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Losing and hiring frontline customer care agents can cost more than a few lost customers Can you afford to lose more?
Employee attrition is a natural part of any business cycle. People get promoted, change fields or industries, or have any number of personal reasons to take a break from working. Limited attrition can refresh the organization with fresh ideas, backgrounds, and culture. While the 24-hour news cycle is yelling from the rooftops that the "great resignation" is upon us, research data is showing that it's actually beginning to slow. As Marketplace puts it in a July 2022 article:
"Now, Pollak [Julia Pollak, chief economist at job site Zip Recruiter] said, the mood might be shifting. While the job market is still quite strong, unemployment claims have crept up and we've seen layoffs in the mortgage industry.
Quits fell 41% in real estate and rental and leasing, and that is a sign that workers in that industry, they're going to hang tight and keep the jobs that they've got," she said.
This article goes on to explain that people quitting in mass shines a light on two potential key factors.
First, there are other more desirable and obtainable jobs opening up.
Second, the jobs they currently have are undesirable enough to warrant rolling the dice on the job market.
Regarding customer care, recent trends show that agents often find themselves in the latter half of the two options.
When your organization is experiencing soaring attrition rates, everything will be affected from NPS scores, employee performance, and your bottom line. Before simply accepting the status quo of hiring, training, resignation, and repeating, look at your customer support agent experience for an in-depth exploration of the who, what, and why agent attrition is a critical factor affecting your organization's cash flow.
Here One Day, Resigning the Next
Customer care agents are absolutely vital to any business, no matter what industry your organization finds itself in. They handle everything from missing order forms to repeating the same common questions repeatedly for unhappy customers.
Even though care agents are part of the business skeleton that enables all matters of customer services, these agents are leaving in record numbers. Salesforce reported that over 70% of care agents have considered leaving their jobs within the past six months. Furthermore, specific contact centers are reporting up to a 100% turnover rate.
According to The Center for American Progress replacing an agent can cost roughly 20% of the leaving agent's salary in training and lost time. What does this mean in practical terms? The contact center with a 100% turnover rate that employs 30 people at $33,000 a year will cost roughly $200,000 annually to replace agents alone.
The Reality of Working as a Care Agent
The C-suite of any organization generally has a vision of the future and stands behind the company's vision statement and purpose. For better or worse, the vast majority of customer care agents will be standing behind their paycheck and not much else. Of course, agents can enjoy their work and take pride in your company, but you have to remember that practically zero care agents believe they will change the world by answering customer questions. This provides context to the top three reasons care agents are hanging up their headsets for good in record numbers.
1. Your customers are emotionally attacking your agents
Let's introduce every care agent's worst nightmare, an irate customer that seems incapable of listening to reason. While dealing with these types of customers is, without a doubt, a cornerstone of the job. Unfortunately, these often hostile interactions leave lasting impacts on care agents.
Clinical psychologist Guy Winch explains this unfortunately common occurrence in a Psychology Today write-up, saying:
"Customer service employees often average up to 10 hostile calls a day and must tolerate personal insults, screaming, cursing, and even threats—regularly. They are required to stay on the line and 'salvage' even the most hostile calls."
Again, this is a part of the job, but it is difficult for anyone to "turn off" work after several emotionally taxing support calls. Being called every curse word under the sun or being told that an angry stranger will find where you live or worse will leave a painful stain on your mind.
After work, as your agents sit at their favorite watering hole or social gathering, they will undoubtedly question if the abuse is worth their average of $33,000 a year.
2. Burnout is an understatement
Khoros' own reporting shows that most contact centers plan on having 2 - 4% absenteeism rates every day. Before even logging into their computers, your care agents are ladened with higher volume and a more stressful day.
This absenteeism rate automatically means that a standard work schedule of seven to eight hours has become nine or ten and sometimes up to 12 hours. It doesn't matter if you love or despise your job; having to work additional hours unexpectedly almost always leads to extra stress and work-life balance problems, leading to higher attrition rates and more money wasted.
This inconsistency flows both ways. If the agent lead schedules more than necessary, expecting agents to call out, but everyone shows up, the lead will send some people home to save on labor costs. This leads to frustration, exhaustion, and loss of hours they often desperately need for the agent.
3. Increasing pay only solves one piece of the puzzle
Across customer support, agent pay has been rising, with some organizations paying up to $30 an hour. However, agent attrition rates haven't fallen much despite these pay increases. To attempt to get to the bottom of this phenomenon, Khoros reached out to former customer support agents on the biases of anonymity to protect both agents and former employers.
The emerging trends the former agents reported parroted the reasons mentioned above, but one question stood out in particular. When asked what it would require for them to return to a customer support role, the overwhelming answer was nothing unless hostile customers received some form of discipline, heavily increased pay, clear career development, and set working hours with generous time off and benefits.
