links for 2009-01-30

links for 2009-01-29

2009 is just a number

When the New Year came around, everyone pitched in with their predictions of what the future holds. Unfortunately, not having broadband throughout this period, I hardly had time to add my thoughts.

So, belatedly, and in no particular order, here’s what I think:

Jonathan Hopkins's Twitter analogy

Jonathan Hopkins's Twitter analogy

Twitter will become more mainstream. I’m probably late in saying this, but I’m still going to say it anyway. Everywhere it seems people are joining in the Twitter party. I saw a very nice post today by Steve Waddington with a great analogy by Jonathan Hopkins which pretty much sums it up – see left.

But I did say figures are important just now, so how about this: a ten-fold increase in Twitter useage in the UK throughout 2008? Or how about Dell announcing it attributed one million dollars to its Twitter initiatives?

Also, for the record, I keep seeing people saying they don’t know what it’s for. Well what’s a phone for? The advantage of Twitter is that it doesn’t come with a user guide. Perhaps that’s what confuses people. It sure used to confuse the hell out of me.

Friendfeed will start to emerge as a useful tool. I think Friendfeed has mostly been the preserve of weirdos like me who move instinctively toward shiny things then drift away again, but I think that, as people increasingly use RSS-enabled resources such as blogs, microblogs, social video/audio/networks etc, they’re going to look at ways of consolidating all this. Friendfeed does a nice job, and whereas it has a vaguely Twitter-like feature in that you can post directly to it, Friendfeed also makes ‘threaded’ conversations much easier to follow.

Measurement will become really important. It’s already important and there are various ways to go about it, but at the end of the day you’re still trying to quantify the largely unquantifiable: how influential is a blogger (depends on who reads them and whether their readers’ behaviour changed to any appreciable degree); and how do you value a relationship? Relationships by definition need time to be nurtured, and only then can you start to reap rewards and yes, this is also a problem for PR generally.

Nevertheless, there will be some very worried people holding the purse strings in 2009 and they will need some calming down. It behooves (yes, behooves) us well either to develop smarter ways of measuring, or explain the qualitative nature of what we do.

Companies will encourage their employees to talk amongst themselves more, via internal communities. The AT&T Enterprise 2.0 report bore this out, and I’ve come across other anecdotal evidence to suggest this is the case. It’s certainly a great initiative, to create small-world networks across companies which encourage internal comms and organically grow centres of excellence (or at least enthusiasm which gets you halfway there). However, to go back to the ‘measurement’ issue, companies will need to evaluate how effective their internal relationship-building measures have been.

Companies that create goodwill in hard times will be loved in good times. 2009 is just a number, and 2010 will come around. Now is the time to cultivate relationships and establish some sort of space online, because this will see you through the hard times and help you reap rewards when the good times come back.

Companies will have to think about where social media sits. This is a toughie. To go back to the phone analogy, I do see some structures where a ‘social media team’ is given the task of outreach – that is, they need to be versed not just in how to use the tools, but to become subject matter experts as well. To my mind this is the wrong way around. It’s a bit like, say, the consumer team tapping the ‘social media team’ on the shoulder and asking them to do outreach for, say, tins of spam, simply because they know how to use the phone, then the tech team asking them to outreach about blade servers, so they suddenly have to become experts in spam and servers. It’s too much, and so everyone needs to learn how to use them at least to a degree. But the dilemma then becomes one of resource. Does everyone suddenly do everything – that is, answer support queries, development questions, financial enquiries? Clay Shirky did say ‘Here Comes Everybody’ but companies cannot operate in this way. It’s a challenge of unstructured comms vs structured enterprises, and I honestly don’t know where the answer lies here.

Companies will have to accept that the new generation of employees will be using these tools – and, as importantly, so will their clients. I remember the first time I was ‘allowed’ to use email at work. Now I would be amazed if I weren’t able to – in fact, I wouldn’t be able to do my job properly, nor would most people. The next generation of employees are already on Facebook, Myspace, Bebo etc, and they’re going to expect to be able to use them too. I’m not sure this will be a sudden happening in 2009 but increasingly we’ll be seeing new waves of graduates come into the workforce who have already spent the past, what, three or four years using social media.

