Monthly Archives: August 2012

Aug 31

New Advertiser Option Inserts Facebook Into Relationship Between Brands and Customers

By Rebecca Murtagh | Brand Marketing , Rebecca's Thoughts on . . . , SMM - Social Media Marketing

Facebook To Allow Advertisers to Target Customers by Email, Phone Using Data Owned by Brands

Facebook has confirmed that it is preparing a new option that will enable advertisers to target individual customers using personally identifying information. This will appeal to brands who wish to target customers who have not yet “liked” the brand on Facebook.

Inside Facebook was the first to report this feature after it appeared in Facebook advertiser options.

As a marketer, I totally get how desirable this feature would be. However, as a consumer myself, I am always sensitive to respecting the customer, ever-mindful that the integrity of the relationship between the brand and customers is paramount for loyalty and sustainability.

Facebook Hash-up of Personally Identifying Customer Data

Facebook will leverage brand data to target customers on the social media platform. All the advertiser has to have is the email address, phone number or user ID of the customer in order to target individual customers with ads. Data that Facebook may not currently have access to will now be uploaded to Facebook by the brand. This “hashup” inserts Facebook in the middle of the relationship between the brand and customers the brand has already acquired.

Could Transfer of Personally Identifying Customer Data to Facebook Backfire?

How will customers feel about brands uploading personally identifying customer data that consumers have elected not to provide to Facebook in order to target them with advertising? After all, when they subscribed to an RSS feed, made a purchase or created a profile on an independent application they were not told that their data would be uploaded to Facebook. Hash-up or not, how comfortable will customers be with Facebook becoming an uninvited guest in a relationship they created directly with a brand?

This mode of personal targeting is unprecedented. The connection of data not provided to Facebook to enable advertisers to reach customers on the social media platform has even seasoned marketers and advertisers a little uneasy.

Facebook Creates Voyeuristic View of Customer Relationships By Creating a Threesome

From a brand perspective, the goal must always be to earn and cultivate loyal customers. The most effective way to sustain a relationship is through direct communication achieved through one-to-one communication built on trust. This move puts Facebook in the middle of that relationship, enabling a voyeuristic vantage point of the relationship between the brand and its customers. Good for Facebook, not so good for brands.

For brands that have not been able to win Facebook “likes” of customers, this “product” created by Facebook puts Facebook in the middle of the relationship between the brand and its audiences. I’ve always had trouble with this from a brand management perspective. I encourage brands to use social media to build brand awareness and cultivate relationships. Facebook gains more than the brand when the relationship resides on a Facebook page or Facebook store rather than on the playing field of the brand within owned media such as the website or blog.

Do Brands Need Facebook to Earn Likes From Customers They’ve Already Won?

If the brand has earned the trust from the customer to provide phone number or email address why wouldn’t they simply send an email or SMS text message directly to the customer to invite the connection? Doing so will put all related data generated by the user in the hand of the brand. With this new move by Facebook, Facebook stands to gain much more.

Facebook Says it Won’t Access Customer Data

Facebook presents that the hash-up will prevent Facebook from having access to that data. Let’s face it. Facebook does not have the best reputation when it comes to privacy.

Social Media Access to Brands Who Have Not Earned Relationships

Another perspective on this is that brands can use data they have collected from customers, such as email and phone numbers collected in 3rd party API enrollment, email list opt-in, purchase, or any other online transaction in which they provided that data. For whatever reason, these customers may have elected not to engage this brand on social media. Should customers have the ability to control their interaction with brands? And, should brands insert themselves into customer behavior, with or without their permission? Is it implied that the moment a customer provides a phone number or email address that they are no longer in control of  who can reach them, wherever they are active on the web.

