Future Role of Social Media for Belgian Railway Company NMBS.

Unofficial Twitter Accounts NMBS demonstrate the need

Unofficial Twitter Accounts for NMBS demonstrate the need

As a result of my latest ‘interim project’, I’ve been travelling to Brussels by train every single day for about 3 months. The choice for taking the train is rather logic. Belgium is world-leader in ‘urban sprawl’. One cannot expect to reach Brussels easily by car. Hence the choice of taking a one-and-a-half hour train ride. And as railway services are still a public service in Belgium, all journeys are organized by the same company: NMBS.

NMBS is going through hard times these days. They cope with a genuine structural issue. Trains are cancelled and delayed daily. And what’s even more striking: customers are often not properly informed about cancellations and delays.

My three months proved enough to realize NMBS can’t undo all timetable issues. After all, much has to do with the inability to expand some key railway stations (like Brussels). There’s simply no room for growth anymore. It’s a mobility and infrastructure problem. Let’s leave that to spatial planners, shall we? Those same three months however also proved sufficient to see that the NMBS could do much more with regards to customer service. And that’s an issue marketers and business people can tackle without spatial planners. So here we go.

Social media can and should play a key role for customer service by railway companies like NMBS. But before we explain the future role of social media for the NMBS, let’s ask ourselves two simple questions:

  • Do our customers want support through social media?
  • Do we have employees willing to provide that service?
  • Need for customer service on social media?

    Customers definitely want to be informed about delays and cancellations through social media. After all those platforms allow to give real-time personalized information. What’s more: with the ever-increasing adoption of smartphones, most travellers are constantly connected while on the train.

    It’s very interesting to see the artefacts of this need: the numerous unofficial NMBS Twitter accounts. Those accounts are basically bottom-up initiatives by real travellers who do not work for the company but do engage with a community of ‘train travelers”. No way you can ignore the need if you look at those accounts.

    NMBS employees want to officialize their activities on social media - conversation on Twitter

    NMBS employees want to officialize their activities on social media - conversation on Twitter

    Do we have resources to provide customer service via social networks?

    Yes! The NMBS most definitely has those resources. The image on the right depicts an image of a Twitter conversation between NMBS employees and a traveler.

    The Dutch conversation states: “we are pleading for this service! Correct, fast and clear information”.

    The above sentence points to an interesting aspect. The NMBS employees are actually aware of the situation and want to help. On the other hand, the corporation, hasn’t set up official structures to manage this.

    So in fact, NMBS is in a very strong position. They have employees who love their job and organization and want to speak about it publicly on social networks. That’s something most companies can only dream about. NMBS should take advantage of this high level of employee engagement. They should stimulate the current people to grow and contribute to overall customer satisfaction.

    Why should NMBS empower all employees on social?
    First of all, it’s quite unthinkable that railway services will remain a public service. As Belgium is a part of the European Union who always favors liberal, free and open markets, one can expect future guidelines and/or demands to liberalize the railway services market. We’ve seen those demands before within other industries like Telco, Energy and Postal services. Those industries are now typically known for their fierce competition and new customer focus (vs. customer service to bring value). If NMBS manages to set-up customer service through social media, it will have a competitive edge in a deregulated market.

    But then again, the question remains the same: Will the liberalization result in on-time services and consequently improve the customer’s quality of life? Frankly I don’t know. One should ask an Englishman to know whether private railway services are better than public railway services.

    Second, because of my experience which made me happy and willing to travel with NMBS for future endeavours. The story is detailed below.

    Employee engagement - NMBS unofficially provides me Customer Service

    Employee engagement - NMBS unofficially provides me Customer Service

    My experience: train driver @RikiU2 helps me out

    December 14 2011. I had a rather intense day at work. I was incredibly looking forward to a lazy evening with my girlfriend while traveling home by train. When suddenly the train came to stop in the middle of nowhere. That sometimes happens, but this time it took a lot of time. After 15 minutes, my co-travelers started to get worried and frustrated. After all, they were once again to be later at home than foreseen and – what seemed even worse – there was no information whatsoever about why we did not continue our journey anymore. At one moment however, after about half an hour, the intercom of the train informed us about “a prior train in need will cause a delay of this trip”. Hooray! We were informed. Nobody, including myself, however knew what a “train in need” exactly was. It was some sort of tipping point for most of the travelers, including myself. It triggered me to shoot the question “what is a train in need?” on Twitter. It was more a helpless act than that I expected to have an answer to the question. Nothing was less true however. One clever train driver was at home and followed the #nmbs hashtag. As that hashtag was mentioned in my tweet, my demand came on the radar. I received an answer on my question and was consequently informed about the exact time delay, etc.

