Connection: Social Media’s Special Gift

When the Cluetrain Manifesto was published in 1999, it signaled a paradigm shift: markets are conversations. Today, the online space and affordability of web hosting and domain names has helped create billions of conversations about your brand, your industry, and critical key players in your space.

It’s up to you to capitalize this and leverage it effectively.

I asked a big brand on Twitter for help and they gave me a canned response. I miss the days when social media was more personalized.

A big US brand with over 100,000 Twitter followers has run into the problem that I tweeted about above. To this well-known retailer, social media has become just one channel of many where they need to offer customer service without any care in the world for the people they’re engaging with. This thinking unfortunately minimizes the potential of true and far reaching social media strategy, creating the ability to truly connect with people and build bonds with constituents that can help them evangelize your brand and create passionate advocates.

Given my observations, both in the “canned response” department and the company’s engagement with other customers and prospects, they’ve got it all wrong. Much of their tweets are just them asking people to follow them, coupled with the must-include initials that apparently are required of their social media policy. But the tweets are so disjointed and it’s evident that their approach is lacking cohesion which actually makes them look unprofessional. Again, this is a big brand. The background of their site indicates that their Twitter presence alone is being manned by 5 employees (more seem to be active on their Twitter account, so their background may need to be updated), but they’re lost about how to really reply at all.

There are perhaps a half a dozen active employees representing this company on the Twitter account in question, and with only about 5 tweets per day, none of them really get it.

What’s your social media policy? What are your goals of social media?

Most would argue that social media is about building true relationships, which comes on top of these other marketing goals which result in sales and conversions:

  • Brand awareness: People should know you exist so that they can help promote you. In this case, you need to give them reason to promote your brand. In very rare occasions does this company make the compelling argument to promote the brand. There is the occasional deal and contest, but I would find it hard to believe that people are really interested in this company’s involvement and may have followed the Twitter account as a contest entry requirement.
  • Links: Links are the currency of the web. The more high quality links you get, the more trusted you are as an online resource that people can depend upon. Social media through promotions, viral content, blogging, and other methods can help drive relevant links back to your website, which in turn helps your site become more findable via search engines. If you’re selling a product, unless it’s proprietary to your own store and offered nowhere else online, chances are you have a lot of competition, so those links can significantly improve your online visibility.
  • Website traffic: With links often comes traffic through the methods outlined earlier. Of course, shared links on social networks also drive traffic. Highly relevant and interesting links shared on social sites can help bring a lot of people interested in your services and products directly to you.
  • Thought leadership: More for practitioners in the service industry, being a voice of your own industry can help you establish yourself as the go-to person when it comes to knowing what’s happening in your space. They end up looking up to you for tips and to steer them in the right direction. They might even come to you for partnerships, press opportunities, and client work.

Social media has its benefits, including increased awareness and affinity toward the brand. A recent study by Eloqua confirms that those who actually engage with brands on social media services are more likely to have a higher Net Promoter Score, an indicator of how likely they are to recommend the company, than the average customer. And I think that’s true for most brands on social media.

Except those who don’t get it. When looking at this company’s social media profile, they felt compelled to respond to the most nonsensical of replies, reinforcing their approach to use social media as a customer service tool without regard for the customer (or frankly the particular question). And yet, with a brand as big as this one, they only tweeted 5 times per day? Really? On the other hand, when I had a product question about a Kodak Zi6 a few months ago, I took it to my Twitter feed and a Best Buy based in Danvers, MA came to my aid, offering troubleshooting advice and tips! Now that’s one memorable way to create a great user experience. (I don’t live anywhere near Danvers, MA, but I’ll always remember this.)

Social media is about real engagement and truly connecting with people. In fact, this is why there’s such a strong argument toward some of the newer tools and technologies, including Social CRM, a customer relationship management methodology that integrates social behavior to get a clearer picture of who each individual person is. This is where we’re going. Social media is just the beginning. As this field grows, we’ll see a greater need to clearly understand each and every person who we interface with online.

