Over the past few weeks I’ve attended events where online retailers are meeting and discussing how to have a more successful end to the year. Free or reduced shipping, gifts with your order, web-based affiliate programs are popular topics. The one thing they really wanted to know is how they can use social media to sell to you. This made for some interesting conversations.
Social media, as defined by web developer and podcaster Scott Horvath, is “any web tool your management fears, your coworkers wonder about, and your kids already use.” Scott may be just another voice on Twitter, but sharing that gem reinforced that we all have a lot of interesting things to share with the community at large.
That definition also reflects some of the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that surround social media for so many business owners. Let me try and break it down a bit.
Social media is not a sales channel, it is a conversation channel. Conversations may lead to trust and in turn, sales could be the result. Word of mouth, however, is much more powerful, as it can make or break a company.
People on social networks share their opinions, requests, brilliant (and less than brilliant) observations, news and conversations. First and foremost, these are people having conversations. To interrupt a conversation with a sales pitch is just rude. If you chatted about a mutual interest and someone finds your passion interesting, then you have developed credibility for your brand, and possibly a fan who will be an advocate online reaching more people than you could do alone.
You would be surprised how many people may find you interesting. It happens slowly, but that’s fine. Slow growth is easier to manage.
This may sound time consuming to chat with one customer at a time, but you’re really not. You may be speaking with one person, but it can be viewed by thousands as the conversations get indexed in search engines. To prove my point, I took out my Blackberry and showed one online retailer (or etailer) the answer to a question they had: How is our new product doing? There were hundreds of positive comments about it, but clearly there was nobody saying “thank you,” or even acknowledging the buzz. Some people were taking offensive at the lack of a response.
So what would you do? Do you ignore the people talking about your company online and pretend it doesn’t exist or do you listen to them and learn how to react? It still amazes me that many companies prefer to ignore customers because they are online. In challenging economic times, you have to work hard to keep customers and that means listening in any way possible.
Any retailer will tell you that a customer with a problem is an opportunity to create a lifelong customer, depending on how you resolve the issue. Monitoring and reacting to positive and negative comments shows the customer that the company cares.
The most powerful words I’ve ever seen on Twitter were “How can I help?”
This is a normal question that Comcast’s Frank Eliason asks of customers who need help. Eliason often speaks about how Comcast Customer Service first learns about issues on Twitter, and they close the loop with the phone team to ensure everyone is working on the same page when resolving issues.
Eliason also reminds us that “Companies don’t tweet [on Twitter], people tweet.” We may represent a company, but we are people first. That means personality counts. While nobody cares what you had for breakfast, we care about other interesting things in your life. Steer clear of divisive issues, but be personable.
The next question is how do you quantify the buzz? That depends on how much you can invest.
There are some great and reasonably priced services that can monitor Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites from one dashboard. It can quantify the buzz around your company, determine if it is positive, negative, or neutral. That knowledge can help you determine the next steps to take with a product, or perhaps if you have a larger image problem that needs addressing.
On a shoestring budget, Twitter can be monitored with Tweetgrid.com and shared with several people doing the conversations using CoTweet.com. A new web site, oneforty.com, lets you see all the different applications that are available to help you on Twitter.
Linkedin, MySpace, NING, Tumblr are all out there as well. Depending on your product and customer base, start out with one or two and get closer to your customers.
Frank Eliason from Comcast recently paraphrased Laura Fitton (@Pistachio) of Pistachio Consulting on Twitter with “The 4 keys to social media by @Pistachio: listen, learn, care, share. Businesses need to learn these simple truths.”
Please take that to heart.