Most organisations are still struggling to understand the benefit of Social Media and are stagnated in a Grail-like search for the ROI data point that will win the argument for ever. However, when you place the customer at the centre of your thinking, that search is over far quickly.
I have been working on a few projects lately that have in some way intersected with Human Centred Design (download this useful IDEO toolkit as model for HCD methodology), a branch of Design Thinking. This is methodology that places the same thinking designers use at the centre of business problem solving. Most notably, it places the customer at the centre of product and process development, rather than conventional thinking which usually places the company or organisation first.
It has become apparent to me through this process that Social Media automatically becomes central to any business strategy as a direct result of a Human Centred Design approach. Essentially, use of Social Media becomes defined by the fact that the customer needs the Social channel serviced, not because of any gains a company will derive.
This is where the problem has been. The business world has wrestled with the search for Social Media ROI to justify investment in it. But they were ‘doin’ it wrong’. The question is not “what is in it for me?”; but more “what is in it for them?” – the customer. Anyone who subscribes to the Zappos lesson of “Customer Service is the new Marketing” will see the link that the answer to the second question is also the answer to the first. The customer benefit IS the ROI.
There is no end of data relating to the pay-off that good customer service delivers, and so no need for me to collate too much of it here. But a few key and arresting statistics are worth noting:
- 86 per cent of customers say they are willing to pay between 5 and 25 per cent above a standard price to ensure a superior quality of customer service (Harris Interactive 2013)
- 56 per cent of customers who use Social Media to interact with brand say they feel a stronger connection with that brand. (Buffer Research, 2013)
- 33 per cent of customers who receive a response to a negative comment (on Social Media) are turned around and post a positive review. Moreover 34 per cent delete the original negative review. (Harris Interactive 2013)
- Social Media users will tell an average of 42 people about a good experience (American Express 2012)
- 50 per cent of customers are more likely to buy from a brand if they are able to contact that brand via Social Media (Buffer Research 2013)
Salesforce.com Marc Benioff has been on this right from the start – first with The Social Enterprise and then The Customer Company platforms – and as the picture becomes ever clearer, his ahead-of-its-time vision is becoming more and more searing to me.
Before anyone starts panicking that they are required to provide Zappos-style customer service of dazzling proportions, it is worth reading this article in The Harvard Business Review by Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman, and Nicholas Toman: “Stop trying to delight your customers.” It makes the seemingly obvious point that it isn’t necessarily a delightful experience the customer requires, but merely a functional one that lives up to the promise. As customers are demonstrating in their droves that they want to use Social Media as a customer service channel, the logic of Human Centre Design demands that companies deliver it. The rewards of this approach are immediate and quite easy to derive. That is the ROI of the Social Media – quite simply, avoiding the disadvantages of not doing it.
Picture Credit: Business2community.com
Recently I posted a tweet about using hashtags to prospect for sales which led to an interesting discussion about Social Selling I thought was worth reflecting on. I often think that if you went back in time 20 years or so and told a sales executive that in the future they’d have the power to eavesdrop on their prospects – they’d look at you in amazement and wonder. Yet while we posses this power today, many seem reluctant to harness it.
So the original article I posted from Social Media Examiner was a simple guide to using Hastags on Twitter to prospect for sales opportunities. SME is a great resource but is very generic in style and tends to target its content at the small to medium business market. Nevertheless it often has some excellent content. This article at Social Media Today is equally a very useful insight into the topic. A local Social Media Insights company Digivizer responded to make the solid point that qualification was still an important process of the prospecting process:
— DIGIVIZER (@Digivizer) April 17, 2014
The conversation quickly segued into a blog post the company had posted recently about insight vs intent. This aligned with my point that while Twitter might not be fantastic at qualifying a prospect, it is excellent at signifying something that is extremely hard to access in any other medium – intent, readiness or willingness to buy. Qualification should be done via your CRM system, but a truly sophisticated Social Selling function will combine Social with the CRM intelligence to both qualify and monitor prospects.
In the B2B environment, because of the scale, this can be done very effectively by monitoring prospects’ posts for indications they are ready to buy or at least in a mindset conducive to discussing your product or service further. Some CRMs – the Salesforce Sales Cloud for one – provide a feature for importing a view of a contact’s Social Media posts right into the prospect record to help paint a picture of where they might be on the buying curve. This kind of intelligence is invaluable. I can remember, for instance, when shortly before a prospect met with a sales representative they posted exactly what their agenda for the meeting was – the features they hoped to see from the product demo. That sales representative missed the tweet but because the wider company had Social Media Monitoring switched on that crucial insight was routed through to him in time. Without it the meeting might have gone quite differently, particularly since it was about Social CRM!
