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For many organisations the biggest concern is over losing control if they enter the social media jungle.  Drilling deeper these concerns include the following

  1. Fear of opening the floodgates to customer views in public
  2. Ability (and therefore associated cost) to respond and engage with the volume of discussions being generated
  3. Damage to their image/values caused by inappropriate or offensive content posted to any of their online assets
  4. Concern about what employees might say about the business to customers or prospects
  5. Cost in terms of resources, infrastructure and time to successfully implement a social media strategy and solution

Fear of opening the floodgates to customer views in public

The reality is that no matter how good your service or product is you will have some unhappy customers.  Many see social media as simply giving a platform to disgruntled customers to air their views.   That said customers both happy and unhappy are already free to and indeed are sharing their views on companies through Twitter, Facebook and other channels.  Organisations can choose to ignore or engage with such discussions.

The following are good and well known examples of companies engaging with customers through social media

  • Comcast Cares –  Comcast famously turned around bad feedback by engaging and responding on Twitter initially through the work of one man  Frank Eliason.
  • Hotels on Tripadvisor – there is feedback both good and bad on Tripadvisor for hotels, the smart hotels engage and respond to these comments which shows that they listen and results in a positive impression of them and the opposite for those that are silent.
  • Lego – eventually caught on and embraced the ever growing community and sites that their customers had created – How Lego caught the Cluetrain
  • Starbucks – a great example of how to use customer ideas to change and evolve your product –  My Starbucks Idea

Ability (and therefore associated cost) to respond and engage with the volume of discussions being generated

The sheer volume of traffic and discussions taking place on social platforms can seem overwhelming and could appear at first as though a large dedicated 24*7 team is needed to simply keep up with it and respond.

However much can be achieved with existing resources and relatively small investment of time.  A good example as mentioned previously is Comcast which had a team of 7 people managing the social media interactions to support a customer base of 24 million.

  • Tools to help manage and filter the discussions.  Should first look at the many free tools available before deciding if you need one of the commercial solutions such as Radion6 or Scout Labs.  These tools can help focus time and energy on replying to the most relevent questions and concerns raised by customers.
  • Encourage employees to participate and share the load of responding.  Engaging with social media does not require suddenly creating a whole new team or retraining all of your callcentre – a few individuals with the right tools can utilise a certain percentage of their time to help provide good coverage.
  • Community manager – a role that listens and engages with the community and provides feedback to the internal organisation

Damage to their image/values caused by inappropriate or offensive content posted to any of their online assets

Getting the balance with moderation to minimize inappropriate content while not destroying the dynamics of the community is key.  One guiding principle is that trust is cheaper than control.  Manually moderating all user generated content would require vast resources and would never scale.  The approaches to achieving this balance include :

  • Automated spam detection services such as Mollum provide a good first line defense.
  • Community moderation – allow community members to flag inappropriate content and allow the most active respected members the ability to remove it
  • The Community manager role discussed above can also review user generated content and encourage the right kind of behaviours on the site.

Concern about what employees might say about the business to customers or prospects

Customers are not listening to the corporate speak language most companies are using to talk to them – they tune out from it as the words are unnatural and they tend to be the same as all companies.  People prefer genuine natural language and conversation.  Employees are having those conversations already with friends about their company.  Employees who want to engage with customers through social media should be encouraged to do so.   Allowing customers direct access to the best asset a company has, it’s employee’s, will have better results than any carefully crafted marketing or scripted call centre dialog.

Cost in terms of resources, infrastructure and time to successfully implement a social media strategy and solution

Social media usually fails when approached from a technology direction – there are expensive social media platforms that the big software companies will happily sell you.  But embracing social media doesn’t require big expensive platforms.  It starts with a philosophy of having conversations with customers wherever they might be on the internet and then understanding how to change your existing online assets to enable the kinds of interactions that your customers want.  These changes should be organic and be about assembling the right technology components that allows for change in the future.  The guidelines should be as follows:

  • Think big, start small, move fast and keep moving.
  • Avoid the mindset and associated process of selecting a technology platform
  • Assemble the solutions you need from proven open source technologies and standards

Catching the cluetrain

Being successful with social media is within the reach of all companies but it will require a change of mindset and a more agile approach to succeed.  The proof is out there with those companies that have realised great success though often it has required a maverick spirit of a few individuals to make it happen.   The spirit shown by those few is captured well in the Cluetrain Manifesto that while 10 years old is more relevent than ever today – the updated 10th Anniversary edition adding recent examples of the success of such an approach to engaging in conversations.

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