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Social media is undoubtedly changing the face of business. Business experts are increasingly encouraging businesses to utilise social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the new player Google+.

At the same time, there are a lot of stories about the negative effect of social media sites  on business such as employees getting dismissed  for posting malicious content about their companies and decreased productivity due to distraction and time needed to follow up and update social media websites.

The below article outlines some helpful steps to make social media a great help for your business.

Ahmed Abbas

By Claire Sporton, Director Enterprise Feedback, Confirmit

In a multi channel world that now includes social media, the opportunities to build relationships with customers has grown exponentially. Whilst this is an extremely positive move, it has to be said that it is very difficult to maintain, let alone control, relationships with customers over such a broad range of communication vehicles.

The rise in social media – 100 million Linked In users, 95 million tweets per day worldwide and 30 million Facebook users in the UK alone – means that there are billions of conversations going on at any one time, many about companies and brands and they are making an impact – a big one. It is estimated that 34% of bloggers regularly post comments about brands and companies but how many organisations track this activity to find out what is being said about them and use it to positively enhance their relationships with their customers? Given that the implications of good and bad word of mouth are mind blowing, companies really should ignore social media at their peril. 

Although every facet of customer relationships has been investigated for many years and companies have invested in technology and processes to help manage them more effectively, the addition of social media as yet another channel of communication obviously raises certain issues.

It is important to remember that social media was not set up for companies to build relationships with customers. Its raison d’etre is to help individuals manage their personal and business relationships with other human beings. Companies imposing themselves in this space can be seen as a hugely inappropriate. For example, it has been muted that 96% of social media advertising doesn’t work because people see it as an intrusion. 

As a result, companies that intend to use social media as part of their customer relationship management strategy should plan their entry carefully.  There are three levels of engagement to consider:

Listen    Respond   Initiate
It’s important not to force your way in, initiating conversations that have not been requested. Start by listening to existing conversations and use this as another feed of data into your Voice of the Customer programme.  Social media scrapping, linked to text analytics, introduces the capability to categorise what is said and analyse the sentiment expressed, which enables you to listen more effectively to the chatter.

Only when you are confident that you can respond in a timely and appropriate manner should you start attempting to respond via social media.  There are examples of companies doing it well – for example Virgin Media have “The Tweam” monitoring and responding to tweets. 

Then and only then can you start thinking about initiating conversations with the community.

That said, companies need to be careful not to rely too heavily on social media feedback when creating and maintaining relationships with their customers. Just because a small minority shout out loud about an issue or create a fuss about a ‘squeaky wheel’, it does not necessarily mean that their comments are representative of the majority. 

Companies will need to confirm that the feedback they get via the social media channel makes sense for the whole business.  Otherwise they risk making poor, perhaps knee jerk responses to what they hear on Twitter and other media when it is not reflective of the entire customer base.

Combining social media activities with a strategic customer feedback programme will help to create a more two-dimensional relationship that both parties can rely on:

  1. It makes feedback representative: People using Twitter to complain doesn’t tell you what your customers think. By sending out a survey to a representative sample of your customers you’ll develop a much clearer idea of what the impact of your decision will be. Use social media to find out which questions you should ask, but use the responses to those questions to give you real insight.
  2. It helps you to make the right decision at the right time: Social media might very well provide a live window into people’s thoughts but feedback needn’t be a slow process either. With online and mobile feedback platforms, it’s simple to create, launch and report back on a survey over a weekend if you need to, particularly if you have a loyal customer base who are happy to share their opinions. You can still make decisions fast, but you’ll be making them based on better data from the right people.
  3. It proves that you’re listening, not panicking: When you go back to your loyal customers to say “we’ve heard people say this, we’d like your opinion”, you demonstrate that you’re not only paying attention but that you genuinely want to understand their views. By reacting too quickly, purely in response to a media storm (social or otherwise), you risk looking like you’ve panicked and doubt your own decisions. Asking people for their opinions shows a more mature approach to customer-centricity.

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