Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Saturn takes a right turn.

Back in late-April, on these very Web pages, I called out the Saturn car company for its failure to engage with its customers. As rumors circulated about the company’s potential sale—or imminent demise—I pointed out there was a glaring lack of information coming from the company’s ImSaturn social network site, a place where many true brand fans would go to first for breaking news.

In my story, I cited a crucial two-week period in April when there was just a single posting on the ImSaturn site, compared to 20 entries at a site called Saturnfans. This fan blog was reporting all the news and rumors it could get its hands on while urging loyalists to “Save Saturn”. As I said in my post, it looked like “the brand fans are more passionate about saving the company than the brand employees.”

Well in the past couple of months, coinciding with Saturn’s sale to the Penske Automotive Group, I’m happy to report that things have changed. Since returning from its near death experience, Saturn has made a couple of moves that deserve to be applauded.

Good Move #1: They showed they were listening.

After the initial blog post, a Saturn executive in Detroit took the time to write in a comment to the blog where the story originally appeared, Loyalty Truth. He seemed genuinely concerned as he said: “We will take your observations to heart and examine if we can improve the information flow on the site. We were the first auto brand to have this type of site, and it has been a learning process.”

This comment showed that the folks at Saturn had their ears to the ground and were listening—and just as importantly, responding. And while talking to Loyalty Truth, apparently our Saturn exec also had a few words with the folks manning the ImSaturn site, because another change became apparent.

Good Move #2: They started talking again.
As a current Saturn owner, once the sale was announced I received a letter in the mail updating me on the news and “this new chapter in the Saturn story.” Upbeat and personal, it gave me a sense of promise and enthusiasm that was missing from the press reports.

This sent me to the ImSaturn site to see what was happening there and I came away impressed. The “Saturn team” who posts entries on the blog had picked up their output considerably, including updates on the sale and its aftermath. They also added a pleasing mix of comments from Saturn fans who were genuinely excited about the brand’s second life.

The Net: While Saturn still has an uphill climb, at least they’re back in the game and engaging with their customers again. Hopefully, they can maintain this new found passion and commitment as they move forward.

It just goes to show you that in social media, as in life, it’s never too late to make things right.

This blog entry was previously published July 22, 2009 on Loyalty Truth by Tom Rapsas. An independent Creative Director, Writer and Strategist, Tom can be reached at tomrapsas@gmail.com.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Is the Good Hands community a bad idea?

Regardless of your hobby, profession or even your belief system, these days it’s easy to find a group of people just like you. Go to online community organizer Ning and you’ll discover over 1 million communities, for everyone from sand volleyball enthusiasts to landscape architects to supporters of the Kwam Um School of Zen.

Now it seems more and more companies are getting into the act, especially those focused on the Gen Y market. From game maker Xbox to the Vans shoe company, companies with true-blue followings have created thriving online meeting centers where the devoted can exchange ideas, discuss products, solve problems and even schedule meet-ups.

But while social communities can work for some brands, it definitely feels like a stretch for others. So upon learning that Allstate had joined the fray with its Good Hands Community, I was skeptical. After all, who wants to join a community sponsored by an insurance company?

Yet, even before looking at the site, I saw how it might work—if Allstate didn’t stray too far from its core area of expertise, insurance. The Good Hands site could be a place where customers could engage with agents on insurance issues, from making sure they had the right coverage and deductibles to learning how to adapt policies to life changes like a new car, new house or new baby.

But the folks at Allstate appear to have set their sights on a much wider mandate. As the Good Hands Web site states, it’s a community where you can “share your thoughts with others about hopes, dreams and challenges. Together you can share ideas about keeping families safe, saving money and preparing for what’s next”. (Share my hopes, dreams and challenges?)

The community home page feels a little more down-to-earth with menu categories that include “Making a Difference”, “Daily Spending” and “Personal Finance”, and discussions on “helping others” “stay-cations” and “living debt free”. It’s all well intentioned, but the topics feel a little off-base for Allstate and better suited for the Peace Corps, AAA or Capital One respectively.

For auto insurance policy holders, there is a category on “All Things Wheels”. But I can’t seem to find any discussions on auto insurance, as posts are concentrated on issues like checking my oil, being alert at the wheel and hybrid automobiles. How about helping me figure out how much collision I should carry on my 8-year old Saturn?

The other thing that doesn’t feel right is there is not an insurance agent to be found on the Good Hands site. You see, the chief bloggers and hosts of the community are Allstate employees Ben and Amit who are both identified by the title “Strategy and Content Manager”. No offense guys, but I think Allstate policyholders would prefer to communicate with honest-to-goodness insurance agents.

So overall, a kudos to Allstate for the effort. It’s a nicely designed site that really is trying to engage with current and potential customers. But let’s not forget, you’re an insurance company. And with so many potential communities for people to join these days, it feels like Allstate may be stretching its good hands a little too wide.

Final note: For a company that does an online community right, check out Intuit. Its Intuit community connects customers with small business owners and features discussions hosted by Intuit-sponsored business professionals. The Intuit community keeps the focus where it belongs: helping small businesses succeed.

This blog entry was previously published June 29, 2009 on Loyalty Truth.