Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Why All the Fuss About Social Media?

Social Media is quite the rage these days. I must be seeing at least 2-3 webinars per week on the subject from various companies and vendors talking about how Social Media is impacting our lives, our customers’ lives and the world around us. In many cases, borderline panic is the underlying message.

What is Social Media really and is it deserving of this much attention? Is there really a need to panic? What is it about Social Media that really needs to be understood? All good questions and each deserving an answer.

Let’s start with the basics. Social Media refers to a large and growing number of web sites offering a means of electronically sharing ideas, photos, videos and just about anything else imaginable. Some sites allow users to control who can view posted content and others have unrestricted access to all content. Some sites are focused on specific purposes such as restaurant reviews or communicating with friends while other sites are simply a location to upload photos and videos to be shared with the world. Underlying all of these sites is the near-universal connectivity of the Internet.

So how do these sites have an impact on the world of business? Opinions. Millions of opinions. Opinions on just about every topic imaginable. Some opinions are sound and others are not. Some ideas are well researched and others are not. All the ideas constitute something that at one time was considered important enough for someone to take the time to post to a site. If that opinion involves your company, the potential for impact, negative and positive, is present. Therein lies the quandary surrounding Social Media; are the opinions worthy of concern or worthy of encouragement or maybe not worthy of anything?

In the distant past, customers had a limited reach for influencing the opinions of others. Friends, families and colleagues were possible audiences for the opinions but the impact of any 1 person was rarely a concern. The sharing of a single personal experience rarely made a significant impact on the overall business. After all, how many people could one person reach with their story?

Social Media has changed that equation. The pervasiveness of the Internet, upon which Social Media is built, allows customers to potentially reach million of “friends” in a matter of minutes. A single opinion posted on a Social Media site can have an immediate impact on a company and its existing and potential customers. Social Media has effectively put the world’s largest megaphone in the hands of virtually every customer. How this megaphone is used is what deserves the attention of every business.

The foremost concern of every business is the negative review. While the now-famous “United Breaks Guitars” video series is an extreme example of a customer-voiced opinion, the reason these videos came into existence is the same as the millions of negative reviews being posted on a regular basis; the customer sought service through normal channels and was left unsatisfied.

Yes, it is that simple. Reading a sampling of the negative posts, it is pretty clear that service was sought through normal channels and when not received, the customer vented their frustration on their favorite social media site.

Thus we arrive at a business decision involving 3 choices:

1. Invest in a social media tracking system in order to capture the negative postings and work to resolve the problems.

2. Invest more resources in the existing customer service systems so that no customer fails to receive service in a timely and effective way.

3. Balance the investment in both improving the existing customer service systems and initiating an effort to capture the relevant social media traffic.

The right choice has as much to do with the customer demographics as it does with budgets and personnel resources. The right choice also has to do with how the Marketing department is using Social Media as a tool for generating sales traffic.

Therein lies the 2-edged sword of Social Media. Social media sites can be a great way to help build a loyal following of customers and advocates. Creating a virtual community of customers provides a great opportunity to promote new products, solicit feedback on existing products and desired products as well as encourage customers to become advocates for the products. If the effort to promote also serves as a magnet to attract negative feedback, then this ought to be considered an opportunity.

In fact, I suggest that any company looking to embrace social media solely for the purpose of capturing negative feedback is wasting both time and money. Without the marketing effort working to build a loyal community of customers through various social media channels, the endeavor is certain to fail. Selective participation by vendors on social sites is generally rebuked by the regular participants.

The bottom line to any business regarding social media is to recognize the opportunity to use social media as a marketing channel first and foremost. If your existing customer service delivery channels are not doing the job, fix them. The social media channels may be used as a means for routing unhappy customers to a service resource that can help but should not be considered a primary pillar upon which a customer service delivery systems is built. Adding more moving parts to a broken system does not result in an improved system.

If you would like help developing and deploying an effective Social Media strategy, I am happy to help. Please call me and I will be happy to provide assistance: 602-492-1088.

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