Tag Archive reputation management

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The Power of Influence – Knowing Your Social Media Score

Prior to all things going digital and smartphones embedding themselves in our lives, we had a simpler more straightforward life.  In the past your number of friends could be counted in birthday or Christmas cards or the entries in the address book you kept in the draw of the table in the hall, the one your phone sat on, plugged in to the wall.

The number of business relationships were similarly measured in cards that you bothered to retain, small enough to fit in a wallet or a specially designed holder that you could flick through.

 

The Power of Influence - David Laud i2i

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we all know the number of true friends or meaningful commercial contacts you have does not equate to how effective you are in business.  Similarly with social media our effectiveness in this medium is not due to how friendly we are but how much value we offer those we’re connected to.

Due to terms such as “friends” on Facebook many are still confused as to the type of relationships they are developing online but there is a very clear distinction.  To prove the point there’s a physical limit to how many people we, as humans, can maintain valuable inter-personal relationships with. At the risk of getting all anthropological with you, there’s real sound research supporting this view.

The science behind this is a calculation known as Dunbar’s number. It’s the limit to the number of people who we can keep regular social relationships with and the range has been static for thousands of years.  Professor Robin Dunbar has determined that the number of inter-personal relationships we can maintain falls between 100 and 230.  It’s therefore a fallacy to think you can realistically build a network of close contacts that count much more than 200 in total.

For those of us looking to social media for a return on business investment we need to look beyond simply acquiring followers.  The true power of the medium is not how many individuals are following, connecting or friending us but the influence of those in our network relative to our own interests.  It is the members reach and collective power applied across multiple networks that offer the greatest opportunity.

Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” makes frequent references to how ideas and products catch on by this use of social group dynamics and the manner in which information transmits throughout a group driven by those who have influence such as connectors and mavens.

As a simple example look at the way in which profile pictures quickly adapt to respond to a topical cause, or event. 26 million Facebook profiles used a rainbow filter in honour of Pride and support of the LGBT community.  But be careful when you see a bandwagon approaching, such profile changes can backfire as David Cameron can testify with his recent photo-shopped poppy.

The challenge is to create receptive networks built on mutual understanding and respect in which you can establish a position as a thought leader, originator, sharer and supporter of fellow members.

Great! You may say, but how do I know if I’m moving in the right direction if I can’t count the number of contacts as a measure?

Social influence measurement tools

The answer is to use a measurement tool.  One of the leaders in this influence measurement field is Klout, launched in 2008 it delivers its services via a website and app that use social media analytics to rank users according to online social influence.  They analyse activity across multiple sites that include Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Google+. The “Klout Score”, is represented by a numerical value between 1 and 100.

In preparing this article I spoke to Eddie McGraw Director of Communications at Lithium Technologies, owners of Klout, this is what he had to say on the topic of influence.

Influence can be a somewhat hazy term, but how we define it is the ability to drive action. That’s something we can actually quantify – how much your social activity is able to drive subsequent activity. It’s very important for both people and brands to have some gauge of who is and is not influential, so they can determine who the right people are that they should be engaging with.

 

Also, just as important as overarching influence would be subject matter influence – or what we call Topic Expertise. Kim Kardashian has 31 million followers, but that doesn’t mean people should look to her for advice on whether to invest in Apple or Google. One of the things we’ve just introduced is a way of looking not just at someone’s overall Klout Score, but at their level of expertise on a specific topic. This way you can find subject matter experts on the topics you most care about.

 

As Eddie states it’s not all about the numbers of followers or connections, the key is in establishing your clear area of expertise and thereby your range of influence.  Understanding where you are with regard to influence can help you better understand the effectiveness of your time posting content, improving the return for your efforts.  To put a number on it, the average Klout score is around 40.  To establish where you or your firm sits versus competitors you can search twitter accounts via the Klout website.

 

Increasingly brands and industry experts are becoming aware of the importance of social influence.  Leaving social media content creation to inexperienced, untrained or poorly managed individuals is now seen as far too risky for firms wishing to establish a consistent and respected brand.  In professional services, networks will look for and respond more favourably to a tone of voice combining intellect, empathy and personality with a dash of appropriate humour.  The trend is for owners of the business to start engaging more directly as they have the knowledge and gravitas to attract greater numbers of key target followers for their network.  By way of contrast, posting grammatically poor tweets about minutiae or blatant and repeated promotions, will have your network unfollowing in numbers.

Outsourcing the responsibility of social media posting to an agency, no matter how attractive, is also not advisable, as the risks far outweigh the benefits.  In professional service marketing above many other sectors, your credibility can be very quickly undermined if the voice of your chosen channels lacks authenticity.  Better to invest in qualified support and training for your own team and remain in control.

As a marketer one of my regular requests is to help clients build strong networks and then assist them to deliver fresh, interesting content in a manner that helps improve engagement.  By taking structured consistent steps and increasing the profile and social influence of partners, managing partners and specialists, the firm is better placed to demonstrate their capabilities and attract greater levels of interest.

Whilst I would stress that these tools are not 100% perfect, they do offer an essential insight to establish where your profile stands by way of influence and by regular monitoring keep track of your progress.

Suggested social influence measuring tools –   Klout, Kred/ Sprout Social, Peerindex (Brandwatch)

David Laud

Partner i2i Marketing Management

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When Social Goes So Wrong – Reputation Management

One of the great benefits of social media is its instant connectivity and accessibility to so many individuals across the globe.  This benefit however can become a distinct disadvantage when things are not all rosy in the social media garden.

SMFL 01 Clooney full size

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s just look at a few examples.  Staff with the responsibility of posting content on behalf of your business decide to boost the reach of your messages by tapping in to a popular hashtag #.  It can be harmless and often look unprofessional, more akin to jumping on an overburdened bandwagon.  One such recent example is #PlutoFlyBy .

Nice pun from the bathroom accessory guys…

Space is all over the news with the#PlutoFlyby, so let us help YOU save space in the bathroom

Or this one from a US Italian restaurant chain…

Have a breadstick on us, Pluto! You’ll always be a planet in our eyes. #PlutoFlyby

Mmm… awkward and looks a little desperate however it’s not malicious and no one is harmed in the hijacking of the hashtag.

Moving on to corporations creating their own hashtag and it backfiring; now that can be an interesting spectator sport.

#MCDStories McDonalds marketing team expected nothing but genuine “nuggets” of wholesome stories, instead they created a McFlurry storm of negativity as tweet after tweet tried to out-score the other on their terrible experiences. Ouch!

Even classy supermarket Waitrose hasn’t escaped the hashtag howler brigade. Their #Waitrosereasons campaign generated a stream of pretentious and pompous tongue in cheek tweets that played on the expense of shopping at the store.  This included a tweet suggesting the shopper always transferred shopping to tesco bags so neighbours didn’t know they’d won Euromillions!

Yes we can laugh at the big brands getting it wrong but what if it happens to you and your business.  We are all vulnerable to attack as soon as we “put ourselves out there” but how do we respond if someone genuinely takes against your business or someone who works in it.

Examples that hit the media spotlight often involve high profile individuals.  Kevin Pietersen brought a successful claim for defamation against Specsavers when their Facebook and twitter advert suggested the ex- England cricketer tampered with his bat.

