Monday, April 7, 2008

Social Media: Are you marketing or listening?

Right now, few organizations have social media strategies. A year or two from now, most will. To what extent these initial strategies succeed will have a lot to do with how organizations view social media--primarily as a marketing tool or as a new communication medium.

The difference is profound. Marketing is about telling consumers (consciously or subconsciously) why your product will satisfy their logical or emotional needs better than any other. Social media is about listening and interacting, two skills that traditionally have not been required of marketers to any great degree.

Marketers do, of course, love to gather insights about their consumers, but this is different than listening. Focus groups, brand surveys, and market research are not really about listening but about learning specific answers to specific questions that are of specific interest to the marketers and their agencies. Typically, marketers don't so much want to hear consumers' thoughts as to measure their reaction to competing creative concepts or to learn if their brand comes to mind without prompting.

As for interacting with consumers, marketers (particularly those in B2C fields) rarely speak directly with their own customers. They hire research companies, imagine personnas of hypothetical consumers, and stand behind two-way mirrors to monitor focus groups, but most marketers do not regularly engage their customers in true one-to-one dialog.

Since listening and interacting with customers are not core competencies of the Marketing organization, it's a good thing other departments are filled with these experts. This is why social media strategies must be developed by cross-functional teams that include not just marketing personnel but also representatives from Customer Service, Sales, Public Relations, and Human Resources.

Don't take my word for it. Here's a well-publicized situation from this past weekend that serves as a perfect example: On today's TechCrunch, Michael Arrington tells of his recent experience with his Internet service provider, Comcast. Michael's connection was down and Comcast was not resolving the problem with the speed Michael expected, so he started "tearing into Comcast on Twitter."

In the old days, this would've been considered the prototypical customer service problem: A customer who gets angry and tells others. But yesterday's mere problem is today's disaster: Michael didn't just complain to a few friends over drinks; he voiced his frustration on Twitter where he has almost 12,000 followers!

Here's where the story gets interesting: As Michael tells it, "Within 20 minutes of my first Twitter message I got a call from a Comcast executive in Philadelphia who wanted to know how he could help. He said he monitors Twitter and blogs to get an understanding of what people are saying about Comcast, and so he saw the discussion break out around my messages."

Now that's listening and interacting! It's brilliant, and it demonstrates the kind of brand leadership in social media that has been lacking. I doubt there are more than a handful of companies monitoring Twitter for customer service purposes. The ones who do monitor social media are probably doing so for brand research (or to keep a wary eye on employees). Comcast really sets the bar with the way they are using Twitter.

And make no mistake about it--they are setting the bar for themselves and for others. On TechCrunch, Michael tells his readers, "Skip the hold time on their customer service line and go on the attack at Twitter instead. You may find your problem fixed in a hurry."

Talk like that will probably make a lot of companies uncomfortable. They'd prefer consumers with complaints quietly send email and wait patiently for a response or pick up the phone and spend untold minutes (or hours) being passed from one customer service rep to another. But that is the old and dying way of doing business; it assumes consumers have no voice and few choices.

Today, consumers have power, and they aren't afraid to use it. Instead of being a challenge to brands, this should instead present an opportunity. While a single complaint can now reach thousands of ears and eyes at the speed of the Internet, a single success story can do the same. Think of the positive impact on Comcast's brand that has come from a single consumer interaction on Twitter.

Brands that ignore what consumers are saying in easily monitored public forums will increasingly suffer the consequences. Are people complaining about your product or service right now, and how might you turn the negative into a positive? Just visit Tweetscan to search Twitter for conversations about your brand.

The important question for brands is how they will make careful, planned, and strategic use of Twitter and other social media tools. Will they treat it as another ad or marketing medium by talking at consumers? Or will they treat this new communication medium as a way to improve brand image and loyalty by listening and interacting with their consumers?


jsteven said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Augie Ray said...

I just removed a spam post from a company that claims to be in the social media business. If they were, they'd of course know that spam is the antithesis of social media.

Here is the post--minus the link and with the URL altered so as to avoid any benefit to the spammer--so you know to avoid this company:

Its a new way of marketing by social media.Its a nice thing to publish our product into market socially.
Jack Steven
Your Social Media Marketing Platform.
http://www.w i d e c i r c l e