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Tuesday, 14 February 2012
A recent study found that social media is more addictive than drinking wine. That in fact, people are more likely to give up a glass of bubbly for an opportunity to check their Facebook account. Probably not a surprise to many but got me thinking about what this means for the social media industry in general.
In a few years’ time, will we have institutions trying to cure the social media addiction? Will we see, in the future, some kind of ‘social responsibility’ programmes from Facebook, for instance allowing only grown-ups to sign up and use the sites and have little note ‘use responsibly’ on social media adverts? Is it time for the social media industry in general to start thinking more about how they could prevent this from happening and avoid their reputation being torn down by health, privacy and human rights activists?
Well, some say the fault lies with people themselves. That people are too weak and just too lazy to build willpower to resist temptation. For instance, Jon Henley wrote in the Guardian last week how people with strong willpower in general grow into wealthier and healthier adults and are more likely to achieve success in life (hence, less likely to fall to any kind of ‘weak’ addictions). He brought examples of several studies that have concluded the same, the most amusing one conducted by a sociologist Walter Michel who studied children’s’ behaviour by offering them a marshmallow immediately or two, if they could wait for 15 min. Tracking down the children years later, Michel found that those who had the patience (and willpower) to wait, had become more successful. And there is no chance of accusing bad genes here – apparently willpower is something you can train and become better at.
So, the social media industry, if accused of causing addiction, might just not do anything about it and accuse people of being too weak (although this attitude didn’t work for the tobacco industry). We’ll wait and see…I’m looking forward to seeing some social responsibility campaigns from the social media industry before their reputation gets damaged by those who accuse them of causing addiction.
Friday, 10 February 2012
By Anastasia Chernoivanova, Consultant, ReputationInc
I am a voracious filmgoer. After booking the usual weekend treat at my cute local cinema I realised that I bought tickets for the wrong date. ‘No need to worry’ I thought. They are a small business and therefore will probably be quite flexible about these things, I am sure there will be no problem in exchanging tickets - So I told myself.
How naïve I was! Three days, four phone calls, and five pounds of expense later, what should have been a simple process of changing my ticket was finally completed in accordance with “the company’s policy”.
The whole episode reminded me of my three-year-old nephew who is rushing to ‘grow up’ by foregoing the benefits of being young and nimble, and wants to wake up the next morning as a grown-up so that his parents could not tell him what to do. In the mean time he acted the part by copying his parents’ actions.
The question of why small businesses voluntarily forego their potentially ‘natural’ advantages, such as better and more personalised customer service, over their much bigger competitors is puzzling to me.
There are several reasons why small businesses are likely to deliver better customer service than a large company.
Being small means better customer knowledge. A small company is closer to its customers and requires fewer resources to learn what people want to meet their expectations. There is simply no need for complicated CRM systems that holds millions of customer records, nor in-depth knowledge of Mosaic classification to identify your customer segments to ‘unlock’ their hidden desires.
Being small also often encourages flexibility. For small businesses, the costs of adapting to volatile market demand and changing consumer preferences are much lower. They could spot a new trend earlier and have the rare luxury of applying common sense over standardised operating procedures.
Last but not the least, being small can facilitate trust. Trust is probably the most valuable asset that a business can possess. At the times of large businesses’ failures and corporate governance scandals, customers lose their faith in huge conglomerates and instead tend to empathise with local companies that have a stake in their community.
While small companies may have ‘natural’ advantages in these customer service areas, it doesn’t mean that they are not facing customer-related reputational risks. In recent years, small businesses have been confronted –most of them unprepared- with the imperative of reputation management. And some have already paid a heavy price for it. Think about small restaurant owners who have seen their bottom line directly impacted by a few bad Tripadvisor reviews.
On the other hand, larger corporations that have more insight on their own reputation might benefit from reconnecting with the strengths of small businesses. Some big companies, such as First Direct, O2, Dell and John Lewis have already successfully managed to cultivate and preserve a ‘small company mindset’ when it comes to customer service. They win consumer trust through understanding their needs and staying flexible.
The lesson for big and small businesses is clear. From the vantage point of customer service, try to preserve and consolidate the advantages of being small, however think big when it comes to your reputation.