    Result: I could inform the people waiting for me, was happy again and was willing to continue traveling with NMBS in the future.

    What does all above teach us about the future role of social media for customer service?

    The above teaches us that social is truly a synonym for change. Things have changed and will continue to change. It would not be very intelligent to ‘ban’ social media platforms to employees. After all, they can act as a customer service representative or contribute to WOM advertising efforts, etc. For this reason companies should stimulate their employees to go online and speak in the name of the company. All companies should strive to realize this “superstar company state”. One great example of a superstar company is Dell – who transforms all employees into brand embassadors and certified customer service reps by providing them the necessary tools and training.

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Why Facebook wins the Social Network Battle. On Flirting, Sex, Porn and Mr Rogers.

Facebook social network

Facebook social network

Earlier this week I came across an interesting study on social media around the world. The presentation is packed with social media data but if you go through the slideshow, you note that the researchers basically conclude the following:

  • There’s one big Network: Facebook.
  • It’s flanked by a few smaller nonetheless successful players: Twitter, LinkedIn.
  • We must keep an eye on smaller, locally succesful players like Vkontakte in Russia and Eastern Europe or Hyves in the Netherlands.
  • In addition to the researchers findings, we want to point out that locally succesful social networks might be thriving these days, but the chances are high that they are to be beaten by Facebook – as happened in the Netherlands with Hyves. The below image shows the decline for Hyves in favor of the Facebook growth.
Facebook bigger than Hyves in the Netherlands.

Facebook bigger than Hyves in the Netherlands.

The research report makes a similar observation: “The Big will get bigger – The small will become smaller”. This doesn’t have to surprise you that much. It’s like with people: the rich get richer while the poor become more poor every day.

Big to be bigger, small to become even smaller.

The value of a social network can be determined by the size of that very network (user base). Now, as the study points out, Facebook is the only one that has an adoption rate higher than 25%. If we think about the mainstream social network battle, this theory suggestst there will be only one mainstream social network: Facebook. I’m so sorry for Google’s tremendous efforts.

Google intelligently trying to give you a hint about it social network Google Plus

Google intelligently trying to give you a hint about it social network Google Plus

Facebook & LinkedIn: why are they ‘big’?

When you’re dealing with the adoption of innovation, one needs to realize that adoption is a human personality trait. Some are early adopters, others are laggards – lacking behind in adoption for every single technological novelty. According to Mr Rogers innovations always diffuse according to this model.

Speaks for itself that this diffusion is boosted when the innovation is actually making life more comfortable, taking away a pain or getting things done faster. Ideally the innovation continues on the path paved by older media so to boost the adoption. Actually, those new media internalize the content of the old medium. This can be seen for instance in radio being “spoken news”; film being “theatrical”; websites being a “digital brochure or businesscard”; etc.

The question is: what pain does Facebook take away? Have we been on this planet for ages with a tremendous pain that is now suddenly being solved through Facebook? How were we able to life before? What pain does LinkedIn take away? How did we do business before?

Facebook and LinkedIn have clear goals

In the case of LinkedIn there’s the obvious advantage of being a functional, B2B platform. And yes, it takes a way some pains related to networking, human resources, etc. It’s a great addition to business.

However, when looking at Facebook, what things did it make easier? I agree, sharing videos, pictures and status updates is very easy to stay in touch with your globally dispersed friends. However, there are other platforms that offer the same function. So why did exactly Facebook win and no other social network allowing to fulfill the same need?

Well, I believe the answer is in the very fact that Facebook was build for the Flirt!

