Social Media and Your Business: A Customer’s Perspective

Social media is a thing, like, a really big thing.  As with any big things where the people are the companies will flock.  Sadly, as it usually is when big companies try to do what normal people do, a lot are failing to do it right or simply recognize the real potential.  Social media, broadly, is a powerful place for people to communicate ideas and exchange information.  Jobs are found, people are connected, friends are reunited and ideas are exchange.  It goes beyond even that.  As such it’s easy to see why companies are so drawn to it for customer leads.

There are a lot of good reasons to get into it though.  Speaking strictly from a sales perspective, they can really humanize an otherwise cold corporate monster.  Social media puts a face and a conversation where traditionally it has been a call center and 16 layer deep menu.  There are still a large number of sales organizations, like car dealers, who have yet to embrace the technology.  Personally speaking when I research a company for a purchase, having a twitter account which is active, honest and engaged goes miles to earning my purchase.  I will, and have, go out of the way to a specific vendor simply because of a social media experience.

Here are some thoughts based on observations and interactions with companies who are and aren’t using social media.  (These could apply to personal accounts as well though written for companies interested in using social media.  Personal accounts are, well, personal.)

Something is not better than nothing

An easy temptation for sites like Facebook and Twitter is to create an account just to have one.  Once there you can proudly advertise your social media presence and fit in with the “trendy” crowd.  Truth is, your stagnant account will kill you more than if you simply didn’t have one.  Nothing reflects poorer on a company then when you click through a Twitter link to find a stream that is updated quarterly.  There are no user interactions and most posts are links.  When consumers see this they are immediately unimpressed.  If your effort into customer interaction is this poor, can I expect the same enthusiasm when I visit your store?  Odds are likely yes.  When you don’t care for your social media you advertise that you don’t care for your customers.  If you don’t have the time or knowledge to use them, don’t.  Stick to the traditional lead methods you know.

It’s a tool, not a trend

Many people see social media as a “trendy” item.  There is a sense of novelty and desire to be seen as a modern, dynamic organization.  Jumping into social media is often considered a way to be trendy, modern.  While for consumers it certainly could be seen as a trend, for business it’s a tool.  Social media is an engagement tool and should be treated with the seriousness any other of your sales tools are.  Hire teams to support it.  Investigate and create goals for it, performance metrics.  If you treat social media like a trend you will miss many of its benefits.  A “here today, gone tomorrow” level of flippancy will keep you from total buy-in which, in turn, jeopardizes the level of engagement you’re willing to take.  Social media has serious potential to bring you customers, treat it as such.

Empower your Social Media team

It’s no secret that many large corporations outsource their social media elements to marketing teams who specialize in that sorta thing.  There isn’t anything wrong with that either.  Small and medium businesses are likely to hire internal marketing experts for social media.  In either case your social media teams have to have the empowerment to act.  A significant amount of customer feedback, good and bad, will come from your social media elements.  Your teams need to be able to react quickly and effectively to this feedback.  Any constraints or layers of contact just bring customers back to that feeling of navigating an endless phone menu for support.  Set guidelines for your team to operate in but allow them to act freely within them.  Does a customer require a full refund on the account?  Let them do that.  Could they get a free item to resolve a mixed issue?  Absolutely.  The faster and more freely your social media team can act the faster any publicly available issues will be resolved.

When it comes to social media, speedily resolving feedback is essential.  Stuff spreads like wildfire on an oilfield online.

Stay within the brand

Something definitely to follow up the previous point.  In giving your teams, or team, the freedom to act ensure they do so within your established brand.  It’s so embarrassing to have a singular social media expert tweet something personal from their corporate account.  Often times the desire to engage can blind a company to the fact that your social media elements are still communications from your company.  While freedom to act is good, there should still be language and style that tweets and posts adhere to.  When a customer follows your streams they will be jolted if they find a whole different communication style on your website.  If your company has a large sales force who interact with the customer in person, your social media should sound and feel the same as the in store experience.  Customers build an idea of how your store operates based on their interactions with your social media.  It’s not unlike getting a picture of what a radio DJ looks like in your head and meeting them in person.  The shock you feel when you find out the two are different will sour the customer experience or simply turn them away.

Be Bold

Because your social media has a brand to adhere to and is, at its core, advertising, companies tend to have a certain take on what they post.  That take is generally a positive bias towards your product or service.  Naturally this is to be expected, most of the time.  But a company who truly engages and sees the value of social media will know what consumers want is transparency.  They want a company that knows, acknowledges and resolves when they’ve made a mistake.  Constant retweets and posts to the positive will begin to give your streams a feel of propaganda.  Be bold.  Engage your unhappy customers.  Mention legitimate issues up front and tackle them at face value in posts.  If somebody has constructive feedback, retweet it but include what you’re doing to fix it.  Companies who aren’t afraid to acknowledge and fix their own shortcomings are very popular with consumers.  Don’t bombard me with why I should buy from you, engage with me about how you satisfy your customers, good and bad.

Stay active but not spammy.  Link only when necessary.

Companies who get social media are in danger to fall into this trap.  They have dedicated, free and engaged teams who frequently interact.  But, as will all good things, there are limits.  A company whose stream is flooded with information, links and retweets is as reviled as a stagnant one.  It gives the impression of an over-eager over-selling environment.  Treat social media like a conversation and know the social boundaries.  You wouldn’t tell your friends about a promotion every hour in person, what makes tweeting about it that often any different?  Frequent self advertising will also send your customers running to the hills.  Keep links to your own content to a minimum, particularly when dealing with touchy issues.  Linking to third parties with favourable viewpoints always adds more value then linking to your own internal articles.  Again, think of your social media streams like a conversation.  How often would you refer someone to a website in conversation?  That’s about how often links should appear on your streams.

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