More widely, monitoring Social for signals of a possible buying disposition is easy once you’ve got a strategy around what topics and keywords you are searching for (i.e. #Hashtags). When an insurance company searches for people tweeting about passing their driving test, all sorts of opportunities emerge around car insurance – CTP and Comprehensive, as well as personal injury. It also provides an opportunity to congratulate that person, thereby warming that relationship making a sale more likely. Other life moments such as house purchases, imminent weddings, the announcement of a new birth all allow you to build a profile of a customer that they are in a position to buy. To support your Social engagement strategy, there are also SEO and Social advertising strategies you can put in place to ensure you surround that trigger. While once some of this might have seemed ”creepy”, increasingly consumers and businesses alike expect it.
The key is organisation and aligning your monitoring effort and content strategy with your CRM so that when an intention to buy is signalled you can spot it quickly, establish some context using your CRM – i.e. further qualify the prospect – and then identify some content you can use to develop the opportunity.
If you have had an experience of mining Social Media for intention to buy signals, please leave a comment below to share it.
Social Media Automation is the new black as those engaged in Social Media begin to find elements of it too demanding, or those beginning their Social Media journey sensibly try and make it sustainable from the outset. It is quite understandable. To execute Social Media well requires commitment and time; and small teams or individuals with limited bandwidth will find that a challenge. The automation tools market is exploding as a result – bringing with it benefits and dangers.
Personally, I try to automate as little as possible. As someone once said, “a unicorn dies every time someone schedules a tweet.” On principle I think there are elements of Social Media that it is perfectly acceptable to automate – within certain caveats. These are them:
- Remember what you have done. This is most important. Last year, Tesco in the UK forgot that it had a scheduled tweet signing off for the night…in the middle of a PR crisis about horse meat found in its burgers. This would have been bad enough, but the chosen language of the tweet made it even worse: “It’s sleepy time so we’re off to hit the hay! See you at 8am for more #TescoTweets.” There are many examples of these, and this one involving a death at a Radiohead concert is probably one of the most sickening. The key is, remember what is going out. Do not schedule so much that you can’t.
- Respond. Scheduled posting is a great way to stimulate engagement with your audience, but you need to be there for that engagement. Nothing is worse than engaging with a company, or even a person, and being ignored – especially when your post asks for engagement. Continue to monitor and manage your Social Media. Automating does not mean you can forget about it. Authenticity is so crucial in the Social Media environment and you will be very quickly exposed if you are not genuine about your commitment to your audience.
- Optimise for each network. A tweet on LinkedIn looks ugly and will fail. Equally, a long URL on Twitter looks like laziness. I personally think it is a mistake to post the same content routinely and automatically across several networks without tweaking for the nuances of each. It looks like what it is: scant regard for your audience.
- You can’t automate a conversation. So don’t try. Automated Direct Messages or tweets thanking people for their follow, or pre-programmed messages from customer service accounts in response to routine problems also betray your lack of seriousness about the channel and subsequently your customer. No one likes talking to a machine, this is why customers are embracing Social Media over IVR-dominated contact centres.
This article here at Buffer is an excellent guide not only to some of the many pitfalls of automation, but also a useful list of automation tools. Buffer is indeed a terrific tool for automation, but also a very popular and transparent one. For instance, if your short URL begins with “buff.ly” – or ”ht.ly” or “ow.ly” for Hootsuite – people will immediately suspect automation even if it isn’t the case and engagement with that tweet is likely to be much less.
I have come across a couple of strategies that seem to work for people and seem valid. I spoke to a former colleague the other day who had a very simple but seemingly ingenious recipe for automation. Every day on the bus to work he choses some content for the day ahead on Feed.ly and then schedules that for posting during the day on Buffer. But importantly he had notifications set for responses and engages with his replies. So it was genuine, but just recognised that throughout the day he would be tied up in meetings without the luxury of time to post spontaneously. Another colleague uses “If This Then That” to great effect, but again – if you engage him on anything he has posted he will always respond quickly and genuinely.
I think for the most part, the rule of thumb is that for your “Affinity Content” strategy scheduled or automated posting is perfectly fine and in fact a quite sensible deployment of tools to reach an outcome within obvious time constraints. Expanding on an earlier fishing analogy, you can view it as trawling for engagement – like speculatively hanging a line over the back of your working-day-dinghy. Anything beyond that and you are in serious danger of being a unicorn killer!