Flirting is the act of demonstrating playfulness, romanticism or sexual overture by one person to another so to subtly indicate an interest in a deeper relationship with that other person. If you have a closer look at the very origin, growth and current usage of Facebook, you might notice that almost everything might come down to facilitating flirts.

The Digital Flirt = Facebook’s Killer App.

Facebook was founded to find and connect with people based on their “face picture”. Facebook made it possible to see who your co-students are, what they are doing without actually engaging but deploy it to set up an offline flirt strategy or charm offensive. Furthermore, the evolution of the platform always favored this aspect. Private messages and IM are perfectly suited for the flirt. Just think about it.

Summarized: Facebook is build to support our natural drive to have sex, to flirt.

Twitter: a flirt challenger?

The report points out that Twitter is a growing challenger. However, it might never reach the popularity like Facebook. Having nothing but 140 chars (minus room for images, links, etc) makes it a lot harder to flirt. But it’s possible though.

But there are bigger opportunities with Twitter. Its difficulty though is that this social network requires the individual to define its own medium goal. Not every individual is able to do that. But for some the twitter goal is about flirting, for others it’s free texting, for others it’s a personal teacher, etc.

Why did I ramble on about that? Well, flirting is a precursor to sex (if you are lucky).
Sex is a rather important social driver.
And sex is closely linked to porn. And porn is important to frame innovations.
And the softie in me believes flirting could be as valid as porn to frame tech-human innovations.
But You should always keep an eye on porn when discussing innovative technology.

iPhone innovative technology diffusion without porn

iPhone innovative technology diffusion without porn

History has proven that porn and sex are often the key social driver behind the diffusion of innovation. Yes, it’s pretty strange that the iPhone was adopted so fast without supporting porn. But then again, the iPhone was adopted through a range of “taking pain away apps” to be easily installed through the app store. In the iPhone case, it’s not about the hardware but more the software ecosystem Apple cleverly set up. As might be clear, it’s not always about porn. But often enough it is.

Mr Rogers & The Adoption of Innovation

When we are talking about new communication technologies we often tend to focus on the technological aspects. It’s true that without the technology at stake, things wouldn’t be possible. But technology by itself doesn’t do a single thing as well.

To frame innovations, one needs to look at the social factors that determine whether a technology shall reach mainstream or not. Next to that, there’s always the economic reality check. Having an idea and a technology is one thing; to turn that into a viable business is a whole different story.

Specialist often point to so-called “Killer Applications” to explain the break-through. Well, in fact a killer application is an application of the technology that has social relevance. In the case of Facebook the social relevance is flirting. In the case of LinkedIn the social relevance is business networking. In the case of the VCR, it was porn.

Rogers Diffusion of Innovation

Rogers Diffusion of Innovation

The importance of porn in the VCR battle

The diffusion of the VCR was related to 2 phenomenons, to know TV viewing and Film. Especially the latter is important to understand why VHS tapes won the battle – even if they were in a technological sense a lot less powerful than their competitors at Betamax or V-2000.

  • First application: time-shift in TV watching: new medium takes content of the old. This boost adoption since people are used to the content.
  • Second application: Film. And here’s where porn comes into play. The Film Industry (A-movies, blockbusters) were not very willing to offer their movies through VCR tapes. On the other hand the “secundary” Film Industry (porn) were very willing to spread their videos via the new technology. As a result video rent stores popped up and mainly had videos with porn. Most of those were VHS (65%), then Betamax (25%) and finally V-2000 (10%). So this VHS technology concquerred the market while clearly not being the best technology. Porn won!
  • Flirting wins! That’s people, that’s mankind, that’s a monkey brain.

Who’ll beat Facebook?

In short term: nobody. Most people basically hate change. It seems mankind is born with a love for status quo. So why on earth would they want to change their social network? It has been a big thing already to just get on it. But the opportunities for the digital flirt eventually got everyone on board. Now that we’re all on it, who’s going to swop? Most of us aren’t. Most of us love status quo. Most of us hate change.

People don't like change in general.

People don't like change in general.

I’m sorry not to auto-follow back on Twitter. On Twitter goals.

Auto-Follow on Twitter

Auto-Follow on Twitter

Please follow me back. Erm, nope, sorry.