The Human Element Drives the Bottom Line
To some, the reality of the customer agent experience is nothing more than its job description. At the end of the day, this is an entry-level, customer-facing role. There will always be frustrating customers, customer support budgets can only expend so much, and for the majority of people, this is only a stepping stone on their career path.
While all of this might be true, all current data shows that you have to focus on the reality for your agents. The actual agent experience is costing businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars that could improve the business for both customers and agents.
Agents are frequently emotionally abused, asked to work unpredictable hours, and face disproportionate stress levels. This decreases their willingness to perform and gives them great reasons to resign.
Once your agent reaches their tipping point, it will cost more than just the price of replacing that agent. Your customers will have longer wait times to speak with an agent, which decreases your NPS. Your remaining agents will have to take on more responsibilities and volume, which adds to their stress and attrition. The level of detail in your customer care will decrease, further dropping your NPS scores. Former agents will have an unsavory view of working for your company and, if motivated enough, will take their experience to employer review websites like Glassdoor and Indeed. Now, based on one single employee's experience, you have the potential to decrease customer NPS, satisfaction, sales, reputation, and future care agents.
No matter how anyone could cut this, this is losing money on all fronts.
Ways to Save a Boat Load of Cash With Khoros
The reality of working as a customer support agent and the financial implications have been established; what is there left to do? Can your organization maintain functional support channels if customer and employee churn runs at an unsustainable level? The simple answer is to change how your care organization operates fundamentally. Khoros is here to help you make an effective transition.
Everyone touts the importance of "setting expectations.". It's a nice sound-bite to fill space during events, but few are offering explicit examples of what this might mean. In customer care and support, the customer expects that they get the answer to their questions or concerns. Always.
However, the expectations for the agent are a bit more challenging to pin down. It's fair to say that for the agent, it's expected that they will get the nice, neutral, and downright nasty customers in need of support.
What's not made crystal clear is how the agent's leadership team or the organization will support the agent. Being upfront with how the business or leadership will help the agent with training, working environment, what level or style of work they expect, and others will go miles to limit agent attrition and, in turn, be able to invest in your customer care. Khoros is able to make those expectations crystal clear before your agents even log in to the Care suite.
Improved technology and limiting live agent contact
Khoros reporting shows that almost every time a customer needs some form of customer support, they rarely care where or how they receive their answers. This is the crux of what can make or break a contact center's NPS. For some contact centers, agents are tasked with answering every question, and every customer will be routed to a live agent.
If the customer needs more serious assistance, it makes perfect sense to route to a live agent. For a customer with simple questions about finding a tracking number or opening hours, it could frustrate both the customer and the agent, and your agent bandwidth is now plugged with an unnecessary bottleneck.
This is where the Khoros platform comes into play. Our care suite runs chatbots, auto-fill data gathering, and even context-based routing for calls. While context-based routing sounds fancier than it is, this one tactic is a robust tool for limiting attrition and improving NPS across the board.
With context-based routing, almost every potential customer interaction will go to the right place. Suppose it's a simple question such as opening hours. In that case, Khoros' chatbots can understand the question, direct the customer to the appropriate site, or even answer the question directly in the app. If your organization utilizes a community and the customer question is more involved than the chatbots could reasonably answer, this context-based routing could direct the customer to a common question that other customers could easily answer. Lastly, context-based routing could go several ways regarding a more serious problem.
If the customer's stated problem comes with a neutral or positive connotation, you could happily route the conversation to a front-line agent. However, suppose the customer's stated problem clearly shows anger or even hostility, to save your agent's well-being and keep your NPS sailing high. In that case, this context-based routing can pass up this hostile customer's contact to someone on the leadership team freeing up the front-line agents to deal with fewer aggressive customers and provide better service than run to the break room to choke back tears.
Humans are notoriously bad at long-term planning. Exactly why it is a fascinating mystery still being studied today. One possible reason is what researchers call "Hyperbolic Discounting," or when given two similar rewards or benefits, people generally take the reward that pays out sooner.
What does hyperbolic discounting have to do with contact centers and agent attrition? In short, everything. Yes, for the leadership, it is more cost-effective to not invest in new technology or agent health as it will save a small amount of money each month. However, the data proves that no matter how much a contact center saves in the short term, they lose a far more significant amount in the long term in budgets, NPS, sales, agents, and reputation. Before you decide to do anything, ask yourself and your team, are the short-term savings worth the long-term costs?
To further your knowledge and better plan your agent retention strategy, please visit these resources below:
5 ways to limit attrition | Khoros
Khoros's expert opinion on how to make meaningful change
Modernizing your digital care webinar
Khoros' Introduction to Agent Assist webinar
Real World Case Study | Samsung Benelux
If you're interested in learning about a more personalized Care setup, leave a comment below, and we'll help you get connected to the Khoros account team!
