Saturday, June 11, 2011

Is Your Business Engaged with the Consumer?

How engaged is your company?  Have you added an interactive component to your web site so Consumers can share their sentiments?  Do you have a full time staff whose function it is to listen and react to your Customers’ comments and concerns?

The explosive growth of today’s social channels like Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, Digg, Linkedin, Consumer Complaints, and many, many more has created an instant need for businesses to respond publicly to the conversations and topics brought forth through social channels.
Only a few short years ago, the typical business website would contain non “click-able” pages of information for a Consumer to review. There’d be pages for product descriptions, the dreaded  “About Us” page that is only read by sales people, and usually some legal stuff like privacy disclosures. The leading edge companies might have had a video of some sort but the with the dial up internet connections of years ago, many Consumers couldn’t realize the true benefits of video.  All this has changed with the readily available high speed connections most of us have today.
These days if your company doesn’t have a “page” on Facebook, a “username” on Twitter and Digg, or a “profile” on Linkedin, you’re business is not involved in the social conversation and may be doing tremendous harm to your business name and brand.  By not participating, you are taking one of the biggest risks of your professional career :  not knowing what is being said about you! 
Years ago, it was pretty difficult for a single Consumer to cause any harm or add any significant value to a business reputation.  Methods of communication were pretty limited.  Maybe the Consumer could file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, or write an editorial in your local paper, maybe even call in to a local radio station and get 30 seconds of air time, but ultimately, there weren’t a lot of options and the audience was very limited. 
Same problem with a recommendation.  If a Consumer had a great meal at a restaurant or received excellent service from their cable company (I know, that’s highly unlikely) options for praise were just as limited. Maybe a call to the owner of the business or a letter of praise about the specific employees involved, but again, unless someone saw the letter of praise hanging on a wall somewhere, there was not a great deal of benefit for the company to be derived from this type of positive feedback.
Today’s social media channels have changed all this.  A Consumer actively involved with Twitter or Facebook can literally have millions of “Followers” or “Fans” they can reach out to instantly and either positive or negative feedback can have a dramatic impact on a business or brand.  Comments can spread like wildfire, allowing a single point of view to go viral and become known worldwide almost instantly.  If not handled appropriately, the results could be catastrophic for a business.  For example, the data breach Sony experienced with their Playstation 3 online was publicized worldwide only moments after it happened.  It involved up to 77 million Consumers!  Think of how many X-Boxes must have been sold in the following weeks because people were afraid to be compromised using a Sony Playstation?  Sony has been trying to repair their reputation ever since.
In order to effectively protect your business name and brand, you need to develop a social strategy to gather information, and engage your Customers and potential Customers.  Add a blog to your web page, create a “feedback” page for your Customers to use, consider a “live chat” feature to interact immediately, and add video sessions to your site and if possible, use different employees when you film them.  We all like to see fresh faces and it creates a picture of a more diverse company if you have more faces in front of the public.
How many people remember the auto attendant “Claire” from Sprint PCS?........A big pet peeve of mine is on the “Contact Us” pages where you click on it and it goes to an email address like Support@abccompany.com  I always recommend to businesses that they make this piece more personal, and have it go to a person of some sort.  It doesn’t have to be a real person, but it can be made to appear as one.  Many companies have created “People” to engage Consumers.  Just create an email that goes to something like Claire@abccompany.com and you’ll get a lot better feedback.  You can still route it to a group of support reps if that’s your plan but it definitely gives a better personal presentation that the Consumers' experience with your brand matters to your business.
And lastly and most importantly, you must monitor the social conversations about your company and brand.  You need to develop a staff to listen and react to any publicity, either negative or positive about your products.  If you respond quickly to negative discussions, you will limit the impact of them.  If you respond to positive praise, you will gain tremendous benefits from the good publicity.  You’ll need to contract with a company to provide the monitoring capabilities for your business and then create a plan to deal with what you uncover.  If you search within your existing staff and don’t have the required skill set to handle this task internally, don’t ignore it as it will not be going away any time soon…….Outsource the process to a professional.
Contact me @DaveHanron on Twitter or leave me a comment and I’ll be happy to assist in your selection of a supplier for your social media research or development.

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