As I said, most of the predicting has already been done, but I just had to get these out. Let’s see what really happens, and then I can come back a year later and demonstrate how wrong I was.

Online at last. Praise be.

Normally I try to write illuminating posts about the state of social media, but recently this MO has changed because:

1. Since moving house I’ve been struggling with Virgin Media and then BT to get my line sorted. It turned out to be five – yes, five – separate but inter-related issues with my line at BT’s end which meant that whenever one problem was fixed, it triggered off another, a bit like trying to lay a carpet when you push down one end and the other pops up.

2. As a result I’ve been posting whenever I can – not at work, and with difficulty in a local italian cafe – about my problems, more as a personal vent than to help anyone else out. So, very little about social media, but I did manage to introduce a bit of this angle to it, in that Virgin Media did catch onto my posts while BT did not. More on that soon.

3. This continues for this post only because… I’m online. Actually I got online about two hours ago, then moved the router to try and  get a better signal, then it all stopped working. Imagine my frustration. Fortunately I got onto tech support and had a pretty capable guy tell me to plug in the ethernet cable, then he sorted it all out through a Citrix session. What a relief.

So I’m back. I need to go through my recent bookmarks and figure out what to post about – as in, I’ve got so many ideas in my head I need to decide which ones to let off the leash and which to keep in the kennel – then I’ll get cracking.

links for 2009-01-22

links for 2009-01-17

links for 2009-01-16

Virgin Media and BT both be damned

Still, I have no broadband – and since reading Sally Whittle’s recent post of BT-related woes, I’ve taken the cruel and unusual step of blogging about it. Something must be said.

POST EDIT: This story has a (fairly) happy ending. I didn’t go back to Virgin Media in the end but I did manage to talk to them. See this post: Virgin Media is about to activate its social media.

About a month and a half ago I moved out into the countryside. It’s great – quiet, pretty, duck pond with ducks outside the church, etc etc – and after the initial kerfuffle (which I believe might be a Hobson/Holz favourite word judging by the ‘News that fits’ jingle), thought I was ready and able to get broadband sorted.

How very wrong I was. How very, very wrong I was.

The story I’m about to tell you is one of sweat, tears and blood. OK, not actually blood. And not really any sweat, and not actual tears either, but I’ve come very close. Read on only if you’re feeling robust.

A call to Virgin Media telling them I was moving house resulted in my account being deleted. I only found this out after a few days of inactivity, when I called asking what was going on.

So they initiated a new account – for which I naturally refused to pay the 30 pound charge having been a customer for three years previously – and sent me the wireless router and software. Oh, and told me that I couldn’t keep my blueyonder email address which I’ve used quite a lot in the past.

But still, no connection. It turned out there was a fault at the local BT exchange. This was eventually fixed, but I still could not log on.

Then the landlord asked me to change the telephone number. No idea why, perhaps they’ve murdered someone, who knows, but I duly did. Of course, after a week or so of still being unable to log on, a call to Virgin Media confirmed that, having changed the number, I needed to start again from square one – which, bizarrely, would entail having to receive another wireless router.

So, I gave up. I told Virgin Media to go away, and decided to take BT Broadband instead. Everything was going swimmingly until it emerged there was something called a ‘tag’ on the line. What is a ‘tag’? Is it hardware? Software? Is it the thing you put on a cadaver’s big toe? Whatever, it was a Virgin Media tag. So I couldn’t get BT broadband until the Virgin Media (from now, VM) tag was removed, and for that I needed to get a MAC code.

Back to VM. I explained everything to them. I think this involved about three separate calls, with each one a unique experience involving different telephone numbers and responses. The only constants were me having to explain the situation every time, quote my personal details, and remain calm. It wasn’t easy.

Then, finally, someone actually seemed to know what they were doing – or, rather, have some insight over and above the immediate scripts they were reading off a screen. They checked – and discovered that it wasn’t a VM tag. It was a BT tag. So VM couldn’t have done anything about this whatsoever for the preceding month and a half anyway. All that needed to have happened was for someone actually to have checked this at the outset.

