Consumers praise and promote brands they believe in. They also complain, condemn and criticize as soon as a transaction turns sour. Focusing on the latter issue keeps many companies on the fence about social media. Are the benefits of supporting global, Internet-based discussion systems great enough? Can they offset the risk of openly dealing with troubled customers? Taking the time to fully understand the proper integration of social media into marketing and customer service strategies makes the choice more obvious. After obtaining the appropriate tools and know-how, business owners soon figure out that ignoring social media is clearly the destructive decision. Learn how to support social media and reach out to your customers in their online social spaces. Don’t forget your smile.
Consumers discuss brands online, with or without the associated company’s presence. According to comScore’s 2012 U.S. Digital Future in Focus, nine out of 10 U.S. Internet users visit social media websites each month (2012). The social networks account for one out of every six minutes spent online. According to a survey of 10 global markets by Nielsen, social networks and blogs reach at least 60 percent of all active Internet users (2011). Facebook is the most used site for managing connections and meeting others. In the United States, the site receives more than 70 times the hours logged by Blogger, Tumblr, Twitter or LinkedIn. Moreover, Facebook logs three times the monthly visitor hours of Yahoo!, more than four times that of Google.
Nielsen has reported that 53 percent of all adult social networkers follow a brand. Many connect as a customer interested in special offers or deals, while others are searching for feedback to make a purchase decision. The way company representatives react to 24/7 streams of online consumer interactions reflects in their brand’s offline image.
Tiger trampled by roaring gazelles
When Australia’s air safety watchdog grounded Tiger Airways for safety investigations last summer, the company regressed. Tiger allowed its Facebook page and Twitter feed to become besieged by unresolved issues (Santos, 2011). Following a four-day silence online, representatives began tending to posted comments – but it was too little, too late. The company continued to post promotions and defend itself as a low-cost alternative. Tiger failed miserably at engaging as a partner, a friend, with the public. ItsOpen, a strategic social media agency, published a case study on the incident, which reported that “[Tiger] started deleting any negative comments, and banning users who left them” (2012).
Tiger’s response was on par with a juvenile “na-na, I can’t hear you” response, causing a public relations disaster. What’s more, they missed a great opportunity to leverage social media. Many companies that are struggling to figure out the proper use of online communities erroneously freeze up and react defensively to adverse comments. They have yet to appreciate that social media isn’t another one-way broadcast medium for projecting company agendas – it’s consumer-focused; its participatory media. Unfortunately, studies suggest business owners are frequently silent , responding to only five percent of consumer questions on Facebook (Rezab, 2011). To truly start a social business, attempt a response rate of 75 percent.
Online brand building and customer relationship management
Several big brands have outperformed consumer expectations online. Starbucks is a social media darling. The international coffeehouse chain has accumulated nearly 30 million fans on Facebook by listening and responding to their comments. Branding powerhouse Coca Cola has a commendable history of regularly posting videos and blog posts, an effort that keep fans entertained and interacting. Keep in mind, case studies have demonstrated that consistent campaigns are often just as effective as those with flashy interfaces. Engagement is the key to your social customer’s approval.
For continued social media success, company representatives must routinely exhibit genuine compassion and transparency. Offline and online, friendships that are earned by caring for a person’s needs are sustainable. Nurturing meaningful relationships will surround your brand with digital influencers and sympathizers. Empty complaints will quickly lose traction due to widespread community support. If someone shamelessly rallies resentment, group leaders will step up in defense of your brand. They’ll combat the spread of misleading or ambiguous information by assisting information exchanges. When providing official responses to troubling posts, continue to promote a culture of integrity, tolerance, assistance and acceptance. Group leaders who are invested in your brand will echo your online personality to strengthen their association and avoid isolation. Recognize and encourage these types of contributors; they’ll help amplify your social image.
Companies must never ignore problematic posts, but rather attempt to leverage them for an advantage. When someone posts an adverse comment, it’s crucial to first understand his or her underlying intent, and then react patiently and appropriately. Did the person experience a problem with a product or service? Could the post contain constructive criticism to assist research and development? Is it a merited attack due to faulty products or lousy service? Those situations warrant openly airing solutions to demonstrate the company’s interest in previous, current and potential customers. Never minimize the value of publicly responding to feedback. However, immediately delete comments that are clearly irrelevant assaults or unsolicited advertisements. Otherwise, issue timely and conclusive responses. Post with the person’s username for a personalized approach – type with a smile.
Start a social business
Companies must never ignore problematic posts, but rather attempt to leverage them for an advantage. When someone posts an adverse comment, it’s crucial to first understand his or her underlying intent, and then react patiently and appropriately.
