Monthly Archives: November 2015

Facebook does not own community

Written by Jussi Tolvi.

The November Building Online Communities MeetUp guest speaker was Shelley Taylor, who has been doing exciting things in tech for 20 years. In her own words an earlier venture of hers, a digital entertainment platform, was “both a huge success but also a failure” (the success part was 300,000 users). Very Silicon Valley!

A few years ago Shelley started thinking about old-fashioned fan clubs, which have of course been around for ages. Originally using magazines and letters in the post to communicate, it would be easy to think that Facebook and Twitter had completely destroyed the idea of fan clubs. But as is becoming more and more obvious, social media has fallen prey to its own success: artists, record labels, athletes, brands, can’t actually reach their audience on social media any more. This is largely due to the changing business models of the platforms – they rely on advertising for their revenue, so anyone wanting to reach people on them will now have to pay for the privilege (you can read articles with titles such as “What I learned spending $2 Million on Facebook Ads”). In plain terms, the Facebook algorithm will not show your update on your followers’ feed for free. And there are other pitfalls too. There are in the region of 60 Rihanna apps available. Sadly, they all fall under the umbrella of “unauthorized” – the artist has nothing to do with them.

rihanna

So it might not be an exaggeration to conclude that social media marketing is mostly a waste of time and money. What is needed instead is direct contact and communication with your audience. Face to face, phone, email, can still reach people. Apps may also work better (if you get people to download them first!), as push notifications do get noticed. More old-fashioned, and more hard work, but probably also deeper and better quality communication as well?

This is where Shelley’s Digital Fan Clubs idea comes in. An artist can set up their own branded app, provide content through it, and actually reach their fans who can download the app for free. And it’s not just pop stars that can use the template. Anyone who needs to communicate with specific groups of people can use the same idea. And other organisations have seen the potential benefits, especially those with local information to share (such as a student housing provider).

intro_screenAn interesting and timely application of the idea is Shelley’s prototype refugee support app. Any organisation providing help and support for refugees can app information about their services to the app database, and refugees can then easily find local sources of support, whether legal support or information, food, shelter, or medical help (see image). By the way, it sounded like the biggest issue with this app was collating the data from all the aid agencies into a usable format. That does not surprise me at all…

 

Should we be more worried about the usual than the unusual?

imagesOut of all he unusual things discovered in Britain’s sewers sex ‘adult’ toys surprise me the least. I suspect its quite easy to lose some smaller ‘items’ down the u-bend!

It’s the list of do’s and don’ts and the consequences of these items cluttering our sewage system that interest me more.

The odd butt plug going amiss is an accident, but what are the regular items that we are constantly chucking down the sewers that are causing the biggest problems?

So these are the questions the latest ‘sewer news‘ news raise for me?

As a mooncup user of over 10 years I am very happy to longer flush any ‘over taxed’ sanitary items down the loo (although obviously I do flush lots of cups of blood – not on the P list). But what damage do tampons do? And are people flushing the plastic backed sanitary towels – is this an issue? Are these more or less dangerous than disposable wipes?

I always got that flushing fats down the sink is a bad idea, but as a 5th floor flat dweller, I now realise that flushing them down the loo just creates a problem further on (saving the pipes in your property is only part of the story). Is the tactic of diluting it and breaking it down with washing liquid still not good enough? Is this only about big batches of fat or is all fat in the system bad?

What about coffee grounds? which seem to clog up the pipework in many a victorian building in London. I really want to find a way to stop every at google campus flushing them down the sink – we flush them down the loo. Good or bad? Is the bin or food recycling the only option?

I am sure the list of questions water customers have is longer than this and whilst I know the advice is to keep to ‘Paper, Pee and Poo’, individuals will often make decisions based on ‘least worst option’ – I would be interested to know what questions others have.

For me, I want to know what the top 10 worst (rather then unusual) items are that damage our sewerage system.

Please join in!

The power of complaining

I always encourage people to complain. You spend good money on things (through buying or taxation) and it seems mad that we accept poor quality, bad value and shoddy service. But complaining is hard it takes time and energy and we don’t always know what ‘good’ is and when services fall short. Complaints are also not the same – there is a  big difference between your water supply not working in your home and thinking that generally, a service could have been delivered better. The staff a bit nicer.

