Social Media stripped bare

Everywhere we turn, the buzz is about Social Media. As a CRM professional, I have observed the feeding frenzy of mature organizations and respected decision makers become gooey eyed teenagers as they tell of their passion for Social CRM and how it is the new digital revolution.
There is no doubt that Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter et al have redefined how we interact and communicate. I have no doubt that the capability will continue to evolve and become a core part of everyday life in the very near future, especially as gadgets and bandwidth are improved and accessible to ever staggering numbers.
However, does this mean that businesses should embrace Social Media and, if so, what are the business benefits that they can attain? This question is proving to be far harder for many organisations. They know that the Innovators and Early Adopters are using Social Media as a key part of their core strategy. However, my take is that many businesses are struggling to comprehend how to use it to the benefit of their customers and stakeholders. They know that they should do something about it, but what, how and why? I have a few suggestions for the early and late majority who have yet to succumb to the roller coaster ride of Social Media.

Tip 1: Treat it as a new channel
Social Media offers a direct and alternative approach to traditional interaction channels. Your customers, employees and partners can tweet, blog and post. The question is how to manage it. As a means of collaboration, Social Media can be a great tool but your organization must be committed to facilitating and enabling the communication. If you were to suddenly open a new Contact Centre that enabled customers to interact with you, how many staff would support the Contact Centre? Would it be open 24/7 or 9-5? Questions such as these highlight the commitment you will need to make to create a solid and positive presence. Ensure commitment to it as if it were a new channel and be there for the long run.

Tip 2: Develop a policy but encourage interaction
Developing a Social Media policy is essential. It outlines your commitment, sets guidelines and defines your objective in establishing a presence. Address questions such as: What are we seeking to achieve? Who will speak for the organization? Which departments will interact or provide content? How can you align content with consistency and corporate standards, yet remain agile? You may not have all the answers up front and further definition will occur over time. However it is important to design and document the policy before taking those first few steps.

Tip 3: Give followers reasons to follow and share.
One of the main benefits of Social Media is reach. Justin Bieber has more Twitter followers than the population of many large countries. Therefore a key objective might be to build an army of new potential customers or advocates. However, what is in it for them? Why would they wish to follow you, retweet you or become a “fan”? You must be prepared to offer something compelling to keep them wanting more. A recent study showed that the vast majority of Facebook fans became fans in order to get product vouchers! This also suggests that the number of fans does not necessarily represent the number of loyal customers. Therefore offer reasons to hold their attention and make them want to spread the word. It could be competitions, incentives, offers or exclusive access. Whatever it is, use it to build your knowledge of your customers which can then be used to your competitive advantage.

Tip 4: Accept new service paradigms or deal with the bloodbath
One of the challenges of Social Media is that it’s audience expect everything now. It used to be ok to set an expectation of a reply within 5 days when filling out a “Contact Us” request form on the website. However, in the Social Media world, you are “live” and people expect immediate responses. If you have Service KPI’s, these are likely to be thrown out of the window unless you are able to manage this expectation. Therefore, why not treat it as if it were a Phone Call? Respond immediately and proactively but then utilize normal Service standards in delivering the required service. That way, people will not abandon traditional contact channels once they realize that the service delivery time is just the same. That said, this pressure is forcing organizations to new levels of customer service to avoid disappointing their customers. It raises the bar for everyone.

Tip 5: Use Social Media to get to know your stakeholders and customers
Why is Facebook valued so highly? One of the main reasons is that it knows everything about it’s 500 million subscribers. It knows your likes, dislikes, job, age, contact details and who you are friends with. As a customer database, it is the most valuable one in the world. Therefore, can you use Social Media to get to know your customers? Offer people reasons for them to share their personal or professional details with you. Imagine you are a retailer of car parts. You could offer a free webinar to subscribers on installing car speakers. To subscribe, the members will need to complete a registration process whereby they tell you all about the car they drive, how long they have had it, how old it is etc.

Tip 6: don’t forget traditional channels
Social Media is certainly changing the landscape but you may still have customers who visit you in person, write you a letter, ring up or even buy through indirect channels. You should try to analyze these traditional channels to ensure that you still deliver a consistent level of sales and service through these channels if that is your strategy. It was not that long ago when many High Street banks closed branches because it was cheaper to utilize Contact Centres and the Internet. These banks are now backtracking and having to reopen branches because they forgot that many customers still demand that personal touch.

Tip 7: See it as a tool, but not THE tool
Not all businesses will benefit from Social Media. Even within Social Media, some products will offer greater benefit than others. Over reliance on Social Media could be dangerous. Some products are not global. Some are likely to be acquired. It is difficult to keep up with the ever and rapidly evolving world of Social Media. So go back to basics. What are you trying to achieve? How can Social Media complement that strategy, not reengineer it? As mentioned before, be committed to your new channel but monitor it’s performance very closely to ensure it is supporting your strategy.

Tip 8: employ Gen Y staff to manage Gen Y channels
Social Media is typified by Gen Y. Instant everything. Email is now passé. As a proud member of Gen X, I can appreciate Social Media but I believe that it takes a passionate Gen Y employee to have the understanding and insight to drive a compelling Social Media strategy. The level of engagement should be peer to peer. Gen Y has created a new web 2.0 language typified by the OMG and LOL achronisms. Your organization needs to interact in a fashion that is with the type and with the times.

Tip 9: if you open flood gates, you must expect to manage floodwater
Opening up the floodgates allows the tidal population to come in and tell you what they want, how they feel and how to engage them. Are you ready to hear this? Whether you are ready or not, there are people out there tweeting about you. Don’t believe me? Just search Twitter by entering #your company name. It was this single insight that persuaded one of my previous clients to start scanning Twitter (with software) to identify any tweets that told of customer dissatisfaction. They then contacted the Tweeter and attempted to turn the negative into a positive customer experience. Imagine now linking that Tweeter to their Customer record in your CRM system. Imagine what you could learn!

Tip 10. Don’t wait because you don’t understand it. If you are going to wait, be sure it is for a valid reason.
I have never been an Early Adopter. I would like others to pay the high prices and go through the pain before I jump in and buy a more tested and cheaper product. That’s why I have an iPad 2 but never owned an iPad 1. However, to just wait and observe will punish your business. There needs to be a period of trial and error. Why? Because your competitors will do it and your customers are demanding it. So how to get started? Go back to Why? What do you want to achieve? Better Sales? Improved Customer Service? Better intelligence? Once you know why, identify a small team of Gen Y who can come up with the how and determine your policies.

One final thought. How come you are reading this right now? That’s right. It really does offer benefit!

Author: Nick Davey

Evangelist, Strategist, Leader, Implementor, Author, Speaker and all round nice guy, Nick has built his entire career on improving the management of customers both from a customers perspective "looking in" and from within an organisation "looking out". You might call it Improving the Customer Experience. Many call it CRM aka Customer Relationship Management or, as Nick often says, Constantly Realigning Misconceptions. Nick reiterates that his comments are his own personal comments and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, strategy or views of any previous employer or customer.. He is delighted to be impartial and able to share ideas with open minded and collaborative professionals around the world. Outside of his passion for CRM, Nick pursues other less demanding passions and interests whilst watching as much Sport as his long suffering wife will permit.

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