Social media is a powerful communications channel – get prepared for it. The importance of enabling consumer comments and welcoming their remarks cannot be overstated. Ignoring or blocking posts further alienates brands. Social media is more than a basic two-way channel, which is why it deserves something more than an intern’s watchful eye. For companies that expect to attract mostly digital natives, the platform may require more resources than telephone support centers. Unlike telephone inquiries, this channel cannot be retired for the night or weekend. Furthermore, it creates a public record that reaches an ever-expanding audience. For those reasons, implementing social media for an organization requires much more than hard skills. While functional Web design and intuitive interfaces are important, the soft skills expressed through online conversations are also consistently reflecting your brand’s personality.
Empower your employees, the life support of your organization, and other influential ambassadors of your brand. When a controversial topic transpires, or a community crisis unfolds, prepare talking points that clearly state the company’s position, as well as mitigation plans, when necessary. Implement methods to keep your staff well informed, so they’ll feel appropriately resourced to improve your customer’s online experience. If someone is afraid to speak to your customers or stakeholders, you have an internal problem that needs fixing – welcome to the age of accountability. Regardless, be sure only your most qualified social media strategists are able to post on behalf of your company’s profile. Protecting the profile will prevent inconsistencies, misinformation and embarrassment – it keeps the company’s “voice” credible.
Never underestimate executive influence online. According to a 2011 National Online Consumer Behavior study released by CityGrid Media and Harris Interactive (2011), 47 percent of the people under age 35 are more influenced to try a business by its owner than a friend. When communicating through social media or responding to user-generated reviews, sometimes an executive’s personal touch is helpful, more than promotions. While putting forth special offers or deals are nice incentives, people expect to engage with other people – not brands.
More than 44 percent of adults use the web to share grievances, according to a report by First Direct and ItsOpen (Currah & Cowen, 2012). Social customers have four key expectations when connecting within participatory media: “a desire to be heard and respected; the ability to obtain support via any channel; a customer-centric approach to interface design; and opportunities to collaborate with the company.” What’s the central concept behind meeting all these expectations? Go where your customers go. A top challenge facing online customer service is social media’s slippery nature. The networks are full of transient populations. Individuals are sliding between Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and Tumblr and Google+ and, more recently, Pinterest. While there has been some consolidation within certain platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, the channels for consumer communications seem ever widening. Customer surveys can help identify where your brand’s community is today, and where they’re likely to head next.
Bottom line, consumers have a growing expectation to connect with reputable businesses via social media. According to the State of Social Report 2011 by Econsultancy (2011), more than half of company respondents (52 percent) say their organizations use Facebook for reacting to customer issues and inquiries, compared to only 29 percent the prior year. Despite that increasing rate of use, only 39 percent of companies use a social media monitoring tool. Businesses attempting to expand their market share or improve customer relationships must employ methods to monitor networks for customer needs. Econsultancy expects advances in customer segmentation and geo-targeting to further refine social customer service this year (Richards, 2012). If your marketing team has been downplaying social media, it’s time to pull the business’s proverbial head out of the sand, start listening to your consumers and (drum roll) respond to them – don’t forget, type with a smile.
CityGrid Media. (2011, May 2). National survey reveals Facebook Likes eclipsing review sites. Retrieved February 19, 2012, from Harris Interactive: http://www.harrisinteractive.com/vault/CityGrid-Facebook-Likes-Reviews-05-03-11.pdf
comScore. (2012, February 9). 2012 U.S. Digital Future in Focus. Retrieved February 19, 2012, from comScore: http://www.comscore.com/Press_Events/Presentations_Whitepapers/2012/2012_US_Digital_Future_in_Focus
Currah, A., Cowen, N. (2012). Future Of Customer Service: The Rise Of The Social Customer. Retrieved February 19, 2012, from FineExtra: http://www.finextra.com/Finextra-downloads/featuredocs/the_rise_of_the_socail_customer_-_will_2012_be_the_year_of_the_social_company.pdf
Econsultancy. (2011, November). State of Social Report 2011. Retrieved February 19, 2012, from Econsultancy: http://econsultancy.com/us/reports/state-of-social
It’s Open. (2012). Case studies. Retrieved February 19, 2012, from It’s Open: http://itsopen.co.uk/category/case-studies
Nielsen. (2011). State of the Media: The Social media report, Q3 2011. Retrieved February 19, 2012, from Nielsen: http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/social/
Rezab, J. (2011, October 17). Companies respond to just 5% of questions on Facebook. Retrieved February 19, 2012, from Econsultancy: http://econsultancy.com/us/blog/8149-companies-respond-to-just-5-of-questions-on-facebook
Richards, S. (2012, January 9). Why social customer service will come of age in 2012
. Retrieved February 19, 2012, from Econsultancy: http://econsultancy.com/us/blog/8616-why-social-customer-service-will-come-of-age-in-2012
Santos, K. (2011, July 22). Tiger airways – a missed social media opportunity. Retrieved February 19, 2012, from Sefiani: http://www.sefiani.com.au/blog/tiger-airways-%E2%80%93-a-missed-social-media-opportunity