July 29, 2014

Tweets Not All Sweet on Black Friday

santa online 2Social media has brought the customer experience more in-focus than ever before, and this became very apparent during the start of the 2010 holiday shopping season on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Consumers made their lists of who had the best deals, based on what they learned on Twitter and other sites. The brave ones, armed with their mobile phones, made the trek into the brick-and-mortar retail stores to fight the crowds for their coveted items.

Other customers started their own Cyber Monday on Black Friday and decided to stay home and shop online. Armed with their own lists, and easy access to their social networks, they shopped and Tweeted heavily on both days.

Tealeaf, using advanced sentiment analysis from Crimson Hexagon, took a look at the tweets which occurred between Black Friday and Cyber Monday about the online customer experience, and here is what they found:

  • Twitter conversations about online shopping increased 256 percent on Black Friday and 202 percent on Cyber Monday compared to a regular shopping day.
  • Shoppers were not shy about sharing their victories and failures as they strived to beat the in-store crowds.
  • 38% of customers were delighted with the online shopping experience.
  • However, nearly a quarter, 24%, of online shoppers cursed and complained their way through the process.
  • 50% of the frustrated shoppers tweeted about the specific issues they were having, such as website errors, out of stocks and other classic online customer struggles.

Here are some examples of the frustrated tweets:

· well, so much for THAT christmas present. couldn’t even figure out how to order. Thanks. *rolling eyes*.”

· Why doesn’t the website work!!!! Need to buy my ticket home. -___-

· I was going to go nuts buying lots of stuff on the website, but it’s been down all day – lots of angry comments on their facebook

· I tried! website won’t let me checkout! I keep hitting refresh!

· I would love to buy the album, but there are issues with the website

I spoke with Geoff Galat, VP of Worldwide Marketing for Tealeaf, to learn more about the social media report they conducted. Geoff shared with me that these numbers are similar to the percentage of customers that experience online shopping frustrations on non-holiday occasions; there were just a lot more of them over the last weekend. More importantly, we discussed how the expressed experience of online shoppers might affect the perceptions of others. In a previous customer survey, Tealeaf found that 51% of online shoppers said social media had influenced their online transactions. When they read a negative comment online, 74% of consumers said it influenced their likelihood to do business with that company; 56% said they would avoid a particular vendor after reading bad reviews. Yikes!

On the other hand, 52% of consumers said they would use a particular vendor after reading good reviews.

What is the key takeaway? Social media has made the consumer online shopping experience one that everyone shares, at least vicariously. The good, the bad, and the ugly are all out in the open for anyone to read – and it is impacting their perceptions and potentially their behaviors.

It is important for companies doing business online to take a closer look at their online experience – not just for purchasing, but across the entire customer lifecycle. Each of these little website experiences might not look like much to the enterprise, but when they add up over time and across many customers, they could result in “death by 1000 cuts” for the website, and for the customer base. Companies need to understand all aspects of their online customer experience, including how customers use the site as well as customer expectations (which could be set by other great websites!), in order to make sure they are delivering the best service to prospects and customers over the holidays – and every day.

What are you seeing happen in the online customer experience that is best – or worst – practice? Please share some thoughts in the comments.

To see the Tealeaf presentation of the report, go here.

(Photo credit: YanC)

Does Social Media Help or Hurt?

smile-keyJason Baer authored a thought-provoking blog post over at MarketingProfs Daily Fix blog. It puts forward the question of whether customers who are using social media are getting preferential treatment. Jason is a really smart guy, and he asks it this way:

“Are we inadvertently creating a Customer Chasm, where those who are socially media active are receiving preferential treatment compared to those who are not? And not just in customer service, but in customer acquisition too?”

 

He describes great customer service being given over Twitter as an example; if the customer experience in other channels isn’t as good as the Twitter channel, then there could be preferential treatment taking place (which could ultimately drive changes in behavior).  He suggests we should be thinking through how we use social media and whether we are intentionally giving this “better treatment” to customers. I highly suggest you go and read Jason’s entire post, as well as the discussion in the comments.

