Verizon: using crowdsourcing to get products right – or wrong

A few weeks ago in San Francisco, I attended the fiftieth Blogwell presentation since the beginning. Laurie Shook is portfolio leader at Verizon, a leading US telecom operator. She is a product marketer who uses social media, not a social media expert and she even describes herself as a “marketeer with a passion for Social Media” on her LinkedIn profile.

Verizon’s Idea exchange was developed in July 2010, as a place for customers to exchange ideas about services and things that customers would like Verizon to do. The platform provides means for ranking ideas. It is “semi-anonymous” Laurie said and “gives the idea to people that they can speak freely” she added. In a nutshell, it is n opportunity for Verizon clients to express themselves and “it’s also a great opportunity for marketers” Laurie said.

HD TV high on the agenda

“Many customers comment on HD TV and mostly on TV programs. “They said for instance that they’d like to see certain channels in HD or hide channels which they aren’t subscribed to and Verizon subsequently implemented that option” she said.

There are all kinds of ideas on that platform though and some of them are content related. Customers vote and propose ideas and sometimes they even propose to vote against ideas which they oppose.

913 ideas received 280+ launched

Laurie went on describing a business case study:  the “IMG 1.9” plan; IMG is the abbreviation for “interactive media guide”. “There is one release a year, it’s a lot of work and once we’re done, we involve 100 customers before launching it” Laurie said. “Last summer [2011], we extended the HD channel guide, hid unsubscribed channels, added DVR chapter selection and made the channel guide softer and easier on the eyes. That was based on feedback : ‘made fonts bigger, change the background etc.’”

Yet, even though a majority “loved the ideas”, things weren’t so easy since there also were other users who were “very vocal and critical”. Some didn’t hesitate to post comments such as “you really screwed up your tv guide” Laurie said.

what do you do with negative feedback?

The next question is familiar to any marketer in charge of communities. “what do you do with that kind of feedback?” Should you ignore it, or make it a priority? Laurie’s answer makes perfect sense:

“You don’t respond immediately. Sometimes, people are pissed off with change and you have to wait for the dust to settle. Acknowledge the status and wait. However, the post became popular, and even the most popular on the platform” Laurie went on.

facilitation tips from Verizon

She admitted to not finding this very pleasant but you have to bite the bullet and you also have to respond she said. Here are her recommendations:

  1. “Cool you jets before responding” (remain cold-blooded, there is no need to heat up and start an online battle)
  2. “It’s best not to respond immediately and to respond with the medium” (i.e. Idea Exchange rather than choose another tool)
  3. “a personalised response is necessary” such as “I’m sorry you are not of the same mind … and we will work to make you happy again”

are early innovators biased?

“Maybe it was an execution issue or a community bias, whereby people who join forums are early innovators and do not represent customers. Maybe the rank and file TV viewers aren’t represented?” Laurie went on “but when that guy commented, we had more people joining”. Laurie suggested that there was some sort of Hawthorne effect in reverse and that conclusions had to be drawn from that experiment with regard to crowdsourcing and how much hindsight you should introduce when conducting such projects.

on the positive side

Beyond this bias, there are some positive conclusions to be drawn from that experiment Laurie added. Here is what she thinks has worked for Verizon:

  1. faster customer feedback (before Idea exchange  there were disconnects but you didn’t know why or how or how much. “With direct feedback, you know immediately and you understand much better” she added)
  2. nuances of customer opinions are highlighted
  3. there is an incentive for more focus on customer priorities
  4. there are customer expectations of “Internet time” and this forces a large organisation to do things more quickly

Laurie added that “this example is strictly consumer-orientated, and that Verizon business is working with customer advisory boards, in a much more face-to-face format”.

Hitachi: making social media work for B2B

Sharon Crost is Global Online Marketing and Social Media Manager at Hitachi Data Systems and she delivered what I believe is one of the most inspiring presentations on March 27 at Blogwell in San Francisco and it’s no surprise to me ( who already made a presentation at an earlier edition of Blogwell in Atlanta a couple of years ago) that B2B is one of the major targets for social media. Here is why, in 5 questions, asked by Sharon to the riveted Blogwell audience.

HDS products (left) are not sexy” was Sharon’s introduction to her pitch at Blogwell. It doesn’t seem very intuitive that social media could work out for products like that. Yet, it proved very rewarding for the storage and data recovery company. In just five questions, Sharon proved her case very compellingly. Here is my account of her punchy presentation.