Social media has grown in popularity with thousands — maybe millions — of individuals claiming their utmost expertise and selling services, even if they possess no real skill. Still, it’s been over a decade and yet even some big companies aren’t catching on. The Cluetrain Manifesto alluded to something that some companies still don’t understand: we’re no longer communicating in a traditional sense. It’s a two way conversation and this way of communicating is not going away. If anything, we’re now able to build real relationships with people who can truly make a difference. Even if you are a very large brand, there are still ways to engage your followers and show them you care. (Asking them to follow you for a DM in every other tweet isn’t the way to successfully achieve that goal!). Thankfully, there are some companies and individuals who can help steer the way.

A brand — big or small — needs to still make the effort to put the customer first. If you are going to use social media, use it right, because even if you’re big and successful, that bitter taste you leave in someone else’s mouth will disappoint, and with social media, that disappointment can spread far and easily. After all, the people you upset might have a better social media footprint than you do.

Social media. It’s not that easy.

Tamar Weinberg is a hustler and juggler. She is the VP of Marketing at Ruxly Creative, a creative marketing agency. She's the Director of Sales at Internet Marketing Ninjas, a 100+ employee search engine marketing agency located in upstate New York. She also rocks global sales at financial media publication Wall St. Cheat Sheet. Finally, she is the Chief Strategy Officer of Small Business Trends. Oh wait, and she's also the community manager at Namecheap. Yeah, like a boss.

44 Comments

  • January 26, 2011

    Todd Mintz

    Knock on wood, each time I reached out to a big brand on Twitter, they’ve responded to me appropriately. I suppose it’s not always going to be that way…

    • January 26, 2011

      Tamar Weinberg

      I think that some big brands are taking to social media because they have to, and therefore aren’t doing it correctly. That’s the case in this instance. I’d really love to name the company and offer my assistance, but I suspect I’ll get another canned reply! ;)

  • January 26, 2011

    Vicki Frost

    Excellent Post! Here here! Too often in companies social media is relegated to “younger people who understand the internet” who don’t have a long tenure with the company and it’s product and cannot truly engage the customer and the community within the industry. Best Buy DOES do this very well – their CEO is on Twitter and Facebook daily! He communicates with his employees and his customers. I would LOVE to see all companies hiring a full time knowledgeable, EMPOWERED community manager. It is as necessary as the any other customer service position if not MORE so. Thank you for your excellent sum up of this issue.

    • January 26, 2011

      Tamar Weinberg

      Thanks Vicki! I actually think that in this case, this social media account is not run by “younger people who understand the internet.” Instead, this social media account is being manned by people who are so fixated on old ways! I would not be surprised if the entire social media team for this company had kids that age!

  • January 26, 2011

    LaurieC

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! We have many people in our organization who think that automating everything is the way to go with social media. Sometimes I feel like a lone voice crying, “No, wait, you need to be human …”

    • January 26, 2011

      Tamar Weinberg

      Hi Laurie! Yup, I wrote about social media automation here. This isn’t even that, though. This particular company is replying to social media inquiries like drones. WRONG approach!

  • January 26, 2011

    Neil Andrew DuPaul

    I’ve been trying to figure out which brand you’re referring to, no luck. I scoured your twitter posts to no avail and quickly checked out the profiles of a few of the more probable guesses I had.

    So…I don’t know =(

    Nice post though. =)

  • January 27, 2011

    Johnny Russo

    Yes! Thanks Tamar for writing this. I know some large companies get social media, but there are still too many that I hear are blocking or limiting employees’ social media presence. They are ok with employees smoking on breaks, but Twitter – never! Terrible way to go about things. The small guys get it for the most part. They are agile and want to evolve and learn. They jump in and test the waters, not hide behind processes and policies that suck the creativity and engagement of employees that want to help, employees that want to lead. Best Buy, Southwest Airlines, Boeing, Dell, they get it. But countless others need an ROI in order to get it. These are the same people who used to send direct mail and advertise on billboards, and never asked for an ROI, but did it “just because” it was a marketing channel that “worked” in the past. Great post Tamar.

    • January 27, 2011

      Tamar Weinberg

      Thanks Johnny! Eventually, they’ll learn when the competition prevails. At that point, it may be too late.

  • January 27, 2011

    Lisa

    How many times have I read this article. Social media is about two-way communication. Let’s move on from what has been said for years.

    • January 27, 2011

      Tamar Weinberg

      I know, I’ve said this for years. ;) Check my archives.

