Social Media: Not Just For Kids Anymore
In his new book, "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000," Pete Blackshaw describes the fallout computer giant Dell experienced in July 2005 after a single blogger wrote about his less-than-stellar experience with a Dell product and the sub-par customer service that followed. After the blogosphere and Dell's own website had been flooded with other product and service horror stories, Blackshaw writes, "Dell finally responded in August 2005 announcing -- in what was clearly a too-little, too-late effort at reconciliation -- that it would respond to comments on blogs. By then of course, the damage was done."
No matter your business, you're not immune to receiving negative buzz online. The chance of it happening is greater than ever given that more people use social media today. In fact, Forrester reports that social technology adoption "exploded" in 2008. And it's not just young people who are embracing social media outlets. According to Forrester, 75% of all U.S. online adults now use social technology.
And those who use social media expect you to do so as well. Consider these findings from a 2008 study on Business in Social Media:
- 93% of social media users believe a company should have a presence in social media.
- 85% believe a company should not only be present in, but also interact with its consumers via social media.
- 56% of users feel both a stronger connection with and better served by companies when they can interact with them in a social media environment.
So with the proliferation of social media outlets and their usage becoming solidly mainstream, how do you get on board? Here are five must-dos for any marketer:
1. Stop, look, and listen. Who knew the advice we were given as kids would be just as important today? If you aren't doing so already, take at least 30 minutes out of every day to look for what's being said online about your company, its products, and its services. Search blogs, forums, review boards, and news sites. Listening to online buzz can help inform a variety of things, from product development to brand messaging and identity. But keep in mind that online chatter may not only be coming from your customers and clients, but from your employees as well. Sites like vault.com and indeed.com provide venues for current and former employees to post the inside scoop on what it's like to work for your company.
2. Don't just sit there, say something! Silence may be golden, but not when it comes to social media. People use social media because they want to be heard. Let them know you're listening and that their comments are important to you. Companies like Comcast, Southwest, and Zappos are responding to comments about their respective brands on Twitter. And customers appreciate it. After one dissatisfied customer posted a "tweet" about an unpleasant flight on Southwest, he received this response: "Sorry to hear about your flight -- weather was terrible in the NE. Hope you give us a second chance to prove that Southwest = Awesomeness." The blogger's reaction? "It's pretty interesting that [Southwest has] people monitoring Twitter for brand/reputation purposes. It comes across as a customer service effort ...thanks for the attention, SWA."
3. Be proactive. Let your audience know that you want to engage with them. This goes way beyond simply saying "Contact us" or "We want to hear from you!" and linking to an e-mail address or contact form. Companies serious about soliciting and acting upon customer input develop programs around it. Earlier this year, for example, Starbucks launched My Starbucks Idea, an online community that encourages brand enthusiasts to submit ideas for improvement. Users are then able to see how many community members have voted on their suggestion, if it is being reviewed by Starbucks and, ultimately, whether the idea will be put into action. On a recent visit to the site, more than 14,500 ideas had been submitted to the "Coffee & Espresso Drinks" section of the site.
4. Admit who you are. When it comes to participating in social media outlets, transparency is rule No. 1. A few years ago, one major retailer learned this the hard way. It set up a "fake blog," which purportedly tracked the travels of two people who were trekking across America visiting its stores along the way. Within two days, the site was identified as a corporate venture, and the retailer was widely criticized.
5. Make a commitment. Leveraging social media effectively requires dedication. The companies most successful with it weave it into the fabric of their marketing strategy and hire people to manage it. Coca Cola, for example, established Adam Brown's position as director of digital communications a few years ago because the company recognized the benefits of social media and other digital communications. In a recent article, Brown noted that social media are the "cornerstone," used to facilitate Coke's open engagement with consumers and other key stakeholders and actively "steward" the reputation and perception of the company and its brands.
If current adoption rates are any indication, social media usage may soon become as mainstream as using email. Smart marketers are already adapting and developing strategies to learn from and engage with their customers via social media. Shouldn't you be one of them?