Question 1: is social media a good investment?

Although many of the people in the room anticipated the answer to that question to be a “yes”, Sharon explained that they “were not so sure at first sight because it’ wasn’t an obvious thing”. So they “needed to test it out” she went on. Being a B2B company, they didn’t have much of a presence at first and even with a very small budget, which was used very effectively they managed to get some very good results.

They started with a test of a quiz campaign in which they tried to get people to engage on social media. The prize was a Hitachi LCD HD TV set. This campaign drew people to their social site to answer the quiz. Another campaign was the “globe campaign” and you had to spin the globe and click on the tweets, the whitepapers etc. A third one was entitled “a quest for scalability”…

Sharon concluded that first chapter by saying that “the first lesson is to think about what is socially sharable about your brand and this may not necessarily be your products!”.

[photo cc by Yann Gourvennec]

Q2: if people aren’t in the target market, should you discourage them?

Her answer was neither yes or no this time. “In fact you have to be nice to everyone (you never know), but you have to treat them nicely but differently”. For people in our targets we let them win a “storage assessment” she added; those who won TV sets were kept happy but they weren’t forcibly part of HDS’ audience.

The current campaign is a storage mapping tool. People can still engage to win an iPad “but they aren’t the target audience” Sharon added. Target customers or prospective customers are also given a chance to opt-in for free information.

Q3: can you do that on a shoestring?

Sharon’s answer is a resounding Yes! (and all voted for that answer in the room). Earned is the most important part, but “paid” comes to amplify the message.

Q4 which one works best? Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook?

The answer to that question is very counter-intuitive and it must be pointed out that it might very well work differently depending on the brand or mostly, where it’s based. The very footprint of Facebook in the US is making it unavoidable. And therefore, HDS found out that it was indeed Facebook which worked best for “with a small amount of money [they] could see the ROI for each channels and Facebook proved the more rewarding” je concluded.

Q5: what is the most obvious benefit for B2B?

There isn’t one answer to that question Sharon said, and she listed a number of benefits including

  • cheaper marketing
  • community of influencers
  • re-engage participants
  • better conversion results

The results for Hitachi Data Systems were tremendous and way above the initial goals. For whitepapers only, 9,000 of them were read said Sharon, a tremendous result when you think that most B2B companies will pay – not always wisely –  big money for doing this.

5 recommendations

Sharing issued her recommendations to B2B users:

  1. test, go out there and find out what social engagement means to you;
  2. segment your audience (target and non target audience). All you have to do is give them the option and let them choose what role they want to play ;
  3. you don’t need a large budget but be sure to amplify the impact of your campaigns;
  4. performance metrics are important (think Dashboard);
  5. social interactions must be nurtured, have fun and play games.


is there an internal program at Hitachi Data Systems ?
There is an internal social media ambassador network. HDS wants to show its people they are encouraged to retweet, share the information and be twitter/Facebook champions. and they can also win an iPad. Sister Hitachi companies provide the freebies.

It’s not easy because they don’t have the same culture in Japan (it’s “closed versus open kimono” she said). They don’t want to respond to any tweets. A big struggle took place but they were able to show them the purpose and they eventually were retweeted but “you had to show them first that you respected their culture” Sharon concluded.

Hitachi Data Systems have a major social media dashboard which they publish twice a year and they use it to show stakeholders what major benefits and issues are at hand and how many clicks are generated for instance (like 9,000 on whitepapers and how much you’d have to pay for such clicks)

Yahoo! movies summer program: from 200,000 to 1.2 million likes

On Tuesday March 27th, I attended my fifth Blogwell session (overall, this was the nineteenth session!) since the end of 2008, time flies! This session was taking place in San Francisco in the beautiful Golden Gate Club venue in the Presidio park, a stone’s throw from the Golden Gate bridge. Not only was the view beautiful, the lessons learnt from Yahoo! in their presentation were invaluable. Yahoo! was represented by Robin Zucker, Social Media director for the famous portal company. Her presentation was geared towards their engagement strategy and entitled “ summer movie programs”.

[photo cc by Yann Gourvennec]  

The Yahoo!’s objectives were to become more social, and increase the Yahoo! movies fan base as well as reinforce the fact that Yahoo! movies is the premier online movie destination. Generally, the focus for Yahoo! was Facebook, “for obvious reasons” Robin said, because of the amount of people involved on the popular social network.

