Overlooked?

So, where does our great city and the surrounding area fit into the global digital arena? Simon told us that in terms of numbers in employment, digital technology accounts for the 4th largest sector, equalling 40,000 people. The public sector is still by far the biggest employer in Birmingham, with 450,000 people.

However, despite most sectors now being affected by technological advancements and despite 20% of the UK gaming industry being based in nearby Leamington Spa – why is ‘digital’ is still being overlooked?

An Opportunity

Simon is clearly very passionate about his city and technology. The issue from his perspective is that the two have not become aligned as yet, but there’s absolutely no reason why Birmingham cannot become a ‘digital hub’ on a grand scale, rivalling London, Manchester, Edinburgh…

It’s easy to think of this scenario as classic Birmingham – living up to a reputation of a city behind the times. However, it’s thanks to Simon and other visionaries that we should see this as a great opportunity for the city to build a reputation, like any brand, by offering a clear vision and standing out from the crowd.


It’s true that without a ‘champion’ business, such as a Google, it has been difficult to be seen as an industry player, but with lots of smaller individual companies – who knows which one of them could be the next overnight phenomenon?

Success breeds success, and the time is now for Birmingham to join the digital revolution.


Trust – lost by a robotic response to a human problem

United Airlines Blog

You can understand why some are concerned about the growing influence of robots in our lives when you consider United Airlines’ thoughtless response to a customer complaint.

Pushing for efficiency Chris Chmura’s flight had left twenty minutes early, leaving him at the gate feeling somewhat confused. His initial complaint was down to the behaviour and service of the gate worker who had failed to deal with the problem caused by the airline. When the Florida reporter issued his complaint United Airlines’ customer service department fell short of what it promised to deliver – instead issuing an unmoving response. The decision to add robots to the customer care team may be a step too far, and consequently have gone some way to damaging the brand image.

The major problem is the gulf between United Airlines’ promises of great customer care compared to the actual delivery of their service. If they truly promise to ‘provide great customer service’ then surely, they’d not have allowed this spell checking gaff, suggesting that his name is relatively similar to ‘Mr Human’, nor would they be so impersonal. The choice to not spell check, or even look over the response points to a lack of a strict external and internal communication policy.

With  little human intervention, what should have been a straightforward apology and correction has now been forgotten and escalated into a much bigger debacle, with the company being ridiculed for its inability to deal with a simple problem.

The idea of a customer services department reliant on its computers to confidentially deal with issues overshadows the original problems highlighted by the baiting reporter, but what’s more alarming is that Chmura has blown up a bigger problem, failure to successfully communicate with its customers in an appropriate and diligent demeanour.

Words are cheap and United Airlines has definitely proven that by saying “Mr Human, your email clearly expresses your disappointment and I would like to extend a sincere apology for any negative impression that may have been created.” How can a computer be sincere?

In all the communication error made by the airline points to a larger problem, and has gone some way to scarring the brand. If you’re going to make promises, make sure you keep them otherwise your brand will appear hollow.

That’s why a guarantee is so binding – a contractual promise that pays out if you fail to deliver rather than a few well meaning words and a discretionary compensation.

Where is the brand custodian at UA?  Why aren’t they putting up a stauncher defence?

Is this a world class company?

Chris Chmura isn’t the only angry felt passenger…

Will.i.am tweeted: @iamwill I’m flying to china and @united just gave my seats away…wtf

Robert from El Cajon, California: ‘The United flight #5422 was delayed when a crew member did not make it to work.’

Jeff of Tomball, Texas: ‘My mother-in-law who is 72 was supposed to have a direct flight with United Airlines leaving from Houston to San Francisco today. We get there. The flight’s been cancelled to 10am… So we wait till 10 then the flights cancelled to 1:15pm… the customer service is non-existent with this company.’

Would YOU trust to fly UA?

Social CRM, the way forward? By Simon Partington

The phrase ‘listening to your customers needs’ sounds like such a 1980s business cliché, albeit one that still rings true for any business. Keeping up with what your customers needs are, however, can be a tricky thing to do, especially in the digital world where information, attitudes and demands are carried so quickly via the web.

Historically, tried and tested methods such as surveys, focus groups and product testing panels were a great way of gauging customer sentiment towards your product or service. Unfortunately, these methods are also quite time consuming. Now I’m hesitant to suggest Social Media as a cure for all ills, but listening to what your customers might be saying about your brand on the social web is cheaper, far less time consuming and above all, deadly accurate.

It’s a generally accepted rule, for example, that twitter users should praise in public and rant in private. Look across the twittersphere and you’ll find many instances that break this rule, but in a lot of cases, it holds true. Ergo, if one of your customers is ranting about a bad encounter with your brand on twitter, they must be rather riled in the first place. Consider the information you now possess: you know the name of the customer, with contact details, the nature of their problem, perhaps when and where it occurred, and the perfect medium in which to engage with them, in many cases in near real time. Which other medium would give you this opportunity? To directly interact with your customers and turn brand aggressors into brand advocates on the head of a coin?

With traditional market research techniques, by the time you have found the dissatisfied customer, they’ve already made up their mind about your operation and told, on average, four others about their experience. Although a tweet goes much further than four people, so does your response: there’s nothing I like more than to see the walls broken down between a company and a consumer, and a problem resolved for all too see.
If you haven’t yet ventured on to the social web, what are you waiting for? Take a look at my previous post on social monitoring tools and start listening, you could revolutionise your CRM strategy…

BCU, Social Media and lots of Tea by Simon Partington

I was lucky enough to be invited to a great social media workshop recently hosted by a talented bunch of social media students at Birmingham City University. After an engaging talk from Birmingham blogger and Created in Birmingham proprietor Pete Ashton, we split into two groups and talked around the benefits social media offers to communities and organisations – allowing time for eager thumbs to live tweet, of course. Nicky Getgood, Alison Smith, Kate Huges, Pete Ashton and I worked with the groups for the afternoon.

