January 31, 2011
Social Media and Listening to Your Customers
BY Mary Mahoney
Are you listening to your customers?
They’re “talking” about your company, your products and services – not to mention those of your competitors – all over the Internet on popular social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, Delicious and Digg, to name a few.
If your company is not already engaging in social media to monitor and respond to customer feedback, you should be. It’s no longer enough to hear from your customers by phone, mail or surveys. Successful companies are those most in tune with their customers. And your customers today are on the Internet.
The numbers alone should persuade your company to take a more active role in social media. Facebook last year added more than 100 million users, and the number of Twitter users was expected to exceed 18 million by year’s end.
“When you have 300 million people on Facebook, that’s a huge business watering hole,” said Lon Safko, a social media expert and author of “The Social Media Bible: Tactics, Tools and Strategies for Business Success,” in an interview with Inc.com.
Social media is a great equalizer, equally accessible to companies large and small. It’s particularly valuable to small businesses, which can listen to their communities on social media in lieu of spending tens of thousands of dollars on market studies.
The first thing any company should do is become familiar with social networking sites. They run the gamut from “microblogging” (think Twitter) to video sharing a la YouTube and Vimeo. Here’s a snapshot of what the most popular sites offer:
Facebook: This site allows users to create profiles, which can be updated with recent activities, photos and links. Businesses can create fan pages and keep customers up to date on promotions, new products and other news.
Twitter: Users frequently update their followers on personal pages, using 140 characters or less. Businesses can use Twitter pages to cultivate customer relationships and provide updates on promotions, new products and news. Twitter links can drive traffic to company websites.
Delicious and Digg: Both are social bookmarking sites that enable users to share online sites. For businesses, it offers a way to track the most popular sites and topics users are sharing with one another.
YouTube and Vimeo: Video-sharing sites essentially are virtual TV channels. Businesses can post commercials, advertorials, customer and client testimonials and “fireside chats” by executives. Some companies prefer to post video messages instead of traditional blogs. Viewers are invited to post comments.
By listening in to these popular communities, companies can modify their marketing messages to better resonate with their markets.The social media can put customers directly in contact with their favorite brands. Customers can post specific product questions, and companies can answer immediately, all in a transparent, public forum. Companies that do so build their reputation as accessible and eager to support their customers.
Twitter offers a way to find out what customers are saying about the competition. Simply type a brand name into the search bar to review all recent mentions. If you discover a large number of customers unhappy with a competitor, you can respond by “Tweeting” about the benefit of your products or services.
Twitter also offers immediacy. During the recent snow storms on the East Coast, which stranded tens of thousands of airline and rail passengers were stranded, Delta Air Lines Inc. scored positive customer response by responding to the tweets of stranded passengers and using that initial contact to rebook them on other flights.
Experts advise that companies be true to the spirit of social media and act honestly and transparently. Social networks should not be used as one-way marketing and advertising channels. Social media works best when companies talk to people and respond to their positive comments with gratitude.
Expect occasional negative comments and deal with them on a case-by-case basis. Don’t ignore them. Ignoring any customer feedback is bad business. Respond to all comments, tweets, posts and commentary in a timely manner. Responses should be helpful, professional and conversational in tone.
Did you happen to watch this video by guitarist Dave Carroll, about how his luggage was damaged while flying with United Airlines? It’s a classic case for why your customer relations strategy must be incorporated into your social media plan.
In this story, someone witnessed luggage being thrown by United Airlines baggage handlers in Chicago. The luggage belonged to lead guitarist Dave Carroll, a member of the Sons of Maxwell band. What ensued is precisely what you want to avoid. It became a long, nightmare of sorts for United Airlines who were negatively promoted in an award-winning song that was composed by their unhappy customer!
The bottom line is that if your current and potential customers are having conversations about your brand online, your company needs to be part of those conversations too and participate in the outcome. Engaging in social media requires energy, strategy and patience. The payoff is there. Your company can be part of active, entertaining conversations and receive critical feedback about your brand and your products. Getting started is much easier than you think!