You probably noticed it: your Twitter follower counter goes nuts on a daily basis. It’s quite remarkable how this number fluctuates massively. I guess we should all be pretty glad that stock exchanges are more stable. But why is it then that this number is so damn fickle?

Twitter: getting followers

I know, you want followers. And that’s quite logic since it doesn’t make any sense to spread messages through-out the real-time web without any human being (nor animal I believe) ever noticing your efforts. I don’t want to provide tips or guidelines to get followers here. But I do want to break down at least one strategy.

Auto-follow people who follow you

I noticed some people just assume that you follow back when they follow you. I have some issues with this approach.
Yes, it’s friendly. Yes, it’s social. But does it add any value?

Alternatives to your Auto-Follow strategy

If you want to be followed I recommend deploying other strategies, like sharing and spreading compelling content. Use hashtags to broaden your range. Some people look for new Twitter accounts via keywords / hashtags. If you pop up there, you might get a chance of being noticed … and followed as a consequence.

Another approach could be to not just ask for “follow me back” but to surprise the account by mentioning him/her in a creative, funny or clever way. Tickle me through an @-mention and the odds of getting followed rise dramatically!

Why I don’t auto-follow back? My Twitter Goal

I look at Twitter as an infosphere that I put together myself. Twitter is as my home-cooked first-class private teacher in Business and Marketing. I put a lot of effort in finding the right people to educate me, to follow. What’s more, it took me about a year to create a satisfying infostream. Yes, Twitter is full of crap. Finding the right people isn’t easy.

Without being rude, just adding people as a friendly gesture because they follow me, would just break down all my previous efforts.

Am I just a bastard? Checking who follows you takes time

I might sound like a bastard to you now. You might think I don’t appreciate your following. But of course I do! And I don’t want to be a bastard. Sincerely, I’m not. I just have a Twitter goal.

From time to time, I go through my follower base and look for people to connect with. Speaks for itself that those people do make a chance to become an essential part of my “virtual MBA Professor”. However, this takes some time. So if you’re waiting for a follow-back, please note that this can take up to 2 or 3 months as from the day you connected with me.

Follow on Twitter

Follow on Twitter

How do you use Twitter? What’s your goal?

It’s completely legal to disagree on the above thoughts. But that’s just the way I use Twitter. If you want to label me as a selfish bastard for using Twitter in this manner, please do so. And if you want to hit the “unfollow button”, do as you please, that’s legal as well. What’s more, I once was the “King of follow and unfollowing”. After all, I had to cook that teacher I was envisioning.

So, that’s about it. Don’t hesitate to “Follow or UnFollow” me on Twitter.
But what would be more of my interest: What’s your Twitter goal?

Tweet Topic Explorer – infographic generator.

I recently came across a nice tool to generate infographics based on the topics you tweet about. Below is an infographic of what I tweet about. If you like the topics, why not connect with me on Twitter?

Tweet topic explorer - infographic

Tweet topic explorer - infographic

Citizen journalism & Citizen service: Twitter-interview Belgian Minister.

A couple of days ago, a Minister from the Kingdom of Belgium organized a Twitter-interview. The “event” was organized in cooperation with a newspaper. As a result, a lot of Q-A occurred between the Minister and officially registered journalists of a publishing group. We do understand this of course. However, the “Twitter-interview-experiment” could have meant the start of “Citizen Journalism” and “Citizen Service”. The first being a form of journalism that enables anyone to take part in the news-making process. The latter being an informative, collaborative and conversation platform for governmental organizations.

Citizen journalism: Twitter-interview with Minister of Belgium

Citizen journalism: Twitter-interview with Minister of Belgium

The rise of the internet and the advent of Citizen journalism

With the rise of the internet, journalism gradually changed. Anyone could create articles through blogs. Everybody could be a journalist. They just had to start a blog and write articles. Today, there’s something even more interesting: Twitter.

Twitter-interview Belgian Minister

The interview on December 9 demonstrated that in fact anyone with a Twitter-account could have interviewed the Minister. Anyone was able to ask questions. Everybody was an interviewer.

Citizen service: Twitter as a tool for governments?

The event did not guarantee your question to be answered. Should there be a dedicated governmental service to make sure all citizen questions are answered?