Privacy Goes Out the Window

I see this as a slippery slope that could be fine in many contexts. However, if a consumer has purchased a pharmaceutical, or done research on a medical condition that they have wished to keep private, do they really want Facebook to become part of their interaction with that topic, without invitation?
Is there anything in your life that you do not want Facebook to be inserting itself into? How might Mark Zuckerberg feel about his bride’s phone number being used by the drugstore he or his bride have used to fill prescriptions to communicate about related topics? Do consumers that provide their phone number to a real estate company really want Facebook playing an active role in their activity when they never intended to reveal to anyone (let alone Facebook) that they were thinking about selling their home, or buying a bigger home.

No Data Needed

Hash-up or not, Facebook will be compelled to deliver reports to advertisers that will inevitably reveal detail that Facebook has not earned permission to collect about users. And, because Facebook is only releasing this product to “managed” advertisers, you can bet they will glean as much information as possible without enraging privacy advocates.

Who Wins?
So, what do you think…is this a home run for brands and Facebook?
How will consumers react?


Aug 14

Google Plus Becomes More Brand Friendly With Custom URLs

By Rebecca Murtagh | Brand Marketing

Google Plus UpdateGoogle+ Rolls Out Branded URLs

Monday, August 10, 2012 Google Plus Posted a #googleplusupdate outlining how long numeric Google Plus profiles will be replaced by branded URLs.

So, instead of the Google Plus Profile URL is now: .
Note the + in the URL.

Google Custom URLs Are Good News For Brands

This is great news for brands. It will be far easier to guess branded URLs rather than relying on search and brands that are active on the social platform.

One can also assume that these branded URLs will enable profiles and pages related to brands to appear in search engine results.

Google has begun rolling out the ability to customize URLs to a limited circle of verified profiles and pages. The post cautions that although they are not quite ready for everyone to start claiming their own custom URLs on Google Plus, but do plan to expand availability over time.

Aug 04

Southwest Facebook Flash Sale = Epic #FAIL

By Rebecca Murtagh | Rebecca's Thoughts on . . .

Southwest Airlines Website #Fails Amidst Facebook Flash Sale – A Teaching MomentSouthwest Rewards 3 million Likes with a Facebook Flash Sale

Please see update below.

Note: I delayed this post pending a request to Southwest Media to provide their side of the story. I submitted a request to their media site explaining I was writing a blog post and invited them to offer insight to provide a “teaching moment” so others can avoid similar issues when their brand is not prepared for success. I have not yet received a response. The invitation remains open for Southwest to add any kernels of wisdom that may help others avoid similar scenarios, which I will happily add to this post.

The Facebook “Flash Sale” Offer

Southwest was the first airline to attract 1 million likes on Facebook. The airline now has over 3 million ‘Likes” on Facebook. To reward the benchmark of 3 million loyal followers, on Friday, August 3r, 2012, Southwest Airlines launched a one-day 50% FLASH off air fare promotion (LUV2LIKE).

Unfortunately, Southwest was not prepared for success of this promotion.

What Happens When You Are Not Prepared for Success

This is a teaching moment every business with a website can learn from. I have seen this over and again with businesses leveraging the internet to build their business. If you are going to use your website to receive visitors or conduct transactions directly related to an invitation you make, you darn well better be ready to receive those you invite.

No PR Crisis Management Plan?

I held this post overnight because I myself visited the website a couple of hours after beginning this post and was able to successfully complete a booking. Southwest may not be the most glamorous mode of travel, but it is one of the few carriers in my market that can get me to key domestic destinations on a direct flight. So, because I do frequently fly them, and have to say their crew is usually far more professional and personable than other airlines in my market, so I “liked” them a long time ago. That being said,  I decided to visit Facebook and give the promo a try. I saw fans posting they couldn’t get the website to load. I tried it and also got an error. I figured they were scrambling to increase capacity to accommodate response. A little egg on their face for not being ready for the mass response is forgivable, even a little enviable, but one would expect they would have been on top of this and addressed any issues quickly.