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In the sweltering southern city of Nashville, Tennessee, Customer Experience leaders gathered to discuss the emerging customer experience trends in our rapidly changing world. Three key trends were identified and discussed across the three days and several information sessions. These three trends displayed the importance of centralizing a brand's customer engagement hub. Without the ability to form deeper customer relationships from interactions across the digital space, your brand could fall short of its future customer experience goals. In 2018 during the Lithium and Spredfast merger, the idea of centralization was first envisioned to change the way brands and customers interact. Today in 2022, Khoros is proud to offer a platform to help your brand achieve its centralization and customer experience goals.
Having Business Agility is vital to success.
Forrester's first core trend discussed how a brand's agility heavily affected its overall success. The COVID pandemic changed almost every way that brands and customers interact with one another. More people are buying, working, and connecting online more than ever before.
The brands that maintained their agility and experimented with their digital strategy successfully improved their customer experience scores. [Read about top brands in our Kudos submissions]
The volume of customer interaction data allowed brands to leverage and identify emerging challenges and react in real-time. Agile brands that succeeded in the evolving customer engagement world used various customer support and community technologies. While every brand and customer interaction with the brand will vary, developing an omnichannel center for your digital customer engagement will almost certainly increase customer sentiment and revenue and decrease unnecessary costs.
As with all forms of digital technology, there are seemingly endless options to utilize. For a Forrester top-rated experience, consider the Khoros contact center and our award-winning communities. Combining omnichannel agent desktops and robust conversational AI, Khoros customers have found higher agent productivity, satisfaction, and most importantly, higher business outcomes.
It's quickly becoming apparent that brands with a widely used community page often perform better when compared with brands without one. The beauty of a Khoros community is that they provide several solutions in one. Customers can connect with one another around your brand, increase their sentiment, and reduce your care agent's call volume by providing self-service answers to support questions.
Use customer data in all aspects of your business.
Customer data is everywhere – phone calls to the contact center, tweets, and posts on social media, customer transaction history, and a brand's online community. As long as your brand leverages your customer data, it's child's play to implement it into your business strategy.
In a data ocean, it's hard to know what to fish for. Forrester analysts cited that leveraging the correct data is critical to making informed decisions, especially when it comes to optimizing operations and improving the customer experience in the contact center and self-service apparatuses.
Khoros does the same with our Customer Experience Insights. Through our information path, you can see exactly what your customers are looking for in their support questions or interactions with your brand and respond faster and with higher levels of support. DoorDash makes perfect use of the Khoros platform in our case study.
Leverage social media marketing
Forrester noticed that the brands with the best social media marketing cited the highest Customer Experience score. This one is simple. Six billion people own a smartphone worldwide, and almost every mainstream social media platform has hundreds of millions of users at the very least.
Khoros' partners understand the power of social media. Our social media management tool will condense all your social channels into one easy-to-use place, making it easy to protect your brand, measure what matters, and elevate your content and scale social interactions. Having control over your social media and understanding the ever-evolving strategy succeeding brands use is vital in excelling and improving your customer experience and business outcomes. Even small brands like Reachout found incredible success in 2021 and have been highlighted in our Kudos Awards.
The Bottom Line
The 2022 Forrester Customer Experience event confirmed what Khoros has been developing and strategizing on for years. Recapping the emerging trends in one event shows the level of care and understanding Khoros strives to deliver to our customers and, by extension, your brand's current and future customers.
Check out why Forrester continues to rank Khoros as a top-tier company and how it can help you empower your Customer Experience.
Khoros is named a leader in the Forrester Wave: Social Suites
Forrester Report: Getting to know your customers
If you attended this year's Forrester Customer Experience event, leave a comment below with your favorite keynote speaker!
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Change management is complex and could make or break changes in process or strategy. That's why we spoke with our Khoros expert on change management to get the run down on making a refreshing and powerful change.
The half-life of knowledge in any given field dictates how long knowledge remains accurate before proven incorrect or outdated. In business, once the half-life of knowledge reaches its tipping point, radical change is often necessary to continue being relevant and functional as an organization.
For many businesses and organizations, once they develop a functional strategy, it can prove almost impossible to change to a new strategy, even if the new direction would be more effective or cut costs.
We spoke with Ramona Maher Khoros' Change Management Director, to gather a more informed understanding of how to make a change in your organization and, most importantly, why it can be so challenging to execute.
Parker J. Hicks:
Ramona, can you tell me about your background in change management and your professional life?
Sure. So I have been a change management practitioner formally for a little over eight years. Before this, I was a people manager; I was an IT Director, I was a business analyst, and I was a project manager. I was in customer service, operations, and technology teams, I did front office and back-office roles. I've been around.