But it’s not always possible to hit the troublemakers for six.  Bed and Breakfast owners Martin and Jacqui Clark failed to win their case against TripAdvisor after they had received very poor reviews on the rating site.  The Judge refused to reveal the identities of those making the post which had caused the Clark’s to lose business.

This leaves something of a hole in the world of social media where trolls can continue to inhabit and inflict their pain without fear of retribution.  In my view this should be addressed rather swiftly as the proliferation of rating sites has led to many attempts to “game” the sites for competitive advantage.  If a review is fair the reviewer should have no fear of being seen.  If they are allowed to remain anonymous the opportunity to post false and defamatory messages is made far too easy.

What Should You Do

  1. You have the right to take legal action if a post mentions you or your business by name or by reference makes it clear who the message is about. For a successful claim of defamation it must be considered offensive leading others on hearing or viewing the comment to think less of the referenced person/ business.
  2. Defamation cases fall into two categories.
    • Libel for the written word e.g. newspapers, e-mails, texts, blogs, tweets and Facebook posts.
    • Slander refers to the spoken word – overheard or recorded.
  3. If you are the subject of an offensive comment on social media report it, block if it’s a tweet. Unfortunately Facebook’s policies are rather inconsistent but still report any messages that cause genuine offence.  Most social media platforms now have options to block foul and abusive posters.
  4. If it’s defamatory content my advice is not to engage with the person posting. Many celebrities and businesses have fallen into the trap of trying to “manage” the situation by responding directly. It’s a natural urge to do so but often creates a stream of communication that escalates without resolving.
  5. If not considered abusive or defamatory – let’s say it’s a publicly visible negative message/ complaint received mentioning a product, service or person within your business. Then you should seek to take the matter away from the public gaze.  If on twitter follow them and ask for a follow back to enable a direct message DM which only the two of you can see.   Message them on Facebook or better still ask for an e-mail address or if appropriate phone number so you can deal with the matter directly and without additional public interference.  Often with big brands, as seen with the hashtag examples, one negative comment can quickly lead to a feeding frenzy of vented spleens. Engaging publicly with everyone can quickly become a full time job.
  6. If your own quick actions as above fail to solve a problem of defamation or if the comments are visible in other mediums such as Google search you may need to call upon the help of a professional.

There has been a great deal of media attention around high profile cases of social media based defamation including Kevin Pietersen, Lord McAlpine and Russell Brand.  As a result there’s been a threefold increase in cases across the country as more of us gain an appreciation of our rights.  The numbers are still pretty low, only 26 matters  2013-14 but the year before saw only 6 cases.  Source: Thomson Reuters – Practical Law

One of the biggest problems a victim of social media trolling can face is the challenge to find anyone to listen.  The huge social media corporations are notoriously oblique in their “face to face” relations with users.  Facebook, Twitter and Google have layer upon layer of FAQ’s, help forums and suitably straight-jacketed reporting processes.  If, as many find, your problem doesn’t tick the right box you’ll have a merry old time attempting to get a sensible answer or swift resolution.

If you find yourself in such a situation please drop me a line.  Over the years I’ve had a number of successful outcomes for clients dealing with Google, Facebook, Apple and Twitter.

David Laud

Make an enquiry here:-

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We all want to be Norm – 10 Tips to Build Stronger Customer Relationships

Back in the early 1980’s a US sit com hit our screens and almost immediately became a hit. Centred on a small bar in Boston the show introduced us to a series of characters who were the regulars and staff of “Cheers”. The theme song was catchy and used the phrase “Where everyone knows your name”. One character personified this tagline more than any other. A large chap with ill-fitting suits, tie almost always askew and mop of curly hair, his name was Norm Peterson an *accountant played by the wonderful actor George Wendt. *In later episodes Norm becomes a house painter.

Each time Wendt’s burly frame stepped down the stairs and came into view he was met with a chorus of welcoming voices “Norm!”

That friendly welcome became one of the most popular aspects of this hugely successful show which ran continuously from 1982 to 1993 and produced a number of spin offs including Kelsey Grammer’s “Frasier”.

But rather than offer up a history of popular US sit coms I’m highlighting this specific element as an example of how we should be looking after customers.

We all want to be Norm (pic by Jordan Wilson)

We all want to be Norm (pic by Jordan Wilson)

Business owners and managers in the hospitality sector appreciate all too well the importance of knowing the customer and making a personal connection. Restaurants, bars, hotels, clubs they all rely very heavily on the power of personal recommendation and with the advent and growth of TripAdvisor they know they cannot afford to let standards slip.

Just for a moment put yourself in the role of a customer looking to use your business to buy or enquire about a product or service. If you’re a first time customer it’s highly unlikely that the communication is going to be as warm and familiar as that enjoyed by Norm but the objective should be to get to that level. Who wouldn’t want to feel that they’re recognised, remembered and ultimately valued by the establishments they frequent?

At a time when business is becoming ever more competitive and the winning of new customers more complex and costly, it’s logical to invest time to understand their experience, their needs and without being too intrusive more about them as individuals.

Starbucks are a great example of a business that invests in exactly that element of their marketing. You can buy a decent coffee in any one of a number of nationally branded and local establishments in most towns and cities. Why would you choose one shop over another? Some may genuinely prefer the taste of Costa coffee but the vast majority of us weigh up the overall experience.

The simple task of taking your name for the cup makes you feel as though the staff are taking a personal interest in you, yes it has a functional purpose but I suspect it was introduced for more reasons than you may think. Trying to remember hundreds of regular daily customers by face for the average person is quite a task but if you take their names you are adding a neat memory aiding process to the task and chances are they’ll not need to ask after one or two visits. Then how good do you feel when your name is remembered? Would you want to return to such a store? Of course you would.

Keeping with Starbucks their attention to customer’s behaviours extends to the queues waiting to place their orders. Ever noticed what most of us do when we’re waiting to be served? We reach for our smartphones, check our social media accounts, e-mail and then when we’re ready to place that order we scrabble for a wallet or purse. Noting this behaviour Starbucks developed a function of their smartphone App which enables customers to not only earn rewards and get free food and drinks but essentially pay using those phones they already have in their hand. Just look around at your average Starbucks and count the Apple Macs and smartphone usage, they understand their market and how best to engage with them. What I like about the Starbucks example is that they took the time to consider the customer experience and find a way to improve it. I also like the fact that it’s a great combination of offline and online but at the heart is the desire to make that trip to buy your coffee and snack that much easier. Of course it doesn’t hurt Starbucks to have an app that requires your personal details to register and use it but by now you’ve built a level of trust having been a “regular” and happy to share a little personal data.

For those of you now complaining that you don’t have “Star-bucks” to throw at such projects (see what I did there) don’t worry it doesn’t need to be expensive.

The best marketing and customer service solutions are often simple, common sense and can be implemented without breaking the bank. The essential part of this process is to initiate direct action and start taking a greater interest in that over used phrase the “customer experience”.