If you’re serious about Social Media, want it to succeed, and aren’t merely paying lip service, then staff it or outsource it to someone who can manage it professionally for you.
What is your view on automation – for or against? Leave a comment below…
A primary problem clients and prospects I speak to have is moving Social from the tactical periphery to the strategic centre. This might be a person looking to push a Social agenda within their department or team, or an entire department (usually marketing or PR) looking to increase engagement in Social across the wider business. There is one very simple answer that goes a long way to solving this problem: put it on the wall!
Often the key barriers to the adoption of Social strategies within a business are visibility and ignorance:
- Visibility: when people are very busy Social Media is unlikelly to be front-of-mind as they dash from one “fire drill” to another;
- Ignorance: if there are people who haven’t adopted Social Media tools in their own life, they might not even know what it looks like, let alone understand how it works
On a grand scale, it’s an approach taken by the high-profile “Social Media Command Centres” such as those employed by the rock star brands of Social Media like Dell or the Red Cross (There are more examples in this Salesforce eBook). But these are the Ferrari version of the approach. There is a far more affordable Ford version which can be simply an edition of Hootsuite on a wall-mounted LCD screen powered by a legacy desktop stashed in a cupboard. The outcomes are multiple:
- Right away you have a step-change in the visibility of Social Media in the organisation and how it relates to the target market
- Immediately, the business of monitoring is spread among many, meaning a comment or complaint directed at the company is far less likely to be ignored, and far more likely to be pounced upon quickly
- Strategically filtered Twitter traffic is much less dynamic than the furious Twitter feed most people are used to. This means people will begin to understand that Social Media is far more manageable than the skeptics would have you believe
- Breaking news pertinent to the organisation’s sector or marketplace will equally be seen far more quickly by someone, making the organisation more responsive and better informed
- Spontaneous inspiration of action is likely as people pass by the screen and see something relevant to them they want to respond to or share
Pretty soon, the idea of dedicated screens might proliferate as more and more potential Social Media Champions understand that by dedicating a screen to Social Media, it becomes more informative, available and relevant to day to day activity.
For a guide as to how to structure such a “Command Centre”, this Hootsuite post on what a dashboard could look like is very useful. But again, if you are having problems driving adoption of Social Media in your organisation, consider just wall-mounting it and then sitting back to see what magic happens!
Picture Credits: epicventure.nl
I’ve had a lot of cause for thought about how Social Media is used for Customer Service this week. It has led me to some very useful conclusions about what best practice looks like and how to build a formula for successful complaint handling – which is, let’s face it, the “pointy” end of engaging customers online.
I sometimes use Social Media to complain about a company’s conduct in its dealings with me. Publicly naming-and-shaming an organisation on Social Media can be a good way to hold a company to account when they aren’t addressing your problem fast enough, or it can be a perhaps badly-thought-through knee-jerk reaction to something that has annoyed you. We are all guilty of the latter. In this case I probably was in hindsight guilty of spleen-venting but the issue was nevertheless genuine. The company in question – Setanta Australia – engaged me quickly to solve the problem and in the process has provided me with an excellent case study to break down how this kind of important customer service can be best executed. It is my view that Setanta’s conduct was all-but best practice.
I can say that because while this dialogue was taking place, I was in fact attending – quite coincidentally – a workshop on How to Handle Complaints on Social Media run by an Australian-based expert in mediation and dispute management – Nicole Cullen at @Cullaborate. There was a great deal of value in the day-long session, from three speakers: Fiona Scott-Handley at @CloudSherpas who presented excellently on how to design a strategy for your customer service channel on Social; Buzznumber‘s Jess Whitaker who spoke authoritatively about Social Media Monitoring and from Delib’s Craig Thomler on how to use Social Media to manage a crisis (Craig’s very informative presentation can be seen at his blog here). But probably the most instructive content for me was from Nicole herself on how to approach the actual dialogue with the customer.
In terms of essential structure, the workshop introduced us to a well-established Customer Service Resolution Model that provides a framework for handling complaints. Put simply, customer satisfaction takes three forms, and the more of these boxes that are ticked, the more complete the outcome. My understanding of the model is as follows:
- Psychological Satisfaction – this is the warm-fuzzy emotional response that entails simply acknowledgement and validation of the problem, and ideally some empathy (but not necessarily an apology which could cause larger problems legally further down the line if substantive resolution isn’t possible). Where most companies fall over is in not even providing this. This can be by not responding, or responding defensively or failing to even see the complaint.