      But let me ask, Lisa, what would you do if you observed a company doing this? Would you sit back and say “oh, well, they missed the boat” or would you reiterate the lesson and use specific examples? In my case, that’s what I did. I know people have found it valuable and I’m actually talking to the company about how to make things right. There’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow! :)

      It’s the same tired and true stuff, but it’s repeated all the time because people still don’t get it. This is a BIG CPG brand. They are publicly traded. They sell products in thousands of stores. And I still need to stay fixated on these old lessons.

      Trust me, I’d like to move forward, but when I see this ridiculousness, I need to scratch my head and reiterate these lessons again.

  • January 28, 2011

    Alisha Andre

    Awesome informative post!!! I think nowadays people are taking social media seriously for their business promotion and reaching out their clients and customers on a global scale….. and yes.. all these kind of accounts should be managed by those people who can really attract users and can convert them into clients… it can certainly help someone.

    • January 29, 2011

      Tamar Weinberg

      Yeah, big brands are big but they still need the help or they look like children next to real pros!

    • February 15, 2011

      Jeffrey Gross

      I agree with you Alisha. the social media has been properly exploied by these Big companies now a day, and it has become an effective tool to create brand awareness

  • January 28, 2011

    Courtney Parham

    Great post. I think a lot of companies and people don’t understand the “social” part of social media. I think effectively using social networks boils down to reciprocity, generosity, and listening, which are three essential elements of any strong relationship offline. Online, together those three qualities help to create (drumroll, please…) engagement.

    I elaborated on the lack of true engagement in social media in my post, The Hypocrisy in Social Media: http://bit.ly/hat6f9. Please read and let me know your thoughts.

    • January 28, 2011

      Tamar Weinberg

      Hi Courtney, I actually work for Mashable. While I don’t have access to their Twitter account and don’t know the direct policies in play, I do hope I have some insight into what’s happening. First, the entire process of their Twitter feed is manual. It’s not an RSS port at all. There are blogs that do this because that’s actually what their followers expect. In other words, there’s no one right way to use Twitter (at least when it comes to this type of interaction coming from blogs).

      If you want to engage with the people behind the Mashable name, we have an entire list of our staff under the Mashable account. I think one of the reasons for avoiding engagement is threefold: 1) with millions of followers, singling one person out means we’re excluding everyone else. 2) On the other hand, if we were more open about engagement, people would have expectations that they should get personalized attention as well. 3) there are just so many people to reply to! I believe Mashable is known as the most mentioned brand on Twitter, which makes monitoring for every single interaction (and then replying) quite difficult.

      Again, I don’t really know the specific policies; we have two full time community managers manning this account and working on other social media initiatives, but I do hope that sheds light onto the process.

      My expectations for companies with customer service on the mind, however, are quite different. (Note: I do all customer service for Mashable. ;) And sales. But that’s not all me anymore!) Tweets need to be customer centric. There was so much missed opportunity in the case of the aforementioned brand.

      Hopefully that give you some more insight. Hope to hear your feedback soon. :)

  • January 29, 2011

    Lakshmi - Virtual assistant

    Hi
    I feel that social media is effective option of connecting with potential customers. It is certainly here to stay. We have got many new small business clients who use it.It is important that the business decides before hand what they want to achieve.
    As you said automation i feel is not that good compared to the one done manually.

    Laks

    • January 30, 2011

      Tamar Weinberg

      Well, I didn’t blog about automation in this case, but thank you for your comment. ;)

  • January 30, 2011

    Chris Affilli

    …being a bit older then the rest (i assume) , i can tell you having a 13 year old daughter really helps to understand that social media thing, the upcoming generation will have a complete different set of expectations when it comes to big brands customer interaction….

    • January 30, 2011

      Tamar Weinberg

      Hi Chris – do tell more! How do you see your expectations versus hers?

  • January 30, 2011

    chris Affilli

    …hi Tamar, well it starts already with the grocery shopping we go, (i am from austria), for example supermarkets, while i go watching for specials and sales at newspapers and brochures they send home, my girl is basically getting all her sales info from facebook, particular one store here is big Billa, it has over 50.000 fans while the one i usually shop Spar is not even on Facebook.