Here are 10 suggested steps to get things underway

1. Take time to stand back and become a customer of your own company, be honest and objective.
2. Look at what you’re delivering, break down the elements into stages.
3. How are customers responding?
4. Become more familiar with competitor approaches but avoid following their lead.
5. Build on the positives of the current offering.
6. Address the negatives.
7. Adapt to take advantage of the intelligence gained from the exercise.
8. Train staff to become more aware and develop empathy with the customer.
9. Introduce communication channels to keep feedback flowing.
10. Review and refresh regularly.

If this is an area that interests you or you would like more information please feel free to drop me a line.
David Laud

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Knowing the Price of Everything and Value of Nothing

Oscar Wilde’s famous quote from his only published novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, is one that intrigues me.  It can have a number of subtle meanings but within the novel it is specifically relating to the bartering of an item in Wardour Street . In the late 19th century this part of London was known for antique and furniture shops and Lord Henry’s bidding for a piece of old brocade may have hinted at the difficult economic circumstances of the period.  Lord Henry’s frustration at the time taken to secure his purchase leads to his statement, “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Cost-value graph on blackboard

Fast forward to the 21st century and things are not so different.  One effect of the recent recession has been our re-focus on reducing our outgoings both personally and commercially as the pinch on our profit and lifestyle hit home.

Let me be very clear (sound like a pompous politician there) I don’t have an issue with careful cost control.  Quite the contrary, I actively encourage a regular domestic and business review of expenditure.  The issue as it relates to Oscar’s brilliantly written line is that we can become “hard wired” to focussing exclusively on the currency of a product or service and not the benefit or return that item will bring.

As a marketer and business owner this is very important territory.  I’m equally a supplier and customer and in both relationships I try my best to be consistent.  The difficulty is in identifying what that often quoted but rarely defined “value” is.

What is “value”?

As a noun it’s “the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something”

As a verb “to estimate the monetary worth”

All too often we see the term reduced to a base level with items branded as “value meals” and the like.  That’s not really value, it’s just cheap but of course that’s a word that won’t shift a chicken tikka masala from your local supermarket shelf.

Knowing the value of something can be harder to realise than you might think.  Often we only truly gauge something’s worth when it’s no longer available.  From your favourite TV series to particular brand of perfume, that great boss who selfishly retired or reliable local mechanic who always fixed your car with a smile.  When they’re gone we appreciate them more.

This test equally works on goods and services that we might already attribute more value to than they deserve.   What about that expensive watch, particular club membership, car, holiday destination or brand of coffee?  These are often aspirational items and by owning or experiencing them we believe as a consequence our lives to be “better” and thereby valuable.  That’s a state of mind that many brand owners want their target customers to buy into but if we were forced to use an alternate would our lives be so much worse?

Businesses that sell services can often struggle to differentiate themselves from the competition.  There will always be those who use price as a promotional blunt instrument.  Successful companies take the time to understand not only the mechanics of their offering but the emotional response to experiencing the best and worst of the market offerings.

You might technically be measured as the very best at what you provide but if you employ robots or a team of over confident practitioners to deliver, they’re unlikely to capitalise on that technical advantage.

Good business is all about the human experience.

So what are the factors that make the difference?

  • Accessibility
  • Action
  • Attitude
  • Communication
  • Empathy
  • Experience
  • Flexibility
  • Focus
  • Knowledge
  • Listening
  • Resilience
  • Responsiveness
  • Simplicity
  • Truthfulness

And of course this can all add up, when we include the fee, to value.

If you’re up for a challenge take a look at a couple of services and products that you use over the course of the next few weeks.  Ask yourself what you are basing your decisions on and consider if that is the best measure for making those purchases.  Put yourself in a position where you must justify those purchases to a boss and they are going to want clearly articulated and rational responses.  Consider which of those items you would wish to retain and those that fall short and face being replaced.

What does value look like to you?  Once you’ve thought about it from your own consumer perspective you might want to have a go at applying it to your own business.  Consider, honestly, if you would want to buy from your business, if so great…. can you do even better?  If the answer is no… where are you failing and how can you address the shortcomings?

If you’re not a typical customer of your company’s product or service, seek out those who are and ask for their honest, non sugar-coated views.

Knowing the price of something is the easy bit, knowing the value… that’s a skill that we all need to work on.

David Laud

 

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The Power of Personal Branding

Later this year our first born turns 20.  Her generation has been the first to grow up in the “social” World we all now inhabit.  Migrating from MSN messenger a brief flirtation with MySpace before Facebook appeared on the scene.  Now she can count twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine and Tumblr to the portfolio of sites that enable her to connect and share with friends.

The Power of Personal Branding by David Laud

The Power of Personal Branding by David Laud

In the early days it wasn’t quite as all-consuming as it is now.  Accessibility was limited to time on Dad’s laptop or PC but as we all know now smartphone and tablet proliferation provides instant easy access.

 

As a parent we will naturally be protective over the sites visited and posts read and made by our children but it’s not always easy to build and maintain trust whilst coming across as an Orwellian control freak.

 

Parenting is one thing but what of ourselves?  Are we immune from the attractions of social media and the desire to connect and build our own virtual networks?  For some the thought of sharing aspects of their lives on any potentially public platform is just too scary or ridiculous to consider.  For others it opens a whole new world of opportunity.

 

Successful social media entrepreneurs have created impressive personal brands that can equal that of a large business.  Commentators and influencers are now being actively sought out by the traditional brands to aid them in their quest to understand and grow their own sphere of influence online.

 

What about you?  Do you see yourself as falling into the “personal brand” category?  From my perspective anyone who is prepared to put themselves out there with a unique and homespun message that

shares even a small part of their lives has created a brand.  The difficulty with such a notion is that people see a brand as belonging to something far greater than an individual, its Nike, Coke, Apple, Dyson, Virgin…. But just consider the celebrity brand.  Stephen Fry, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, One Direction, Jeremy Clarkson; there are hundreds of examples.  One of the most stunning examples of an individual harnessing the power of social media is that of Barack Obama and yes he had a team behind him but the principle of Obama the brand, his message and reach through social media is a lesson we can all draw upon.

 

If using social media for personal or business purposes or in my case a schizophrenic combination of both you really should take time to think about how your persona is presented.  I often see accounts on twitter where individuals are obliged by their employers to state that the tweets produced are their own and not associated with the business they’re fronting.  I understand why these statements are made but I do fear they undermine any efforts to positively promote that business, it gives an impression that they are free to talk behind the businesses back rather than be trusted to offer opinion and general comment on the world around them.  If you’re worried about what someone might say in the name of your business or by any loose association, don’t give them the keys to the account!

 

Back to the personal brand idea – what should you be doing to make the most of your social media presence?

10 Tips for Personal Branding with Social Media

  1. Think about why you’re investing time in social media sites
  2. Be careful not to imitate others, be original and find your own voice.
  3. Draw up a short list of simple objectives, what do you want from all this time you’re investing?
  4. Consider setting yourself some basic “house rules” for social media use such as:
    • No swearing
    • Respect others
    • Block negative contributions from your network
    • Protect and enhance your reputation
    • Add value to your network
  5. Ask for feedback from others who you trust to give an honest appraisal of your online persona, does it match your own thoughts?
  6. Don’t get hung up on social ranking scores
  7. Focus on the level of genuine interactions
  8. Regularly review where you are against your objectives and don’t be afraid of changing them
  9. Update the profile pic to keep things fresh
  10. Try not to take yourself too seriously

The last on the list could easily be top.  One of the biggest “turn offs” is the overly earnest, terribly persistent and infuriatingly opinionated narcissist.  It’s really not a good look; but given the personality type they’re often so self-obsessed they don’t see what we can.