The Real Question

This conversation is right up my alley. Of course, I had to respond. Here is what I have put forward:

What we really should be asking is how we want to treat our customers overall. What is the customer strategy? Most companies don’t have one, so they use whatever is easiest and cheapest (read: most convenient for them) to interact with customers. Treating different customers differently is a great strategy, and one which we used with our clients when I worked for Peppers and Rogers Group (1 to 1 Marketing approach).

I applaud the customer interaction opportunities that social media brings to an organization. However, as I have said both in my blog and to my social media students, it is only one channel of interaction. Encouraging and rewarding customers to use a channel that is more cost efficient is a fine strategy – if that is indeed the strategy. If we are interacting with customers via social media just because it is the new, cool, hip thing to do, what will happen when something else comes along? Will we continue to keep up the social media interactions?

The real question to ask is where our customers want to interact with us. Listen, then use those channels to reward them for their business and for referrals. Thank them for being a part of your organization. Intentionally create a rockin’ customer experience. When we do this, whether those interactions were by phone, mail, or online, the word of mouth will spread!

Help or Harm?

Now to you, my readers. What do you think? Is social media indeed creating a “customer chasm” as Jason suggests? Should customers interacting via social media channels get a different experience?  Please tell us your thoughts, as well as your experiences, by leaving a comment below.

(Image credit: photoauris)

Re-Focus on Customer Service

sunflowerguy-3With so much focus on the economy, the stimulus package, and corporations, it is prudent to spend some time re-focusing on what can make a difference to every organization: customer service.  Whether you have clients, customers, donors, constituents, readers, viewers, or subscribers, it is critical to let customers know they are important to you each step of the way – especially when times are tough.  Social media can help make that even easier!

One of the students in the UCSD class I teach, Marketing via New Media, works for a company that sells flowers, Dos Gringos/Sunflower Guy. They sell flowers to businesses as well as to consumers. In my class, we talk about using social media to market your business, including blogs, social networks, communities, even Twitter. After class one night, my student Joan asked me what to do with a new-found raving fan. I suggested that Joan’s company should reach out to that fan and thank them for their support. Well, they did so via Twitter, among other things, with great results! I found out about this via this email from Joan:

“Hi Becky,
Please see below.  You will recall I asked you in class what to do with
a new-found raving fan.  We tweeted back to her and sent her flowers.  I
thought you would be pleased to see what she wrote.  You helped make
this possible.

Sincerely, Joan”

Sending Smiles

It all started when this recipient of the flowers/new raving fan was so pleased with her sunflower bouquet, she tweeted about it (her Twitter handle is @thatspeaker). SunflowerGuy was listening for customer input via social media and saw her Tweet. Via their own Twitter handle (@sunflowerguy), they responded, saying ,”@thatspeaker so glad you liked your Valentines Day sunshine!!!”

Sunflower Guy then proceeded to thank her by sending a surprise bouquet!

This was indeed a surprise, and their new raving fan decided to blog about her experience via her own blog. Her post, Great Customer Service – Using Twitter! shared the story of the receipt of her bouquet from her husband, the great customer service from Sunflower Guy when they called her husband to make sure the delivery went well, then the surprise bouquet arriving a little while later.

Sunshine – and Results

As a result of the post and the tweets from this happy customer, SunflowerGuy has gained at least two new customers (see comments on above post) as well as new followers on Twitter. In fact, SunflowerGuy has only posted 22 tweets but already has over 900 followers (great job to Internet Marketing Inc., their partner on this). Clearly, their new service is striking a chord with consumers who want to do business with a company that cares about people.

Dos Gringos/Sunflower Guy is doing a great job listening to customer conversations via social media, then responding to them via social media as well as via offline methods (sending the bouquet). You guys rock!

I will share more about this company soon with a summary of an interview I held with the company’s CEO, Jason Levin, and their focus on the customer.

Using Social Media for Customer Loyalty, Part 2

Part 1 of this series discussed two of the top reasons for using social media to build stronger customer relationships.  Part 2a today discusses another reason to use social media for customer loyalty: customer service. Part 3 will discuss steps to take in order to get started.

Recently at my panel Creating Customer Loyalty with Social Media at BlogWorld, much of our conversation revolved around the topic of customer service.  Two of our panelists, Tony Hsieh from Zappos.com and Frank Eliason from Comcast, talked in depth about using Twitter to reach out to existing customers in various ways. Twitter allows for real-time, ongoing two-way conversations, and both of these companies are creating those with their customers. (To learn more about Twitter, check out this quick overview, Twitter in Plain English, from the CommonCraft Show.)

