Friday, July 29, 2011

With social media, companies should go all-in

I recently caught up with a communicator friend I hadn’t seen in a long time, and as will inevitably happen, we started talking about PR.

Specifically, we were talking about how important it is for businesses whose audiences are using social media to participate in social media – and the challenge that remains, especially in larger corporations, in persuading upper management that engaging with audiences online is worth the inherent risk.

“Even if they just opened a Twitter account and used it to blast out their news releases, it would be a start…” she said.

Social media requires two-way communication

I completely understand my friend’s frustration. She feels her client’s continued absence from Twitter and Facebook works against it, and she’s right. Her client is discussed openly on both platforms – customers talk about both good and bad experiences.

Some call the company out when they’re unhappy with their service, hoping it will respond to the public embarrassment and give them what they want. It’s what [some] people do on social media… it’s part of the deal.

But because my friend’s client isn’t there, it doesn’t respond. Occasionally an employee will catch something and try to address it from their personal account, but it isn’t anyone’s job to do so (that my friend is aware of, at any rate). There is no corporate account, so it’s just unaddressed ranting for the time being.

Unaddressed ranting voiced into the wilderness isn’t good for your brand. Unaddressed ranting to your face is worse.

Today, customers flaming a company on Twitter and Facebook potentially get the attention of any of their followers/friends who happen to be reading that post. It’s not great for the company, but unless the content of the post is egregious/embarrassing enough to go viral or get mainstream media attention, the damage is relatively limited. The complainer may add complaints about not getting any attention from the company, but the complaint can potentially do what the company wants it to do – just die.

It’s just one complaint, and people understand that even the best companies can’t satisfy everyone all the time. But when your customers’ Facebook feeds and Twitter timelines contain multiple “everyman” complaints about your company, and no-one seems to be getting any satisfaction, it can affect your brand.

While my friend saw it as a first step, I think a “placeholder” account that only blasts out corporate messages for the sake of being there, without engaging with customers, could be even worse for the brand.

Whether you mean it that way or not, a corporate account represents the company on a platform built for two-way communication.

Customers expect companies to engage in two-way conversations on Facebook and Twitter – that’s what those tools are for. You wouldn’t open a customer service desk and restrict the staff to providing pre-written advertising and corporate messages, because you know your customers would be offended by that. One-on-one communication should be a give-and-take.

Of course, some of the C-suite reluctance to green-light corporate social media accounts is because this isn’t really one-on-one: while it feels like one-on-one to the customer, it happens in front of an audience of (potentially) millions. It's risky.

We’re at a strange crossroads, where tweets and status updates from the corporation are expected to have all the background and credibility of its other corporate communications – but often need to be produced on-the-fly, around the clock, by the hundreds. It’s no small feat for a large company to begin using social media.

Eventually all companies will have to come on board

Social media isn’t a fad. The way we communicate and consume information has fundamentally changed in the last 10 years, and mobile technology is only advancing that evolution further.

Eventually, unless are they are without competition or stakeholders of any kind, even the largest, most risk-averse companies will have to get with the program… as uncomfortable as it may be.

There was a time not that long ago when communicators were working this hard to persuade their clients to build websites, using many of the same arguments we’re using now for social media.

“Online is where our customers are going to be! We need to be there!”

“Online is where our competitors are going to be! We need to be there!”

“Yes it will cost money, but it’ll cost more to leave our competitors and our customers alone there!”

Gradually, they got it.

It’s now standard for a company with a large customer base to have:

  • a website offering some kind of customer care (even if it's just a "contact us" email), and
  • a call/contact centre of some kind, and
  • a communications (PR/Corporate Communications) function.

Within a couple of years, tops, customer-focused companies won’t be able to get away with leaving social media off that list… for all the reasons we argued in favour of a website, above. Of course, there’s a new argument from the C-suite we need to address, now, too:

“Yes, our customers could use our social media sites to publicize their dissatisfaction with our services. But as it is, they're just using their own to do the same thing… and we have no way to respond.”

Ignoring the fact that people are complaining about you doesn’t change the fact that they’re complaining about you - or that others are hearing it. It just leaves your hands tied to address misinformation they may be spreading with their complaints, not to mention dealing with the issues they raise. And worst of all, it sends the message that you’re not interested in helping them.

Companies: if you have customers who are using social media, get on social media and communicate with them... before your competitors do it for you.

1 comment:

  1. Nice one guys! We might try to work a reference to this one into our post about the perfect social media company next week is that's cool?

    Social Media Company