Being aware of your personal brand is not taking yourself too seriously it’s actually taking responsibility for your current and future reputation.  Most employers and clients now “Google” the names of individuals who they might be working with.  It’s clear that those who have strong, well established and consistent content will put themselves in the frame for future work.

As far as branding goes…it really is getting personal.

David Laud – i2i Business Solutions LLP

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Law Firm Management – Survival of the Fittest

Charles Darwin knew a thing or two about evolution.  If I can cast my mind back to my human biology lessons, the term coined by the great naturalist was “Natural Selection”.  It took a little while for this radical theory to be accepted by the mainstream scientific community but now it is universally seen as the reason we, as humans, exist in the form we do today.  Of course not just humans, we can trace the origins of all living creatures through this process.

Crisis? Perhaps you need to adapt to survive...

Crisis? Perhaps you need to adapt to survive…

If Darwin were alive today he would no doubt be fascinated by our individual and organisational development.  He might also see how his theory can as easily be applied to businesses as it can to individuals.

A sector currently experiencing a significant series of evolutionary events, shaping their structure, relationships and existence is the legal profession.

Just last week we heard of yet one more familiar north east name going into administration.  The loss of 50 jobs and a history of 250 years, gone.  They are not the first in this recent wave of firm closures and they most certainly won’t be the last.

Why are we hearing of so many failures?  The answer, as in any scientific evaluation, is not straightforward.  The truth is that the myriad of challenges that have conspired to arrive at the door of law firms in the UK are individually manageable with care but when they arrive in rapid succession, they create a chain of events that leave only the very fittest and dynamic of practices standing.

The Law Society reported toward the end of 2013 that over 400 law firms had closed in the preceding 12 month period.  Last week the same organisation revealed that more than 4,500 solicitors had simply not arranged to renew their practicing certificates.  Without it they are unable to carry their work.

The events that have brought about the closure of so many firms include;

  • The recession resulting in SME’s looking to save cost by avoiding lawyers’ fees – (Law Society Gazette May 2013), larger corporations driving down fees and personal clients unable to get divorced as they can’t afford to put their affairs in order. The property market is also only just waking from its lengthy hibernation.
  • Personal Injury and Medical Negligence solicitors impacted by the Jackson Reforms seeing an immediate drop in fee income, volume of instructions and the departure of claims management companies from the market.
  • The Government removing legal aid for divorce and failure of mediation to replace the lost fee income.
  • Introduction of the Legal Services Act and “Alternative Business Structures” enabling non solicitors to offer legal services and large corporations such as Co-op, Direct Line, DAS, BT entering the market.
  • Professional Indemnity insurance cover proving increasingly difficult to obtain, suppliers in the market cherry picking only the very best risks and others facing excessively high premiums.
  • Solicitors Regulatory Authority introducing burdensome and expensive measures such as Compliance Officers for legal practice and finance.

These facts and more point to a series of tremors in the legal world that have built to form a seismic event.  The consequence of these factors is when the dust settles the clients, both personal and business will have far less choice.  On the upside, of those firms remaining we can be assured that they are resilient and very likely to be focussed on the needs and value they can bring to the client.

The conclusion we can draw using Darwin’s theory is that having survived the natural selection process those still standing will be fitter and more prepared for the future.  The advantage existing firms have at this time is their opportunity to still act, adapt and ensure their survival and avoiding a Dodo dilemma.

David Laud – Partner i2i Business Solutions LLP

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Marriage of Convenience or True Love – Law Firm Mergers

What lies behind the sudden increase in solicitors firms merging?  Is it a need for personal partner security, succession or future proofing, fear of failing or a strategic move to build a successful business?

Marriage Merger

2013 has revealed a weekly supply of dramatic news impacting the legal profession.  Jackson reforms, loss of legal aid, liquidations, economic position and client migration, inability for partners to plan ahead, ABS’s and the increasing impact of the Legal Services Act, succession issues for traditional partnerships, professional indemnity renewal……they have all combined to place the profession in new uncomfortable territory.

One consequence of these issues is the fact that there are now far fewer firms in England & Wales than at any time recorded by the Law Society.

As at September 2013 there were some 10,726 firms to be precise. It still sounds like a big number but as reported in the LSG it’s 400 less than the same month in 2012.  This dramatic fall is due to all of the above factors which have resulted in:

  • Firms closing their doors voluntarily
  • Firms placed into administration
  • Increased merger activity

The rather worrying state of affairs has created a rather tense atmosphere within many firms as they find themselves glancing around to find security against the pressures, the security of a merger partner.

It’s the merger activity that is of particular interest because if well thought through and executed it can deliver a very positive outcome to counter the weight of negativity surrounding the profession.  Unfortunately the press releases with smiling partners shaking hands in front of newly branded and dressed offices are unlikely to convince many onlookers of the true drivers of such arrangements.

When partners start to feel the cold and their accountant or bank has that “little word in the ear” they see the one route to securing their future as that long discussed but never acted upon merger opportunity.

The firm nearby that presents less of a threat to personal control than others with domineering partners.  The firm that has the client you’d always courted but failed to land.  The firm who’ve just announced an investment in IT which must mean they’re “switched on” and looking to the future.  The firm that hasn’t joined a national brand in a vain attempt to protect its future flow of work.

It’s not surprising that the above traits are seen as attractive to the partners of a firm keen to link arms with another.  Regardless of whether it’s an arranged marriage or one that all partners consent to willingly, the success of the union will not be founded in any of those considerations but could certainly result in its failure.

As with any successful marriage having things in common helps but is not essential.  Yes you need an attraction, a spark and a personality match that uses the “chemistry” to good rather than toxic effect.  When joined the “personality” of the newly formed business must be a commonly shared persona.  If not the deal can be blown wide open leaving space for detractors, conflicting agendas and negative views of those who were just waiting for the “I told you so” moment.

Leadership is critical and it doesn’t necessarily need to be a single person more often a team who share a vision driven by clearly stated and understood objectives.

The original cupid arrow that created the merged business is typically founded in solid logic and should have all the ingredients for a successful outcome. Unfortunately the complexity and challenge of putting organisations together can dilute and lose the benefit of economies of scale and combined resources.

Critical to the success is a clearly articulated strategy delivered consistently by an effective leadership team. The focus at all times MUST be on the customers, lose sight of that key fact and matters can start to unravel fast.

Rather than being daunted by the scale of the challenge it’s helpful to view the merger plan as a series of projects that each need to be worked on to achieve the overall desired outcome.

Not many employees relish change and mergers present plenty of new challenges and potential threats to personal job security.  Keeping the talent engaged is important as is the need to motivate the business to achieve the new goals.

There are many positives to be borne from mergers but before being charmed by a suitable partner it’s worth looking at theirs and other track records. We can and should certainly learn from the mistakes of others and the legal market is peppered with them.