Zappos.com

The culture at Zappos.com is very people-focused and empowers employees.  Zappos.com has many of their employees Twittering; 448 to be exact!  You can track their tweets via this microsite, where you can also track mentions of Zappos.com and some of the brands they carry.  Using Twitter is encouraged as a great way to stay transparent and authentic with customers.  Tony is their CEO, and he leads the way by tweeting about his travels, tours he gives of the Zappos.com headquarters, requests for feedback from customers, and contests he runs.  Customers even make suggestions via Twitter, the most recent of which was to list a short url on each product page that can be easily cut and pasted into blogs, email, Twitter, etc. so they can be shared with others (it is called zapp.me).  Tony has over 13,000 people following his Tweets to get this kind of information.

Customers Rock! take on Zappos.com and Twitter: Zappos customers are extremely loyal to the company for several reasons: great customer service, an easy return policy (free shipping on returns!), and employees that care.  Social Media at Zappos.com, including Twitter and their blogs, has been a great way to put a face on the company, make them feel approachable, get instant customer feedback, and create a two-way dialog that builds customer relationships.  Zappos is truly a Customers Rock! company.

Come back for Part 2b of this series to hear Comcast’s story!

Monday Musings: Video, News, and a Question

Today’s post has my first video with my new, fun video camera the Flip Minoin addition to some news to share and a question for my smart readers (that’s you!).  Speaking of Flip, welcome to new readers who have come over from Jim Kukral’s blog (he does a show called The Daily Flip), where he did a podcast interview with me called Do You Have Happy Customers?  If you like what you read here at Customers Rock!, please subscribe to my blog.  Thanks!  Now, on with today’s post.

 

Customer Engagement at FreshBooks

A while back, I wrote about how FreshBooks was engaging customers by taking a roadtrip to a conference in an RV. Along the way, they stopped and had breakfast, lunch, and dinner with their customers.  Very cool.  I was thrilled to be invited to one of their customer dinners when they made a recent stop here in San Diego, CA.  Saul sent me an email and asked if I could join them (I am a FreshBooks customer, too!).  We had a wonderful meal at Buca di Beppo, which serves Italian food family-style on big platters for sharing.  A perfect venue for customers to come together, break bread, and get to know each other.  We swapped stories about our business, about the San Diego economy, and about our new friends at FreshBooks.

The dinner attendees were kind enough to let me take a very short video with my cool new tiny camera (it is smaller than my Blackberry!) around the table, just so you, my readers, could get a feel for this group.  One customer, a friend of mine, was a little shy with the first pass, but he was willing to show his face moments later (see photo above). 

It was a very fun dinner, and I left with both an appreciation for what FreshBooks is doing to engage customers as well as some new friends.

Leave me a comment and let me know what you think about the video!  The Flip Minois really easy to use, and I think the resolution is pretty good (I promise, my videography skills will improve…).

News: Cool Customer Engagement Event

If you live on the East Coast, or want to head out there in November, you should check out the upcoming Customer Engagement and Loyalty Summit in Miami.  It is taking place November 17-19 and is focused on taking you beyond creating customer loyalty programs to helping you build customer strategies.  Sessions include looking at customer experience in a low-cost environment (Alaska Airlines), learning how Word of Mouth and WOW service go together (Zappos.com), and a panel on quantifying the benefits of customer loyalty to your CFO (lead by Best Buy).  It looks to be a great event.  Readers of my blog can get a 2 for 1 discount if they mention this code: IUS_CR_001.  If you go, let me know what you think of the event.  It sounds great!

Question: Blogging and Customer Service

My good friend Mack Collier asked a great question on Twitter the other day, and I told him I would re-post it here (as so many of you are focused on customer service). Mack is looking for examples of companies that are using their blog for customer service.  I can think of companies that try to share best practices about using their product in their blog, such as ConstantContact, and also companies that answer frequently asked questions via their blog, such as Sony Playstation’s blog.  If your company is doing this, or if you have seen a good example, please send me email to becky at petraconsultinggroup dot com or leave a comment here at Customers Rock!  I will share all the responses I get and link to you, too!  Thanks for your help!