Ramona Maher | Khoros Change Management DirectorA handful of years ago, the then- CIO at the company where I worked introduced the idea of a change management team. He said I believe change management is a discipline that we can apply in the IT world to solve some of the ongoing problems that we have connecting with our constituencies and providing them with what they want and need. He very smartly made ownership combined operations and IT team so that we got really into lockstep. I jumped at the chance to become a change management practitioner and I haven't looked back since. I joined Khoros a few years ago when they foresaw their customers' need for change management expertise in this space and created my position.
Why is it so hard for businesses to make changes, regardless of having a change manager or not?
So there are a lot of different ways we could answer that question. I've observed a level of disconnect between the people who are making decisions and the people who have to adopt new behaviors to fulfill the goals of those decisions. Without understanding the reasons behind a change, it's hard for anyone to commit to new behavior.
In that case, in your experience, why is change so hard for humans?
Because human circumstance changes day to day, minute to minute, and one size never fits all. As you know, what works today may not work tomorrow. There are changes that I observe, but they are not the only changes happening in a person's life and world. Maybe I need you to click a button, for example, but if you are also dealing with the fact that your hand keeps cramping up every time you try to click a button, I would have no way of knowing that. Or if you're trying to deal with a boss who sits right over you're shoulder every day, that wants me to click this other button, I'm going to do what they tell me. You know, it's really understanding the complex landscape and all of the possible ways that a person could be distracted from achieving the new desired behavior consistently. One of my big stories to explain this is that I'd love to lose 20 pounds. But it turns out I really love the reward of sitting on the couch watching TV with my husband and snuggling with the dogs, more than I love the choice of getting up to go exercise. There's this sort of thing, and there are decisions happening in the human brain multiple times per second.
How do you garner that executive support to spend more money, and take bigger risks, when the requested change comes from the bottom up?
At the individual level. It's about finding out what the person cares about and how what you're proposing will affect what they care about. You have to understand the motivations, desires, and goals of those people you're trying to convince. Generally, executives care about EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization), you know, whereas generally, contact center agents don't know what that means. Understanding the typical personas of the groups that you're working with really helps understand what to focus on for successful change in a business setting.
How do you get those front-line or customer-facing workers to adopt such heavy changes in an executive or leadership role?
In my experience, you need to be transparent with people about the things they don't like that will change as well as the things they don't like that isn't going to change. If you work as an agent in a call center, it's still going to suck to deal with irate customers. The job is to deal with customers of all varieties, including the difficult ones. Having a new piece of software isn't going to change that. However, if there is a chance that you answer fewer of the redundant questions that are repeated to you 57,000 times a day because we're introducing a bot, that's going to be appealing. For each change, you have to help people understand who you're asking to do something different and what's in it for them. How are you equipping them, and what does it mean to them if they are or aren't successful?. If there's nothing more than to keep their job great, run with that. Don't sell it to them as it's going to change the world because that's not the case for them. Accurate and honest communication from a trusted source is a vital change management lever. It's one of the things we rely on to facilitate effective changes.
How would you deal with resistance to change in lower-level employees?
There has to be a point where someone is going to say, is this juice worth the squeeze? For example, I want to lose 20 pounds. That's really important to me. I really don't want to get up and exercise, that's hard for me to choose. I really love cake. All right, well, I'm not saying I never want to eat cake again. Is eating cake once a month still good and exercising three times a week going to work? You know, people that are making these choices all of the time, it's really important to be consistent with enacting a plan and also be willing to modify the plan when it's necessary.
I would like to get your thoughts on a quote from Psychology Today magazine about a write-up they put out about a change in human behavior.
"A linear progression through the stages is not the norm, individuals tend to move back and forth in the Stages of Change, recycling through them until the changes become fully established."
100%. Yeah, it's totally true. When I mentor younger or new people in the field, there is often a time when they experience the reality of something being really exciting for the impacted people at first, and then when they learn more about it, they're like, oh, I don't want to do that. I desired it for a minute then you gave me the next step, which is knowledge of how to do it, and now, I no longer am aligned with you, so you need to bring me back into alignment.
What is your best and worst experience in change management? And what did you learn from those experiences?
I don't have a single worst. I can say that there's a common reason that a change is going poorly. It is because of a lack of alignment. It is because the parties involved cannot see their way clearer to a mutual understanding of something of what to expect as the outcome of the change or what to expect in the process of getting there. So every time I have a bad change management experience, that plays a big role in it.
My best experience was in my last company. I worked on a project that involved 1000s of team leaders at retail stores needing to use a new program to achieve something new. They had been managing their work on spreadsheets. They had their rhythm down. And when you're in a retail store, and you're customer-facing, the time off the floor is tough like you just need to get back there and knock that stuff out and get back out to the customer because your big bosses are telling you all day long about how customers are most important, but you also have to, you know, write schedules and order things and do tests and you so forth. Introducing a new process in that type of environment is very stressful. And, when you get to the point of the team leaders going, oh, yeah, that was nothing, I'm good. Then I know that whatever the new behavior is becoming so second nature that they just don't even really think about it anymore. Another great experience is when the impacted folks start asking the next layer of questions about the change. For example, no longer, what button do I click? But why do I click the button? What would happen if I click these three instead? Like, that's where for me, the best change management experience comes in.
