Blogwell Conference – Kaiser Permanente’s Case Study

If nothing else, the Blogwell conference was one of those rare occasions when case studies are presented clearly and without hype. All of the presenters were focused on making a difference with their respective constituents.

Hilary Weber, Kaiser Permanente’s Director of Internet Marketing Services presented Kaiser Permanente’s social media strategies and tactics. Kaiser Permanente (KP) is one of the largest health care providers in the country with over 8 million members. They have an ongoing need to communicate with their constituency, but since they are in a very highly regulated industry, they have to choose their communication themes carefully.

For example, HIPPA regulations restrict them from revealing patient information. Another example they cited referred to suicidal postings on a member forum. If they are aware of it, they have to respond to it. Obviously the selection of the topics they blog about has to be done carefully.

That’s why much of their work online reinforces brand awareness rather than engagement in all of the issues that concern their community. Their experience with blogging has taught them several fundamental lessons about making your corporate brand work for you, not against you. They focus on their brand positioning as health advocates – proactively helping people to be as healthy as they can be. In other words, KP helps people to thrive. Lessons learned include:

1) How to begin blogging – Don’t go it alone. Find out who in your industry is blogging and reach out to them to find out what worked and what didn’t work. Don’t re-invent the wheel.

2) Recognize that we’re all in this together and much of it is “uncharted territory.”

3) Start out with a “safe” topic.

4) The best way to get a good resource is to be a good resource. Best practices

A corporate blog is simply another tactic when it comes to brand. KP had an internal homegrown newsletter that evolved into a branded weekly newsletter for members. It was a natural step to change the format to a blog. They’ve found that their best bloggers have the passion, creative talent and motivation to contribute on a regular basis. The very best are true brand advocates.

Know your audience – Much of KP’s view of social media is influenced by Charlene Li’s book, Groundswell. KP’s member research identified what their members do while online. They found that most users are viewers, collectors and critics. That lead them to create a mini site that satisfied their member’s need to view, collect and critique. The mini site is a hub for interactive components such as the Burn It Off fitness calculator. The calculator allows you to figure out how long it takes to burn off calories from the snacks you’ve consumed.

Contrast that with another idea, a recipe contest. KP found that the contest does not align well with user behavior because it takes too long. It was simply too much work for their members and they had very little uptake on the contest. On the other hand, an interactive poll saw lots of user attention because it meshed with their audience’s penchant for critiquing.

KP’s recently been working on sonic branding as a part of branded music initiative. Making the music available to the members satisfied another favorite user activity, collecting. KP does a similar thing with video files on their mini-site because it plugs into the desire to view. Future ideas include a daily brain teaser (for seniors), daily office yoga pose, more polls and a suite of blogs.

Their media relations team monitors blogosphere sentiment weekly. They note positive, neutral and negative sentiment that is relevant to their brand. They have guest bloggers posting on various sites to counter inaccuracies.

Their current focus is building an internal social networking capability using Jive Clearspace. That should prove interesting. That will be nothing short of a massive change management project for their organization. Maybe we’ll hear more at the next Blogwell event.

Social Media Monitoring at UPS

Debbie Curtis-Magley from UPS spoke at Blogwell yesterday. She spoke about her experience starting up and running a social media monitoring function. Brown has been monitoring the blogosphere for less than a year. In that time, they have accumulated hard won wisdom about the function as well as faced unexpected challenges. Their toolset includes TNS Cymfony and Tweetscan.

Their monitoring has revealed all kinds of conversations about their brand. Some good conversations along with some less than flattering conversations. One of their first key lessons learned is that monitoring and analyzing the blogosphere can be overwhelming because of the sheer volume of content. There are so many references to their brand that they’ve resigned themselves to the fact that they won’t be able to read everything. Some things will slip by. The best they can do is to sample the content and make inferences based on that sample.

The UPS experience suggests that there are some key considerations before embarking on a blog monitoring program.