Pete spoke about social media as ‘performance conversation’, an interesting comparison between social media and busy corridors and the way in which they connect people, and Twitter as a precursor for small talk at networking events. Most interestingly though, he touched on what it means to be interesting online. The secret, perhaps unsurprisingly, is to be interested in others. By showing your enthusiasm for something, your followers see where your interests lie and will be drawn to you, hence the significance of the humble retweet.

The hashtag for the day was #MTBworkshop, publicised solely though Twitter, with plenty of nice commenting and digital back patting going on there as a result. Looking through the #MTBworkshop tweet stream, I realised just how useful hashtags are.

The internet is a big place, and even though twitter is only a microcosm within the internet, it’s still incredibly easy to get lost among the deluge of tweets, links, images and audioboos. The beauty of hashtagging is that it helps to organise this information and give it relevance by placing it together in context, ironically in much the same way the internet itself brings together information. By bringing information together, hashtags are helping to make sense of twitter for many people that are new to the phenomenon.

All in all, the event got me thinking more deeply about the ever changing face of social media, and the way in which features such as hashtagging and retweeting are becoming the unsaid nuances in digital conversation. Much like face to face conversation, the trick is learning to use them properly.

Demos Kratos & power to the people by Simon Partington

I read an interesting article in today’s Times from Ali Campbell on election poster campaigns and was refreshingly surprised at his level of insight. ‘Here’s a seasoned political communicator with a handle on two way comms’, I thought, as I read his views on social networking and the power of digital conversation.

If ever there’s an example of socio-political chatter, it remains to be seen each Thursday night at around 10pm with the deluge of comment surrounding BBC’s Question Time. Even without following the #bbcqt hashtag, the sheer volume of people publicly airing their thoughts on Twitter in real time is astonishing, and doesn’t seem to let up week on week. People make up their minds about a person or notion very quickly, and a medium like Twitter offers the perfect arena to share this, whether good or bad.
If you still need convincing that social media has the power to influence, I heard a profound speech from an executive producer at Sky News recently, where he categorically said that his newsroom spends more time in Tweetdeck than on the newswires. Essentially, if you have a story to tell, Twitter could be your direct dial to the national news network and a captive audience.

Given this, party political campaigns would do well to embrace social media with open arms. As Ali Campbell so adequately put it, by the time people have climbed ladders to deface a political poster, people have already made up their minds online.


Groom updates Facebook status and becomes overnight sensation by Rebecca Sloan

A man who updated his Facebook status during his own wedding ceremony has caused controversy across the world. For many, the social media ‘prank’ was simply one step too far. But for others, the stunt generated the sort of free publicity many people only dream about.

Dana Hanna, the groom in question, runs internet business NextDayPets.com. Following the stunt, his Twitter feed was widely publicised, no doubt seeing a tremendous increase in traffic. Cunningly, the groom, who tweets under the name TheSoftwareJedi, has been able to make the most of the opportunity to expose his business to a whole new audience. A quick scroll through his recent news stories demonstrates that – he makes comment on several of the news stories which were run on him and also manages to sneak in the occasional ‘shameless plug’ about his business.

It’s an interesting case study in how quickly social media can help get your message into the world. It’s boomed in popularity across the world over recent years – and it’s not just a craze for students.

Nielsen Wire has cited that social media has overtaken porn and email as the number one reason why people go online in the first place. Furthermore Weber Shandwick has found that social media has become the most influential source in helping consumers make product decisions.

So, in many ways, whether the Facebook stunt was tacky or inspired is beside the point. For Dana Hanna, it’s made him, and his business, an overnight sensation.

Measuring reputation by Angela Podmore

02 Angela Podmore“Words are not enough,” warned Hilary Clinton at a press conference today. She spoke regarding Iran meeting its international obligations for its nuclear programme but her comment is equally valid for any organisation concerning reputation.

In the old business world, both business and individuals did get away with saying one thing and doing another. Not now. Reputations can be created or destroyed at the speed of light.

Defining reputation
“The result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you,” is the CIPR’s (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) pretty accurate description.

It’s professional, Warren Buffet, that man that outran the Dow Jones for over 40 years, Bill Gates’ ‘chessmate’ and the world’s greatest philanthropist says, “reputation takes years to build and can be wiped out overnight.”

So reputation is worth having and protecting – both personally and professionally. The knack is seeing ‘ourselves as others see us’ (the great Robert Burns). Well, thanks to modern technology, you can get an idea of how others see you to such an extent you can measure it.

The measures you use need to be tailored to the individual – person or organisation. Think of them as dials on an aircraft’s flightdeck. You can weigh the criteria – ie make some dials bigger than others.

You can measure quantities such as:

• Customer satisfaction/loyalty/spend/number of transactions
• Share of voice – press column inches, broadcast mins, website analytics
• Performance against industry benchmarks
• Team turnover
• Credit rating
• Share price
• Search engine optimisation
• Followers on Twitter• ‘Friends’ on Facebook • Balance sheet – eg years ago Heinz decided to add its brands to its balance sheet – in numbers – to reflect the investment in through the decades.

You can measure qualities such as:
• How customers value you
• Mystery shopper experiences
• Returns/quality indices
• Calibre of contacts on Linked In
• Your authority – blogging and other third party references/allegiances
• Team morale
• Resilience during troubled times

Why measure reputation?
Once you know where you are, you can test and measure ways to better build or protect it – ie you’ll see the dials move.

We’ve a few tried and tested, magic bullets to build reputation but the most powerful one is getting everyone facing in the same direction.

As Bill Gates said, “if I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on PR.”