Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and web blogs are just a few Internet services that make up the new growing digital world called social media (SM). SM provides participants with a community to create and maintain relationships and a forum to share their ideas and experiences with the world. The power of SM networks, like all networks, is multiplied by the number of participants. Just a few years ago, no one had heard of Facebook. Yet, as I write this, 200 million people around the world regularly use this site to communicate with family and friends, adding an average of over 100,000 users daily.
Many companies have seen the influence these new sites can have on their organizations for both good and bad. A national pizza chain witnessed the power a few of their employees could have utilizing social media resources. The employees made a video of workers cleaning pizza pans with dirty sponges and doing other unsanitary acts. They posted the video on YouTube, and within hours thousands had viewed the clip. In the past, this might have been a minor issue, but because of the reach of social media, the company’s CEO was compelled to record a message and post it on YouTube in an attempt to stop brand erosion.
As social media increases in popularity, more individuals are telling those in their SM networks about their service experiences. Some companies wrongly assume that SM is merely used by teenagers and young college students. However, Facebook reports that its fastest growing demographic is age 35 and older. A recent Cone Business study in social media revealed that of the 60% of Americans using social media, 93% think that a company should have a social media presence, and 85% felt companies should use social media to interact with consumers.
Mindshare advises all companies to ask themselves, “How can we tap into the power of this new method of communication to improve our business and the experiences we are providing for our customers?” The answer is to do something. Get started. Jump into the online social conversation. You can’t sit back and wait for information to come to you—you’ve got to “give” before you “get.”
It’s Not all Useful Information
The majority of opinions and ideas shared on social media sites are much less structured than those of a customer taking a phone or web survey, where feedback can be quantified, and tied to a specific store, employee, or incident. This makes the information from most SM sites difficult to report and act on. Most of the information “floating around out there” is not intended as helpful feedback to companies, or even specific complaints about service lapses, but rather just ad hoc conversational commentary. Social media can also be used as a bully pulpit for gripers, whiners, and even unscrupulous competitors to vent and spread unsubstantiated and vague claims.
There are many tools available to help search social media for postings mentioning a specific company. However, simply spreading a net to collect this information is akin to dredging a stream for fish—while some fish will be captured, so will a lot of old boots, sticks, hubcaps, and tires. Similarly, merely collecting unstructured data from the web will provide very little actionable information that can be used to improve a company’s strategy or operations. Employing data mining techniques can help further dissect or “bucket” the “buzz” about your company into different categories. This can be useful at the strategic level. But still you are left with a dearth of actionable information. The way to overcome this weakness is to add structure to data flowing in from social media networks. (See our tactical recommendation on how to do this, below.)
Relationships and Relevance—Not Advertising
Although organizations may be tempted to use SM sites to promote their products or services, SM communities will not accept them as one of their own if they use the social media sites to advertise using old-fashioned methods. No one wants to follow a company that posts about how wonderful it is followed by links to canned marketing pitches. Social media is all about relationships and relevance. Companies need to participate by adding valuable, relevant information to forums and communities, such as special coupons for SM users, relevant information concerning products and services, or media that is worth sharing with their friends.
Furthermore, a person in an organization that has the power to help resolve concerns should respond to a dissatisfied customer in a genuine manner. Unfortunately, there is not a simple, automated way to participate in these communities. There needs to be personal human involvement. While there are various free and paid services that can help a company aggregate the feedback, this does not eliminate the need for an actual person(s) to respond to customers and deal with their concerns. These employees need to have good judgment and strong communication skills.
Casting a net to measure the social “buzz” about your company sounds important and inviting. But simply collecting unstructured comments from social media sites will leave you with a bunch of public postings, but very little actionable information (e.g., Where did the issue happen? Which employee(s) performed poorly? When did this happen? What product was affected?).
