There have been a lot of great conversations going on out there about the pros and cons of Social Media, particularly in regards to its use and effectiveness in a business context.
Personally, I’m a great user and promoter of Social Media, through this blog, Twitter, Facebook, and my association with SOBCon. That’s one side of me.
There’s a business side of me too – I am an executive within a business organization that is doing its best to attract and retain customers, and turn a good profit.
Where does Social Media fit in there? Are we embracing it wholeheartedly as a game-changing way to improve our business?
The short answer – not yet.
Because its not something a business should jump into head first (ask Motrin).
There’s a LOT more to this than initially meets the eye. There are several questions a business needs to ask itself before it dives into Social Media, and the first one is the most important.
It seems like a no brainer – after all, Dell does it. Zappos does it. Whole Foods does it – heck, even Starbucks does it. But it just isn’t a matter of setting up a Twitter and Facebook account and letting ‘er rip.
You are putting a hook out there to catch and promote conversations. Is that the medium you’d like to have them? That’s what we’re asking ourselves right now in our process.
How prevalent is SM use among your customer base? Or in your market in general?. Demographics are important. Believe it or not, a lot of people still don’t carry around Blackberries, or iPhones, or have set up a blog, or pay any attention whatsoever to all the assorted SM tools.
How sensitive are you to negative “stuff” out there? You need to have the stomach (and patience) to chat in public about all the nits and idiosyncrasies of your product or service.
Is your product or service good enough to withstand a possible onslaught of negativity? As I’ve often said, you need to get the “analog” stuff right (i.e. basic business blocking and tackling) before you can advance to “digital”.
What are your current “traditional” conversation avenues and how are they working? With only a few exceptions (Zappos, you know who you are) I don’t see too many companies that are tearing the cover off the ball on good ‘ol traditional customer service – at the counter, in the home, through a call center, and/or through online chat – going full blast at SM. They are already having great dialogs with their customers – the customers don’t need SM to be the first place to find them (although they do set up outposts just in case).
Many of the more active participants got there out of necessity as a way to clean up their act and turn around negative vibes – Dell rings a bell on that one.
As for marketing avenues, the traditional ways are admittedly one way, and while SM allows a two-way dialog, and a word-of-mouth opportunity, you have to go back to some of the earlier questions, as well as looking at your current word-of-mouth effectiveness (it helps to have a Net Promoter Score to look at, like our company does). Your customers may be more comfortable talking about you at a PTA meeting instead of in front of a computer (those demos again).
Lastly, does the company and all of its management truly understand the SM medium, and how to “speak” in it? The last thing we’d want to do is come off as too “corporate”, or be tone deaf to the other aspects of SM that make it so attractive to so many (i.e. the relationship side). That takes time, and a willingness to open up the personal kimono. A lot of folks still aren’t comfortable with that, and that’s quite understandable. You just can’t shove someone onto a different stage and say “OK, now be authentic, but don’t shill“.
These are all of the discussions our business is having internally about our potential involvement in SM. And where are we heading?
We’re already passive listeners on the medium – when issues come, we answer them directly (by calling the customer). We can see a more proactive use of SM down the road, but only as another arrow in the communication quiver. We’d still like to rely on what we already do well.
Because particularly in a service business like ours, nothing beats direct voice to voice, or better still, person to person, contact.
So the SM cat hasn’t meowed just yet, for at least one business. How about yours?