1) Ask yourself what do you want to learn from the program. How are you going to use that information? UPS is interested in:

General Brand Conversations – degree of chatter that mentions your brand

Reputation topics – monitor issues that represent opportunities or threats

Business Industry sectors – brands role within market sectors

From a PR perspective, UPS looks for message playback. Are the messages being understood and repeated? Understanding how UPS is mentioned is often translated into opportunities for improvement.

2) Recognize the limitations of monitoring

UPS appears in many off topic posts about pushups or meetups or universal power supplies. All of them have the letters UPS in the string. Between that and mentions of people that are selling products and shipping via UPS, there’s lots of noise to filter out. UPS engages in a great deal of thought and work around filtering out the noise. Automated tools are useful but have limitations. They filter and organize but they haven’t found them useful for analyzing content. Some tools that algorythmically score positive and negative sentiment, but you really need human intervention to understand context and sentiment.

UPS decided to handle monitoring internally and devotes staff to conversational analysis. Each staffer gets one topic per day to monitor and they spend about an hour per day monitoring. That gets a good representative sample of conversations. UPS uses receptionists for staffing the monitoring function.

3) Understanding trends in conversations.

Look at conversations over time. That helps validate if there are issues to be resolved. They also track accomplishments and try to understand the effectivness of their messaging. Are the messages being repeated and understood? Monitoring shows which messages resonate.

Analysis is done in-house. Staff collects monitoring data on worksheets, then they analyze and write custom reports. The manager gives guidance of what the staff needs to look for, but the staff identifies the blogs and conversations. UPS measures the volume of conversations on particular topics, determines the share of voice for UPS and their competition, identify key influencers and issues and gauges the tone of conversations (positive, neutral or negative).

4) Internal blogs

UPS leverages their employees for internal blogs. Drivers, package handlers, etc… they blogged and vlogged from the company’s Centennial celebration. The staff blogged from the Beijing Olympics (UPS was a sponsor). As a NASCAR sponsor, they blog about that, too. The internal blogging program is very popular with their employees.

The Ethics of Disclosure

I spent a few hours at the Blogwell conference yesterday. The Conference was sponsored by The Blog Council, a group of large companies that are establishing best practices for corporate blogging and other forms of social media.

Andy Sernowitz of Gas Pedal gave a presentation on the ethics of disclosure. Andy asserts that most Social Media efforts gone awry can be boiled down to lack of disclosure. By embracing disclosure you are in the position of leading with ethics.

Andy has prepared a disclosure best practices toolkit. Six checklists to help you create disclosure policies around six core disclosure scenarios.

1) Disclosure of identity – say who you are.

2) Personal unofficial blogging and outreach – identify your employer and make it clear that your opinions are not the opinions of your employer.

3) Blogger Relations – PR agency outreach should always identify the writer as an agency employee working on the behalf of a client.

4) Compensation and incentives – If you’re reviewing a product and it won’t be returned to the company that provided it, you have an obligation to say so. If you are an investor in a company you are blogging about, you have an obligation to say so. If you are paid to write….again, you have an obligation to say so.

5) Agency and Contractor disclosure – Any action taken by an agency on behalf of a client must disclose that relationship.

6) Creative flexibility – In some cases (scavenger hunts, impersonating fictional characters, contests) it may not be possible to exercise full disclosure without giving away the McGuffin. Use your best judgment.

In the end, Andy says it’s easier to be honest. If you have doubts about online tactics that skirt the disclosure issue, you shouldn’t implement the tactics until disclosure can be assured. This has implications for ghost writing blogs, pay per post schemes, profiles on social networks, microblogging formats and any other opportunity in which we are speaking (or writing) for others. It’s far better to say who you are up front than to be found out and castigated for it later.

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A .500 Average

Adam Sarner recently asserted that 50% of social media initiatives are failures. The short snippet I read was light on details and never defined success. That’s probably because success is such an individualized thing. No two clients are alike.

I’m not sure how the PR industry measures itself. I’m sure it’s not as anal as baseball, but efforts at statistical analysis are sure to progress. Batting .500 right now sounds good to me. Let’s compare that to the success/failure ratio of big IT integration projects. Their average is less than major league pitchers.

