Social Media Wins Over Customers
By Lon Safko
This year has seen riveting changes in the social media landscape. People are dialing up their usage with social media networks to connect with friends, peers and business associates. Facebook has catapulted to an active base of over 400 million users, while Google has jumped into the social networking arena with its "Buzz" social media component built into its Gmail email platform. And Twitter's engagement levels have grown dramatically. In February 2010, Twitter users were tweeting more than a billion times per month!
In addition, tweeting about new launches, products or service issues has become an indispensable tool for marketers, companies, organizations and others. As noted Internet watcher and investor Fred Wilson wrote recently: "We are seeing two things happen: First, big companies are jumping onto the idea that our status update has become the ultimate social gesture (Facebook and Google are two great examples), and second, we are seeing startups reinvent and redefine what a status update is (foursquare, blippy, plancast, etc.)."
At the same time, experienced social media users are backing away from terms like users, customers and shoppers. As I like to say, "All of us are no longer con-sumers, we've become pro-sumers. We are all now professional consumers." Indeed, social media is about us-it's about connecting our human expressions, interests and wants to our online interactions. We are seeking more meaningful connections, better self-expression and a relevant and receptive community. That extends past our own personal social networks to our business and commerce-driven relationships as well.
How people react to our company's brands online is how they relate to our brands, period. The implications are daunting. Customer care professionals and customer relationship management executives have to make sure its frontline staffers are using these online tools in the best way for the company or organization.
Source: Weber Shandwick, "Fortune 100 Companies on Twitter," November 2009
How Companies Are Engaging With Social Media
Any social media pro worth his salt will tell you something along the lines of, "It's about the listening, stupid!" Once properly set up, your online team needs to look, listen and learn in the online networks and communities that matter most to your business. But not all organizations adhere to that first strategic rule. They're more interested in jumping in and asking questions later. Sometime it even works!
Let's look at Twitter first. When I interviewed Twitter's co-founder Biz Stone, he said, "We've been fortunate in having a lot of very heavy commercial usage of the service." He talked about companies like Dell, which he said is announcing that they've made $500,000 on Twitter last quarter, and Comcast, which has put together a hybrid way of combining marketing and customer support. While JetBlue and Whole Foods are using it to communicate with their customers.
But are the biggest companies properly leveraging Twitter to further customer interactions and brand awareness? Not really, according to a study released by the global communications firm Weber Shandwick. According to the study Fortune 100 companies needed a "Twittervention." Out of the 540 total Twitter accounts registered by Fortune 100 companies, the study said that three-quarters didn't tweet often and half of the of the accounts had fewer than 500 followers. In addition, 15 percent were not be used at all.
In its report, Weber Shandwick prescribed five essential steps as a starting point for Fortune 100 companies to create true engagement and market interaction on Twitter: Listen, participate, update, reply, and retweet (syndicate).
Weber Shandwick's report also noted that another effective use for businesses using Twitter has been for customer service. "For example, Best Buy (56 on Fortune 100) uses its @Twelpforce for customer service and has some 14,000 followers. However, only 9 percent of the Fortune 100 accounts use Twitter for this purpose. It very well may be that these companies are steering away from customer service because to do it effectively, they would need additional staff specifically to respond to complaints and questions from customers on Twitter." Indeed, there may be additional human capital issues to address, or budget areas to bend, but these should be paramount when it comes to your company's brand online.
The study also showed that the company's most popular use of Twitter was as a newsfeed or for developing brand awareness, but only 16 percent of Fortune 100 accounts used Twitter for sales, special Twitter offers, coupons or other special offers.
Source: Weber Shandwick, "Fortune 100 Companies on Twitter," November 2009
According to research done by online monitoring firm Royal Pingdom showed that Twitter is now processing more than one billion tweets a month. In January 2010 there were 1.2 billion tweets with an average of almost 40 million tweets a day. This chart shows that growth:
Source: pingdom, www.pingdom.com
Companies on Facebook
Now let's look at how one venerable American company is using Facebook to gain and retain customers through effective engagement. Dairy Queen has more than 5,600 US store locations, and is a well-recognized brand in more than 20 countries around the world.
In May 2008, Dairy Queen launched its official Facebook page and it has become an essential platform for its customer engagement and also serves as a content aggregator for all things Dairy Queen. As of this writing, its page has amassed nearly 800,000 fans. Those are big numbers, my friend. And by drilling down into its analytics, Dairy Queen knows that most of its fans are women in that key demographic age of 18-44yrs. old.
By using social media, Dairy Queen can poll its fans to come up with new flavors, find underserved locations and much more. Besides its Facebook page, Dairy Queen is active on Twitter, videos, blogging and more.
Let's take a look at some case studies of companies doing the right thing when it comes to social media and taking care of its customers, and in many instances, winning many new ones.
Dell Computers is a great example of how a company handles customers through social media. In 2005, the company found that its laptop batteries (manufactured by Sony) were overheating and burning up. Dell's attempts at customer care and reconciliation were abysmal at the start, and some began to refer to the company as "Dell Hell."