Tuesday, 7 February 2012
By Maita Soukup, Account manager, ReputationInc
Despite being regarded as the lifeblood of many industries and the backbone of transportation in the UK, the road freight sector is never far from a green politicians’ cheap shot about oil dependence and industry’s resistance to a low carbon economy.
I was reminded of this last week in Brussels as I listened on while a senior member of the European Commission’s Transportation Cabinet lambasted a room full of fleet owners for their failure to act definitively to reduce CO2 emissions.
The audience, full of success stories and innovative programmes to “go green”, was unsurprisingly disheartened by the Commission’s robust dismissal of its programmes as “piecemeal” and “not strategic”.
So why is it that when it comes to sustainable business, certain sectors’ reputations have been buoyed by their response to the low carbon agenda, while others continue to be painted as fossil-fueling consuming dinosaurs, unwilling or unable to adapt to a new world of declining oil reserves and ambitious carbon reduction targets?
In a word, reputationmanagement. Industries must confront their not-so-pretty reputation legacies in order to grow, maintain favour with stakeholders, and ultimately maintain their licence to operate.
Let’s look at how other sectors have tackled similar regulatory challenges, and then conclude with some advice for how road hauliers can think differently about their reputation in order to secure greater understanding and support from government and environmental activists.
Supermarkets & the environment
Savvy retailers across Europe were amongst the first to recognise post-Copenhagen that they would be on the chopping block once public concern about the environment began to influence consumer purchasing decisions. While such a shift has yet to be documented, Marks & Spencer’s Plan A is a shining example of a genuine, well-thought through initiative that positions the business as part of the solution, not contributing to the problem. From simple operational changes to wider supply chain commitments, all initiatives in Plan A makes good business sense as well as demonstrating low carbon leadership.
The alcohol industry & binge drinking
The alcohol sector is perpetually under attack from public health officials and NGOs bemoaning a culture of binge drinking. In the UK TheWine and Spirits Trade Association, working with the support of the country’s alcohol makers, recently side-stepped further regulatory intervention by contributing proactively to the government’s Responsibility Deal.
The Responsibility Deal aims to tackle public health concerns without heavily regulating industry, and was only possible because alcohol producers were willing to acknowledge their role in the problem, and to become part of the solution. A commitment to further self-regulation, including tightening marketing restrictions, continuing to fund successful Drinkaware campaigns, and improve server training initiatives all resulted in an alcohol sector which is no longer a scapegoat for politicians trying to explain away binge drinking concerns.
So, what can road hauliers learn from their retail and alcohol counterparts?
First, act early. The EU is expected to tax trucks based on their carbon output in the next five years. To avoid this punitive tax policy, fleet industry associations should be looking to find their own version of M&S’s Plan A. Agreeing a self-imposed CO2 reduction target that is feasible for the industry to meet, would demonstrate goodwill to regulators, and put fleets on the front foot when it comes time to lobby against any crippling taxes the EU might suggest down the road. Like Plan A, a shared commitment to reducing CO2 emissions in fleets will result in cost savings for the sector.
Second, formalise informal practices and commitments. The alcohol sector was already following the majority of commitments it made in the Responsibility Deal long before Andrew Lansley took up his role as Health Minister. When the time came to collaborate with Government, the trade association had a number of ongoing initiatives to package up and present them back to government as an industry-driven “vision” for responsible drinking. Road hauliers must now do the same thing, and at an EU level. For instance, the UK the Freight Transport Association’s LogisticsCarbon Reduction Scheme is already yielding successful outcomes, as are programmes across the continent aimed at reducing empty drive time, improving fuel economy, and training drivers to use minimum energy when on the road. Collecting these shining examples, and presenting them back to the European Commission, will prove the sector’s willingness, and possibly open up new channels for collaboration or funding.
Finally, stop being defensive. Given the amount of finger pointing and scapegoating the trucking sector endures, it is little surprise that road hauliers may have developed a feeling of healthy animosity when dealing with regulators. However, as the alcohol and retail experiences demonstrate, changing your reputation with policy makers calls for re-aligning the industry’s aims and objectives to match those of the public good. In the case of fleets, this means translating business objectives, like reducing fuel bills, into shared objectives, like reducing overall carbon emissions.
Whether battling fat taxes, fuel taxes, or marketing restrictions, demonstrating shared commitments and setting out timelines to deliver on those commitments is a necessity for any industry looking to improve its reputation and survive periods of heavy regulation and market change.