Sunday, October 30, 2011

Two rules for social media engagement

There are two rules for businesses establishing or maintaining a social media presence:

1. Monitor the channel
2. Respond to commentary.

A few months ago, I tweeted a somewhat acerbic comment about @museumvictoria. They'd emailed their members an offer for discounted tickets, but when I followed the link, the destination page was missing some functionality required to make the booking.

Within a few minutes my phone rang. A staff member from Museum Victoria wanted to know what the problem was, and how they could help. They sorted out my problem efficiently. A little later they tweeted a general "sorry for the email problem - it's fixed now" comment.

I was impressed.

More recently, I tweeted about CityLink in Melbourne:

"Gobsmacked. @citylinkmelb KNOWS website broken. Will be fixed in a MONTH. They let users go through the hoops rather than tell them!"

Several people responded to me, generally saying they'd had similar problems, but there was no reply of any sort from CityLink. 

My friend and colleague Fergal Coleman at Symphony3 told me of a discussion he had with a local council that was establishing a social media presence. They were concerned about exposing themselves to negative commentary. "Would you rather not know about the issues," he asked them, "or would you like to have a forum where you can identify and address them?"

I think this is at the heart of social media as a channel for businesses to interact with their customers. To be successful, social media must be treated as enablers of conversation. Seeing social media as one-way channels misses the point. It's the equivalent of saying; "Let's have a conversation. I'll talk."
Photo: johnsnape on Flickr, creative commons license

Rule 1: Monitor the channel
Never before have companies had the opportunity to get such ready access to first-hand unsolicited input from customers. However, it does require that someone within the company has the task of actually listening. Turning a deaf ear is senseless.

The extent of the attention a company needs to pay depends on the nature and amount of feedback, and a clear plan is required. It may be as simple as having one person who is assigned the task of monitoring mentions on an hourly, daily or ad-hoc basis.

Rule 2: Respond to commentary
Responding to what people say is the essence of the necessary conversation. Thanking people for nice comments is both polite and brand-enhancing. Acknowledging faults, deflecting unwarranted criticism, or explaining why problems may persist all engender trust.

Ignoring commentary, on the other hand, suggests either arrogance or incompetence.

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