- Procedural Satisfaction - A 2011 Bain report found that 83 per cent of customers that complained to a company on Social Media either “liked” or “loved” the response. These customers can very quickly turn from angry customers likely to churn to competitors to enthusiastic advocates for your brand. Where that transition comes mainly is in the knowledge that a procedure was enacted as a result of their complaint. A resolution may not even be possible, but if a process is at least followed then a customer will be in a far more forgiving mood. However, it is important that this process is followed through and concluded – not merely promised as a form of placation. This is the ultimate validation.
- Substantive Satisfaction – While this isn’t always possible, it obviously makes for a complete resolution. A great deal of the damage is repaired in the previous step but if the customer’s concern can be fully addressed – be that a refund, a formal apology, a gift etc – then everyone wins. However, Nicole did make the important point that a customer’s demand – or position – isn’t always the solution and something else could be the answer. This will become apparent with investigation.
So beyond this model, Nicole and the other speakers also provided a toolkit of tips for how a complaint should be managed, many of which aligned with my own understanding of best practice approaches. By way of post-mortem, Setanta very adeptly demonstrated these in turn:
- Respond quickly – one of the companies attending the workshop has a standing and public response SLA (service level agreement) of two hours. Case Study: Setanta’s response was within three. This is very reasonable and practical in the event of something that isn’t life-threatening.
- Acknowledge and Understand- Case Study: which Setanta did very clearly, and while they did defend themselves it was not in a defensive way but only to explain, which is only fair.
- Take it offline – it is important to quickly move the conversation into an offline or private environment, for two reasons. First there might of course be privacy issues that if the conversation is conducted publicly will make the problem hard to resolve; and second any discussion of a service shortcoming in public will damage the brand. Case Study: Setanta engaged me on Direct Message.
- Investigate – use the CRM to examine the customer’s history and product/service portfolio. This will reveal any opportunity for alternative resolution should the customer’s demands not be possible to satisfy. Also, check the customer’s profile for help with the next step. Finally, check the customer has not mis-understood or even mis-represented the situation and that there isn’t a hidden agenda. Case Study: Setanta quickly established my situation accurately and then rectified it.
- Build rapport - When apparently faceless agents become people with similar interests, it is much harder to shout at them! Case Study: Setanta did this very well by asking questions about my sporting allegiances as they updated me on the procedure and then related to me in a personal, human way by congratulating my team on a recent win – that I appreciated and it went a long way to diffusing the situation quickly. Sport and music make it easy – pressing a fan button always works!
- Resolve and/or conclude – Either solve the problem or conclude it amicably. An open wound will fester and make for a motivated detractor that could escalate the problem and continue to damage the brand (as a well known Australian mobile phone brand knows all too well). Case Study: my relatively simple complaint was resolved completely within 24 hours and I now see Setanta quite differently – very positively now after some bad experiences in the past.
The only points I would make about the way Setanta handled the situation – which are open for debate – are that first, they did not acknowledge my tweet publicly which to me seemed like a missed opportunity to show others that they were responding. After all “customer service is the new marketing”! Second, their responses had no personal identifier. Common protocol is the initials of the agent are included at the end of tweets using the “^” symbol. This can then be broken out in the profile of the account – i.e. “^GL = Gareth Llewellyn (@mrgareth)” or not. However it is done, it is just important that some sort of identifier is there to aid the rapport.
At the most basic level though, it is important to say that where the complaint is genuine – no response at all is the very worst approach and increasingly will be seen as unacceptable to consumers and a failure of a brand’s responsibilities to its customers.
Picture Credit: Julienrio.com
“Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer/The Slings and Arrows of internal resource constraints/Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles/And by outsourcing Social Media, end them?”
William Shakespeare, Hamlet
It seems to be that the Social Media Industry is impaled on the horns of a dilemma: is it better to out-source Social Media activity or to keep it in-house? Everyone in the industry will have a strong opinion on the subject that may or may not be conflicted by their actual role in life depending on whether they work in house or with an agency.
This article by Kelsey Meyer at Fortune Magazine, for instance, puts the case very strongly that to outsource your Social Media is unthinkable, and akin to asking an intern to speak for you at a conference!
However, this article by Jayson Demers at Search Engine Watch makes a great argument that simply because of the complex mix of talents needed to make a Social Media campaign work, you have no choice but to outsource to an agency that has a wealth of such talent-mix.