On the upside mergers can and do deliver, but best look at an equation that gives 1+1 = 3+ not 0.  This is a marriage that needs to deliver offspring that can grow and evolve and take the newly formed business forward.

Here below are a list of projects, an example of the areas a typical merger would need to cover to deliver a positive and co-ordinated outcome.  The list below is but a guide and is not comprehensive.  The projects would of course be determined by the specific features of the merger.

Merger Projects Example

  • Client database co-ordination
  • Staff induction & integration
  • Accounting period, procedures & systems
  • Cashflow projections and monitoring
  • Client care, complaints and reports
  • Business Plan evaluation of strategy
  • Marketing – website, materials, budget
  • Brand evaluation, name, positioning
  • Compliance matters – money laundering/ SRA
  • Insurances
  • Overall IT infrastructure assessment
  • Quality mark retention

If any of the above issues resonate with you and your business and you would wish to explore your options please feel free to drop me a line in confidence – david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk

David Laud

Managing Partner

i2i Business Solutions, Management Consultancy

david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk  twitter @davidlaud

Byadmin

Trick or Treat? The Importance of Effective Conflict Management

Won’t be long and the House of Laud’s doorbell will be getting its annual Halloween workout from the local sweet-toothed, short-person, and some not so short invasion squad.  When did we start parading the pumpkin and craving candy?  It’s yet another US import that along with “Prom” has the younger generation hooked.

Trick or Treat

Not that I’m against US imports, I quite like the Apple iPad, a blast of Nirvana always improves my driving and Disney do make great “feel good” movies but not all things US leave me with a warm comfortable feeling.

Politics, now there’s something we shouldn’t import from the US.  Or are we too late?  The personality driven style of campaigning has worryingly been adopted by all parties.  We can only count our blessings that the budgetary decisions are not as the US system and used as an American Football where gaining yards against a team can actually cause global recession part II.

My hope is that those in power and who finally found an answer to America’s “shut-down” will stop playing games in future and find sensible solutions that in some way retain the laudable aims of President Obama’s Health Care Reform Bill.

For the Republicans to be able to wield such a huge political stick and continually seek to beat the President with it is nothing short of a scandal.  Of course these are my own opinions and others may well disagree but the basic position is surely one we cannot support.  If the US “Shut-down” and budgetary stalemate had not been resolved and they were seen to default on their loans it wouldn’t have just been trick or treaters in the good old U.S. of A. crying at their lack of candy….we’d all be left short and can we afford to face such a dilemma just at the point we looked to be turning a corner?

As I write this Obama has announced a settlement and a compromise appears to have been reached.  I applaud his stance with the Health Care Reform but managing a country is really no different to managing a business.  When faced with an inevitable and catastrophic outcome that can be avoided through a mediated solution you need to put ego and personality to one side and negotiate to take matters forward.  It was more than time to lay the cards down and stop playing political poker.

By finding a solution however the political momentum appears now to be firmly with Obama with the US electorate both angry and shocked at the tactics used by the Tea Party representatives and others within the Republican party.

Whilst not pretending to be an expert on US or Global politics it does strike me that the time has come for such activity to be scrutinised under a process similar to the 7 principles of Nolan Group’s suggested approach to public service.

  1. Selflessnes
  2. Integrity
  3. Objectivity
  4. Accountability
  5. Openness
  6. Honesty
  7. Leadership

For me the above are a pretty good rule of thumb for anyone in a public position of authority. From school governor to senate representative to the President himself.

We can all agree to disagree on points of principle but when stubbornness and point scoring prevents progress it’s time to step in.  My preference now would be to undertake a review of the process that led to the crisis to put in place measures to prevent such calamities in future.  Without this we could be back at exactly the same point in just a few months.

Of course I’m all in favour of balanced mediated non confrontational or posturing approaches but…..if any sticky fingered haribo horror tries to mug me for a sugar rush be warned.  I may just say trick… 😉

David Laud Managing Partner – i2i Business Solutions LLP tweet @davidlaud

Byadmin

Have You Lost Your MOJO? 10 Tips to Re-Discover Your Confidence

A few years ago a client turned to me after a meeting and said he would hate to have my job.  At the time and as you might expect this took me by surprise not least because the individual making the statement was himself a very successful lawyer and partner in a successful firm and actually the meeting had been very positive.

Losing Your Mojo - Loss of Confidence

Losing your Mojo can affect your confidence and career prospects

 

When asked to qualify why my role might present as a poisoned chalice to him he referred to the constant pressure to deliver results.  One winning strategy or campaign would never be enough and that there was a constant demand for positive outcomes borne out of successfully winning work from the competition.

That might sound a bit odd certainly now we’re in such a competitive climate and expectations for delivery are not only directed at the marketers but each and every facet of the business.

What’s interesting is that this conversation stuck with me over the years.  The reason is that it made me, for the first time, seriously question my own career path and if indeed the suggestion of unrelenting demand for results would make for a happy working life in the long term.

The reality of course is that there are stresses in everyone’s job from CEO, entrepreneur, director manager, homemaker, carer, doctor, parent, journalist you name it there’s pressure to be found.  We can all question ourselves as to our performance, relationships, success and failures and when times have been tough with the economy many of us have been hard on ourselves or had others make unrealistic demands leading to unnecessary stress.

When I have a bad day and let’s face it we all have them, I revisit that conversation and remind myself why I do what I do and why over the years it’s proven to be a good career choice.  That technique helps keep me focussed on the positives and avoids dwelling on negative thoughts that can seriously damage your working life MOJO.  We all need a healthy dose of self-belief and confidence but it can be a greater challenge when events really turn against us and at those times a little external help might be required.

Questioning our own abilities can be caused by our mood and often the actions of others which can frequently be outside of our control.  That doesn’t stop us worrying and spiralling into a feeding frenzy of stress as we think back to the minutiae of our working days or projects in a negative post match analysis that either finds you coming up short or blaming everyone else for their failures.

How do you overcome these thoughts and loss of confidence?

  1. Accept that there is a problem requiring a solution, don’t bury your head or find alternative releases such as alcohol, arguing with loved ones or pointing the finger at others.
  2. Seek out someone you trust and who understands you but is also capable of being clear and logical of thought and non-judgemental.  Avoid engaging with a friend who will simply reflect what they think you want to hear.
  3. Be honest.
  4. If you can’t source someone consider running a self-diagnosis SWOT by looking at your personal strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  Be as honest as you can without being too negative or overly positive and glossing over the issues.   The SWOT can be useful if you have someone to help you too by providing structure to your discussion.
  5. Be prepared to be challenged and to challenge yourself.
  6. List the key milestones in your career/ life that have provided the greatest moments of pride and satisfaction, remember the feeling.
  7. Review the current role and identify where positive changes can be made and what you can specifically influence by way of outcomes.
  8. Review relationships at work and how your behaviour may impact on others both positively and negatively.
  9. What are you passionate about, what excites you? Make a list, no matter how short that list may be we all have something that sparks our positivity and passion, remind yourself of yours.
  10. Looking at the working and home life what makes you happy?  Find an activity that’s affordable and makes you smile and allow yourself regular opportunities to enjoy your favourite pastime.