What would you tell people who are struggling to make effective decisions or changes at any level of an organization?
Okay, get ready to laugh. You're going to have ADKAR the s**t out of it (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement). I learned Prosci Methodology formally shortly after having seen the Martian [movie], and when he says he's going to science the s**t out of it to fix his problems, I quickly adapted it to ADKAR. And the reason is that to me, if I have that fundamental, 'hold on, hold on, hold on' moment, let me just back up and see what's going on here, I can figure out what to do. So you really need to understand where a person is in the process, their own experience of change. That way, you can understand how to reach them where they are.
The bottom line is that change is hard for anyone to make stick, and when your business outcomes are at risk, it can seem like a fruitless exercise to change a working system. However, the truth of the matter is that companies that wait, listen, and plan effective changes in their business strategy, 99% of the time, come out on top.
To expand your learning, visit the links below and reach out to Ramona Maher at the contact information listed below.
Modernizing Digital Care - Change Management
Managing Your Brand During a Crisis
Modernizing Digital Care: Change the Conversation Webinar
Becoming a Leader of Organizational Change[Podcast]
Contact Ramona Maher at firstname.lastname@example.org
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The days of ad views equaling positive customer engagement are over. Guerrilla Marketing via TikTok can change that
The term guerrilla gives rise to a select series of images. Cloak and dagger tactics, improvised technologies, or a jungle-fighting 1980s action-movie hero. When we apply this term to the marketing world, an idea blossoms that marketers must invent new ways to constantly evolve and remain culturally relevant enough for customers to engage with what they have to say.
Much like Mad Men's Don Draper, almost everyone that holds their audience's attention thinks outside the box. Thankfully, the modern world has provided far more than a handful of slick tricks to accomplish this goal.
Photo Owner | Duolingo
Touted in mainstream media and every conceivable digital marketing blog, TikTok is the popular new kid on the block in the video-sharing ecosystem. Brands have taken various approaches to TikTok content, and many have found success in crafting traditional TikToks rather than ads you might see before watching a youtube video. Language learning app Duolingo and casual clothing company Mango, for example, are finding stunning success on TikTok with hundreds of thousands of followers and over a million total views. Other brands are… well… struggling to achieve their customer engagement goals.
So, what sets the great brands apart? Isn't TikTok a silly little app for teenagers to dance on? Why — and, more importantly, how — could any brand generate hundreds of thousands of followers? For anyone that's never used the app, these questions probably seem unanswerable. But those who've already used TikTok know that this app is whatever you want it to be for all ages.
Granted, 60% of TikTok users are members of the "Zoomer" or "Gen-Z" generation, which still leaves over 30% of 3 billion users over the age of 25. What does this mean for a marketing team beginning to dive into the magical world of short-form videos? If you want your brand to make a splash and lasting impression, you will need to implement guerrilla marketing tactics on your brand's TikTok page.
Good Products Don't Need Ads, Just Good Creatives.
Product ads, product videos, product, product, product. Scattered throughout TikTok are thousands of brands selling products with product-selling ads. These ads can be successful and end up selling a lot of products — but that's the exception to the rule. Most TikTok users don't like sponsored content because it disrupts their For You Pages, and they aren't afraid to call out the brands that create this content. The bottom line is that the younger generations, and by extension most TikTok users, have an extremely keen sense of when they're being marketed to, and they almost never like it. An internal poll conducted among Khoros staff showed that roughly 80% of staff members using TikTok stroll away from product ads within five seconds of realizing it's a sponsored ad.
The screenshot to the right is the comment section of a telehealth company's TikTok account. While there might be some other struggles with the company itself, their comment section stands as irrefutable proof that TikTok users will call out brands for any and all shortcomings.
As market research professor of Ulster University Stephen Brown puts it in his 2004 paper O' Customer Where art Thou,
"Today's customers are marketing literate… they can deconstruct advertising campaigns in double-quick time and outmaneuver even the most cunning marketing strategies."
This makes it difficult to use traditional tactics, especially on channels like TikTok, where users are so attuned to them. Most of the Zoomer TikTok users have grown up with advertising blasting in their faces all day, every day.
In his same paper, Brown deconstructed a type of customer that he called "Corporate Reservists," or what we would call devotees today. This type of customer differs from influencers because the corporate reservists will shout from the rooftops how much they love your brand for nothing more than having formed an honest relationship with your brand. Of course, influencers still exist, but more often than not, they believe in your product or monetary incentives, not your brand.