Can Twitter be a useful medium for this? Can governments deploy it to further bridge the gap with their citizens? Is it useful to inform citizens about new laws via a twitter feed? Would it be beneficial to build up conversations about essential social themes over Twitter? Could Twitter bring the government closer to the people? Could this result in happier citizens and an improved quality of life?

Understanding Dutch? Read the Twitter-interview here.

Most influential brands 2010 index: where are the FMCG giants?

We often wonder what the most influential corporations or brands in the world are. To answer this, we need to pass two challenges: how does one define and measure “the most influential”? We searched for a list that could express “most influential”. We believe we found one that expresses this concept: the Thought Leadership index of TLG.

Defining influential as “Thought Leadership”

With the expression “most influential brand” we mean those brands and corporations that have impact on “opinion formers”. Opinion formers are human beings that, through their own actions and attitudes, shape those of others. They reside within several areas, such as business, politics, media, etc. Those opinion leaders often base their opinion upon the expertise available through organizations. Those companies are conceived and labeled “thought leaders” within a specific industry/sector/subject. “Thought leadership” is often cited as a strategy to build trust in your company and products – which in turn leads to growth.

Thought Leadership companies according to TLG

Thought Leadership companies according to TLG

“Most influential brands 2010 index” aka “TLG’s Thought Leadership index 2010”

The TLG index lists the “Thought Leadership” top companies aka “the top influential brands”. We believe that the TLG index is based upon a valid method: in-depth conversations with opinion leaders. We don’t have information on who exactly were the “opinion formers”, so one could question whether researcher selected “genuine opinion formers”. Let’s assume they did and analyze the list.

List trends: no FMCG concerns & dominance of web-based corporations

Have a look at the list again. There’s not a sign of FMCG concerns such as Unilever, P&G or Nestlé. On the other hand, relatively new corporations with web-focus seem to dominate the list (Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon).

Do these FMCG groups realize they are not conceived (“decoded”) as thought leaders/influential? Do they need to deploy another communications (pr) strategy? Are they not striving for thought leadership? The latter is hard to believe. Let’s see whether they’re in the 2011 top list!

Innovate your twitter reading experience: paper.li

We stumbled upon a lovely and promising web app called “paper.li”. The app organizes twitter feeds into a newspaper-format. Shall publishers and marketing departments soon embrace this innovative technology? Or does the technology need to support multiple output formats before they do?

paper-li - create a newspaper of linked articles on Twitter feed

paper-li - create a newspaper of linked articles on Twitter feed

Your Twitter Feed as a Newspaper

The functionality and benefits of this web technology could not have been summarized better than by the organization that developed the tools. Here it is:

“paper.li organizes links shared on Twitter into an easy to read newspaper-style format. Newspapers can be created for any Twitter user, list or #tag. A great way to stay on top of all that is shared by the people you follow – even if you are not connected 24/7!” – source: paper.li

The Whispering_Web Daily

Of course we’ve been playing around with it and truly love it: great product.
Have a look at the Whispering Web Daily!

Output for other media?

How will the publishing industry and brands embrace this? Will it be a necessity for paper.li to generate an iPad compatible “website”? Will those groups ask for a different experience, such as presenting the stream in the format of a “leaf-through digital document”? Will traditional publishers feel the need to organize the stream in a printable document? Stated differently: is a truly personalized newspaper to become reality in this manner?

Just one more thing: developer of the app embraces Social CRM

As we are publishing this article, the application is being updated. We wonder what the new features will be. Looking forward to it.

But what’s at least equally important: SmallRivers – the app developer – not only builds innovative solutions. It also innovates its operations. In this respect, one could state that they strive to practice concepts as “Social CRM”, “BMI” and “enterprise 2.0”.

The update made clear that SmallRivers’ Customer Service deploys social media to inform their customers. In practice: twitter is used to inform them about the ongoing update. Just great!

Social CRM, one aspect for BMI and enterprise 2.0 (e2.0)?

Social CRM, one aspect for BMI and enterprise 2.0 (e2.0)?

Social CRM via Twitter - Enterprise 2.0

Social CRM via Twitter - Enterprise 2.0

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