However, after 18 months of consulting via both models – short-term projects to plan, enable and help execute internal Social Media functions; as well as managing aspects of clients’ Social Media on an ongoing basis – I have reached the conclusion that the problem should not be thought of in such a binary fashion. Not everything need be outsourced, and if outsourced, perhaps not for ever. Once you break Social Media down ot its various component parts you can see that some aspects of it can very appropriately be outsourced to take advantage of external resources; while some aspects of it – if outsourced – defeat the very purpose of the whole project.
Affinity content - posting helpful third party content on your channels is a critical and fairly time consuming task but can easily be outsourced to your PR agency or delegated to an intern. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand criterea of selection – sources of content, strategic topics, posting protocols. However, with this activity sustainably managed, you are off to the races!
Ghost writing and word-smithing – it is the nature of the beast that the thoughts that should power your thought leadership blogging will come from some of the busiest, least accessible people in the organisation. Only very rarely can you get these people to commit to consistent blogging and tweeting. But as long as you can get a sense of their thinking through very quick interviews, emails or even just by hearing them speak, it is is totally appropriate in my view to have their thoughts ghost written, as long as they have approval rights.
Content production – for some of the more high-end content production also, it is actually very sensible and certainly more affordable to outsource projects such as Inforgraphic design, video production or podcast recording.
Monitoring – it is very common for organisations to outsource their Social Media monitoring, often times even off-shore. This works very well as a safety net but should not be fully depended upon. Someone in-house should also monitor the corporate channels for responses and the keyword search agents for business opportunities.
Reporting – reporting is arduous and in many case fairly automatic and so compilations of large reports of data – audience increases, sentiment, trending topics and so on is most economically managed by an agency
- Analysis – while reporting can certainly be done externally, the learning from that data should be done in-house. One of the main and most compelling reasons for keeping Social Media in house is that if you don’t learn from the interactions and trends, then much of the effort is wasted. The potential Social Media has for advancing your understanding of your customers and prospects is one of its most exciting yet oft-overlooked.
- Engagement – for all but the most banal “high five” type of customer engagement on Corporate Social Media Accounts, there must be a protocol for at the very least workshopping responses internally. This is the very kernel of authenticity and to outsource this is to disrespect your customers.
- Thought leadership - equally insulting to your customers is to totally outsource your content production to the extent that external writers come up with the concepts, language, topics and positions totally in a vacuum. All content must at least have as its essence an idea or thought created internally. It isn’t called “owned” content for nothing.
- Strategy direction – I help a lot of clients develop their strategy but as an “in-sourcing” project. But the main direction of the strategy is still internal and the help that I provide is to draw it all together and consult on execution. It is so important that Social Media aligns with the overall business strategy. If strategy is directed externally, it is more likely to serve the interests of that external party!
- Measurement – as with analysis, judging what works and what doesn’t is a task best suited to in-house custodians. Social Media suffered for a long time by its tendency to measure “vanity statistics” such as increases in Likes and Followers – but this serves the agency agenda far better than that of the client. What matters to the client is if the activity is “touching” their customers and this is best indicated by the degree to which they comment and share. The client is the best judge of success.
Ultimately the goal is to create a Social Media function that is Sustainable, Affordable and Authentic. Along the way it will be expedient to outsource certain elements of that program in order for it to gain traction, prove itself and win more resources. The longer Social Media is allowed to prove itself the better as the best results are yielded after consistency is proven, audience built and value delivered.
As a result while I feel Social Media can and should be managed in house, and I have proven services to assist the development of that, organisations also need help in certain areas to execute their Social Media and I have proven services to help in that regard also. But these thoughts have been a helpful guide in deciding which is best.
Picture Credit: http://blog.mcpc.com/
Content curation is mission critical to any effective Social Media strategy and the more streamlined and sophisticated you can be about systemising it, the less time it will take as a process. I’ve written before about effective tools for this – in both curation and capture of good content. But the way that you hone your selection of content is also important.
Depending on what your content is designed to achieve, stimulate engagement with your audience, drive traffic to your website or trigger sales; it will be an ever shifting strategy in the way you not only produce your own content but in how you select the best third party, or Affinity Content, to inform, stimulate and engage your audience. It is very much like fishing. Like fishing, you use bait in hunting your quarry. Anglers are forever shifting their strategy and adjusting their approach – hour by hour – in order to be successful and rarely is the first effort successful (well, certainly not in my case!).