Success Creates Challenges

When I was able to successfully access itineraries for the promotion, I figured Southwest must have had it all worked out. I was wrong. The last phase of the transaction froze. With all my years of experience in web, I knew not to refresh the browser or click the button again so I just let it go. I checked back 20 minutes or so later and the browser was no longer hung up, but nothing was on the page to indicate whether the transaction went through. As attractive as a cheap flight was, I wasn’t willing to try again and take the chance of duplicate orders. I never received a notification from the session, or the instant email you typically get when a ticket purchase goes through. It was a $149 RT ticket. If it went through, great. If it didn’t, it wasn’t the end of the world. So, I went on with my evening.

Later in the evening I logged on to my bank account and saw that the $149 purchase for Southwest was pending 16 times. This was alarming to say the least. I went to the blog section of the Southwest Airlines website, thinking they would would have at least acknowledged the problem. The most recent post was the press release announcing the Flash sale. No mention of the website failure, or issues being experienced by customers accepting their invitation to participate in the promotion. I also visited their Facebook page and Twitter profile. I noticed that other fans were having difficulty getting through to customer service. There was no statement by Southwest representatives to acknowledge the issues that were being shared in a steady stream of complaints, frustrations with the website and inability to get through on Southwest Airlines customer service phone lines. A missed opportunity.

Southwest Airlines is Social, Well Kind of

Upon closer scrutiny, the Southwest Airlines Facebook page states that they do not address customer service issues on Facebook. They do offer this:

Contact info from Southwest Airlines Facebook page

Interesting use of a PO Box. Not sure many website customers would mail an “immediate concern”. At least they offer a contact form.

Nothing on Company BlogSouthwest Airlines company blog

The Southwest Airlines Company Blog also failed to mention the website issues. Surely website performance issues impacted those who just happened to be booking during the time that the Flash Sale was running. No post, no maintenance or service announcement, nothing still as of the morning after the sale. Because they do not address the issues, the “Social stream” does not display any evidence of the website issues, or billing errors created by the ticketing mechanisms of the website.

Southwest Airlines Crisis Management Plan Apparently Does Not Include Ticketing

Southwest clearly did not have a plan in place to react and respond to the website’s inability to accurately process transactions conducted online at high volume. What did they expect when they invite 3 million people to a Flash Sale?

They would have been well served to post an acknowledgement and apology. Simply saying “due to high demand we apologize that our website is struggling to keep up with the response from our fabulous fans”, or “due to high demand, we know that many of you are experiencing difficulty in taking advantage of our Flash sale, so we’ve extended it from midnight to noon tomorrow to show our appreciation for your patience”.

Nothing Happening Here

What has the Southwest Airlines website said about this event? Nothing. Their press room shows nothing beyond the announcement of the Flash Sale. They are probably hoping to not have to expose non-Facebook fans to the negativity swirling around the promotion. That’s certainly one way to go.

Southwest Press Room does not acknowledge website fail.

Not a Single Tweet on Twitter

Only after the sale ended did Southwest actually acknowledge the website performance issues that had Facebook users flooding their wall.

Only after sale ends does Southwest Tweet about Website Performance issues

Containing Negativity to Facebook Fans – All 3 Million of Them

You have to be logged into Facebook to view the acknowledgment of website performance issues. The post was made in the wee hours on their Facebook page, after the sale had ended, saying “Thank you for your excitement in taking advantage of the limited-time offer we shared today in celebration of reaching three million Fans on Facebook. Due to the overwhelming response, we experienced some site performance issues at various times throughout the day. We apologize to our Customers for any inconvenience and are proactively cancelling any duplicate itineraries that may have occurred.

Could it be that they never put in place a crisis management plan, or escalation protocols for issues? Was Southwest managing the Facebook promotion internally, or was it outsourced? All that matters to the customers is that there were no proactive statements or responses forthcoming from the brand.

