Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Social Media Is A Customer Channel Before It Is A Marketing One

Most companies still have no idea how to make social media work for them. They know consumers spend 50% of their online media time with social networks, microblogs and blogs. And they know social media professionals have been promising a new age of brand-building power via engagement and content. But they also know brand engagement is dropping and 85% of CMOs cannot validate a quantitative return in social media.

There is a serious disconnect between the promise of social media and what it is delivering for brands, and it can be explained in one simple sentence: Social media is a customer channel before it is a marketing one.

A marketing channel is one (like TV or banner ads) where brands' primary objectives and investments are focused on prospects and success is measured in marketing outcomes like acquisition and sales volume. A customer channel is one (like phone and inbound email) where brands' primary objectives and investments are dedicated to serving current customers and where success is measured in increasing satisfaction, likelihood to recommend and repurchase.

The difference between treating social primarily as a customer channel versus a marketing channel may be subtle, but Papa John's social media mistake of last week well illustrates the contrast. Pop star Iggy Azalea ordered a pizza from Papa John's, and shortly after delivery, she started to receive texts from the driver's family who had received the celebrity's personal phone number from the employee. Iggy did what many of us would do and tweeted about the blatant infringement of her privacy:

Papa John's gave the star a blithe and unacceptable response:

"Don't #bounce us?" What would cause the brand to give such a terrible response to a celebrity whose privacy was violated? This can only happen when a brand treats social media first as a marketing channel and second as a customer channel.

No customer care representative in the world would--when presented with evidence of an employee violating customer trust, company policy and possibly even the law--give the response that Papa John's tweeted. That response was a marketing response authored by a marketer to elicit a marketing benefit. Iggy did not receive a reply designed to satisfy her legitimate concerns but one that attempted to turn her tweet into viral gold for the brand.

Well, if going viral was the goal, score one for Papa John's. Their careless response angered Azalea, and she went off on the brand. "A lot of damage can be done if that falls into the wrong hands, we give them this information with the expectation it remains confidential," she tweeted, followed by, "When an employee steals information it's called data breach. It's illegal. There are steps a corporation is supposed to follow afterward." That's right, a giant corporation needed to be schooled on the importance of data security and customer care by the pop star famous for singing, "Pu$$y."

This is far from the first time a brand has been spanked for treating social media as a marketing channel before a customer channel; in fact, I would suggest all brands are being spanked for this, whether or not they have had a "social media disaster" like Papa John's. This is why, despite the promise of social media adoption ushering in a new era of Word of Mouth, most brands still struggle for attention (and even the ones that manage to earn a high level of attention often fail to convert it into any brand benefit; see Kmart's "Ship my Pants, Farmer Insurance's Farmville promo, Blackberry's record fan counts and Samsung's "Selfie heard round the world.")

So how do you devise a strategy that is customer first/brand second in social media? There is no one answer, but here are places to start:

  • Focus metrics on customer happiness, not CMO happiness: Are you measuring social media by the size of your fan count, the number of likes and conversions? Who cares most about those metrics--your customers or your CMO? Instead of aligning social objectives to things like reach, engagement and conversions, instead measure responsiveness, satisfaction, and loyalty (such as NPS and share of wallet) for those with whom you interact in social media. Those are the metrics that indicate your customers are being served by your brand strategy in social media.
  • Let your Customer Care professionals, not Marketers, respond in social media: Your company already has a department dedicated to handling customer complaints and inquiries, and they do it quickly, accurately and empathetically. Let the Marketing Department worry about broadcasting content and buying paid media in social media, but when an inbound request is received, leave it to the same professionals who handle the same questions from the same customers received via phone, email, web forms, chat and other channels.
  • Your social media playbook should treat serious customer needs as such: Every corporate social media team needs a playbook to help guide tone, content and escalation of significant customer concerns. A serious claim such as a privacy violation should not be left up to the judgment of whichever marketing intern happens to monitoring the stream at the moment (or, as Rose Cameron suggested on this week's BeanCast, the only person in the office who knew who Iggy Azalea is.)
  • Listen and be present for customers: Times are changing for social networks, and this means your brand strategy must change with them. With organic reach trending downward and widely expected to hit (essentially) zero in the foreseeable future, now is the time to rethink why and how your company engages in social media. Brands are disappearing from consumers' newsfeeds, which means a strategy of being present when customers want the brand to be will beat a strategy that assumes consumers will see (and want) marketing content. 

Approach social media like your brand is present for customers, and you can not only avoid mistakes like Papa John's but also enhance your reputation and business opportunities in social media. But continue to act as if consumers are there for your brand--to engage, to spread your content and to build your Word of Mouth--and it should come as no surprise that consumers see through your self-interest and diminish your brand's reputation. 

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