(Photo credits: B. Carroll, piksel)

Where are Your Sales and Marketing Efforts Focused?

I was recently reading an annual report for a successful company, and, as always, I looked at the words used about customers.  Some reports are only about a company’s internal products, services, and processes.  They may even include awards the company has won in the past year, in addition to all the necessary financial information.

A Customer Focus

In this report, I looked for more.  Specifically, I looked to see how much customer focus there was in the report.  As a company providing services, their business depends on building strong client relationships.  This is reflected throughout their report!  

On each page where they showcased big wins or achievements in certain industries, there was also a story about rapport with clients and trusted advisor relationships.  These relationships, as it is told, were key to cementing ongoing business with existing clients.  The proactive nature of the client managers was apparent in other stories shared about resolving problems before they became big issues.  On another page, they shared a client success about one who moved on to another job but was anxious to keep the relationships going by doing business with the same people they had been working with for years. 

Strong Relationships

These strong client-company relationships are the foundation of the success of this business.  The annual report is written in such a way as to bring out this focus and showcase it as a competitive differentiator.   These types of client relationships definitely help to create a barrier to exit for the company.  The only improvement I would love to see in these reports is to start indicating the existing customer base as an asset to be measured!  (For more on this concept, see the book Return on Customerby Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, PhD.)

So Where are Your Sales and Marketing Efforts Focused?

When I do speaking events, I have quite a number of people come up afterwards to say they realized they have left the nurture of their existing customers to chance.  They have been so busy going after new customers, they have left the “old” ones to their own devices!  Unfortunately, in this difficult economy, this is often the case.  I just saw a Tweet (that is the term Twitter uses for a message) from Eric Brown, founder of Urbane Apartments (who is also a frequent commenter here at Customers Rock! – thanks, Eric!!).  Here is what he indicated in his 140 characters:

“Six of our eight stabilized properties are 100% leased! We are NOT participating in a poor economy”

I Tweeted back that I was not surprised by this as Eric and his company have a very strong customer focus!  You can see for yourself here on his website and blog; additionally, Eric will be guest posting for us soon and will share his story.  For Eric and Urbane Apartments, Customers Rock!

4 Key Questions to Improve Your Focus

You can bolster business by expanding sales and marketing focus to include existing customers.  In order to do so, there are some critical questions that each business should ask themselves.  I have listed the top 4 as follows:

  1. How many customers did we keep from last year?  Do you know?  Many businesses find that they are good at tracking new customers but lose track of those that slip out the back.
  2. Why did we lose customers?  Ideally, this analysis is done each time a customer leaves.  At that very moment, you need to reach out to them and find out what went wrong.  If you do this religiously, it is possible to salvage some of these valuable relationships.
  3. Why do our best customers keep doing business with us?  Ask them!  Find out whether it is your offerings, your service, your people, or all of the above.  It will help you prioritize where to focus for improvement, as well as understand which things to keep on doing.  It may also highlight potential areas of concern for certain clients.
  4. How many of our retained customers can help us sell more?  Customers can do this for us in many ways: buying additional products or services themselves, specifically referring us to others, and sharing great testimonials about us.  When is the last time you asked a customer for a testimonial?  Make it a regular part of the way you do business!

Do you have other key questions that you use to evaluate and grow your repeat business?  What have I left out?

Winning the Game

Your existing customers want to be loyal to you.  They want to be recognized and thanked for their business.  When a business creates a proactive customer strategy to retain and grow their current customers, everyone wins.  Customers feel appreciated and, in turn, buy more and refer you to others.  The company grows their business with fewer resources.  Sounds like a great way to beat the current economic woes!

(Image credit: olivier26)

Social Media and BlogWorld: Here We Come!

In one month, the 2008 BlogWorld conference will be taking place in Las Vegas, NV, and I was chosen to moderate a panel this year!  In case you aren’t familiar with it, BlogWorld is billed as the world’s largest blogging conference and tradeshow.  The way I look at it, it is a great place to come and learn about social media, as many of the sessions go beyond blogging into video, social networking, Twitter, and podcasting.