There are so many factors to consider when you fish. You must be ever changing your bait, your hooks, your position and whether you use a float or weights to ensure your bait sits in the right place to catch your fish. Content is very much like this, and here are three important criteria I have identified which you must constantly review to hone your content to perfection.
- Value: are you adding value? The important thing about content is that it must improve people’s loves in some way, and it must be original or unique. If you are sharing the same content as everyone else, how can you stand out from the crowd? Furthermore, the content must in some way answer your customers questions – and their questions usually boil down to – in the broadest sense – “how can I do my job more effectively” (see my post: The Difference between Marketing Content and Content Marketing). A good guide here is that: if you don’t learn anything from a piece of content, its unlikely you’ve found worthwhile.
- Validation: is it resonating? There’s a lot of noise out there, are you standing out? Are you getting likes, favourites, re-pins etc? A good process here is – at least at the beginning – to track your validation. Either within your content calendar or in a separate report, log the likes, favourites, shares and retweets each piece of content scores and use it as a guide as to the way in which your content strategy is received. It is important – however – not to take this as a KPI of success. Validation is not the end in itself, merely a guide. As Mastercard’s Adam Broitman says in this Digiday article, Likes are not a KPI, they are a “directional metric”.
- Volume: have you got this right? Too much, too little? Right for the channel? Think about cadence: I.e. rhythm – morning noon night? Time zone? Which day? Just like fishing you need to be in the right part of the stream to get results. Continuing the water analogy, see different channels like different bodies of water. Twitter is a raging white-water torrent – no amount of content is too much; while LinkedIn and Facebook are more like broad rivers that move slowly meaning you can wear out your welcome mat very easily with posts any more than once a day.
A great way to check the success of your channels (although not your blog) is to use Klout. While it isn’t a perfect system for measurement, when you are getting it right it will go up and if you getting it wrong…it will most certainly go down.
“Look at Facebook not as a platform to force [marketing] messages onto consumers, but a way to cultivate relationships.” Ashley Coombe, All Inclusive Marketing
While the quote itself – in an article by Kelly (@KellyhClay) Clay on Forbes – pertains specifically to Facebook and considers what Social Media Managers need to think about in 2014, I feel it is a general clarion call for the year ahead relevant to the use of all Social Media Platforms – not just Facebook – and for all those seeking to use them, not just the dedicated discipline owners.
I finished 2013 on this blog making the same point, echoing a thoughtful piece on Medium by a former colleague, Marcus Nelson (now CEO and founder of Advocate). I felt it was an important issue to stress and Marcus’s note provided a good opportunity to do so. In short, the take-out was that Social Media is not just another digital marketing platform but a channel for two-way communications and that this aspect of it was generally being overlooked by most commercial users of the new medium. It is not only disappointing to see businesses miss a great opportunity, but this continuation of one-way thinking is spoiling the medium for those others that wish to see its most exciting benefit flourish.
In fact, a Pivot Conference study last year polling 181 Social Media Managers found that engagement is now the most important metric to measure success – above even Increased Sales.
“Too many organisations are seeing Social content as an end in itself. It isn’t. It should be seen as a means to achieving meaningful engagement with stakeholders.”
So I would urge businesses and organisations to see 2014 as an opportunity to refresh their thinking of the Social opportunity and to begin to consider ways to more constructively ENGAGE their constituents on Social channels. Everyone has an audience or constituency they wish to cultivate – be they employees, shareholders, influencers, prospects or customers. Social Media offers the chance to develop 1-2-1 dialogue with them that is sustainable, achievable, affordable and very, very effective. These kind of relationships cannot be bought or achieved through traditional or digital marketing tactics. Success depends more on creativity and imagination rather than large budgets and delivers more than just sales and revenue but actual tangible assets such as brand loyalty and even brand advocates – the most powerful form of marketing.
For a model of effective audience engagement, Social Media Managers generally look to the quite old fashioned genre of Talk-Back Radio who on a daily basis must inspire their audience to pick up the phone and invest time in contributing to discussion. Radio stations depend on this phenomenon for their very product, but do not pay for it. They must generate it out of pure imagination, dreaming up – every day – one or more questions that provoke, stimulate and motivate their audience to take time out of their day to phone up, sit on hold and then – without pay or any other form of remuneration – provide the Radio station with their very product, which they in turn sell to advertisers.
