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This post refers back to Are You Really Satisfying Your Customers, written by Scott Monty, at his Social Media Marketing Blog. Scott is the head of social media for Ford Motor Company.

Scott’s point is that as it becomes harder for consumers to distinguish one company’s offerings from another, customer service is one (remaining) way to create greater value and gain competitive advantage. And social media channels, particularly Twitter, are well suited to help companies do this. He cites these three examples from Comcast, Best Buy and Zappos.

What do you think? Is the situation among health brands any different? What organizations are providing superior customer service experiences? And which are doing the best job of integrating social media into their efforts?

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This is the first of many “Insider Insights” posts. Once a month, I’ll be featuring the personal perspective of a health brand CEO, senior marketer, digital or social media expert. I’m pleased to have Ed Bennett as our first participant. Ed is Director, Web Strategy at University of Maryland Medical System.

Each of these guests will address the same four questions, so that we’ll build a wealth of perspectives and knowledge around these four issues. Here’s what Ed has to say about the future of health brands and social media:

1. The organizations and brands that will thrive in the future are those that
quickly adapt to new customer expectations. An entire generation is comfortable with Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Their expectation is to have direct, honest and rapid interactions with the brands they use. PR speak, and legalese will marginalize organizations, but authentic conversations will build customer loyalty and positive Word of Mouth.

2. Specific to social media, how has it impacted the way your organization conducts business? Healthcare, and hospitals in particular are very conservative. So far, most of these tools are seen as an extension of current practices, not as a new way to do business. We are seeing these services used to post news and events information, educational resources, and to re-purpose content like video. There is also some brand monitoring and service recovery going on, but it is not yet integrated into the basic business process.

3. What are the key challenges your organization is grappling with as it considers participation?

There are two major challenges:

A. Fear of HIPAA hold many healthcare organizations back. With no clear guidelines on what is allowed, hospitals in general are waiting on the sidelines. Out of the 5,000 US hospitals, only 360 are doing anything.

B. The other challenge is that IT departments in many hospitals block social media sites. Many times, work on them has to be done from home in the evening and weekends.

4. What are your top lessons learned for implementing a social media strategy?

You should start small, and only begin what you can maintain. Look to your internal experts, the people who use these tools in their personal life. They can see the benefits, and can be a great resource for your organization.

Consult with your legal team & create policies. There are two areas that need to be addressed: External comments / participation and Employee guidelines.

Be able to respond quickly – this is no place for a four-day multi-person review process.

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In the midst of a normal day of emails, phone calls, meetings, reports, and water cooler, Twitter and Facebook conversations, there’s not much time left for seeing things differently.

But the most successful companies do just that. They see what others don’t. They see a bigger picture, and thereby are able to think and do different things. They challenge conventions, connect the unconnected, see more opportunities to exploit, more ways to be different and more sources of future profit.

Here’s a chart we call our playbook for seeing what others don’t. We created it to help us deliver more innovative ideas to our clients. Everyone in our company has it taped on their walls, and some even have them in handy travel (business card) size.

Use this chart to help you see what others don’t. But please note that these are simply starting points for changing how you see your world differently. For each of these “transformational vision” sparks, there are supportive tools and inspiration sources for creating new and greater value.

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Best Buy is leveraging the power of social media by reaching out to both customers and employees to co-create greater and new value for themselves and the organization.

They’re asking customers to help change the company. Through their site, customers are asked to share ideas, vote for the ones they like and discuss them with the rest of the community.

They’re also asking employees to contribute their “unedited” perspectives through Connected – a new way for people to engage with the actual folks who power Best Buy. Kudos to the company for having the courage and confidence to publish these unedited comments.

What can health companies learn from Best Buy’s social media practices:

• customers are eager to share their opinions, you just need to ask and give them a forum to do so
• these crowdsourcing opinions represent a great pipeline to innovative new products, services and experiences
• business success starts with happy, energized and engaged employees, who believe they are important to the success of their organization (asking them to contribute their “unedited” stories certainly supports this)
• for leadership to encourage employees to share their views for all to see, means more enthusiasm, commitment and passion to contribute to the greater good (and increased profits)
• continuing to drive one-way conversations puts your relevancy at risk, as your competitors are actively and openly engaging their customers and employees in a continuous cycle of co-creating greater and new value

Hellohealth, Humana (through crumpleitup) and Vitaminwater (through its Facebook flavorcreator) are a few companies openly engaging audiences to co-create greater and new value. What others can you think of?

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Four Mistakes You Could Make In Social Media is a pretty timely post from Edward Boches of Mullen, on his creativity_unbound blog. I read this post yesterday following a meeting with one of our health clients who is introducing a new anti-aging skincare brand.

The post is particularly relevant as we’re launching this new brand exclusively through a combination of digital and social media. This is the first time this client has embarked on a social media effort, and we were talking about the do’s and don’ts of being social.

According to Edward, the four kinds of mistakes brands make are:
• not responding fast enough
• promoting yourself before you have engaged
• neglecting to be transparent
• choosing not to be in social media at all

I’d add the following to this list:
• not appreciating the time investment required
• not recognizing that social media is an organization-wide effort
• beginning without goals or strategies in mind
• and beginning without any measures of success in mind
• not knowing your audiences interests and motivations
• not understanding that social is just one element of the communications mix

What do you think? Are there other points that should be on this list?

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Here’s outside category inspiration for how health brand marketers can see things differently, and thereby think and do different things. In this case, the payoff is an expanded audience base by standing out in the “supposed” strategic group this organization plays in.

As noted on Springwise, London’s Royal Opera House is teaming with Twitter to crowdsource the libretto for a new “people’s opera.” The libretto will consist entirely of 140-character tweets that the ROH has received from members of the public since the project was launched. It will be set to original music composed by Helen Porter, along with some more familiar classics.