As for my panel, the title is Creating Customer Loyalty with Social Media.  Here is the abstract:

One of the keys to rockin’ customer retention and loyalty is customer engagement. This session shares some of the best practices in combining social media with customer retention programs, an area relatively unexplored by many companies and social media discussions. Social media provides the ideal channel from which to learn about and interact with customers, both commercial and consumer. It is also a great mechanism for deepening customer relationships and empowering customers to become a company’s best advocates. These two areas are especially important to businesses that want to break-through the noise and grow in spite of difficult economic times. Through the use of blogs, video, social networks, and wikis, executing customer retention programs can be cool again!

My Fabulous Panelists

I am so excited to have some great people on my panel.  I have two outstanding bloggers, Toby Bloomberg and Brian Solis, who will be sharing their perspectives on how companies are using social media to better serve their customers and build relationships.  I also have two brilliant minds from the corporate world, Tony Hsieh of Zappos.com (based in Las Vegas) and Frank Eliason of Comcast.  Both of them are leading their companies with new ways of using social media to get closer to their customers, including use of Twitter.  Expect to see a lively conversation taking place!

Learn About Social Media

Come and meet us in Las Vegas for BlogWorld.  You can use the link in my right sidebar or at the end of my post to save 20% off the price of registration with a special discount code BCYV1PLL (be sure to type this exactly; it is case sensitive) for the first 50 of my readers who sign up before September 1. (And yes, that is an affiliate link – my first foray into this area!)  If you are planning to come, or if you are already signed up, leave me a comment.  Maybe we can do a Customers Rock! meet-up!

Sign up now for BlogWorldExpo 2008

Teaching Social Media

As the astute reader will have noticed, I recently began teaching at University of California San Diego Extension.  I am teaching the class Marketing via New Media.  So far, it is very interesting to hear what the students think about social media, how they view it with a fresh set of eyes, and what the perspective is around the world (several of the students are international).  

In the first class, we discussed what social media is, what it could mean to companies, and what the potential pitfalls could be.  We have had some great debates in class, and through the assignments, about what social media can, and cannot, accomplish.

I decided to start up another blog, Teaching Social Media, to chronicle the experience of teaching this class, in the hopes that others who also teach could learn something from my journey.  I am also using the new blog as a method to communicate with my students, and they with me.  For example, I gave them a homework assignment to create a blog, and I am including their student blogs in my blogroll at the new blog.

I am still going to continue with Customers Rock!, so don’t worry.  There will just be another place to find me if you want to hear more about social media from the student (and teacher) perspective.  Come check it out!

On another note, I have joined Plurk.  Here is my Plurk, and here is my Twitter (for those who prefer the latter).

(Photo credit:kjpargeter)

FreshBooks Rocks: Getting Personal with Customers

wagon.png One of the best ways to get to know your customers is to spend time with them face-to-face.  This method of doing business is a hallmark of a Customers Rock! company and is usually supplemented with other types of customer conversation, including traditional and social media marketing.  For FreshBooks, based in Toronto, Canada, this is not an unusual way to do business – it is business as usual!

Unique Customer Outreach

FreshBooks provides online invoicing and time-tracking for service professionals.  I had the chance to speak with CEO Mike McDerment, and he shared with me his story about their unique and effective customer outreach campaign.  Mike and a few other folks from FreshBooks were attending two different conferences here in the USA last month, including speaking at this year’s SXSW conference in Austin, Texas.  Coming from Toronto, the easiest way to get there would have been to fly – but not for this team.  They decided to take the fun path and rent an RV (see photo above), meeting and talking with customers along the way!  By the end of their Roadburn roadtrip, Mike and his employees Saul (who put the trip together) and Sunir (marketing and community development) had 11 meals over a period of 4 days, meeting with more than 100 customers over breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  The Roadburn blog above chronicles the trip, and several customers came out to it, requesting stops in their towns.

vinyl_rev01.png This was not a product roadshow.  This was a listening tour.  Mike and his team didn’t lead the conversations at all.  They merely asked a few simple questions to get them started, such as, “Hey, how are you?  What do you do?”  Rather than peppering their customers with questions, they encouraged the customers to network with each other.  By the end of these meals, many of these customers were swapping business cards and planning to do business with each other.  According to Mike, the result was “almost a mini eco-system!”  Listening in this type of environment provides fresh (get it?) customer insights that you can’t get on a survey!