But by 2007, Dell had begun using its company blogs (most notably Direct 2 Dell) and emerging online networks to reach out to disgruntled customers to turn around its brand impressions and company sales. Its blog became the first place that Dell customers went to learn about how to handle their laptop in case of an overheated battery.
Dell also launched IdeaStorm, an online crowdsource community to receive new ideas to help build more relevant products and solutions. Additionally, the company's social media team started actively monitoring blogs, social networks and Twitter to identify problems and solve them. Its aggressive response helped engender a positive change in the image of Dell’s customer service, and at the same time, cultivate a sense of community with its transparent and genuine response methods. The effect was calculable and showed a positive amount of goodwill.
At the time the effect of this initiative, Geoff Livingston of the new media blog Now Is Gone posted this (source):
- At start of program, 49% of blog posts were negative. Today, overall tonality is 22% negative.
- Direct2Dell currently ranked about 700 on Technorati, among the highest corporate blogs.
- Direct2Dell gets more than 5 million unique views per month
- Over 7000 ideas have been submitted via IdeaStorm
- Studio Dell is gets more than 200,000 views per month."
Over time, the negativity toward Dell began to soften. Some customers still ranted online about Dell's faulty customer service, but by creating a conversation about its own social media initiatives, Dell benefited from the focus being shifted to its more open word-of-mouth "conversation" with its customers rather than its issue with a third-party manufacturer's faulty product.
Formulating A Social Media Strategy For Companies
Companies generally don't know enough about how to properly create and launch social media presences on the various networks. And they don't realize the work involved! As noted PR evangelist and Internet author Brian Solis wrote in February:
"One of the greatest challenges I encounter today is not the willingness of a brand to engage, but its ability to create. When blueprinting a social media strategy, enthusiasm and support typically derails when examining the resources and commitment required to produce regular content."
Solis calls what we do on social networks for our brands 'Earned Media'. He defines it as "Earned media is the result of our owned, paid, and participatory media programs and is reflected in the blog posts, tweets, status updates, comments, and ultimately actions of our consumers, peers, and influencers. Earned media is linked to owned media campaigns as well as proactive initiatives that attempt to incite viral and word-of-mouth activity. Garnered visibility is also tied to communications and public relations programs as they continually seek to gain the attention of reporters, bloggers, analysts, and influencers who can drive awareness and behavior."
These are all important points to note when launching your own social media efforts. It's in step with your advertising and traditional marketing methods, but it needs to be worked at, or as Solis notes, 'continually seek to gain the attention.'
And even better, there are emerging 'tools' to help you manage all the new social media tools! One in particular is called NetVibes, which ".combines all of a brand's content-including RSS, videos, photos, podcasts and other custom widgets- on a single, personalized page that makes it easy for users to find, customize and consume your content every day." And it places it all your content with popular news services like CNN, The Wall Street Journal and New York Times to promote users to return back to your page again and again.
What Your Customers Want
Your customers want to trust your brand. Pure and simple. You gain a customer's trust with a great product and you may have earned that customer for the lifeline of your brand. Violate that trust somehow, and your brand will suffer. Over the years, many examples have come to light of brands that either stopped giving a damn about their customers or kept on producing lousy products.
Today's well-informed customer wants transparency, authenticity, and sincerity. They want to know how you make your product, what's in it, are any of the ingredients harmful to health. If they are happy with the basics, then they want to know more about the people behind your company, and that's where brand transparency comes into play. Brand transparency is seen as the pinnacle of truth in marketing behaviors. And your brand's presence on social media is all about brand sharing, brand transparency, brand building.
This is probably the best reason to be in social media - to remake your company's vision to suit those who love your products! If customers don't like the levels of sodium lauryl sulfate in your product, let them know you're exploring new ways of formulating you product. If your fans on Facebook start to worry about the levels of caffeine in your drink product, find ways to conquer that. That's brand transparency - it's the right way to communicate with customers today.
Your customers more than want this two-way communication; they are beginning to demand it. My recent work with universities around the country surprised me. Academia isn't known for being early adopters, but are adopting social media tools at an alarming rate. When asked, they responded with "The student, our customers are demanding these new tools." Then as a consequence, the universities began embracing social media an extremely effective way to recruit. "It's effective, because that's how our customers want to communicate."
I want to relate a personal story from last summer, while traveling with a colleague to New York. We learned in the terminal that our flight on a major carrier was delayed (for uncertain reasons) and my colleague was in no mood for this. She tweeted her disappointment about the carrier, and left it as a Twitter rant. But as we eventually started filing into the plane some time later, my colleague was greeted by a flight attendant, who confirmed it was she who sent the tweet, apologized for the inconvenience and offered her a glass of champagne. We were both surprised by the speed of the response and probably more so that the carrier was LISTENING and watching. I've now shared that story to more than 10,000. This press and goodwill was certainly worth the cost the beverage.
You need to engage in you customers conversations in the way they want to converse with transparency, authenticity, and sincerity. Using these social media tools on a larger playing field in your business offers amazing opportunities - to win new customers, to retain current customers and more importantly, avoid losing current customers.
Lon Safko is the author of the Social Media Bible and has been recognized for his creativity with numerous awards. Lon is the founder of nine successful companies and has authored five innovative books.