In this month’s Expert series, we chat with Sukhjit Ghag, Director of Community at startup company Leeo, about the challenges of building online community from scratch. We can all learn a thing or two from Sukhjit who has built a reputation for customer-centric marketing. Previous to bravely transitioning to the start-up world she managed community for Sony Electronics and was Marketing Manager at Desk.com with an over decade long digital marketing career. In our interview we get her take on the importance of communications and why customer service should be everyone’s responsibility. Lessons for businesses at any stage.
BWF: What does your company do, and who is your target?
Ghag: Leeo is a consumer electronics company whose products and services are designed to make smart, simple, plug-and-play devices that help people feel more confident and comfortable in their homes. Our market is currently U.S.-focused, but we do have several enterprise-level international partnerships in a different arm of the organization.
BWF: Tell us about Leeo and what stage the company is in?
Ghag: We incorporated in 2013 with a very small team that has grown dramatically over the past year. We have an incredibly experienced leadership team at our helm; our CEO, Adam Gettings, was co-founder and chief robot designer at RoboteX and our COO, Charles Huang, was a co-creator of Guitar Hero. Leeo just went public in September 2014 and we’ve got a lot of very excited investors already supporting us.
Our first smart home product is the Leeo Smart Alert™ Nightlight and it began shipping October 21st.
BWF: What are currently your communications goals?
Ghag: Our main public goals at this stage are to build brand awareness, help people understand who we are, and establish trust. That’s one of the hardest parts, I think. Before we start saying, “Hey, buy what we’re making,” we really need to lay the foundation of, “Here’s who we are, here’s who’s behind the company, and here’s the vision that we have.” As a young company, we must first educate the public about our brand before we can introduce our products.
Internally, we’re trying to emphasizing regular team conversations with really clear information exchange. “Where are we with the product today? What can we say, what can’t we say, and how much can we share?” Most start-ups have their own ways of managing communications, but as a new company just getting out of “stealth mode,” we want everyone to feel prepared for questions they may get asked by friends, a reporter, or an investor. This means as we move into our product launch and beyond, our team works toward the same goal with confidence and inherit support. A value of good communications within our team will foster good communications with our customers.
We communicate what’s okay and what’s not okay to talk about publicly same day…
BWF: It’s not a natural behavior for “social media people” to not share publicly. How has the roll out impacted personal communications for yourself and other employees?
Ghag: We launched our company in mid September and that was the first time we could tell our friends and our neighbours, “I work at Leeo—this is what we do.” A lot of people were really excited about that. And, especially for me, working in social media, having had to go stealth on my LinkedIn profile had a lot of people scratching their heads. It’s harder for somebody like me to say, “well, I can’t tell you”, than to just keep quiet for a while. So, I’ve been under radar trying not to make too much noise as we prepared to let everyone know who we are.
One of the things that our PR director and I did before we had our company launch last week was sit down with the whole company to talk about what’s coming. We provided guidance to those employees on social about what’s good and bad to do right now, how to use good judgment, asked them to be transparent when talking about the company, meaning, don’t not tell people that you work at Leeo now that we’re public. It was really about building confidence within this whole company so they felt prepared for the questions they might get asked by their friends, by a potential reporter, or by an investor. We communicate what’s okay and what’s not okay to talk about publicly same day, because we want to help them feel competent and successful so that they’re not second-guessing themselves. And it was a great vibe. It was so well received and so appreciated, and that was a really rewarding thing. It may feel small when you think about social media initiatives—to take a step back and think about the users that you have right in your own building. The people who are really your champions right out of the gate, before you have customers. These are the people that you should be supporting today. Not just the C-suite, but every individual at every level. Those are the beginnings of community, taking care of the people back home.
— Fandom Marketing (@FandomMarketing) November 4, 2014
BWF: How do transparent internal communications help integrate employees with the social media effort?
Ghag: Today, everyone is a spokesperson for the company because everyone is a broadcaster. So, if your tendency is to be online, just remember that if you’re a representative of our company, then you’re representing our brand. If an employee sees something that isn’t feeling right such as an unhappy customer, they don’t have to take it on themselves. There’s a whole support team here. Right out of the gates, before we even have customers, we’re setting up our support system to be able to take care of customers so that there is no question what to do when they see somebody complaining on Twitter. If they spot a problem on Twitter we’ll make sure the support team knows so that they can take care of it right away.
I want them to think about the other things but if their first priority is take care of the customer, they’re a good fit.
BWF: What does your social media team look like?