“We are a digital company, so decided to help users decide what to see but also help them go and see the movies”. This is what prompted a partnership with a cinema house company named Regal Cinemas.

Yahoo!’s initial question for setting up the program (note: I love that term so much better than the word “campaign”) was user-centred: “What can we do that what would be relevant and interesting enough for users to share?”… which is a very good question to start from.

there is such a thing as free popcorn!

There is no such thing as a free lunch, but Yahoo! took care of the popcorn for all cinema goers in the States who were clicking their summer movie program banners! News fans, were indeed granted ‘”$6 worth for a small bag of pop-corn when they went to the cinema” through a coupon, Robin explained.

But the “key piece was the offline exposure in theatres” she added. Yahoo! decided to partner with Regal Cinemas which is one the of the largest network of cinema houses with 90,000,000 visitors throughout the Summer period (a rich period for film launches,such as Harry Potter and the smurfs as examples for the Summer of 2011)

2 distinct means of entry were chosen for users to engage in the program

  • In Cinema theatres, there were placements of banners about the popcorn offer;
  • Online, Yahoo! launched the microsite

A mobile microsite was also put together. The site was leading users to the dedicated Facebook fan page. A great part of the program was to enable people to use social check-in (Facebook had just improved the system and that was providing additional exposure for Yahoo!).

mobiles and smartphones still a big challenge

However, “asking users to use their smartphones is a big challenge” Robin added because it puts the onus on the user who is “being asked to do something different”. Similarly, the online experience was key as the main site was the main driver for visits. People would enter their phone number and the coupon would be sent over to their smartphone, then they could initiate social sharing, and then they’d get free popcorn … Well, as long as they had a smartphone! Robin concluded, that “mobile isn’t easy, because people are sometimes confused”.

1.2 million new Facebook likes!

Yahoo! went from 200,000  to 1.2 million likes and surpassed its initial objectives by 400,000 fans! “Those promotions initiated a lot of buzz for Yahoo!” Robin added:

  • to start with, it generated 1.4 million more minutes spent on the Yahoo! movies website;
  • besides, it also generated 200,000+ social check-ins at Regal cinemas
  • and $1 m worth of free popcorn was munched by Yahoo! movie fans

What Worked well according to Robin:

  • it was tied to an event, Yahoo! didn’t create anything, but decided to build on something that was already happening;
  • the partnership with Regal Cinemas proved very successful;
  • agency partnership allowed program optimisation in real time;
  • flexibility after program launch;
  • the offer was relevant and highly sharable.

What didn’t work so well according to Yahoo!

  • there are some limitations with standard Facebook applications, which doesn’t allow cobranding or has no ability track deal exposure and is limited to smartphones, which tended to exclude certain users;
  • the national chain coordination was a challenge (on site posting etc.);
  • users without smartphones also were the “loudest” in social media;
  • challenges with mobile coverage;
  • training the staff locally

Q&A session

Was there much attrition after the program?
There was little attrition after the event because the event was very relevant. There is always a small level of attrition, but it’s minimised when the program is good and matches the public’s requirement.

Why hasn’t Yahoo! created its own social media platform?
There is a strategic partnership between the 2 companies, 80% of Yahoo! users are already on Facebook and besides, education is an issue so it would be more difficult for Yahoo! to launch their own platform.

ROI? How do you measure?
In general, it’s not easy because we don’t get all the numbers from Facebook but track the value of a Fan on visits and clicks and as Yahoo! is valued through content advertising, having more traffic allowed additional and new advertising opportunities.

Tyson Foods’ Hunger Relief Program

Better late than never. I was going through my files today and I found this old piece written after a Blogwell event which took place in New York two years ago. So here it is with much delay but I thought it was worth reading and publishing anyway. Now that I have gone through it I regret I didn’t publish it earlier on because I think that this business case was/still is very inspirational:

Blogwell presentation number 3: Tyson hunger relief (
April 2009, NYC, NY

Tyson, hunger relief, presentation by Ed Nicholson
in charge of social media, Tyson foods in the US

The third presentation of Blogwell number 3 was that of Ed Nicholson, in charge of social media at Tyson foods in the US, and was entitled how Tyson foods, uses social media to build a community around the issue of hunger.

Tyson’s Ed Nicholson, our fellow member from – photo courtesy of

To an extent, this is a similar subject to the one we already tackled in a post about a previous Blogwell presentation which took place in San Jose at the end of October 2008, when Kaiser Permanente presented its initiative against obesity. This time, even though the approach is similar, the aim is quite the opposite as it is aimed at those people in the US suffering from hunger.