Wherever you are in your career, just starting out, at a mid-point crossroads or towards the end you deserve to be making the very most of that time you spend on it.  Re-discovering your MOJO, the element which drives you, makes you stand out from the crowd and defines who you are can provide the all-important spark to re-ignite your work life.  It can also help you realise your ambitions and life goals by providing a fresh focus to the time you’re spending at work and your priorities and more effectively counteract those negative forces.

If you’re interested in the issues covered in this blog please feel free to contact David via twitter @davidlaud or e-mail david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk

 

 

Byadmin

Small Screen Invasion of the Social Media Minors

How many of us sit down on an evening to watch TV and look around to see children or partners face down in their smartphone, tablet or laptop?

Smartphone chain

Not an uncommon experience these days but what is it doing to our family life?

Family lawyers often hear of distressing stories where an ex uses the children to spy on the previous partner by using “Skype” or “facetime” technology. These communication tools are useful when used to keep in touch with loved ones but take on a whole new sinister meaning in the hands of someone with an ulterior motive.

What cases such as this also highlight is the danger of these tools in the hands of those who are not so worldly wise.

In a recent discussion on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour I was posed hypothetical questions raised by their listeners as genuine “real life” examples of social media intrusion.

1. How I would respond to accusations of being an alcoholic by a friend of my daughter who’d heard we were having a wine fridge installed and posted the comment on her very popular Facebook page?

2. In another scenario how would I deal with a son or daughter who posted embarrassing video of me on YouTube celebrating a Barbarians rugby victory over Australia?

These are two real examples experienced by radio 4 listeners and there are hundreds more like this.  I’m sure we can all point to at least one “awkward” social media experience.

The answer is to set clear ground rules. Not just for the children but the whole family. If mum or dad post inappropriate photos on facebook or instagram it is highly likely the kids will see this as license to behave as badly on their own accounts. Trust and respect for personal privacy is at the heart of good social media etiquette.

The issue of privacy has raised its head a few times in the house of Laud’s – that’s when an embarrassing shot of one of the family appears on instagram or Facebook.  In our home we can face fines of up to £5 if a mugshot or video clip appears on a social networking site without permission.  It works, as I found out to my cost.  My youngest daughter fined me £45 for 9 counts of posting without permission following my “proud dad” uploads from a holiday in Spain.  She was quite within her rights as I had overlooked the very important need to obtain the OK of the subject in the shot.  To be honest I think she was a little surprised her protestations proved successful but we can’t afford to be hypocritical with our children and we need to put our hands up and admit our mistakes.  As a result everyone in the family is now acutely aware of the implications and treads very carefully around the issue ensuring awareness and consent when agreeing to upload or be tagged in a photo online.

After a rather slow start schools have made great strides to understand and manage pupil engagement with handheld technology and the growing number of social media platforms. Primary schools quite rightly banning phones during the school day, introducing their own social sites for after school activities and secondary schools introducing best practice guidance and building it into the curriculum. The fear unfortunately remains that when the children are in the wifi home environment their parents just don’t know what their children are doing online and who they are talking to.

For the 14-18 year old generation we are mostly playing “catch up” as the genie is well and truly out of the bottle. This generation has grown up with social networking sites and have a knowledge and understanding far beyond most parents teachers and so called “experts”.  It then becomes an ever harder task to persuade them of the dangers of posting too many “selfies” or drunken escapades and more importantly be made aware of the more malicious intent of predator posters and followers?

Recent Advertising Standards Authority research highlighted the scale of the problem of children lying about their age on social networks. It identified 42% of respondents as being younger than the 18 year old they were attempting to be.  It’s also a worry to note that many parents are either unaware or consider it unimportant that their pre-teen child is on Facebook when the sites permitted entry age is 13, they therefore have created false profiles to obtain an account.

New image based social sites are also a concern.  Vine and Snapchat are 2 that offer time limited posts.  Despite the belief that many posts are transient, specifically Snapchats selling point, that messages are wiped away in an instant, we know that is just not the case. The web has a long and unforgiving memory and for the sake of future careers and relationships the sooner we understand the risks the better.

Of course social media sites offer great opportunities to share and make friends and these are clear positive aspects. It’s true that I have my own children to thank for my interest in social media. A parents curiosity that became a large part of my life.  Unfortunately the risks are real and we need to protect and educate against exposure to self-made stupidity, inappropriate content and individuals.

Understanding how to make social networking safe has become an essential skill for parents, teachers, managers and business owners and we owe it to ourselves to improve our collective knowledge.

If you are concerned and want help managing social media related issues at work or at home please drop us a line, we’d be happy to help.

David Laud david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk

Byadmin

Teenagers, Smartphones, Relationships & Privacy – David Laud on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour

bbc-radio-4

i2i’s Managing Partner, David Laud, recently contributed to a discussion on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour concerning the increased use of technology in the home and its impact on family privacy.

Click the link below to hear the clip

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01b9r54

This brief discussion covers a growing domestic problem and highlights the need for parents to stay up to speed with social media platforms and the exchanges children are having.

David is interviewed by Radio 4’s Jenni Murray and joined by Ruth James who runs a blog to help parents with teenage children. http://survivingteenagers.co.uk/author/survivingteens/

Byadmin

Keep it Simple Stoopid

Things to Do
For the past few years I’ve noticed a growing tendency for me to become agitated more quickly than in my younger days. Not that I’m a fossil but I’m beginning to wonder if I’m turning into one of those “grumpy old men” that periodically get trotted out on BBC Three to vent spleen at seemingly everyday events.

What causes this shift in our levels of patience? Stress? Well I suppose it plays a part but I wouldn’t say I’m any more stressed today than I was when I was in my early twenties. So maybe I’ve always been a stress head but my coping mechanisms are starting to fail.

Could it be subliminal status issues, as my family grows up I’m no longer the king of the cave…well that’s not true, have you seen the pictures of my barbecues on instagram? (check out laudaball).

Might it be my ability to keep those spinning plates and multiple business interests alive and thriving? Nope, never been happier in what I’m doing but I grant you and I’m sure you’ll concur it has become tougher in the past five years. That can largely be put down to the global economy and its knock on impact on areas that we work in.

So what is causing this mood? What are the trigger points and what can be done about it?

Reflecting on the most recent examples of my ire I can see a pattern beginning to form. Form…now there’s a trigger word right there. Filling in forms that are both poorly constructed and overly invasive.

An example. I had cause to cancel travel plans to Paris but clever stick that I am I had taken out travel insurance. So you would think it would be a relatively straightforward claims process? No. Firstly no one answered the phone actually a recorded message did finally kick in. But the message just pointed me back to the website I’d been wrestling with trying to complete the “online” form – impossible it was a “read only” PDF.

All the forms finally arrived via e-mail a week later and required printing off causing significant depletion of the ink supply (don’t get me started on that one).

They wanted so much information I think the claims handler could, with the appropriate face surgery take over my life and live as me amongst my family. Does anyone ever question why they need so much information? I did. I’m waiting to hear but now fear I may have damaged my claim by daring to ask a question and not complying fully with their demands.

To add insult to the injury (the reason why I’m unable to travel), the insurance will only pay for the flights. Well you might think that’s ok until you check the smallprint. Flights are less than £50, the big costs are the taxes and surcharges, well over £200!! The Doctors fee for completing the medical certificate was £25 so the insurance of £11 was really worth it.