Ghag: Our team is the community team and within it is support—so there’s me, there’s support—there’s a community manager who is interfacing with product and with our testers and users, and then we’ll have, kind of, a ‘content and social media specialist,’ and a digital media person who’s doing ad buys and that type of thing. We’ve got a number of strong writers, we’ve got strong creative people. One of the top things I look for when I’m interviewing a potential Leeo marketing employee is, are they talking about social media in terms of PR, are they talking about it in terms of influencer or blogger, or are they talking about it in terms of customer? If their top thing is customer, then I know they’re a cultural fit for this organization. I want them to think about the other things but if their first priority is take care of the customer, they’re a good fit.
The operations part of it is really critical. We have a really wonderful support manager in place who gets all the nuts and bolts, but the customer communication is part of the communication team, which is marketing. We’re all together in it.
There’s a commitment to laying down the foundation…
BWF: How does it feel to be living in a textbook social media dream?
Ghag: I feel like I have to pinch myself because when I started looking for a new role, these were the things I laid out… I spent two years at Desk, and I went to Desk because I was seeing there this huge gap in social media—it was becoming this broadcast tool. My dream was always that these things would coexist. When I joined Sony, support was not on social media. We had to break that down right away. It was very hard to make that happen. Once it did, it changed the game dramatically. Once our support team started to engage with customers on social, in coordination with the social media team, we were really able to turn up the dial in the way that we were engaging with our customer. We created a path to understanding our customer and getting their issues resolved. And that’s what we’re trying to instill from day one at Leeo.
There’s a commitment to laying down the foundation so that we aren’t scrambling to figure out how to support customers after we’ve got them. We’re ready.
BWF: How does social media help you bridge the gap between building new customer relationships and trust around a product that’s not yet available?
Ghag: Social media allows us to share information in a two-way flow between our company and our audience, and that’s a really powerful thing. For example, of course there’s the marketing and PR “push” side of our messaging. Anybody who works at Leeo will tell you that our founders’ competence and successful track records were huge driving factors in us joining this company. Since our company went public, we’ve been empowered to share their vision and that’s helped a lot in getting Leeo early visibility.
On the “pull” side, there’s a commitment from every level of this organization to listen to and learn from our customers. We want their feedback in order to make the best products possible; this is a fundamental value for all parts of this company.
BWF: What steps are you going through to start building an online community from scratch?
Ghag: Building community is so important to us that we specifically hire people with a “heart” for customer service. With social media, everyone is a spokesperson for the company because everyone is a broadcaster—but if you’re broadcasting without taking care of and understanding and connecting with and supporting your customer, then you are only only really benefiting from a tiny percentage of what’s possible with your community.
We all talk on a regular basis to make sure that we know what’s happening, there are no surprises…
BWF: Will you be incorporating social advertising or any type of advertising into the initial audience-building effort?
Ghag: The days of not investing in paid advertising on social are over; you have to do it if you really want to grow. Paid and organic campaigns will happen as we keep up with understanding our consumers’ needs and wants, and we’ll focus on those when plan our strategies. The important thing is to keep our messaging on-target in the way we talk to our customers. We want our social, support, and advertising to present a unified, consistent brand. As we build a team, it’s really about being cohesive and knowing what each part is up to. We all talk on a regular basis to make sure that we know what’s happening, there are no surprises, and we’re not off-target in the way that we talk to our customer. That feeling, when you see an ad, is the feeling you should see when you have an engagement with us; it’s not separate, it all comes from the same place.
BWF: When do you predict the smart/connected home industry will become a mainstream part of daily life?
Ghag: With greater bandwidth available, products getting smaller and smarter, and mobile changing the way that we engage with technology, we’re closer now than ever before. When you stop thinking about it and it just becomes habit, that’s when you know it’s been integrated; we’re already seeing this happen with smartphones, wearables, and DID (Digital Information Display) screens in our homes and at work.
BWF: How do you stay current on social media trends? Do you go to conferences? What publications do you like to read?
Ghag: I’m very lucky that my network of friends is as passionate about social media as I am so it’s a natural topic of discussion in my daily life. Following other practitioners through online Facebook groups has been invaluable, too.
I also like to see what my nieces and nephews in their late teens to early twenties are doing. There is some great insight in observing how people are actually using technology… sure, you want to pay attention to the trendsetters, but the way real people are using things in real life is what really fascinates me.
Meet Expert: Sukhjit Ghag
Sukhjit Ghag is Director of Community at Leeo. She is a content and communications pro with experience building community and customer advocacy programs. She’s helped some of the biggest brands in the world as well as cutting-edge startups connect with customers and users. Sukhjit’s approach is holistic; community, integrating marketing, customer support, business development and product feedback.
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