You need to be able to:
You should watch for raw posts and comments that mention your products, services, company, and staff members. Catching customer complaints early allows you to respond quickly, further engendering customer loyalty. Many free applications make it easy for you to access live SM information, including Google Alerts, Icerocket.com, Twitter Search, Twist, Ping.fm, Tweetgrid, etc. Your account manager can make it easy for you to access live SM information right from your Mindshare Success Center page by conveniently adding in (1) a current “buzz” chart (showing the current level of online discussions about your company), (2) a live Twitter feed (a scrolling bar showing current “tweets” about your company in real time), (3) a social media search bar (pre-screening all online social media sites for postings about your company), and (4) a “blog listener” (a tool consolidating all blogs mentioning your company).
Even with these gathering tools, you will still need to dedicate at least part of an employee’s time to filtering and responding to comments, and to managing your social media presence. A complaint is an opportunity to demonstrate your dedication to customer service and willingness to listen and respond to customers’ concerns. A posted complaint may also draw out comments from other people with the same concern, which provides an opportunity to reach out to an entire group. Responding promptly to customer concerns may lead them to subsequently post positive comments about how quickly you replied, and how well you resolved their problems.
When you respond to SM feedback, we suggest you provide a way for the author to easily give you additional structured information. This is best accomplished by simply including a link in your response that directs the author to a Mindshare mini-survey.
Getting anonymous social media authors to take a mini-survey (1-2 minutes) will provide your company with actionable and reportable feedback, rather than the unstructured feedback that is typical of today’s social media communication. (By the way, don’t use the term “survey” in your reply. Instead, ask the author, “Would you please provide some additional information, so we can better meet your needs?”) Work with your Mindshare account manager to create a SM mini-survey. You can use this survey to gain more structured information about the customer’s issue, such as the location, who was involved, the type of problem, when the problem occurred, and any additional comments to aid in addressing the issue. The data provided from this mini-survey can be easily integrated with your existing Mindshare feedback surveys and presented to your local managers through Mindshare’s integrated enterprise feedback management (EFM) reporting.
This strategy transforms unstructured comments into structured feedback and actionable information, and delivers it up and down your organizational structure through your existing Mindshare reporting hierarchy. It also provides your company with a chance to catch a negative experience while the audience is still small.
In order to participate in social media you will need to establish a formal presence for your company in the global social network. This is easily done by setting up company accounts with key SM websites.
We recommend that you start by creating a Facebook fan site and a Twitter account for your company. Your Mindshare account manager can assist you in getting started with these, and later can help you evaluate which of the many other specialized sites would be most appropriate for you.
As you become more established in the SM world, people will know where to turn to give you feedback and it will be easier to respond to issues—both good and bad. We strongly suggest that you do not use SM as a place to advertise your wares, or for triage management. Become an authentic member of the community by providing helpful tips, announcing promotions, and giving valuable information about new products. The benefit of this approach is that your brand will become a trusted resource in the social media community and your customers will be more likely to come to your SM pages to leave feedback. Your company’s investment in a formal social media presence will demonstrate your organization’s desire to solicit both positive and negative feedback from your customers, and to keep pace with their changing needs.
B: “Fertilize” Third-Party Fan Sites About Your Company
In addition to establishing your company’s own social media presence (fan sites), you might also consider a strategy of “fertilizing” third-party fan sites about your company and “seeding” others through marketing incentives. Some organizations are having great marketing success by distributing promotions/coupons, etc. directly to the fan-site administrators, and through these fan sites to end-user customers (e.g. “secret” promotions, available only on specific fan sites). Others are rewarding fan-site administrators for expanding their customer reach further (e.g. gift certificates presented to the fan site that adds the most new friends).
Beyond improving your marketing efforts, you can also use these third-party fan sites to direct customers toward providing you with structured feedback. The best way to do this is to encourage each third-party site administrator to place a link on their site directing customers to click through and take a mini-survey from Mindshare. By directing fans toward a mini-survey, you can grow the amount of actionable customer feedback you collect (that can be used to drive improvements in your company), rather than the unstructured information that is often swirling around on SM networks.
