Using Social Media to Define your Brand
Dell made an incremental $2 million in 2008 from posting deals and offers to its Twitter account. JetBlue helped recover from a PR nightmare by blogging and posting a CEO apology video on YouTube. The U.S. Navy is engaging bloggers for on-ship embarks. Southwest Airlines continues to create intense customer connection and engagement through a multitude of social Web channels.
Many executives are seeing similar trends in their own industries: Customers are using social channels to instantly share positive and negative feedback about products and services, influencing countless other people. Word-of-mouth marketing has existed since the dawn of man, but today, it uses a massive megaphone to extend farther than ever. People exchanging feedback, ideas, recommendations and more are changing the way customers shop—and the way businesses produce.
While some might consider this scary, it’s actually an opportunity to grow your business beyond your wildest dreams. The future of business favors brands that are ritualistic, fanatical and engaged daily in improving the customer experience. As Peter Drucker, the famous management consultant, once said, “The purpose of business is to create a customer.” Drucker was on to something, but in our contemporary business environment, his quote can and should be modified: “The real purpose of a business is to create customers who create customers.”
So, how can a business do just that? First, and perhaps most important, consider how your customers perceive you. Our white paper presents a roadmap that can help you effectively engage consumers through an ever-important social process.
WHITE PAPER: SOCIAL MEDIA & BRAND IMAGE
Nearly every company has worked hard to create an image of who its people are and how they want to be seen. Marketing and Web presence don’t reflect how customers view a company, but how that company views itself. In fact, many companies struggle to convince customers that their story is more “correct” than what the customers themselves are feeling. For example, an airline might work hard to craft a story about its brand that represents its heritage, scale and efficiency. But that story can come tumbling down when a customer posts a different story on Twitter or Facebook, sharing a horrible customer service experience.
Nearly every company conducts customer research encompassing Web traffic reports, call data, surveys, sales data and other factors. But in our world of hyperconnected, hyperengaged customers, that’s not enough. You need a 360-degree view of the entire customer experience, then you need to integrate that view back into your organization. This is a critical component of fully understanding customer perceptions of your brand and service.
Who is the real author of your brand story? It’s your customers, every day, at every touchpoint, through every social medium that enables them to share opinions. Do you know what story they’re telling? This is the biggest opportunity of social media across multiple Web 2.0 channels such as Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, customer and critic blogs, support forums, Amazon reviews and even competitors’ Web sites.
Sound overwhelming? It’s not as scary as it may seem. As the volume of conversation and relevance shifts from traditional channels to social channels, you simply have to tune your business and operations to engage in this space. But success doesn’t favor random acts with social tools. It depends on people and process.
How do you engage effectively in the world of social media? And, more important, how do you ensure that you’re engaging in ways that customers love and that your competitors haven’t even considered? Whether your organization is large or small, we recommend a five-step methodology for social customer engagement.
1. DEFINE YOUR GOALS
Start with the end in mind. This point is surprisingly overlooked in the rush toward new tools and projects. Consider this short list of potential business goals:
• Customer satisfaction and loyalty • Brand awareness • Product feedback and innovation • Reach and engagement • Competitive insight • Efficiency
Each item dictates a different social engagement strategy and approach in any channel, and certainly in social channels. Feedback may come in the form of a small, closed group of carefully selected influencers, while customer satisfaction may require hunting through Twitter and Facebook for customer issues that can be resolved.
It’s crucial that your social engagement project be laser-focused on a single business goal. You can’t do it all, so pick what matters most to your business. Then write down your first and second priorities and pin them to your wall. Any discussion of social engagement that doesn’t help these goals can be set aside for later.
Once you’ve defined your goals, it’s time to engage, right? Wrong. You can’t join these conversations without first understanding what’s being said. Start listening! There are three main ways:
Start with your colleagues. They tend to be loyal to your products because of their employment, but unless they’re directly involved in your department, they’re often overlooked for feedback.
When you start adding up the channels of feedback that customers already have, they may surprise you. You have a lot of data flowing into your company from such channels as:
• Customer service • Official community and support sites • “Contact Us” forms • Customer surveys
Don’t stop with internal sources. Start researching what customers are saying in their channels, such as social networks (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.) and third-party communities (self-hosted communities for fans and customers of your brand).
It’s important to start with first- and second-party listening in order to put third-party listening results into the proper perspective. Rigorous listening and responding to all three sources is critical.
Once you start listening, you can start to build strategies and programs for customer engagement. There are two methods of engagement planning:
Planning for the individual
Create strategies that speak to a variety of customers. Customers are multifaceted. Some create new content, while others like to review it. Some join communities to connect to other people, and some dive into the details of a community to add ratings or organize content. Understanding how each of these groups works and what might interest each one is crucial to effective social engagement strategy.
Planning for the insight
Engaging with customers will yield a lot of data. Consider how you will collect that data and how you’ll turn that data into actionable insight. In addition, make sure you plan how to close the loop with your customers. The more they feel like you’re listening, the more they’ll contribute in the future. Take a look at how Dell does this with ideas submitted and voted on by customer at ideastorm.com.
At last: Now that you’ve set your goals for customer engagement, listened to your customers’ concerns and organized a plan for an onslaught of feedback, it’s time to actually engage. You’ll need to focus on two types of engagement:
Once you dive into a social channel, customers will expect your presence for the long-term. Consider how you will:
• Reward positive behavior within online communities, as well as offline activities • Empower users to do positive things for themselves, other customers and your company
Consider how you will:
• Acknowledge problems and concerns • Respond to user complaints, customer service issues and problems with your products or your company • Help users succeed and grow using your products and services
Last, but certainly not least, develop specific measures for how you will gauge the success of your social customer engagement efforts. Since you already set your business goals in step one, you should know very clearly how to measure success. The question then becomes, which benchmarks will you align against these goals? It’s critical to understand that with new channels, old metrics may be irrelevant. The criteria you use to measure the impact of a 30-second TV spot may not apply to a social outreach project. For social engagement, first look for health by evaluating growing members, followers, contributors and feedback. Then look for changes in behavior tied to long-term business value: positive reviews, improved awareness and/or brand sentiment and, perhaps the most critical factor, increased recommendations! Every brand tells a story. In years past, this story came primarily from the marketing department—but now, these stories are created, propagated and supported by the customers themselves. You can become part of this process, too, but not by sitting in your office. You have to roll up your sleeves and engage your customers directly. With a solid plan, a firm understanding of what’s being said and a willingness to engage, your brand story can be one of incredible customer appreciation and pride.
JAKE MCKEE AND SEAN O’DRISCOLL are the cofounders of Ant’s Eye View, a boutique firm that develops and implements programs that help connect companies to their customers.