How can you creatively use the power of Twitter and crowdsourcing to co-create new value through your audiences?

Read more about this effort on their website and on Twitter.

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How do we align the customer experience with social media?

This was the main topic of discussion in our client meeting the other day. With so much emphasis being placed on integrating social media into the marketing mix, this was a conversation about its impact on the total customer experience.

Given this perspective, many conversations about social media start too far downstream. First, even those that begin with objectives, audiences and strategies often bypass the fact that effective brand management is an organization-wide endeavor.

What this means is that all internal stakeholders across business functions need to play together on the same team, as audiences who are tweeting, posting, updating and uploading don’t care much about individual silo practices. And this means that an effective social media program must be “socialized” across the organization, as all disciplines must work together to deliver the brand promise. And delivering this promise depends on having the processes and systems in place to enable this to happen.

So how will your organization align the real-world customer experience with social media:

• how should you/will you respond to customer’s real-time questions, comments or concerns?
• which conversations are more important to business and relationships, and how do you know?
• how will you empower your customers so that they become an extension of your marketing and your sales force, and add value back to your brand?

These are a few of the questions we discussed in our meeting the other day. If you have any thoughts about this subject, please share.

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Good article by Jessie Scanlon, senior writer for Innovation & Design at BusinessWeek, titled How 3M Forged a Culture of Innovation.

Key to 3M’s success in launching and bringing Filtek Supreme Plus, the cosmetic dental industry’s leading composite for restorative work, and the one new product example cited in the article, was recognizing collaboration as an essential element of innovation and then creating the systems to support it.

What can executives learn from 3M’s approach to collaboration?

• Create support networks to spread knowledge across the company
• Build collaboration into employees evaluation system
• Encourage curiosity
• Create innovation funds
• Don’t underestimate the value of physical proximity

Beyond these, I think there are a few more important takeaways:

First, 3M’s approach integrates innovation into everyday company operations. It doesn’t limit it to lightning bolt moments, particularly important in difficult (lean) times like these.

Second, this culture of collaboration provides more opportunity to create new and greater value across all aspects of the business and the brand experience, as different perspectives are brought to the table.

Third, it energizes and aligns employees around the notion of a healthy disrespect for the present reality. And who among us doesn’t like to escape reality every once in a while?

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A lesson to be learned for all health + healthy lifestyle brand marketers…

It’s back-to-school time. Travel a highway and you see parents taking their kids to school, and kids with cars filled to the brim with everything that could possibly fit in them. You also see a lot of Thule cargo racks.

So I went to Thule’s website today. And was saddened when I was there. Because, for starters, this is a brand with a great story, started by a gentleman who sold direct to end users at windsurf competitions on the New England shoreline out of his “station wagon” office. It’s the kind of story that many brands only wish they could tell. But it’s not really being told here.

It’s also a brand that consumers engage with in really important ways, at some really important times of their lives. Memorable times that will be with them, and their kids, forever. This brand makes people’s lives a lot sweeter, in ways that competitors (at least perceptually) just can’t match. Which is the making for great stories to be told!

The site is rich with functional details about the different kinds of Thule racks available for Bike, Snow, Water, etc. But we don’t buy features, we buy benefits. We buy with our guts, based on decisions charged with emotion. And I imagine that there’s some incredibly powerful associations wrapped around Thule that can be leveraged and brought to the foreground. Yes, Thule is functionally a means to help you safely get your things from here to there. But much more importantly, Thule is freedom, enabler, partner, protector, trusted friend…

This is a brand that could be engaging audiences much more meaningfully around their brand. It is a brand that should be inviting (probably very willing) customers to become allies in adding value back to Thule. It is a brand ripe for rich conversations and shared stories, which actually lets Thule spread their commercial messages more effectively.

But Thule is just one example of brands under leveraging relationships, fans and evangelists. What’s important to remember is that you need to let the conversations take place, and let the stories be told and shared around you. In the end, both customers and company will grow stronger.

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I’m using this blog post to recognize the significant accomplishments of a Trajectory client, and to share how this organization has radically challenged convention and expectation to re-energize both its audiences and the organization itself.

Alpha Chi Omega is a national women’s organization represented in 40 states, with more than 200,000 members who join during their undergraduate college years and hopefully, remain members for the rest of their lives.

This past week, following our rebranding of the organization, ACO launched its new website. This was the final step in bringing its Real. Strong. Women. brand promise to life. In so doing, it changed the game for its members. And for the organization itself.

The new site changes the paradigm of the online experience for this forward thinking sorority to strengthen interactions, connections and conversations among its members. Its design, content and functionality offers both an information portal and community hub, further delivering on its promise to change the conversation for all Alpha Chi Omega women.

Among its many features, the site can be personalized to each Alpha Chi Omega member’s needs and interests by implementing a customizable platform within a sub site, My Alpha Chi. This is a major step forward for the organization, as the site is now relevant to all members regardless of lifestage or lifestyle. Other features of My Alpha Chi include:

• Starting Conversations – Alpha Chi Omega’s Blog
• Real Strong Woman of the Month – Stories of Alpha Chi Omegas who are making a difference.
• AX! Message Boards – Discuss issues whether Alpha Chi Omega or not.
• The Lyre Online – Top stories from The Lyre magazine.
• Connect with Alpha Chi –Twitter, Facebook, Delicious, Flickr, LinkedIn and YouTube.

From the time that we had our first conversation with Alpha Chi Omega, they talked about two things. First, changing how women think and act about the idea of sorority. Second, changing the expectation of how a sorority will thrive, and be defined in the future. Their last major step in this journey is now complete. And for that, we congratulate this game-changing organization.

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