Despite the headline, Adam ended on a high note.

“When asked whether the faltering economy will mean that businesses are cutting back on this largely unproven field of social media for marketing or customer relations, Sarner said he didn’t think so, and that many businesses will turn to the Web to stay in touch with consumers during a difficult financial climate. “This is going to be a lifeline,” he said. “You don’t ruin your customers, and your spirit of customers is probably the only thing you have.””

Right on…

Another Mom and Pop Gone

All of my kids first teddy bears came from The Basic Brown Bear Factory in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill. It was a wonderful old place with a great hands on spirit. The founders, Eric and Merrilee Woods, bought a US Navy surplus kapok stuffing machine meant for life vests. It ran on compressed air and shot lightweight fibers like kapok or bear stuffing through a nozzle that could fill up limp fabric quickly. It was a memorable steampunky kind of experience.

Today, I tried finding the Basic Bear Factory online and found references to 2801 Leavenworth, down by Fisherman’s Wharf. I assumed that they relocated from Potrero, but we couldn’t find them. 2801 Leavenworth is a bar called Dirty Martini. Basic Bear’s phone wasn’t answering, and their URL returned a 404. I guess they’ve been run out of business…and that’s a damn shame. Wikipedia says:

According to legal filings, Maxine Clark approached Basic Brown Bear Factory in 1996 to negotiate a buyout offer. Eric and Merrilee Woods were interested in selling the business to Clark to expand it nationally, with the agreement that the Woods would remain as officers. The Woods assert that Clark was exposed to the inner workings of the business and signed a confidentiality agreement. She then gave a low-ball offer, which the Woods rejected, resulting in Clark quickly departing to organize Build-A-Bear Workshop with their trade secrets.

Perhaps their lawyer’s meters are still running, I don’t know. I do know that I’d rather take my kids to a funky old building on Potrero Hill than get in line at the mall for the “Build a Bear Workshop.” It’s also a shame to see creative founders edged out. It happens all too often. That said…Build a Bear has a social network for kids called Buildabearville.com. That’s fodder for my next post.

It’s dusty in here

I’ve neglected Dogpatch Dispatch for good reason. I’ve been busy putting together an emerging media practice at McGrath Power Public Relations in San Jose. And the standard disclaimer follows…I’m not related to the founding McGrath.

That said, I’m sorry to see my blog fall into a state of disrepair. There are forces at work that are increasing my will to blog. Without making excuses, here’s what’s on my radar.

The Android announcement was kind of a non-announcment, wasn’t it? This story may play out like the old OS battles in the mid ’80s and ’90s. It took MSFT 3 versions to make a commercially successful version of Windows. I think the iPhone has a headstart and that Google has the tenacity to go the distance. Too soon to call, except for one thing. Larry and Sergey positioned the phone as the ultimate in geek chic. After all, you can write your own programs…

Aside from being too geeky, who does this product offend? It offends carriers who don’t embrace the vision of phone as computer. They want control, not the user. It also misses the point that a phone is less a phone and more of a mass market user interface game. it’s all about web services and the differentiation is in software, not hardware. Carriers need to compete on user experience as well as coverage area and industrial design. Making user experience a differentiating factor is Apple’s strength.

Apple’s role as gatekeeper of user experience will always put it ahead of the mass market curve in mobile internet devices.

Mobile at LinuxWorld

My client, ACCESS, is hosting ACCESS Developer Day at LinuxWorld tomorrow, August 5 in San Francisco. ACCESS’s NetFront Browser is installed on over 500,000,000 mobile phones worldwide. Tomorrow they are announcing widgets for NetFront which promises to be an important opportunity for developers and content providers alike.

I sat down with Larry Berkin, VP of developer ecosystem and technology acquisition to hear a little more about ACCESS and their plans for Developer Day. Larry’s keynote will address opportunities for developers on the ACCESS Linux Platform as well as share his impressions of the VC funding landscape in the hot mobile space.

You can listen to my interview with Larry on BlogTalkRadio.