While marketing, advertising and PR people get most of the attention and seem to have all of the “fun” in social media, there’s a group within companies that are central to a brand’s success online. They’re the ones who have tirelessly served as the front line for the brand for years – long before anyone Tweeted, posted, +1 or rated the brand or its products online. They’re the customer service team, and their job is getting bigger and more important every day.
Adoption of social media is in transition as brands try to understand their place in the connected consumer conversation online. What may have begun as a means to support an advertising campaign or to syndicate the company’s news is met with the reality that, for a growing population, consumers are expecting the brands they do business with not only to have a presence and listen to the conversations happening there, but to also offer a resolution through social channels to the problems they’re having. If a company posts something on its Facebook page about a product, the expectation is that they’re also able to see the customer complaining about the service their experiencing or problems they’re having with a product – and respond. Go to Facebook and search for the page of any Fortune 500 brand, and you won’t get half way down the wall without seeing this dynamic in action.
Fortunately, companies are coming to the realization that social channels are customer channels.
But, building a system that can adapt to having the entire conversation requires skills and resources beyond the marketing, advertising or PR teams. This is where those in the customer service business can be the missing link between promotion and satisfaction. They’re the group that takes hundreds of calls each day, with access to the customer database and history, and are those responsible for making things right. And, for PR and marketing teams, they can be your best asset when managing the connected conversations in social channels.
But, integration and collaboration takes a dedicated approach and executive-level buy-in, among other things. While each brand is different in social media, with its own set of assets and liabilities, I’ve found that these foundational elements can serve as a starting point to helping the brand be able to manage the entire conversation:
- Executive buy-in and support (this can grow over time)
- Cross-team coordination and collaboration
- Flexibility of internal processes to help facilitate and not impede issue resolution
- A technology layer to facilitate the exchange of information quickly (email at first, until a more robust solution is necessary)
Once the philosophical foundations are agreed upon, there are a few tangible next steps that can get the internal collaboration started:
Activating a Social Engagement Program:
- Quantify the level of discussion about your brand online by individuals – a Twitter search can give you a baseline of the discussion, but search other platforms as well to get a broader view
- Measure the overall sentiment about your brand or product online (Radian6, Sysomos, Evolve24, etc.)
- Identify the top three to five issues people have with your brand each day; keep track of the specific words that are used to express those issues – they’ll come in handy in your SEM work
- Take a handful of the issues, making up a representative sample by issue type, from the entire group of issues and analyze the discussion
- Map an engagement and resolution plan for each issue, making note of the internal processes necessary to reach resolution
- Once you’ve accounted for a clear resolution path within the company to quickly get the issue addressed and resolved at the speed of the social conversation, then you can begin to activate a proactive program for addressing these issues on a broader scale
There’s a technology layer to consider when rolling out an integrated program – from monitoring, to triage to responding and reporting. The tools continue to evolve, and the one that’s right for you depends on your company’s structure. Jack Serpa, EVP of sales & marketing at Engage121 recently discussed one of these here.
The companies that will win in this new reality are those who can bridge the expectation chasm. And, many companies are doing this already. Some have entire customer service teams dedicated to managing the social conversation. Most of those were forced into it for various reasons but have learned more and have gotten closer to their customers in the process. Some are using these channels to preempt or minimize issues before they see them online or hear them at the call center. And, some are creating hybrid teams made up of people with the skills and experience across the business areas necessary to fulfill the entire customer experience – from promotion through satisfaction and recommendation.
Most large brands have to deal with this reality from the moment they open up a social channel. The more customers you have, and the more consumer your business focus and the more frequent your billing cycle, the more likely you’ll need to prepare to have the entire brand conversation – the good, promotional parts that are fun for the advertising team to think us ideas for, the bad, customer complaints that the customer service team have to deal with and the unimaginable, brand-eroding conversations that are shared and gain steam and can impact operational decisions.
With the comment, like or ReTweet button just a click away, consumers are connecting with brands directly in ways they couldn’t before. Eventually every consumer-facing brand will have to address the entire brand conversation – the good, the bad and the unimaginable. Those that can will win. Those that can’t will have a hard time building a lasting presence.