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Guest post: Pigs Arses, Tsunamis and Taking a Punt – Lessons in Customer Engagement

September 14, 2009

This guest post was written by Chris Noble, the general manager of and co-founder of He is NOT a Social Media Maven, Guru, Expert, God, Pioneer, Rockstar and has only been caught twittering on the toilet once, by his son, who’s too young to understand (or forgive).

Your mother has the face of a pigs arse!
Was roughly the English translation of one of our bloggers short conversation with a South American policeman. Like most young travellers, he had a friend with a somewhat warped sense of humour who thought it would be funny to give him the wrong words to ask a policeman for directions. A few hours in a cold cell made for one hell of a scary but funny story.

It also sparked an idea for us, maybe we can create some basic language guides, which will ensure our travellers don’t get caught in a similar situation (no matter how much of a bugger your travelling companion might be). So we sourced some ideas on useful phrases from our community and created a Spanish language guide.

You could download to your iPod or mp3 player and pick up some of the local lingo. Downloads came thick and fast, so we built some more, French, Italian, Japanese and kept building to around 24 languages. The iPhone came out, so we built an app for each one and we’ve seen 600,000 downloads in 6 months.

All of this on the back of one simple principle. Listen, learn and respond.

There’s a lot of talk, particularly within travel companies, about how to effectively leverage social media, the value of user generated content, should I tweet? Facebook fan page vs group? My customers are talking, how do I control it!!

Companies are looking to effectively “engage” with their customers but are still confused by how to connect and for what ends.

Without rambling on about the do’s and don’ts of Social Media, I thought I’d share some of the ways in which we’ve engaged our community. How we’ve used social media to enable us to listen, learn and most importantly respond in a way that both delivers value to our customers, as well as our business.

Lessons learned from the Tsunami
When the Asian tsunami hit in 2004, everyone in our company was greatly affected by the carnage that had been brought down on many communities. It also made us wonder as individuals, what difference can I make?

You feel somewhat ineffective reaching into your pocket and handing over $20. Where will it go? What impact will it make?

Many of our bloggers expressed the same feelings and by listening, it gave us the idea that perhaps by harnessing many small donations, we could fund much larger projects. By working with charities that provided individual projects, with limited administration costs, then maybe we could engage our customers to make a tangible difference.

So we created Footprints. Every customer that bought travel insurance through could donate between $2-$10 to a community development project. We took a stand and made it opt-out and over 90% of customers have donated. So far we’ve raised over $700,000 and funded 50 projects around the world.

What’s also given us immense satisfaction is that we’ve been able to report back to those that have donated. So it might be 6 months down the track, but we’ve been able to send a project report to each person that donated and share successes via social media, so everyone sees exactly where their $2 has gone.

Other businesses expressed an interest in being involved so we’ve re-engineered the technology and created an API. Now any e-commerce travel company can integrate Footprints and start funding community projects.

Taking a Punt
Social media has given companies an opportunity to put their staff in front of their brand, to engage and understanding how to better provide value and support to their customers. For those companies prepared to listen, it also enables you to take suggestions and create opportunities previously not thought of.

One recurring theme from donors was their desire to see more about the projects. We had the idea that maybe we could film one. So in typical Aussie fashion, we sent a mate off with a camera to shoot a community project trip and show what it’s like to give back to less fortunate communities. The view was if it we shot something strong, we could offer it up as license free content to airlines and maybe, just maybe someone would pick up the series.

We were lucky that all of this came to fruition; Positive Footprints was picked up by over 25 airlines around the world and Nat Geo Adventure channel bought the series. So by taking a punt, on the request of our customers, we’ve been able to share our story with travellers around the world, associate our brand with something incredibly positive and build a new channel and grow viewership via social media.

So the bottom line
Social media is a means by which companies can effectively “engage” consumers and like minded businesses to position and give personal voice to your brand, develop and build new products and services, support CSR activities as well as meet your commercial and marketing objectives.

It’s as simple as listen, learn and respond.

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