Influencers and these unpaid brand cheerleaders are ubiquitous throughout TikTok. Whether it's a paid sponsorship or simply a good opportunity for a video, pages like Simplysalfinds and the hashtag #tiktokmademebuyit are excellent illustrations of Brown's corporate reservist theory. TikTok users know when they are getting sold to, so why not get someone they are already logging on to watch sell for you?
A Brief History of Selling Feelings
Before developing your TikTok strategy, ask yourself, "Why are people logging onto TikTok in the first place?" Of course, the specific reason will differ from person to person, but there's generally one overriding reason: to be entertained. To translate cellular signals of pixels and audio waves into positive feelings or empowering knowledge.
For decades successful marketers have played on this angle, getting potential customers to associate their products with happy, positive feelings rather than simply touting the products' benefits. Look at the Marlboro Man or Coca-Cola for a prime example. Bonus points for using guerrilla marketing tactics. In simple terms, guerrilla marketing uses non-traditional means to market a company in a way that doesn't automatically tell the audience it's marketing.
Rewind for a moment for what could be considered the first example of guerrilla marketing in the United States. Introducing Edward L. Bernays, whom History Today calls "The Original Influencer." During the 20s and 30s, Bernays was hired by the American Tobacco Company to increase cigarette sales among the female demographic.
Now, cigarettes or any form of tobacco is undeniable horrid for your health and we are in no way suggesting or promoting smoking, selling, buying, or marketing cigarettes in any way. However, Brenays's method changed everything we know about marketing today and should be studied as a revolutionary idea.
Photo Courtesy of The BBC
At the time of Bernays marketing stunt, very few women smoked and never in public. The social stigma of the 1920s dictated that "manly" men smoked and "dainty" women would never so much as look at a tool of male identity by lighting up a cigarette.
The 1929 easter's day parade was the perfect opportunity for Bernays to test a brand new marketing tactic. Bernays enlisted his secretary, Bertha Hunt, to pose as a women's rights activist and recruit nine other women to march up and down Fifth Avenue in New York, chain-smoking cigarettes.
Bertha Hunt (upon Bernays instruction) even went as far as to send a telegram to select American debutants stating,
"In the interests of equality of the sexes and to fight another sex taboo, I and other young women will light another torch of freedom by smoking cigarettes while strolling on Fifth Avenue Easter Sunday."
This stunt set the press ablaze with whichever angle the publication wished to take. However, neither Bernays nor American Tobacco was ever mentioned in any of the press reports by design. Bernays needed people to believe that smoking was a female liberation action, not just a marketing stunt.
Bernay's guerrilla marketing stunt worked. According to the National Library of Medicine estimates, smoking rates among the female population rose from 5% in 1924 to 12% in 1929.
Capture Purpose, Not Attention Spans
Why did Bernays's cigarette girl stunt work? One reasonable deduction is that it was a real "attention-getter" and spoke to the purpose of what kind of lifestyle women wanted at the time. Any marketer will tell you that you only have a few seconds — maybe just a single second — to get someone's attention with any campaign. This idea is repeated, reworked, and regurgitated on college campuses, business seminars, and online courses.
It's an excellent introduction to the way marketers could be thinking about how they make content, but recent data supports a more nuanced approach. As Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Open University London, Gemma Briggs puts it,
"Average attention span' is pretty meaningless. It's very much task-dependent. How much attention we apply to a task will vary depending on what the task demand is."
Therefore, the time you have to capture someone's attention is based on context. In the context of TikTok, remember why people open the app in the first place: a human desire for entertainment, knowledge, or connection. Ask yourself, "how would my brand's content fit into the TikTok tertiary of entertainment, knowledge, or connection wants? Will my brand's content add or detract from prospective customers' entertainment?"
Brands that Understood the Assignment
One of the most common pieces of advice brands hear about TikTok marketing is "make videos, not ads", this is indeed dynamite advice. You will need to make content that speaks to your audience — and to do that, you'll need to avoid being obvious about advertising or even avoid "advertising" altogether.
What does this mean in the context of guerrilla marketing? It's easy to keep this concept theoretical, but a handful of brands provide outstanding real-world examples.
Exhibit A: Mango clothing
Mango clothing posted its first TikTok video in October of 2020, and at the time of writing, its account has amassed over 212,000 followers and 1.8 million likes. One video they posted stands out in particular:
This video was made in partnership with TikTok user Madelaineturner and stands above the rest as it's not an ad — or at least not a traditional ad. Madelaine's page is full of short-form surrealist skits that blend unsettling themes, cinematic flare from the 40s and 70s, and specific energy that must be viewed to be understood. Most of Mango's other TikTok videos feature various outfits at photoshoots, and that's it. As the viewer, you feel like you have a backstage pass to the creation of outfits that you could wear to impress anyone at whatever social gathering you choose.
