I recently read about the launch of UK 4G mobile provider EE’s new ambassador programme, and was immediately intrigued. Advocacy and the power of online influencers is one of the (continuing) hot themes for the next few months, and this particular programme could be one to watch for a great example of either how to do it or how not to do it, depending on how it works out for EE.
It’s intriguing for several reasons. It’s a brave move on the part of EE given not only the criticism it has already received from influential people, but also the social footprint and combined voice of the advocates involved. But the thing that really makes this programme stand out for me is the way it has come about. There’s a back story that involves a viral blog post, national newspaper interest and an association with influencer scoring platform Kred that really spices things up, and it’s worthwhile catching up on this by reading Andrew Grill’s original (and updated) post on London Calling.
Given my interest in the programme, I wanted a bit more of an inside track as to the hows and whys, so I asked Andrew, the instigator, a few questions:
How did your original meeting with EE come about? Did they invite you or did you approach them?
I was contacted by their external PR agency about my blog post, so I asked to meet Olaf Swantee (CEO of EE). For my first meeting at EE HQ I was greeted by Stuart Jackson, who now works in the CEO office, and also met with some key figures such as Pat Coxen, the EE Project Director who has overseen the entire technical and branding exercise; Mat Sears, Head of EE PR; and Tim Pritchard, who runs the digital team and is behind @EE on Twitter. I have also had three more follow up meetings with EE to formulate and activate the EE Advocates program.
What was their reaction when you suggested the ambassador programme?
Very positive: let’s do it and who do you suggest. I also proposed that those I selected should also be able to select one other person and give them the same benefits, thus extending the program to the advocate’s own network
How did you choose your five person team? What factors came into play?
All are personally known to me and represent a bread spectrum. Gabrielle Laine-Peters has strong social media ties and is a live blogger who is glued to her iPad, so a 4G version makes sense. When I first showed her the speed of 4G on my iPad, she was very impressed. Paul Clarke is a photographer, so a great use case of using 4G to get photos uploaded from the field. Neville Hobson is a well-respected tech blogger with great reach, and Ewan MacLeod is a recognised mobile blogger who tells it like it is. Neville and Ewan have already both posted positively about their EE 4G experiences.
What do you think EE’s expectations of the programme are?
To generate positive coverage via non-traditional channels, solicit feedback and diffuse initial influencer backlash.
How much of a risk do you think EE is taking implementing this at such an early stage in its development, and given the issues it’s had already?
They know as a well-established carrier that the existing issues of customer service, coverage and activation won’t go away. If anything, the problems faced are being raised to senior management faster than before. When I posted about SIM activation problems they quickly identified the process issue and fixed it. Had I not posted, it could have gone uncovered for much longer.
And do you think that EE truly understands that risk?
Yes, they know they have a lot at stake. But this is a ‘managed risk’ as Senior EE staff have met me and a number of the advocates, who have all been recommended by me, personally. I am, in fact, taking some of the risk in being in the EE advocate program itself as, if it fails, my brand will suffer. By brand is also at risk from the advocates I’ve recommended.
What’s in it for you (other than a free device)? Why would you want to be an ambassador for EE?
Having been in the mobile space from the last 22 years, I believe passionately about the benefits of mobile, and in particular new innovations such as 4G. Only by waking up mobile operators and placing a greater focus on customer service issues can the industry grow. Also I feel I have a duty to my London Calling readers to be a true advocate and get their problems fixed, so they keep reading the blog and believe in what I am saying.
In monetary terms, how do you think the programme will benefit EE?
It’s potentially millions. I estimate my blog post wiped £1m off their revenue, so being able to claw back that would be a start. Once The Telegraph picked up my blog post, visitors changed from social media types to large banks and FTSE100 companies (and this continues today). These companies probably read the Telegraph article and thought ‘let’s hold off switching our entire mobile workforce to 4G until they sort the teething problems out.
Is the programme something that you see EE expanding in the future?
EE has its own market segments it’d like to tap into, so yes I believe the programme will expand. Personally I’d like to see this model working in more companies, powered by Kred of course!
So there you have it. A brand in trouble, if you believe some sources, reaching out for help among the very communities that have been leading the backlash. Brave? Stupid? Or extremely progressive and intelligent? I’d love to hear your thoughts below, and if you have any further questions for Andrew, please leave them and he’ll answer them for you…
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Posted by Paul Sutton