If you are currently gathering customer service feedback, we suggest that you maximize the value of your highly satisfied customers by providing them with SM links at the end of your customer satisfaction survey. These links will give them an easy way to share (on various social media sites) the positive experiences they had with your company. This helps you to empower people to become advocates of your brand. The easier it is for them to speak out, the more likely they will.
SmartLogic, which is built into the Mindshare system, allows you to pinpoint those survey respondents who gave you high ratings on certain questions and/or said they would recommend your company to their family and friends. At the end of the survey, these respondents can be shown easy-click icons linking to various SM sites. For example:
The survey respondent can then choose from the options provided, at which point Mindshare will enable them to post comments on their social media page, or “tweet” about their experience, etc. When their friends and family log in to the SM site they will notice the comments and will be able to click a link which will take them directly to your home page or SM site. We have several clients currently using this method with great success. This approach connects positive customer experiences with an audience who knows and trusts the author of the post. This kind of general word-of-mouth advertising is extremely powerful when positive experiences are shared. Company image increases as more people are converted from merely “customers” into “promoters” of your brand.
(Note: Some small programming to your homepage may be necessary to make it easier to share your site on Facebook. Ask your Mindshare account manager for details.)
Social media is a rapidly evolving area of feedback. Just a few years ago, few had heard of Twitter, and other sites were significantly more popular than Facebook. The reverse is true today. And today’s top sites may become tomorrow’s has-beens. Hang on, it’s going to change.
The growth of social media networks creates a very difficult resource allocation challenge for most organizations. With potentially millions of customers “holding a microphone,” social media presents a love-hate relationship for businesses that are trying to collect all the customer feedback they can, but are unable to handle the crushing load of social media comments about their company without adding headcount, i.e., “We want to respond, but we can’t afford the additional FTEs it would take to answer all of these comments.”
Like all business problems at an impasse, sooner or later something will have to give. Our belief is that, eventually, those SM authors who desire follow-up and change will become “trained” to provide companies with feedback in a more automated and structured way. This is not dissimilar to other marketplace “trainings” that have occurred—getting money from a wall rather than a bank teller (ATM), taking food to your table and cleaning up after yourself (quick-serve restaurants), and pouring your own soda rather than a cashier doing it (restaurants). Similarly, the current “wide open west” of social media as a feedback tool will have to acquire more structure. The recommendations presented in this paper move in that direction.
Regardless of which channel, method, or approach is the latest fad, the concept of a growing social community is here to stay. But it’s the strategy, not the current hot channel or technology, which matters most.
Mindshare suggests you take action in the three areas outlined above (and recapped below):
Summary Next Steps
|1. Gather & Add Structure||2. Establish a Presence||3. Facilitate Word of Mouth|
Assign or hire a SM manager.
Use Google Alerts, Icerocket, Twitter Search, etc. to find and aggregate comments on the web.
Respond to social media feedback personally and send a link to each author directing them to a short Mindshare mini-survey.
Use the mini-survey to add structure to feedback and to route it to the correct resources.
Leverage the power of Mindshare to report any issue to the correct person in your organization, so they can fix it.
(A) Create and maintain at least a Facebook fan site, a Twitter account, and a company blog.
(B) “Fertilize” and “seed” fan sites created by third parties about your company. In addition to marketing efforts (e.g. promos, coupons, etc.), also encourage third-party administrators to place a link on their fan site, directing customers to take a short Mindshare survey, thereby adding additional timely and actionable feedback to your reports.
Update your homepage to make it social media-sharing friendly.
Place social media links at the end of Mindshare surveys for easy sharing of positive feedback across SM networks.
As social media continues to evolve, be assured that Mindshare will be positioned to provide you with the latest recommendations and applications to help you take advantage of this new method of collecting customer feedback. Several additional areas of research and development in social media are already well underway.
This is how we see it.