Another example, apologies to anyone who’s also starting to feel the hot prickle of rage and recalling their own frustrations but this blogging process is strangely cathartic. The other example is one that has been testing me now for more than 6 months. The mobile networks, actually one fruit based brand in particular. A fat lot of good having a mobile phone that doesn’t get a signal in your home or office. Despite repeated requests for assistance and facing customer service….No, sorry, I can’t call it customer service, it isn’t, it’s more akin to customer taunting. How far they can go with lies, rudeness and stubborn refusal to engage before you spontaneously combust.

I think they’re running a book on my case at the call centre they call the executive office. I can imagine my name on a whiteboard league table of “live” customers who provide hours of fun to staff as they invent new torture techniques. My favourite was the adjudication service and my very own adjudicator who was a commercial telecom lawyer only interested in pointing out how patient his client, oops sorry, the other party were in dealing with such an awkward customer.

I could go on, major motor brand garage franchises who make up problems with your vehicle so they can charge hugely inflated prices to do…well nothing. Charities, since when did it become ok to employ armies of students to stop busy shoppers every single day – do we need to get tattoos on our foreheads that say “I’m with the Charity preference service” that’s a lot for a normal forehead but would fit nicely on mine. Perhaps not such a good idea as the Telephone Preference Service doesn’t appear to work, I must have ticked the box that said, please still allow PPI, accident claims, charities and any overseas call centre to ring me at any time but preferably Sunday’s and bank holidays.

As for e-mail spam, it’s about time prosecutions were made for habitual offenders. Despite not ever subscribing you dutifully unsubscribe only to be ignored and worse. Having attempted an unsubscribe you’ve provided all the evidence they need that it’s a “live” account and one that they can now bombard with confidence.

What is my conclusion, my answer to these growing frustrations? An oldie but a goodie. Why can’t organisations keep it simple. Our lives are overly complex, involved, online, offline, passworded and accounted. A good business puts it’s thoughts to a customer experience, steps into their shoes and responds accordingly. Unfortunately there are far too many blindly process driven businesses engaging poorly trained and motivated staff. A large number of these businesses have a cynical view of the consumer seeing us a flocks of easily manipulated sheep rather than informed and empowered customers.

The trade organisations, ombudsmen and quangos put in place to protect us are failing and as a result we’re mostly left to our own devices.

The fact is I don’t think I’m alone in facing this problem. A quick check of a certain mobile network operators (let’s call them “nowt nowhere”) facebook and twitter account clearly demonstrates the scale of the problem.

A new force for consumer interest needs to be introduced, impartial and with real teeth. One that has an overriding mission to improve our lives through the simplification of processes and introduction of good old common sense.

Anyone else with me?

David Laud

Byadmin

When 1 + 1 = 0 or The Trouble With Mergers

crisis cufflinks

The state of our economy can create a number of responses from the corporate world. An increase in the number of companies in administration, change of strategic direction, the board retains a fixed course with no change or they actively look to merge with or acquire a suitable partner.

On the topic of merger this can, if managed well, with clear vision and talent be a very positive step. Unfortunately the catalogue of merger histories is well stocked with its fair share of failures.

The original spark that created the merged business is typically founded in solid logic and should have all the ingredients for a successful outcome. Unfortunately the complexity and challenge of putting organisations together can dilute and lose the benefit of economies of scale and combined resources.

Critical to the success is a clearly articulated strategy delivered consistently by an effective leadership team. The focus at all times MUST be on the customer, lose sight of that key fact and matters can start to unravel fast.

Not many employees relish change and mergers present plenty of new challenges and potential threats to personal job security. Keeping the talent engaged is important as is the need to motivate the business to achieve the new goals.

There are many positives to be borne from mergers but before being charmed by a suitable partner it’s worth looking at theirs and other track records. We can and should certainly learn from the mistakes of others.

Interestingly in the world of telecoms there are 2 examples of where we appear to be seeing history repeating itself.

At the end of 2004 US telecom company Sprint announced its merger with Nextel. They were at the time the 3rd and 5th largest mobile phone operators in the US. The potential of such a merger was obvious and had the likes of AT&T and Verizon looking closely at the deal.
Sprint’s acquisition of Nextel ultimately was a financial disaster. In 2008 the company wrote down $30 billion of the $36 billion sum it had paid for Nextel in 2005, wiping out 80% of the value of Nextel at the time it had been acquired. The write down reflected the depreciation in Nextel’s goodwill since the date of acquisition.

CEO Gary D. Forsee was removed in 2007 marking a remarkable and rapid fall from grace. He had in 2004 been lauded as a “best manager” by Business Week only to become regarded as one of the worst CEO’s by Fortune magazine in 2009.

Why did this happen?

Despite much talk to the media of new technologies CEO Gary D. Forsee focussed on the financial savings to be gained out of the merger of the two corporations. He was heavily criticised for initiating programmes of micro management and cutting out costs from the business. The emphasis shifted from churn of customers to profit enhancements through cost savings. Claims of monitoring call centre staff toilet breaks only served to highlight the maniacal zeal Forsee had for getting every possible cent worth from his staff.

Complaints increased, 1,000 customers contracts were terminated by Sprint Nextel as they sought to rid themselves of persistent complainers. But many more followed putting the company at the top of the churn list as customers rushed to join the competition. There were also technical network issues which didn’t assist but overall the lack of investment in bringing customers over to the merged firm and inability to respond to the worrying customer indicators led to disastrous figures.

In the third qtr of 2007 Sprint lost a staggering 337,000 customers.

EE Olaf Swantee

Fast forward to 2010 and the UK. Orange and T-Mobile announce their merger. A new brand of Everything Everywhere is announced and last year shortened to EE in an attempt to bond the networks together.

It’s a little early to state categorically that this merger mirrors the Sprint Nextel debacle but the signs are not good. Being a once satisfied customer of Orange I have seen a dramatic drop in customer service, lack of knowledge from front line staff and farcical cost management of rebranding high street neighbouring Orange and T Mobile shops to EE.

Efforts to communicate with CEO Olaf Swantee have not been successful – his army of executive office helpers must be very busy handling his inbox traffic too as they take a while to respond.

The @EE twitter feed is full of angry customers who can’t get a signal, or get help in an EE shop, have other technical issues and unable to get a response from the customer service helpdesk. The EE Facebook page is also loaded with frustrated customer comment. It’s worth a browse – raises the question of the logic of having such a facility when it provides such s public shop window of customer dissatisfaction.

Is the CEO of EE presiding over the same drive to save costs, cutting service and technical resource but using the smokescreen of new technologies such as 4G to cover the cracks? All I know is that at the sharp end as a customer things are far from healthy for the UK’s largest operator.

Dutch CEO Olaf Swantee doesn’t take any prisoners in the corporate world. On his first day he fired six of his most senior managers. He then informed a further 120 vice presidents and directors that their jobs were at risk. Not long after a tour of call centres he announced a further 1200 to be put under risk of losing thrir jobs. He’s quoted as saying; “I don’t have an objective to make myself popular,” He’s not wrong there, it’s not a popularity contest but it is an interesting way to generate goodwill and motivation.