I loved the way the FreshBooks team described the intent of the road trip on their site:

“The FreshBooks RoadBurn may seem like a stunt or a marketing ploy but in reality it is pretty much what FreshBooks is all about….listening to it’s beautiful customer base and getting to know them on a level that other companies wouldn’t make the effort to do so.”

Getting to Know You

FreshBooks wants to get to know customers and wants to be easy to talk to as well.  They have actually been holding these “customer meals” for about four years now.  According to Mike, every time he goes to a city he gets a list of FreshBooks customers in that city, and he invites them out for dinner to see what is going on with their business.  As you can imagine, this is pretty effective for building customer relationships, as well as for great word-of-mouth.  Mike says,

“We are conscious that there is always someone on the other end of the computer screen who is using our products.  We keep asking ourselves, how can we get closer to our customers?”

FreshBooks does it not only with face-to-face meetings, but they believe that social media really helps, too.  First of all, there is their blog, FreshThinking.  FreshBooks uses it as a way to communicate updates to their customers, as well as business tips and other tidbits.  It must be working – the blog regularly gets comments and has over 1100 readers (per Feedburner).  In addition, FreshBooks is a big fan of Twitter.  They twittered the road trip as they went across the country; Mike described it as “random and quirky” writings.  They Twitter from inside of FreshBooks as well to share with customers what is going on at the company.  It is also part of their customer support mix.  For example, the aforementioned Saul, at home on a weekday evening, sees someone using Twitter to ask how to do something in FreshBooks, and he replies and gives the answer. 

Good customer service, right?  Yes.  FreshBooks is paying attention to customer conversation and helping where needed.  Per Mike, “…we are not instigating these conversations; rather, we are being where they are.”

Caring – A Core Value

Customers are embedded in the corporate culture at FreshBooks; it is in their DNA.  Mike supports this in a few ways.  One, he hires for fit.  He describes this as hiring people who feel good about helping people out.  In addition, everyone at FreshBooks does a rotation into customer support.  This gives all employees the opportunity to hear from customers directly and to understand their pain points.

Mike says one of their core values is caring.  As CEO, Mike is always taking care of employees, making sure they have what they need for their jobs as well as looking out for their happiness and health.  Here is his formula for success:

Take care of staff –> Staff takes care of customers –> Customers take care of referrals

This works!  From customer satisfaction surveys last year, FreshBooks had a customer referral rate of 98%.  This year, the rate went up to 99%!  This rocks.  Per Mike: “There is really nothing better.  Happy customers are a great pool of positive WOM.”

I couldn’t have said it better, Mike.  FreshBooks rocks!

Social Media and Customer Retention

ducks.jpg There is a lot of conversation going on about social media.  Companies are asking questions – should I create a corporate blog?  What can I do to get more people to our MySpace/Facebook page?  What works, and what doesn’t?

Matt Dickman has a great post on how to use social media in customer service using Twitter.   I met someone from Twitter at the Customer Service is the New Marketing conference last week, and many companies are starting to use it in their customer service.  Here is the overview of Matt’s take on it for anyone considering the use of this tool:

“Twitter is the ultimate customer service tool. It’s live, instantaneous, community driven, open, two-way and multi-way, unfiltered and predictive. This is, however, only for the most advanced, customer-forward companies to attempt to use. You definitely need a black belt in customer service ninja techniques to do this well.”

Should companies use social media as a marketing tool for customers?  Greg Verdino, in his blog post called “Is your brand a social media loozr?”, shares an insightful quote from Seana Mulcahy

“Social media marketing is not just throwing up a page on MySpace, Facebook or any other social media site for that matter. You’ve seen some of the biggest U.S. agencies do that for their clients over the past year or so. These folks have patted themselves on the back for being trailblazers.

Newsflash: That is not trailblazing, that is ignorant.”

Like Greg, I have also long stated that social media should be one more way in which a company reaches out to engage with its customers.  It should not necessarily replace current communication channels, but it should be incorporated into them based on how your customers like to respond.  If they are online a lot, social media might be a good way to interact with them, especially if they are already using it in their personal lives.  How do you know?  Ask them! 