Website Fails to Meet Demand

I expected Southwest Airlines to have better QA in place. The website should never have the capability to produce many reservations from one transactions from a technical perspective. From a common sense perspective (what customers care about) this promotion created more negative feedback than good will. After all they collect your name, birth date and other info for TSA, they had to be able to figure out I personally couldn’t occupy more than one seat. I was wrong, this morning, I received 6 separate emails, each with a different confirmation number. It was not yet 8am on a Saturday morning, so I decided to call Southwest ticketing to correct the problem. The recording told me my wait would be 1 hour 58 minutes to 2 hours and 58 minutes. YIKES!

Southwest Airlines has some xplainin’ to Do

Customer Reports that Multiple Charges for Ticketing Errors Generated by Southwest Airlines Website will take 4-6 weeks to correct.

Visiting the Facebook page this morning, it is clear that Southwest needs to revisit their policies for the digital space. Loyal customers that answered the call to purchase tickets are not happy.  Once fan lucky enough get through to Southwest Customer Service was apparently billed multiple times and was told it could take up to 4-6 weeks to be credited back what Southwest mistakenly overcharged them. This is insane.Hopefully they can expedite this and get the word out.

If you are not ready for the masses, do not invite 3 million people to your store to make a purchase, some of them may just take you up on it. Just sayin’.

Southwest Airlines tells customer it will take 4-6 weeks to correct billing errors.

I contacted Southwest media relations to help them share their side of the story yesterday, but no response was received as of this morning. The invitation is open to add a comment, which I will happily post.

Backlash From Loyal Customers They Were Seeking to Reward

The very same Facebook Fans that Southwest was seeking to reward were tested by Southwest Airlines website’s epic failure to be prepared to be successful. Facebook fans are not holding back with their frustration. Manybilled his card 31 times for one transaction, another claimed the transaction was pending 9 times on her card, but no confirmation email was received. In a struggling economy, rising travel costs and the likelihood that word would spread like wildfire via social media, Southwest should have been prepared for a huge response. So what happened?


Southwest Airlines Promo #Fails Most Loyal Flyers

This is probably not what Southwest had in mind when then posted a Flash sale on a Friday Summer afternoon. They can only hope that they have built up enough good will with the 3 million people they invited to the Flash sale will be forgiving.

I hope they get it cleared up and think up some way to reward customers for all the frustration and  errors crated by their reward.

4 Key Takeaways From Southwest Flash Sale #Fail

We all learn from mistakes. And, congratulations to Southwest Airlines for generating such great response to their “Flash Sale” promotion. The website performance issues were serious. Instead of being transparent and forthcoming Southwest has opted to acknowledge the impact on customers and their bank accounts as little as possible. As a result, they have upset many of the customers they were seeking to “reward”.

What can we learn from this story?

4 Best Practices to apply when hoping the best and preparing for the worst:

  1. Be prepared for Success , Test, test, test!
  2. Be prepared for Failure, Have a crisis management plan in place.
  3. Be forthcoming with those you impact. COMMUNICATE!
  4. Do not repeat history, Learn and Never let it happen again.

Anything you would add?


Better Late Than Never?

I would like to add that since this post I received a “Personal Note” email from Southwest Airlines Senior Vice President Customers explaining what had happened, how to gain assistance with any outstanding billing issues and that I could expect a subsequent email with a LUV voucher. I have since received the LUV voucher (for almost the exact amount of the ticket purchased during the promotion) and can report that despite the angst caused to countless customers, Southwest does appear to value their customers and making a sincere effort to earn the continued loyalty from customers.

Relationships are the lifeblood of every business. Southwest Airlines has demonstrated that they intend to continue the values their brand was built on. I do hope they will be better prepared for the next promotion.

A Teaching Moment

Thank you Southwest for providing a good case study of how things can go wrong, even to good brands. And, that if you have done the work ahead of time to build loyal customers with value, you can mend the damage and continue serving the loyal customers you have earned over the years.