By Claire Weekes, senior reporter, UTalkmarketing
Joshua is the keynote speaker at our Digital Brand Strategy Summit November 22 on how to use location and social to drive engagement and commerce.
You could be forgiven for thinking, on paper anyway, that Joshua March is older than 25. March is the co-founder of Conversocial, a fast growing social media management company which sits, quite literally, on the cusp of David Cameron’s much-hyped ‘Silicon Roundabout’ in east London.
Prior to this, March already has under his belt a law degree, a stint as chairman on the Facebook Developer Garage in London and a successful business in iPlatform, a technology company that specialises in building social applications for Facebook. Given his background, it’s understandable then that March is excited about the dramatic impact social media is having on the way that brands interact with their customers. March hasn’t just watched the consumer shift in enthusiasm from MySpace, through Bebo to Facebook - he accurately predicted it.
“When Facebook launched its application platform in 2007 I just had a really strong feeling that it was going to become a place for brands to interact with customers,” he says. Which prompted March to move to London and help to set up the Facebook Developer Garage in the same year.
“Facebook put out an announcement in its developer blog to say it wanted people to organise local developer events. A few of us clubbed together and organised an event in a bar. We expected ten people to turn up – we got around 70 – developers, brand managers and agency executives,” he says. “So we went on to form our own little committee”.
That committee, the Facebook Developer Garage, which March stepped down from as chairman last year now meets around ten times a year and attracts around 200 attendees each time.
March has certainly put his money where his mouth is, co-founding two companies which both offer very different ways in which brands can leverage opportunities from social media platforms. iPlatform came first – helping brands to embed competition activity and social apps into Facebook and Twitter.
There might be a fair few of these types of company around now, but iPlatform holds the accolade of becoming Facebook’s first ‘Preferred Developer Consultant’ in the UK (at the time it received the status, there were 14 other ‘Preferred Consultants’ – but all based in the US).
Then there is Conversocial – March’s newest venture and arguably the most interesting because it encourages brands into an area of social media marketing that he believes is still largely overlooked. “The point of Conversocial is to plug a brand’s customer service teams into Facebook and Twitter”, says March. “Smart social media marketing is now as much about making customer service a part of a brand’s marketing strategy as the product that it sells, because thanks to Facebook and Twitter any customer – potential or existing can see exactly what everyone else is saying about your brand. There is nowhere to hide.”
Facebook he says, more than Twitter, is the main driver of brands realising that they need to think about a robust customer service strategy that feeds into its social media one. While as a consumer you might think it’s more immediate to ping an @ at, say Tesco when you want to complain about something – from a brand’s perspective the layout of Facebook’s fan pages make a brand’s customer service strategy much more open to scrutiny. “If I @ a brand on Twitter then I can see it, my friends can see it and it is visible if searched for – but that @ won’t appear on a brand’s actual profile page. On a brand’s Facebook page, you see every single comment or question put to that brand,” points out March.
From March’s point of view, it is impossible to expect a social media manager to be able to handle an entire, effective customer service strategy across the various social media channels. “B2C retailers that sell directly, in large volumes, have such a high number of transactional issues that need to be dealt with every day,” he argues. “Then there are the financial institutions and pharmaceutical companies who will have legal obligations to be seen to be dealing with customer issues.”
Of course running a company that offers a plugged in software solution to the problem , it is no surprise that March is an advocate of a social media driven customer service strategy. But he has a point when it comes to the benefits– there have been some high profile and embarrassing social media faux pas that brands have made in recent years when it comes to customer service management.
One of the most high profile of these happened in April 2009, when Iceland’s volcanic ash cloud plunged the European airline industry into instant chaos. At the time, airline companies were heavily criticised for their failure to respond to customer queries and to disseminate information via social media channels.
Ok so that was 2009, and a lot has been learnt about social media communication strategies since then – but as consumer use of Facebook and Twitter becomes ever more sophisticated (thanks largely of course to their continued efforts to make us spend more time engaging via their platforms) the management of customer expectation via these networks is only going to become more pressing, says March.
“Social media is chucking everything a brand does into the public eye”, he says. “You can’t blast out one way messages anymore, you can’t control what is said about your brand, and you can’t delete it. For brands the shift has been from having something you create and then push out, to more of a rolling process of continuing to create and recreate as a result of what you have already done and how your customers have reacted to it”.
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