Social media and user-generated content (UGC) are so effective because they don’t come from the vendor. Customers and users of your product/service are much more credible than your best salesman and clearest marketing campaign. This better not be news for your executives.
The problem is that effectively leveraging social media and UGC requires a lot of sophistication of your staff and some pretty elaborate IT infrastructure. Too many firms go on a social media binge without making the necessary investments in process, policy, and products – you know: the boring, expensive, hard stuff that will actually make it work well. And therein lies the danger, because negative feedback loops typically go viral much faster than positive news does.
Even before social media, marketers knew that a disgruntled customer would tell 3-10 times more friends than a happy customer would. That goes double for stuff that’s just plain wrong, misinformation that spreads like wildfire across the net. Even before you were born, Winston Churchill said it best: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth even gets its pants on.”
Grin and Bear It
So let’s start with the givens – the things you really can’t control except through improving the customers’ actual experience and using your PR team to tamp the fires:
- The press (including bloggers and YouTubers) is going to do what it’s going to do. But you’re not powerless – see below for some ideas.
- Yelp, Angie’s list, and dozens of gripe-about-the-vendor sites are out of your control. Do respond at a personal level to negative posts, but don’t expect you can do much beyond remedial repair work.
- Enthusiast sites and user forums are similarly out of your control. You definitely want to monitor them and respond, but you definitely don’t want to get caught shilling.
For these kinds of sites, the IT imperative is setting up a social media monitoring system to offer a continuous pulse of the marketplace. But even the fanciest control-room setup with scads of dashboards and blinking lights won’t help if your marketing/customer teams don’t have a disciplined process for crisis management and good-news amplification. In a weird way, this problem is analogous to marketing automation: these systems are really content management in disguise, and without great content and a sharp-shooter staff, any investment in product alone will bear little fruit.
How To Not Shoot Yourself in the Foot
Now let’s get to the more interesting social media channels: the ones that your company sets up for itself. Let’s take a look at a clear example of doing it wrong—and you need look no further than your favorite mobile phone or cable operator.
- First of all, they are starting from a place where their reputation for customer service and satisfaction are almost non-existent. While they may be hitting all of their internal support metrics, their customers hate them. They are measuring stuff that’s irrelevant, so their executives are blinded by the information bubble that their staff spends so much effort constructing.
- Because they want to seem “with it” and in touch with the customer, they put up a page on Facebook and Twitter. But it’s typically just one page, and the traffic is an unending and unmanageable flood of noisy comments. The overall impression is of (1) chaos, (2) an unresponsive company, and (3) unhappy customers. Exactly what the company was trying to avoid.
- I’m sure this social media program was a crash effort. They wanted it quick, they got it dirty.
Social CRM Best Practices
Now let’s look instead at some best practices, many of which you can find in the way Amazon does things:
- Separate the feedback into highly granular micro-sites, at least down to the product-line level. In this way, if there’s a problem with a particular product or service, the noise is focused (so the company can work on the right problem) and doesn’t contaminate the overall company reputation.
- Separate the feedback about the product/service from its delivery/fulfillment. So if you have a screwball service tech the user feedback is about the nudnik, not the device.
- Collect feedback in audio and video, not just text. This makes your site more interesting, and feeds No. 7, below.
- Use community comments to damp wild swings and Internet fire-storms. This typically comes in the forms of a “comments” and “report abuse” link next to feedback text.
- Be willing to curate the feedback. I know, your lawyers will give a dozen reasons why this is not a good idea – but if you have a policy and follow it consistently, you can avoid most of the issues here. What you want is the ability to simply remove an entire post that is completely erroneous, malicious, or libelous.
- Constantly monitor all the micro-sites with a social media monitoring system, looking for wild swings. Use management-by-exception to prioritize where your staff spends time.
- Use the social media monitoring metrics to spot good news that you can publish more generally. If there’s a gee-whiz story or a really happy customer, that’s grist for a 30-second YouTube spot.
- Provide an “insiders’ portal” for executives who are interested to see and analyze the feedback you’re getting. If you want to get really ambitious and your company culture supports openness, provide access to a version of this portal to selected analysts or mavens in your community (typically, bloggers).
We can go deeper in B2B operations, particularly when consulting and after-sales support are valued parts of the offering. Your trainers, consultants, and service people are all on-site spies who can collect customer feedback positive and negative. Through user surveys and field-tech input screens, make the case-closing process include customer feedback on both the product and the service delivery.
The Bottom Line: No Free Lunch
For most readers, social media is virgin territory with little in the way of policy, process, or operational experience. The whole topic may seem like science fiction—but leaders have been following these practices for years now. It should be clear from the above that a consistently successful social media strategy will take some serious investment in your Web site, IT infrastructure, and marketing skills.