For me complaining is not about the one interaction I may have with a company or public service that was a bit shoddy – for me it is about the next customer too. If the company does not know that this a problem that affects many their customers how can they change what they do. Get better. This is why I complain. Lots.

I complain mostly to banks, especially because they ask you to either write or use a premium rate number to make a compliant. This, in my view, is a poor service tax and is completely unacceptable. It should never cost me money to complain.  I also always ask how things will change as a result of my complaint.

It is part of the reason why I went for a role at CCWater. I wanted to champion the consumer and level the playing field for customers in a sector that used to be a public utility where the relationship is complex. You can’t move water supplier. It is also a vital service (water and sewage) that keep us healthy. Water is precious.

As always these things are not simple. In water a complaint about price, a leak, customer service, a major incident are all different. They alert a company to something fundamental and sometimes unique about their service offer and how it can improve or deal with risk and disaster. But whatever the complaint, they are all about a element of service delivery and how it can improve or evolve.

Water is not an easy  business, but it is affected by the weather (flood or drought) with an infrastructure that is buried underground with expensive and technical equipment that purifies the water we drink. It needs keep pace with the things (like pesticides) that sneak in and affect it. Most business will never have to deal with such a complex set of external, unknown factors.

The bill and its cost is the simplest complaint of all, and in most cases it is the only interaction we ever have with a water company. The only lever we have as customers.

So what am I getting at?

I have heard a series of presentations from water companies today about their complaint numbers.  The payments they get for delivering water in part relies on good performance in this area. I am generally quite impressed, water companies are not slow in innovating around complaints. They do see them as fundamental to service delivery. They have an incentive to do well.

So here are my key thoughts from the presentations today:

How do you measure light touch comments and complaints made through non-traditional providers?

Complaint numbers for most industries are collated from the phone and email complaints. But there are many more ways to complain – they may be a quick picture of a water leak from the phone on twitter. Is it captured? Does it count? Do you ask people to go and fill in an online form? (yes Islington Council I am looking at you here)

Is the sector interacting with new platforms powered by consumers rather than themselves? I am keen to talk to Resolver about how complaints to Thames Water and other companies is going. How are they planning to disrupt complaints ? What can water companies learn (what can CCWater learn?). Are these complaints measured? Are they included in the ‘official’ figures?

Is the process for comments and ideas different to complaints?

Islington once sent out a great set of posters saying they were a listening Council. They wanted ideas as well as complaints. But there was a no process for an idea or comment. Everything was treated as a complaint. You can’t have the same process for engaging people around ideas as you do problems. You have to build new systems that do the right job.

How can water companies really engage customers in co-designing and even prototyping their future? A good case in point is redesigning bills. Water bills go out once a year the window of opportunity to change it narrow – not very agile.  Maybe there is a group of customers that could form something more dynamic than a focus group and instead become the companies early trial group. Here I always use the example of the Maramarati (of which i am a dedicated member) – a dedicated fan group who test ideas (mostly marketing) for social media before they are launched on the public. It is harder to engage people around being a special-sub group around water. Not impossible. But its a challenge worth investigating (I see water conservation and health being key pulls). These customers could be tour beta testers and changes can be made before roll out. Real critical friends.

I am interested to here more innovation and ideas of good practice in this area and if there is inspiration from other sectors.

How do you think ahead?

Competition is about to come into water for non-domestic customers and there could be some spin-offs for household customers – businesses demanding more and better can drive change as a whole. But I don’t think this is the only change driver – technology, environment and political and policy changes will create a different expectation from customers. How you use all these factors as a positive rather than something that takes you by surprise.

How do we (CCWater) use what we know about water companies and their customers to campaign back to water regulators and the Government?

I don’t think this role (a LCA) is a one way street. Meeting the challenge of us all using less water is not just the responsibility of water companies. But its not clear who is taking the lead. The same with the complete arse about tit way the social tariff has been done (more on this at a later date). What are the issues we can take back the other way, bring together a coalition of interested parties and make a real difference? There was a long list produced at recent stakeholder meetings and I would be interested if, in developing its workplan, CCWater will be introducing some bark as well as bite.