So I told VM to go away again, and went back to BT. And this is where the fun really started. They told me it wasn’t a BT tag. It was possibly a Talk Talk or Tiscali tag. They were going to send an engineer out and I was to call on Tuesday – today – to find out whether the tag had been removed.

I just spent two hours on the phone to BT. In this time I’ve ascertained through their Tag Removal Team – who aren’t customer-facing and expressed surprise that I’d been routed through to them – that the tag is an LLU tag, and that it relates to the previous number. I sort of know what Local Loop Unbundling is, but apart from that, well, given that I still don’t really know what a tag is, they could have called it a Looby-Loo Tag and I would be none the wiser. It certainly isn’t a Tiscali or Talk Talk tag, which is what they’d told me previously.

This was after the very helpful guy spending quite some time going through things for me. Strange, how the non-customer-facing staff were more helpful.

Anyway, I was told to tell the next department I was about to be put through to, this: “There is an Open Stop Order in OneView for the PSTN on the old number, which needs to be closed off completely.” This means very little to me, but on being transferred, I duly said it. Like a robot (well, not actually, that would have freaked them out). After being kept on hold for quite some time I was told there was no open stop order. I told them I’d been told to tell them that there most definitely was.

After a few minutes of this impasse, I was passed to someone else. Again, I had to explain everything. Again, I was told there wasn’t an Open Stop Order. And it was at this point that something inside me died, or at least curled up in a tight ball in a dark corner and refused to come out. I’d had enough. I’d had enough of being routed from department to department, from group to group, reiterating the same story, being given contradictory information, and slowly becoming somewhat of an expert on VM and BT’s call queueing system, support setup and network infrastructure.

So I’ve just told BT to sort it out. Unbundle me no more unbundlings. I don’t want to hear about Open Stop Orders. And I still don’t know what a tag is. Frankly, I don’t care. It seems to me that something has gone very badly wrong, and that I’ve actually reached the point at which I cannot sort this out. BT have to. I want someone at BT to act as my agent, to do the rounds for me and talk to different departments and then, eventually, call me back and say “You can have broadband.”

That’s all I want.

And that, dear reader, is where we are at now. I’m waiting for the call. It might not come today but I’ve been assured it will come.

There are obviously lots of lessons to draw from this regarding customer service which I’ll leave to the customer service people to draw. But I do wonder this: will someone, anyone, from BT or Virgin Media pick up on this blog post and come back to me about it?

You could argue that I should be telling them about all these problems, but given their seeming inability to connect broadband lines up – given that it’s their speciality – I doubt they would do anything with any letter/email/phone call I make about this.

You see, I’m more inclined to tell consumers about this because they need to know too. I can imagine that people – perhaps you, you’re a person, you’re reading this, unless you’re a very talented cat – that people will be considering taking up broadband from one of these two companies and wondering what they’re like.

So, I’m telling you now, they suck.

But given that consumers will be looking online for brand recommendations, and (potential, but reluctant) consumers are writing about them, I wonder whether they’re listening out for mentions of them online? This could be a very interesting test, from a social media perspective.

British Telecom! Yoo-hoo! Im here!

British Telecom! Yoo-hoo! I'm here!

Hellooo Virgin Media! Brendan Cooper calling Virgin Media!

Hellooo Virgin Media! Brendan Cooper calling Virgin Media!

So, here goes. I’m going to make it as easy as possible for them. Their names are both in the title of this blog post, for good SEO. I’m talking about Virgin Media and British Telecom (BT) – see, I’ve even linked to them, with full names. I’ve even added the logos from their respective websites – naughty, but it’s another link. In a few hours this will appear on my Twitterfeed, Friendfeed and Facebook pages. I’ve added their names as tags.

How much easier could I make it for them to find me?

Because if they don’t, then I would say their incompetency in the area of customer support, broadband provision and social media monitoring is equalled only by their incompetency in every other field.