EE’s problem is that it’s not as profitable as its competitors, O2 and Vodafone, and Olaf has stated that he intends to close the gap by 2014.

Of course the trouble is you still need revenue, that’s customers and satisfied ones at that. EE need to balance a high level of technical and personal service with a drive to reduce cost. Concentrating exclusively and aggresively on cost will potentially see Mr Swantee joining that Fortune league – do you think he can “Forsee” that?

On the upside mergers can and do deliver, but best look at an equation that gives 1+1 = 3+ not 0.

If you’re considering growth through merger we’d be happy to discuss.

David Laud

Byadmin

Real-Time Re-election and Re-tweets

As Barack Obama appeared through the huge curtains at the Chicago Convention Centre his smile said it all, the crowd nevertheless said it for him, over and over again, a little like a re-tweet, “four more years, four more years….”.

With the economy far from recovery and very tough times forecast the US electorate have remained faithful to the Democratic Presidential incumbent.

Obama’s feisty Republican opponent, Mitt Romney had but one task, admit defeat gracefully and in a very public address he did just that.

No doubt the networks will be poring over the multitude of statistical data that such events spew out but for me there is one clear set of statistics that left me in no doubt of the outcome.

The evidence was part of our modern history.

In the Spring of 2011 a political wave started, initially overlooked by those in power. All too soon their underestimate of the strength of this wave became apparent due in no small part to the turbo charge push of social media platforms.

But four years before the Arab Spring, back in early 2007, a relatively unknown senator was running for president against Democratic nominee and household name, Hilary Clinton. But on November 4, 2008, Obama then 47 became the first African American President winning an election against Republican candidate, John McCain.

Mr Obama turned to social media platforms to gather support, raise funds and engage with volunteers the essential foot soldiers of any successful campaign.

Fast forward to the US election of 2012. Presidential wannabe Romney was trying hard to compete on twitter, facebook and Linkedin but unfortunately for the Republicans he was up against an opponent who is a natural social media communicator with a team of dedicated experts supporting his social media broadcasts.

Enough of this blogging rhetoric what about the facts?

On Twitter Mitt Romney has a respectable 1.7 million followers and has made 1,350 tweets. But just compare that to Barack Obama’s 22.7 million followers and 8,000 tweets.

As if those figures weren’t bad enough Michelle Obama has more followers than Mitt at a very healthy 2.2 million.

On Facebook Mitt has worked hard to match Barack but even his 12.1 million page likes pale compared to the re-elected presidents 32.8 million page likes with over 3.5 million actively talking about the content.

Google Plus – smaller numbers, but we’d guess at that. Obama 2.3 million +1’s with Romney less than half at 1 million +1’s.

Of course it’s not all about the numbers but if your message is being broadcast at those levels through these channels you have a major advantage, especially if your demographic fits the profile of the more active social media users.

As if to prove the point Obama’s victory tweet showing his embrace with wife Michelle and the quote “four more years” is now the most re-tweeted tweet of all time, so far RT’d over 650,000 times beating someone called Justin Bieber (you know who he is you just don’t want to admit it – ed) who’d held the record at 223,000.

Whether it proves to be the right decision for America only time will tell but one thing’s for sure, if a politician has any serious ambition they need to understand and harness the true strength of social media.

David Laud – Marketing Consultant
i2i Business Solutions LLP

e-mail me at david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk follow me on twitter @davidlaud

“like” our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/i2isolutions

Byadmin

Like for Like – Facing Up to Facebook

My daughters and in fact now my son, all teenagers, would be more than happy to tell you that I’m no expert on the world’s largest social media platform.

Compared to them and I suspect the vast majority of the teenage user demographic my personal posts would look rather tame, dare I say boring but then I’m not trying to connect to that age group. I do have a few family and friends who fall into the sub 20 category and they politely comment or “like” the odd post as I in turn return the compliment.

All very civilised, and that’s how I like my Facebook but I’m acutely aware that many have a very different view of the site and use it for baring their souls or at the very least the pain of their morning hangover. Facebook can also encourage narcissistic behaviour, posed photos craving “likes”, surveys to re-enforce your view of your personality or who of your friends think you’re the best looking…”Pleeeaasse!!!” save me from this.

Back to the matter in hand my challenge as a marketer is to try and understand all communication mediums and see how they best apply and work for not only my own personal use but in a business context too. Facebook presents the biggest challenge for many businesses.

Sure, Lee Cooper, Amex, Red Bull and many others have very slick Facebook pages and are making the medium work by adding multi layered engagement programmes which include clever competitions and “like” fests. These multi million dollar corporations can and do spend to develop these campaigns but can we learn anything from their efforts, can a Facebook page help your business?

The simple answer is “yes” if the true objective to having such a presence and the audience to whom you wish to connect is clearly understood.

On my personal Facebook page I’m not interested in building a “friend base” of hundreds, (I don’t have that many friends 🙁 ) its purpose is to help me stay connected with close family, friends and an alumni offering a varied and entertaining news feed. For my part I hope to add value to their feeds through my posts…sad as they may be according to the Laud clan.

When it comes to business or personal profiles we should really apply a similar philosophy. You know who you want to engage with, the messages that you want to share and the response you’re hoping to gain.

Despite my earlier negative jibe the Facebook “like” is solid social media currency. By creating an interesting, funny, poignant post that resonates with your network you can build a bank of “likes” and even better if it stimulates readers to comment back.

Unfortunately this clammer to be “liked” has led to a proliferation of cause related posts. A good friend likened them to a type of “chain letter” which is an excellent analogy given the implication that not liking the particular post meant you were by definition taking the opposing view. So therefore ignoring these posts meant you liked cancer, bullying, mistreating small dogs and generally suggested you change your username to Voldemort. All complete and utter nonsense yet many of us do click “like” on these posts and gain a little sense of community in feeling part of a group taking a stand against a particularly offensive topic.

So no I’m not an expert but then I’ve yet to meet a true expert in any social media platform. They move too quickly to be tied down analysed and given a de facto conclusion on how to use them. We all use Facebook in slightly different ways, there is no single correct way but there are plenty of poor examples.

For business or personal pages my advice is to be clear as to your purpose, keep the audience in mind and be consistent with your message. Don’t be disheartened by the lack of response to a particular post, in offline life there’s many a time friends would groan rather than laugh at my jokes. The key is consistency and believing in yourself. Of course we are all slightly different in a relaxed social setting than we are at work. The same approach should apply.

Facebook isn’t Linkedin but the business page won’t be enhanced by the type of content you’d normally deliver to your friends. An edge of professionalism touched with an element of fun is where I find my Facebook business page personality. I’d like to think that’s not a million miles away from how I am physically at work. Easier to be true to your own personality or culture of the business than to try and reinvent yourself for each social media platform.

By being consistent across platforms you’ll gain respect and understanding from a multitude of networks.

If you’re just starting out with Facebook for your business please feel free to drop me a line or comment and let me know how you’re approaching it. Be great to hear of a variety of ideas.

To find us on Facebook go to http://www.facebook.com/i2isolutions

David Laud – Chartered Marketer FCIM