I found the description of how a big company like Tyson is trying to tackle this issue, using social media, quite interesting and inspiring. Tyson’s initiative is not about just about a website. It’s about “engaging people in productive and visible ways” Ed said. And God knows there are many people at Tyson foods, even though their name may not be very well known in Europe.

In Iowa alone 9,000 people are working for them, and up to 10% of its workforce is actually involved in this hunger relief program. This hunger relief, social media initiative is more than “the campaign for Tyson.” Ed added. It is actually used to leverage donations in order to tackle the issue of hunger. It started in 2000 and has been going on for now nine years.

(Tyson Hunger Relief Food Donation at Finney County, Kansas – picture by Tyson foods inc.)

The idea is to use the website in order to “give food to the people who can’t afford it”. Ed is insisting upon the fact that there was already “a phenomenal community engaged in this issue”. These are good stories, which are also very favourable ground for online blogging and donation events.

Tyson foods has already 2,814 followers on twitter (and 8,201 2 years later). The company is actually following very strictly disclosure rules, as per guidelines, and it displays its name on its twitter page. The number of people who find food insecure, according to Ed is staggering. This is instrumental in making the social media initiative by Tyson very dynamic. In a matter of four hours, any post can receive up to 800 comments!

There is no doubt very few social media initiatives can attract that many comments in such a little time. Ed insists upon the fact that “these tools change all the time, but relationships are here to stay’”. I think this is a very wise description of the social media context, one has to focus on relationships, not on the tools, which are only a means to an end.

“Some people understand the media part”, Ed says, “but not the social part”. They are not all one-way push tools. They are about “generating communities”. And generating communities, has nothing to do about technicality, it is a human thing, hence the “social” in social media.

Ed says that agencies can’t develop communities for Tyson because they can’t create strategies. It takes times it takes time therefore, and you combine your way in.

Questions and answers

Q: negative posts.

A: They are kept because they give us an opportunity to respond. “You are using hunger for the wrong reasons,” says one very nasty comment on their blog. “But it’s one point of entry in the discussion”, Ed says.

[note, now it’s me talking: As I pointed out many many times, this kind of opportunity to respond is made available in social media, but it will not in traditional media. As as a consequence negative comments on social media in my eyes are less dangerous than in traditional media].

Q: developing policies and guidelines

A: policies and guidelines are about doing what’s right and what’s legal. But Ed insisted upon the fact that policies were not established first. It started off doing the job and then putting the policies in place.

Q: personal versus company

A: Tyson is a company account on twitter, not a personal account, but it’s managed by Ed. He decided to declare it in his own name, rather than using the company name. Sometimes he uses its twitter account to tweet about stuff, which is personal.

Q: health/nutrition issues

approximately 20% of kids (out of 37 million) are by definition obese. Moreover, they can be both obese and malnourished at the same time. Ed says that food banks are also getting into twitter too and that partnerships with agencies are possible.

Amex: members project case study

On March 29, at Blogwell, I attended that presentation by Pepper Roukas, American Express on the members project campaign

Amex has focused a lot about brand management on social media, but this particular business case is about how to drive business through social media.

Amex actually invented the term “cause marketing” with its restoration programme of the statue of Liberty in 1983 and many others in 93, 2003 an 2007 with the members project.

The questions was how to create a differentiated cause-campaign? The answer to that question was to educate consumers that small steps can make a big difference in their communities and provide the enablement tools.

Fish where the fish are

Facebook was the place where Amex’s fans were, so Amex used it as the main starting point.  The focus was on more engagement with members, sharing content and initiate dialogues. Members were encouraged to volunteer and earn membership points and donate them. Amex therefore helped people support their favourite charities.

Donations could be done straight from the card or by transferring membership points.

Wall postings

Wall postings were personalised by members, posting photos (right) but also videos. more videos were used by members than ever before. A number of apps were developed with which people could share their stories. The campaign was carried away in 360 format with on-air TV commercials and charity-themed sweepstakes. A partnership was set up with the Glee TV series.

All other social media channels owned by Amex were used to relay the campaign too.


  • increased brand relevancy and appraisal, namely with young people
  • more engaging content
  • listening and being more responsive
  • learn, experiment and iterate quickly
  • giving the community a role to foster advocacy