This is what community managers on Facebook also do every day – produce content that inspires and dream up provocative questions to generate comments and likes. Businesses and organisation seeking real ROI from their Social programs need to re-boot those programs to focus more on this kind of activity.
But it is important to remember that because Social Media is TWO-WAY, as well as trying to stimulate a response from constituents; businesses and organisations can monitor stakeholders or keywords and respond in ways that can produce a variety of reactions – anything from a share to a comment or merely a like/follow. Investing time in these kind of activities seem daunting but to not do so is a failure to reap the most powerful rewards of the medium.
Here are a few examples of ways to induce engagement on Twitter and some other useful resources for helping you build an effective Social engagement program:
- A tremendous case study from San Francisco Water Power Sewer at Inc.com
- “How to Listen and Engage with your customers” at the Salesforce.com blog
- Infographic: “7 effective ways to engage on Twitter“
- “How to Connect with Customers” at the QuickSprout blog
At the end of last year I took part in an event run by digital agency Datarati that used a simple but terrific model called StopKeepStart to aid annual business planning. Engagement certainly should fall in the Start column!
It is a confronting accusation posed in a powerful Medium Post over the weekend by Addvocate Founder and CEO Marcus (@marcusnelson) Nelson – The Next Social Imperative: “Failed promise. Failed mission. #Fail.”. It is one I felt I had to respond to as it does go right to the heart of what is wrong with the way Social Business has been embraced.
I worked with Marcus in the PR team at Salesforce.com in 2011-12 just as Marc Benioff’s vision of the “Social Enterprise” was being unveiled and I joined in when he – as he wrote in his post – “cheered as social media became integral to enterprise marketing”. It was an exciting time when the essence of the Social promise – as foreseen in The Cluetrain Manifesto – began to come to fruition. That promise is neatly summarised in The Next Social Imperative as:
“Social media’s true utility— its fundamental reason for existence—is for building genuine connections.”
Sadly, I also agree with Marcus that two years on, all that has happened is that ”the social-business industry has pushed crass commercialism to new levels”. Today, so much Social commentary - and I am often as guilty as everyone else – is focussed on the Content Marketing and SEO aspects of Social and almost nothing is invested in helping companies ENGAGE their customers online. Not just Likes and Retweets, but actual conversations.
Not nearly enough is being done to open up the channel to genuine discussion and connection. Instead the effort to automate and outsource as much as possible sucks every last ounce of authenticity out of the interaction. (In this sense, the Social channel is going the way of the telephone channel before it – automated, outsourced and ultimately a betrayal of its promise.) The most successful efforts of the Social Industry have been in providing expensive software suites from which to automate monitoring and the dissemination of digital marketing messages optimized for every channel and – also as Marcus says – “aimed at getting customers to LIKE us, LOVE us and, above all, BUY from us.” But not to TALK to us.
Of course – speaking as an experienced PR professional – it should be remembered that Corporate Communications and legal people alike FREAK OUT at the thought of hundreds or thousands of employees chatting with prospects, customers and partners “willy nilly“. The management challenges and risks are so frightening that the most conservative option is to prevent this kind of discourse happening at all – or certainly not to encourage it. The spectre of employees getting sucked into troll battles, or providing the wrong assistance to customers circumventing the support queue, or insulting customers-to-be with inappropriate comments out of hours are all nightmare scenarios amplified in their apparent likelihood by media scare stories. This is where the real failure is: a failure of courage, imagination and vision – in allowing fear to inhibit progress. All of these scenarios can be managed.
Working with Marcus at Salesforce.com I learned a lot about how Social employee interactions can be managed very easily and effectively; but another company I have already written about here who is a stand-out example in this area is Dell. During a chat with one of their Social champions, Richard (@ByJove) Margetic, earlier this year I learned that while various Dell corporate channels such as @dellcares have millions of followers, it was Dell employees that were responsible for most of Dell’s Social-generated inbound traffic to the website. Basically, recommendations and comments from genuine rank-and-file employees were far more influential in driving inbound web traffic than the well-managed but ultimately very faceless Corporate Social accounts. This is what Marcus means when he says:
“Consumers trust a company’s rank and file workers—especially people with technical expertise—more than they trust top executives.”
But Dell weren’t haphazard in enabling and unleashing this power, it was measured and deliberate. Those interested in becoming a Social Media Ambassador for the company were carefully trained not only in Social skills but also in the company message and in engagement protocols. They added “atDell” to their Twitter accounts, standardised their Profiles and became accountable for what they shared. Other aspects of getting this right include having a clear and well communicated Social Media Policy (which I talk about in more length here).