In the Madelaine partnership video, there is zero indication that you're watching an ad until the very end. Upon first glance, all you watch is a regular Madelaine video filled with drain cleaner cocktails, nervous energy, and Mango's new spring collection for costumes. The Mango logo only flashes for 1.2 seconds. The video to date has received over 24,000 likes and 100,000 views, and the comments left on the video speak for themselves.
Exhibit B: Redbull
Ah, the liquid energy concoction in a can that most people use to study, party, or drive for more than 12 hours. Redbull is synonymous with extreme sports and pushing the human body past its limit.
Their TikTok page reflects that; the videos exclusively contain lifestyle and guerrilla marketing tactics. Their first ever TikTok, posted in February of 2021, was literally just one of their social media managers typing on-screen saying:
This video is the distillation of what makes TikTok such a popular platform. The video is casual, unmistakably human, and uses a sense of self-aware comedy that general TikTok users know and love. Bonus points for that it's not even an ad at all.
The Redbull TikTok account contains zero Redbull ads. Literally nothing about why you should drink Redbull. The only videos featured on Redbull's account are adventure sports and heart-pounding stunts. Their page speaks to the lifestyle Redbull promotes not that you should drink their energy drink. Think for a moment about what problem or desire does your brand solve? What kind of lifestyle do your customers live?
Exhibit C: Bed Bath & Beyond
Bed Bath & Beyond joined the TikTok ecosystem in September of 2021 with a more traditional product ad style video of a store opening in New York City. It features commonly used elements of TikToks: Text-to-speech voice, a trending song, the works.
That initial Tiktoks received a few thousand views, which is pretty good for a brand just joining the channel. However, by using a virally trending sound, Bed Bath & Beyond received over eight million views on a single video. The post was simple and had nothing to do with the brand. It was simply a Bed Bath & Beyond social media manager singing The reading rainbow theme song.
When that video was published, that song had gone viral throughout TikTok, but the Bed Bath & Beyond version had one key difference. The social media manager was plainly singing the song because of the varying copyright permissions for brands on TikTok. This worked well for Bed Bath & Beyond, but these borderline copyright infringement cases can too easily go awry and have page-ending consequences.
Using the Khoros Platform to Upgrade your Brand's TikTok Strategy
The Khoros marketing platform can be used to close the gaps in your brand's TikTok strategy in several key ways, including governance, in-app video creation, and organically derived customer sentiment.
Managing the dissemination of information is challenging for anyone working in a cross-team system, and brands looking to craft successful TikTok content face an additional layer of challenge.
Relevant content on TikTok moves and changes at a lightning pace. A viral sound or trend one day is old news the next. How is an agile, enterprising brand going to keep up? Using traditional approval ladders, creating one video could take a week or more. Using Khoros's marketing governance tools, everyone is on the same page in hours, not days.
It's no question that TikTok's native video creation tools are impressive, but from a brand's perspective, having six or more people all huddled around a phone screen is less than ideal. Using the Khoros platform, your brand's social media manager could build out the video with traditional video creation tools and have it sync up on the platform before publishing. This way, brands can more easily ensure content quality, gather analytics, and reduce publishing time.
The Bottom Line
TikTok is a powerful, easy-to-learn new tool for digital engagement, but it comes to the branding world as a double-edged sword. TikTok users are extremely attuned to traditional marketing tactics and will jump, scream, and shout about brands that employ them. If you are not currently using TikTok, a great course of action would be to make an account and use it for at least 20 minutes every few days. The best way to use any tool is to see how other people use it. In no time at all, you'll see what brands are using guerrilla marketing and what brands aren't.
Guerrilla marketing tactics have the data to prove they work on TikTok, increasing engagement and customer sentiment. And these tactics have enormous potential to increase your revenue by TikTok users advertising for you by sharing your content. Remember that the TikTok social ecosystem will harshly punish brands if they slip up or leap before looking. Now that you understand the power of guerrilla marketing on TikTok, it's time to start asking yourself and your team about the next video, not the next ad.
Come further your knowledge with our TWO TikTok webinars and case-study at the links below:
Talk-walker and Khoros deep-dive
Rock the Tok TikTok Strategy
How Randstad USA used Khoros to grow their TikTok audience by 30%
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Don't have time to read? Check out this audio version of our blog, also found on your favorite podcast platform!
Publishing already has enough challenges; switching from native to in-app doesn't have to be one of them
When anyone goes to publish a post on any form of social media, there are numerous things to consider: Am I using the proper lighting? Is this joke going to hit the right audience? Is this even the right place to post this type of content? When it comes to brands posting content on their various platforms, they have answered all those questions and still have to answer more.