    My point is while i dont care if that shop is online or not, for my daughter it seems absolutely necessary, they want to be reached out via social media in a way, that would be for me considered intrusive for them it is an essential way of communicating, (i may generalize here, but thats my experience)

    • January 30, 2011

      Tamar Weinberg

      Cool, thanks for the feedback. Yes, according to a recent study published by eMarketer, 77% of people who fan brands *want* deals. Very interesting stuff.

  • [...] media bandwagon syndrome?  Social media blogger and tech geek Tamar Weinberg recently wrote about her own customer service experience.  After tweeting to a Big Brand for help, she received a canned response that left her pining for [...]

  • February 4, 2011

    Vivek Parmar

    have to say that social media is great and without any connections you will get nothing from social media. So work hard to make a good connection on social n/w sites

  • What’s crazy is that as a company, if you’re at all paying attention to the questions you get over and over again, you can put together a formulaic answer that walks people through their problems most effectively without re-creating the wheel each time.

    And if you build all the answers and process maps that show people how to solve their problems, you don’t end up wasting time typing out the instructions but INSTEAD you can spend time bonding with the customer, and then lead them to the answer and then can feel like you took the time to hear them out AND THEN you showed them an easy diagram that showed them step by step how to fix the problem.

    But like you noticed, just purely going on robot mode and saying… “go to this site and click the Q&A button to solve your problem…” just makes people think, “Duh. I could’ve found that myself. Why did you need to be here to tell me that?”

    Love that you’re bringing attention to this Tamar!

  • February 7, 2011

    Dave

    Every one wants to find a good deal on their buy and the competition is also high in current market. So I assume, companies with good social connections & better customer service are going to rock in the market. Best examples is “Groupon” who is best at reaching out to their subscribers with good deals. And I totally agree with your services being available only for subscriptions. Great going Tamar !!

    • February 7, 2011

      Tamar Weinberg

      Well, you can assume that but this is a big company and they are popular. I was surprised too.

      FWIW, hopefully things will improve as they now know about this post.

  • February 9, 2011

    Spencer from Faq Agent

    Some brands have that canned response and I hope they still have a personalized response especially if it’s about customer service. They won’t let their company grow in Social media if they hesitate to interact with us.

    • February 9, 2011

      Tamar Weinberg

      Yup — a lot of people come into social media from a customer service capacity and they’re taught to read scripts and interact that way. There are better ways to do this!

  • February 16, 2011

    Rachel

    Great post! Really now, if social media is becoming a “have to”, then the company really is hurting itself; promoting automatic and/or contrite responses does not create a connection; it detracts from it. In a way, they are nailing their own coffin giving the perception that they are just in it only for the and not for the service they provide. I’d assume one of the purposes of social media is to break that stigma? Good job hot shot company. =P

    • February 16, 2011

      Tamar Weinberg

      Well, I give the company credit. They’re doing more than some others who still don’t have a presence at all. Plus, then there are people who come to social media, try it out for a few minutes, and disappear. I actually was researching a whole niche for a client and found a case study by a well-known agency who was so proud of the client’s social media efforts. I checked in on the client now and there’s NO involvement at all. They basically hired this agency who charged them an arm and a leg and then they dropped the ball. Embarrassing.

      So yeah, there are many ways to do it. Some will do it right, some will do it wrong, and some will do it and learn and grow from it. The company I talk about in this post and I are now talking about ways to do it better. I’m REALLY appreciative that they’ve listened and are making the effort to move further and grow from it.

      • February 25, 2011

        Rachel

        That is true. Any attempt is better than no attempt. There is no set in stone, exact way of using social media and considering all of the variables involved, it can definitely be overwhelming. I am definitely nowhere near being an expert so I do empathize. But I just believe that if you keep the purpose and vision of using social media in mind and stay consistent there will be positive growth!

  • February 26, 2011

    David

    Definitely agree with the above comments. A lot of companies are just on social media because they feel they have to be. Also nobody has really defined the intersection of PR and social media yet… will they merge into one, stay mixed like they are, or reverse the trend and be completely separate.

    • February 26, 2011

      Tamar Weinberg

      Indeed. Gotta have a plan when it comes to social!

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