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I recently interviewed Rax Lakhani who has a long history of working on digital strategy development with brands like Microsoft, Intel, Smirnoff, Guinness, Marmite and Carphone Warehouse. He now works with the Ministry’s Communications Directorate and is working on formulating digital strategy across the MoJ’s workforce!

I wanted to share his perspective and a great story that he told:

Social media has always existed for as long as I can remember. Back in the day before the Internet, it manifested itself wherever people were gathered en masse. That could be a bus-stop, a football match, the pub, the school playground, a town hall… word of mouth has always been the holy grail of marketers around the world. What the Internet has enabled is the rapid identification of these hubs of conversation and the ability to not only listen-in to these communities but also to join in.

Imagine, if you like that you’re the CEO of British Airways. You’re standing at a bus-stop and you overhear someone talking to their friends about a recent holiday they’ve had to New York. The holiday itself was great but the experience was apparently ruined by the person’s luggage being lost by the airline. To add salt to the wound, the person at the bus-stop goes on to explain that both the inbound and the outbound flights were delayed and that the general level of service was found to be below average. As a result, the two week holiday wasn’t as enjoyable as it could have been – all due to poor customer experience.

Now, as CEO of the airline, you can see that this negative experience could have a massive impact on your company’s reputation, right? The people standing with the complainant are likely to get on the bus feeling equally negative about your brand – perhaps never having experienced the service first hand. This word-of-mouth experience has the potential to make or break a company’s reputation.

Now, by the sheer coincidence, you happen to be standing at the same bus-stop and are in a position to act. You tap the person on the shoulder and confess that you are indeed the CEO of the airline. You offer your sincerest apologies for the troubles that this individual experienced and present him with two complimentary tickets to any destination in Europe for him to fly to using BA.

You tell him that if he experiences the same problems, that he should report them directly to your office immediately upon returning. If however the experience is much improved then he may want to consider letting his friends know that your airline is actually worth travelling with.

That person is gobsmacked. He boards the bus and tells all of his friends that his voice has been heard. Whether or not he decides to fly with your company again is almost irrelevant: He has been heard, and that’s all that matters to him.

The proliferation of social media search tools mean that you, or any brand guardian (private or public sector) is able to listen in and respond to conversations like the one at the bus-stop every second of every day. RSS feeds are a communicator’s best friend and can help a brand react to both negative and positive conversations taking place in real-time online. Except the bus-stop is now Twitter and the queue of seven or eight people is now seven or eight million people.

That’s the truth of social media. Get involved. Or don’t. The conversations are still taking place.

You can read Rax Lakhani’s full interview on August 6 here at MurrayNewlands.com.

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