Also, in helping employees better understand what content they can share on behalf of the company (and in tracking and rewarding that), Marcus’ own technology – Addvocate – has to be the leader in this field.
Finally, clear procedures in the event of certain predictable situations (ideally established through a Issues-and-crisis document) should be well communicated across the company. For instance, in the event that Salesforce.com has a “service disruption” (a euphemism for an “outage”) guidance on what employees should and shouldn’t say on Social Media to complaining customers – and resources that they could point users to – was very transparently available to those that needed them.
So I do second Marcus’ rallying call:
“Isn’t it time we reclaimed social media’s true mission of building genuine connections?”
But with a caveat: that such an environment – while very powerful – is a huge management and risk challenge. But this challenge should not be beyond those responsible for it - mainly PR, legal and senior management; and certainly the difficulty of it should no longer hold back progress in creating a business world more about genuine connections between companies and customers and less about cost-effective and efficient digital marketing.
Extensive research indicates that – like every other aspect of business – the recruitment industry is amid a period of radical change as a result of the impact of Social Media. Not only is Social Media already contributing a great deal to the recruitment process at present, but in time is likely to dominate, making the traditional tools of recruitment – the telephone and the job ad – redundant. Equally, for candidates, an extensive and transparent Social footprint is increasingly becoming mission critical to a successful career path.
According to a HR and Recruitment Trends Survey by the Novo Group (2012) , 73 per cent of HR leaders have successfully made an appointment using Social Media, 49 per cent have reported a greater pool of candidates from Social Recruiting and 20 per cent reported recruitment taking less time with Social. These trends will only amplify.
The biggest concern of course for the Professional Recruiter is that Social affords companies the ability to fully insource their recruitment, representing an existential threat to consultancies who have not embarked on their Social journey. The only way to remain relevant is to understand Social Recruitment better than the client. Furthermore, evidence suggests Generation Y candidates to be far heavier users of Social Media in their search for new opportunities. These candidates will in turn become clients as their careers develop. Therefore demonstration of Social Recruiting best practice is the most effective way to remain relevant to future candidates and clients alike.
A Survey by US Recruitment Technology firm Jobvite in 2012 discovered that in 2012 over 90% of employers used Social recruiting in 2012 . In terms of channels, the survey revealed that 2/3 of Companies now recruit via Facebook; over half use Twitter and almost all use LinkedIn. Furthermore, 43 per cent of respondents felt that the quality of applicants has improved thanks to Social Media.
Specifically, Social Media can deliver three key business advantages:
- Pre-qualification: Social Networking provides the opportunity to exploit a wide network at the click of a button. Most importantly it reverses the use of 1-2-1 meetings from being explorative, qualifying and speculative network maintenance to relevant and timely execution devices to advance opportunities that have already become apparent. This is an incredibly important productivity gain – how much of a recruiter’s time is wasted qualifying the not-qualified?
- Inbound Web Traffic: It is well-established that the job-filling process begins with a Google search – for both employer and candidate. A fundamental principle of Social Media leverage for the recruitment industry is Social SEO – the combination of Social Media and Search Engine Optimization. Increasingly, key search engines such as Google and Bing are seeing Social triggers as indicators of content and destination popularity. Therefore, the opportunity to “game” one’s search rankings with Social meta data via Twitter, LinkedIn and (in this case) most particularly Google+ is an important advantage to understand because of the increased traffic levels it can drive to both owned ads (i.e. those on your own website) and to ads on third party sites (such as SEEK.com.au).
- Thought leadership: Even without blogging (although it must be said this is the most powerful way to execute on Social SEO) using both third party content and thought leadership messages to attach your brand to a strategic keyword or phrase is a very effective way to increase search rankings – especially for niche sector specialists – and to influence those Socially clustered around those keywords strategic to your business. As well as the power of LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+ to “game” your rankings; it is worth remembering that advanced Social users monitor permanent searches on certain keywords, providing digital real estate for you to gain prominence on.
Therefore small recruitment consultancies – or even lone operators – can use Social Media to ensure their survival and punch above their marketing dollar weight in terms of raising brand awareness or driving inbound web traffic. Ultimately, when executed systematically and as part of a routine, Social Media should have relatively minimal impact on either profits or time.
For more on this, it is worth reading this excellent guide for better Social recruiting: “4 Social Recruiting mistakes your company is making“.
Image credit: Staff.com