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2009 was the year that a lot of businesses really embraced social media, particularly in Europe. (I'd say more like 2008 in the U.S.) Not just businesses, but non-profit brands, causes, goverment organisations and even John Prescott.
[caption id="attachment_726" align="aligncenter" width="523"] John Prescott on Twitter[/caption]
I think that this is a great thing. The product capabilities of social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube have opened more than just a new functionality-driven approach to customer communication. Over time, such media have shown us that customers have longed for that personal route and that feeling of belonging, so it's actually a shift in mind-set we're seeing.
I'm a member of Virgin Wines, and every time I receive an order I throw the cardboard box in the recycling pile out back. Last time (which was just before Christmas) I happened to notice on the side of the box, the following message; "Did your driver do a good job today?"
[caption id="attachment_707" align="aligncenter" width="519"] Virgin Wines Social Feedback on Delivery Boxes[/caption]
Isn't that great? I think this is a bit of a mind-shift from the punative tone of similar messages seen on the back of professional vehicles. What struck me here is that, this is a personal request for feedback on an individual, that is motivated seemingly by desire to reward and encourage good performance.
I'd like to think that brands like Virgin Wines are seeing how well received is the social element in their interaction with customers and are thus embracing this mindset; this friendly and human tone of voice, throughout all of their communications.
A Cardboard Box Can Be A Social Medium!
My point then... customers really want to interact with you. Customers are human beings just like your employees. Customers might not have cared so much about who you are, until you showed them they could.
With the Virgin Wines example, I was immediately warmed to the thought that they care about my experience, they value my feedback, and they also value their staff by rewarding good performance. I want to continue to be a customer of a business like that. I'll admit that I intended to send an email, but got distracted by what awaited me in my inbox. If they'd given me the option to tweet @virginwines then I definitely would have; and would have said something like "the man brought fine wines to my house. I am in love with him".
Instances of brands embracing the social mindset are occurring more often in Europe, but it's been happening for a while in the U.S. Coca Cola famously offered two of their biggest fans a job, after (said fans) Dusty and Michael created a kick-ass facebook fan page some time in 2008. Rather than contact Facebook and demand these guys handover the page to them (which Facebook will allow you to do), Coca-Cola obviously thought who better to run their fan page, than such die-hard, genuine fans? If you haven't come across this story before; its a great social media case study, and you can find a thorough review on Econsultancy.com by Patricio Robles.
What Does This Mean To Me?
I'm aware that all of the examples above reference brands that are hugely well known and have the sort of marketing budgets the rest of us dream of. Because of this, I think we can have more faith in the benefit of adopting a social mindset in approaching your customer communications. Huge brands like Virgin, Intel and Coca-Cola do not do things lightly. When your revenue is into millions and billions of dollars, you do not invest in a campaign direction without research and analysis. If these brands recognise a customer desire to connect and act on it; we won't go far wrong to follow their example.
What Practical Lessons Can We Put Into Practise Here?
1. Be Consistent: Decide your social media brand identity and register it in as many places as you can. Use the same brand name, brand icon and profile precis throughout. You will probably benefit from having one detailed profile and a brief profile version, depending on the media tone of voice and character space available.
2. Be Everywhere: Register your social media profile in as many places as possible, starting with the most suitable for your audience and focusing your time in the same way. Even if you never intend to communicate via it e.g. Bebo, you can at least protect your brand and make yourself available in the event a potential customer wants to interact with you there.
3. Be One Brand With One Voice: Instead of referencing "our Twitter account", or "Our Linkedin account" think of your brand as everywhere online, and the social media platform is just the lens through which a customer may prefer to see you. Instead think "come find us on Linkedin", "come join our fans on Facebook".
4. Listen And Learn: Save the one-way "me, me, me" messaging for the spammers. Use the functionalities of social media that faciliate two-way communication. Monitor post interactions on Facebook, check your @mentions on Twitter; and most importantly try to respond and acknowledge those who participate.
5. Let Go Of Your Brand: I'm not saying you have to 'do a Coca-Cola', however it's important to know that the people that buy your product have every right to mention your product and feed back about your product. It's how you handle that feedback and what you can learn from it that is invaluable.
So there we are. None of this is remotely unfamiliar is it? In fact you may have been reminded in the anecdotes here about your favourite local caf, or the corner shop from your childhood. I think it is human nature that we crave recognition and we want to be valued as an individual customer and not a sales statistic. Social media websites have the functionality to enable brands that would other wise be very distant, to feel more local and approachable. From this; we've been reminded of what we already knew.
A social mindset is nothing new. What's (fairly) new is that online technology faciliates a local and social approach not previously possible for national and international business. And your customers will love it!