Creating a new social marketing campaign with various teams working at different paces can quickly feel like wrangling cats. Some brands can find a hash dash system to publish their campaigns; using a disjointed system could be ignoring a core efficiency tenant. Centralizing most final processes makes for a smoother publishing experience.
Two teams, two solutions, one challenge
Let's, for a moment, imagine two social marketing teams. For this example, they are identical in scale, scope, a team size of fifteen people, and budgets. They use the same social media and are launching a new Instagram campaign.
Their primary targets are tech-savvy 20-30 years with a high level of disposable income. Both teams decide to run three posts and a reel. Both teams currently use Khoros, but Team A publishes natively, and Team B uses Khoros to publish strictly through in-app.
Team A: Publishing Natively
Team A could be considered old school, and every aspect of the publication process is facilitated through a mixture of emails, Slack pings, and mobile publishing. The only time Team A uses the Khoros platform is for basic analytics. This process can sometimes work for smaller teams not looking to scale.
Brands generally have one shot at fostering positive customer engagement in the sea of social media noise. Given Team A's larger size, this could be viewed as treading a fine line between success and missing the boat. Without even realizing it, the simple act of getting a few Instagram posts published can transform into a confusing web of governance routing, content creation deadlines, and lost analytics.
Saving face is essential for any brand. In our hyper-connected world, all it takes is one mistimed or unsavory post to start a social media firestorm. Team A's social media managers simply post content with limited approval. The upper management team will either leave it up or strike it down if they deem it distasteful to the brand's reputation via pinging the social media managers through Slack. Team A's governance strategy ends in questionable posts going out into the world, and at times the brand's reputation receives intense customer pushback.
Content Publication Timelines:
Spreadsheets have long been Team A's source for accounting, data tracking, and for to track their publication calendars. When it comes to publishing content on time, spreadsheets and other publication methods plainly show their potential downfalls.
Most spreadsheet scheduling issues can be attributed to human error. Instagram's scheduling system makes it possible to plan out a full calendar of posts for a campaign in advance. Team A's social media managers can easily forget to input planned posts on their brand calendar or spreadsheet to schedule a post on Instagram, resulting in valuable publishing time lost.
Data in today's world is worth its weight in gold. Understanding your campaign without correctly updated analytics is like trying to walk through a hedge maze blindfolded. It is possible to manually keep track of all analytics using Instagram's own analytical tools, but it's also possible to miss a key metric.
Team A uses the Khoros platform to track their basic analytics, but most of the team's campaign is published natively. Still, by publishing this way, several of their Instagram posts end up not syncing with the Khoros platform and are left with missing analytics.
Cross-functional communication can be a challenge for any team working in social marketing. Coordinating between the social media managers, the photographers working on the campaign, copywriters, and upper management for approval isn't just attempting to herd cats but instead trying to run a whole feline circus.
Team A's social media managers haven't shared the primary brand Instagram account password with anyone but each other. The photographers aren't uploading their photos on time, and posts are getting approved either after the post has gone live or in a Slack thread spanning four users and 50 or more messages.
In short, Team A's communication system is disjointed and inefficient and leaves the team open to employees posting without approval or the proper brand voice being shared.
As an old poker player would say, you never gamble with your own money. Sadly, our hypothetical Team A is not only using their own money, they're actively betting on a losing hand. Finding the right balance of cost to benefit is becoming increasingly difficult in the digital social market. One website or channel is viral one day is forgotten the next day.
Team A's "old-school" style of publishing and digesting analytics means their missing key metrics that would better inform their digital strategy and when to tighten or loosen the marketing purse strings. Team A would have lost over a month using an outdated social trend that decreased their customer sentiment and their customer's willingness to buy their product. Now, the original budget for a new campaign is out the window.
Team B: Publishing In-App
Team B has fully incorporated the Khoros platform in its marketing and publishing process. Instead of having their team's publishing process scattered across six phones, twenty people, and four different accounts, they have one single login for all team members in the Khoros platform.
Their governance process is baked into the publishing process of any post published using the Khoros platform. Both the calendar and governance are now centrally operated, and Team B is not beholden to one password known by a single social media manager.
Team B's easy access to analytics ensures that all campaigns are tracked correctly, and they are never betting their budgets on projects that may or not work. Instead of waiting for weeks after a campaign has been completed to see the levels of success, their metric tracking from in-app publishing gives them the knowledge to better plan the next campaign and make sure they're putting the right budget to work.
In short, while Team B and Team A are identical in size, campaigns, and scope, Team B has centralized its publishing process by using the Khoros platform to its full potential.
Now that you have a good overview of the differences between publishing natively and using the Khoros platform, deepen your knowledge with these additional resources and videos.
Subscribe to the Khoros Marketing Blog
Using Khoros to publish to Instagram via mobile
An in-depth guide to approval paths
Housing and adding new social accounts
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