Have Any Good Examples?

Along those lines, I am asking you, my readers, for some input.  I am preparing a talk (unpaid) for my local chapter of the DMA, and I am looking for some examples of companies who have successfully used social media/marketing techniques to keep customers engaged.  I would like to know the name of the company, whether it’s customers are businesses or consumers, a link or screenshot of the social media used, and how it is helping customer retention.  If you are a customer of a company who does a great job with this, or a company that is seeing good results, please either email me, becky at petraconsultinggroup.com, or leave me a comment on this post.

Thanks – I will report back what I find out to all of you!

(Photo credit: duck to duck to duck… originally uploaded by A Different Perspective)

San Diego Firestorm and Communications

sd-fire-2.jpg (flickr photo: prgibbs)

We are in part of the area of San Diego that was evacuated this week.  We packed our cars on Monday night and got out!  Fortunately, winds in our area have died down significantly, and we were allowed to return home last night.  Thank you to those who have emailed me to see how we are doing (email has been my primary method of communication)!  Things are calm now, and there is no longer ash raining down on our house.  We are praying that things stay the way they are now.

Having been evacuated, I have been very frustrated with most of the traditional media.  I realize they are trying to do their best, but they are not really set up to give updated, detailed information.  The county’s websites were not up to date (or even up) a lot of the time.  The best information came from blogs, radio, and the county’s 211 service.

I did find some great citizen reporting that helped get me through when I was out of my home!  Blogs were set up fairly quickly as of Monday, and this was the only place I was really able to find detailed information about my neighborhood.  In fact, this fire blog from SignOnSanDiego, which is an online newspaper, has been fabulous!  Local people from my area were able to report in, and those of us moved out of the area, as well as those with loved ones in the area, were able to get much needed information.  Nearly 200 comments in the last day helped ease the lack of information from the news networks.  Here is a quote from one of the readers responding to another commenter who had (anonymously) plugged traditional media:

Nice plug for cbs news, anonymous. tell your employers that they don’t hold a candle to the people on this website who are armed with nothing more than an automobile and a laptop yet seem to know much more of what’s happening than your paid reporters.Also, you might want to tell your producers to put maps with highlighted areas on the screen when showing the fires raging so that the viewers knows what the hell they are looking at.

Of course, the reporters have been doing the job they were told to do, but it really didn’t help us local folk.  What I needed to have answered were these questions:

  • Where is the fire line now?
  • Where exactly are the evacuation areas?
  • When can I come home?

I received much more information from a mix of radio and social media.  KPBS.org is a great source, with links to Google fire maps with great overlays, as well as real-time updates which are actually Twitter updates!  Well done, KPBS!  What a great idea, as Twitter is a quick way to get the word out.  Another great radio station has been AM 600 KOGO in San Diego, where citizens have been calling in to share information about flames, roads, and evacuation centers.  Thanks, KOGO!  Another local citizen started a Facebook group, but I think it came a little late in the day so wasn’t really used.  Thanks, Heather.

Finally, the county’s 211 service was great.  This is a number for locals to call for non-emergency information about the fires.  Although close to 500,000 people were evacuated over the last two days, when I called 211, I was only on hold for about 3 minutes!  There were always estimated wait times given, and the person I spoke with was very friendly and ready to answer any questions I had (mine were about evacuation areas).    I felt like I had a personal assistant ready to look at fire information on my behalf.  The county was continuing to staff up this line and had added more volunteer personnel to take calls.  Great customer service!  Thanks, guys!

There are also lots of pictures on flickr, with a San Diego Fire Pool started.  They have mapped many of the photos so people know what is happening in their neighborhood.  Thanks to Vince for helping with this.

Overall, this fire is still not over.  There are many areas that are continuing to burn, and my sympathies go out to those still out of their homes. Hopefully, some of you can try the above resources.  The volunteer efforts here in San Diego county have been incredible.  What a fabulous group of people who have been generous with their time and donations!  Thank you mostly goes out to the many brave firefighters, military personnel, and other people who have been fighting this fire and trying to save our homes.  You are amazing.

New media is changing the way communication takes place, and it is especially effective in an emergency.  Traditional media, listen up.  Get with the program.  There is a better way!