social:IRL Boot camp lessons In Real Life


Last week I attended another excellent social:IRL boot camp, this time with none other than Peter Shankman. Peter promised the conference would be about how to generate revenue, not friends or followers or influence scores.

Some people have already covered some of the basics here and here as well as a here. Instead of telling you, I’ll show you via a series of Twitter exchanges and off-line interactions that exemplify Peter’s lessons. This is about “In Real Life” after all, this is social:IRL. It is a rather long and twisty path of social media interaction, but you will want to read the entire thing – an almost textbook example of good and poor use of social media by businesses and how tweets can turn into something much bigger then themselves.

During the conference, Peter said to tweet @hardees (a fast food burger place). He’s an influential guy and with a few words he can instantly call people to action and make Hardees a trending topic in Kansas City.

It reminds me of the Doctor Who episode in which Harriet Jone’s government was brought down by six words (Doctor Who fans-you better know those words without following the link)

@hardees responded quickly to its (potential) customer base and #socialIRL respondents. Eventually they offered free Thickburgers® upon suggestion by attendees. Smart.

They listened to their customer (@petershankman) and potential customers (#socialIRL attendeed). What’s really smart is a passing comment Peter made that when airlines give $100 vouchers as a customer service repair gesture, they get $400 back in revenue. This makes sense. You can’t fly for $100 anywhere these days. All those people with Thickburgers probably want fries and a drink and will probably bring friends. What’s the most profitable part of the meal—the drink? Bingo! Those Thickburgers coupons are revenue generating. There isn’t even a Hardess in Lawrence, so people will have to drive 30 minutes or more to go to a Hardees to redeem it. Talk about generating revenue. Fast food is a commodity item for the most part. Driving to Overland Park to get a free burger? People will do it and buy more with it and potentially become fans. You sly devil, Hardees.

Ah, but I’m primarily a vegetarian and thus didn’t participate.

Sorry Hardees. However a social media pal and fellow vegetarian, Alisha, did lament she couldn’t have a burger. Hardees knows they aren’t exactly a vegetarian place so instead of dancing around the issue, they dealt with it head on:

That’s classic get in front of the problem and acknowledge it. They didn’t do some corporate speak. They realize that a vegetarian may not have many options, so they offered suggestions and an alternative. That’s taking care of a (potential) customers. Getting a vegetarian to go to a burger place? That’s revenue generation and wicked smart.

So to my story a day later…

An associate requested a lunch meeting to ask career advice, which I was happy to give. He was kind enough to offer to pay. In such situations it’s generally not appropriate to make the restaurant suggestions, so he suggested Applebees but I didn’t have a chance to look at the menu. Big national chains usually have ways of accommodating dietary needs. Surely they have a few vegetarian options.

I took a quick look at the menu and sighed. No vegetarian options. Even the Mac and Cheese had bacon. I was hungry and I checked in on Foursquare and tweeted:

It was a bit of a jab @Applebees out of annoyance and yes, I was curious to see how this local brand handled it. Before Applebees responded, my good friend Joe Davis @23rdStBrewery responded five minutes later:

Nice one. Poach the conversation in a playful yet helpful way. If Joe didn’t know me and I was in a unknown city and lamented lack of vegetarian options, that tweet would have had me rising from the table and heading over to his place. 23rd surely got their money’s worth from #socialIRL

Then one of my favorite places in Lawrence @715restaurant responded:

715 is a meat lovers’ paradise and Matt was a presenter at Social:IRL. He and I have chatted about despite him being meat, the whole meat, and nothing but the meat, he still tries to accommodate diets including vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free. I would have done exactly what he said…if I hadn’t been with a business associate and by asking for something special may have made him feel like he made the wrong choice. I wouldn’t do that. However, @715restaurant knows it’s customers and tries to help even when they go somewhere else.

In the meantime my phone was abuzz with friends saying it was a known issue at Applebees. I can understand @hardees not having vegetarian options, but @Applebees? I even got some DMs that this is a frequent complaint at their Headquarters.

So instead of acknowledging the problem and accommodating me as a customer like @hardees did to its potential customer, 20 minutes later Applebees responded.

A terse “corporate” response. Safe, non-committal and boring. That wasn’t revenue generating. I was already in your shop and this is your response. The chatter continued (and I apologized to my host and said a minor social media crisis was occurring and I was responding to it)

Applebees final statement on the situation:

Really? You already have vegetables at Applebees right, nothing really to procure. That’s a lousy way of handling it. That sends the message: we are so corporate we can’t figure out how to take the chicken out of something. That communicates everything is pre-made in an industrial kitchen. Maybe, maybe not, but that’s the take away I got. And as far as take away, I’ll take my business elsewhere thank you.

How should it have gone? Well if Applebees had been to SocialIRL, read Peter’s book (check out my top review!) or followed Hardees, they would have seen my check in and instantly had my location and contacted the manager to look for me. I’m the guy in the DoctorDave shirt. Heck my phone number and website is on my Twitter profile page so proactively contact me that way. Instead of quickly acknowledging the problem and offering an alternative (like @hardees) they slowly responded and offered up excuses. Others started talking negatively about their brand and I know now lack of vegetarian options is a sticking point and multiple humane societies are letting their members know. As of this writing @applebees has not contacted me again.

Hardees generated additional revenue and Applebees lost some. It’s all about taking care of the customer and here’s the right way and the wrong way.

Prologue/cherry on top of the shake:

After I wrote this initial post, more happened the next day (Friday and Saturday) The story IRL doesn’t end though. The offline and online interactions create a feedback loop. After the conference @msilverman told me it’s been a while since we had been there. For us, “a while” since not going to @715restaurant is about two weeks. We decided on Friday night for a nice relaxing meal as @msilverman was leaving town for a week. Unfortunately @westarenergy ruined that plan due to a power surge that fried (literally) the lines into the place. I got my appetizer, but no meal. If I were a different type of customer, I might have tweeted expletives @715restaurant because I was upset about the ruined evening, but instead I understood because Matt’s always taken care of us. His offline and online personas protected his brand.

But wait there’s more.

That surge messed up their Internet @715restaurant. @calldrdave doesn’t work on Saturdays. You gotta take a day off and few clients have emergencies since I focus on the Small Office Home Office Residential market–anything on Saturday can generally wait until Sunday. My phone goes to voicemail on Saturdays. However, @715restaurant tweeted their Internet problems to me. I know that no Internet means no online reservations, no credit card processing and in general can be death to a restaurant. I was there within an hour and resolved it for them. For @715restuarant to get someone out there on a Saturday, within an hour of a request is almost laughable in the IT industry without an existing contract and hefty emergency and after hours fees. Not this time, because of their exceptional service to me online and off I was delighted to return the favor.

That’s more about revenue. Online interactions with @715restaurant become more visits by @msilverman and I. Matt’s treatment of us as customers led to quick repair of his internet connection and the circle continues.

This is revenue generation via social media interactions In Real Life. This is social:IRL

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