Christmas; the wind up to a wind down

This year really has been one of monumental ups and downs. Everyone I bump into riding the lift up to the 30th floor has the shell-shocked, glazed over eyes of a survivor.

I’ve been reading with fascination Time magazine article “Decade from hell” with a fine twinge of regret, and awe. I think to look over the last 10 years is overwhelming, so I’m choosing now, in 2009, to hone in on the last year.

2009; A year where we finally saw the USA take on an Barack Obama, the first African American president, a year where the stockmarkets crashed below anything we’ve experienced before in history, and a year that saw “Black Saturday” shake Victorians to their core as quite possibly the worst ever natural disaster experienced in our country.

It’s also a year where news has spread faster, thicker, wider and deeper than ever before. Facebook surged to be more popular than Google in November. Twitter took the art of publishing down to 144 characters which impressed semi-literate celebrities to start playing, and soon a collaboration between Twitter and the iphone will allow the general public to turn their phone into a credit card reader.

What has astounded me more than anything is the sheer volume of people getting connected, using the web, and creating more intricate networks.Hitwise data shows “The traffic influence of the Top 100 Social Networks has grown 28.6% in the past year compared to Search
Engines increase of 6.1%, measured by the weekly upstream visits to All Categories (the week ending 17
October 2009 compared to the week ending 18 October 2008).

This is fairly monumental considering that only 3 years ago myspace was the king of the social network space, and now, it’s steadily on a decline as ‘social network’ of choice…

So what does this mean for someone like me, a web content manager of a corporate website? It means that we’ve got to pay attention and create conversations with our customers. We’ve had a “push- publishing” mentality for so long that I think it really takes a step back from the norm to listen and respond.

Today I was in an interesting meeting where we discussed the philosophy of giving a corporate website a ‘face’. I think previously this has been used as a branding terminology to “humanise” the public facing side of a corporate site….

Now though, more than ever, we dont need glossy pictures of  “Real people” on a static website.

We actually need to bite the bullet and put REAL people out there as the face of a corporation. Dont get me wrong, I dont think a ‘free-for-all’ would serve anyones purpose, but I do know that the absence of a healthy conversation in any relationship spells trouble…

Our customers want to talk to a real person. It’s strange seeing as over the last 5 years, IVR has become second-nature and self service websites are the norm. It still doesnt stop a disgruntled customer getting on facebook or twitter to gripe about poor service, shoddy products or the bad day they have had. The absence of acknowledgement allows the anger to grow and everyday people will inevitably question the brand and the positioning of the company.

In true “big brother” way, I know that most of the large banking, insurance, medical, energy and transport companies of Victoria are listening to these posts via social media monitors etc. But like all well-entrenched organisations, the risk of speaking out seems larger than the risk of silence.

The craziest thing though, is that each large corporation can count the “stars” they have, those little rays of light in a company that truly ‘get’ the offer, the product, the position, the company. It’s these people we need to harness, train up in web writing and let them go to it.

If I’ve learnt anything at all this year, it’s that after years of web trying to make things faster by removing obstacles, at the end of the day, a form is a form, but a real person on the end of a blog, a chat-room, or a forum is a powerful tool for showing that as a corporate organisation you are ready, you are available and you want to listen.

Published by Claire Spencer

Senior social media specialist combining mindfulness with content to build a better world.

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