How to Master Social Media Conversations

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If you want to stay on top of social-media developments – especially with respect to how these sites can contribute value to your bottom line – then you need to dial into the Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC). The NVTC’s highly active social-media committee recently hosted an informative panel discussion on “The Intersection Between Social Media and Customer Service,” which W2 Communications co-sponsored.

The panel represented an eclectic line-up of “old” and “new” school industries. Yet, there remained a unifying, underlying message here: Don’t view social media as simply a way to make your corporate brand visible on interactive platforms. Instead, constantly seek ways to optimize use of customer exchanges to build loyalty, improve products/services and increase sales.

To explain how, here are four specific “best practices” as conveyed by panel participants.

Look (and listen) before you leap. Comcast Cable spent six to eight weeks observing/auditing what was being said about the company on social-media sites before coming up with a game plan. “We conducted this before we did a single Tweet,” says Kip Wetzel, senior director of social media services and strategy for Comcast. “We documented what people were saying. We demonstrated to our senior executives how much more value this kind of engagement would provide  as opposed to expensive focus-group sessions, because it delivered feedback in a more candid, organic way.”

Comcast leadership bought in, and Wetzel and his team now send a daily report about the latest customer conversations out there. “If I don’t send a report, I’ll have calls and emails from my senior vice presidents asking where it is,” he says. “They’ll say ‘This is how we come up with better products and services.’ ”

Rapidly transform disgruntled customers into happy campers. Before the social-media revolution, customers would complain about products/services by calling or emailing a company. It could take several days, a week or even longer to get a response. That’s extensive time for bad feelings to fester, which could result in fallout on the word-of-mouth front. With social media, however, response is immediate.

“We interact with customers all the time for these very reasons,” says Brendan Lewis, director of corporate communications for LivingSocial, the products/services discount site. “They may have had trouble printing a voucher. Or they’ll question why a particular offer hasn’t come to their city. We’ll try to fix the problem right then, by giving them some of our ‘free deal bucks’ or something else to turn a negative experience into a positive one.”

The LivingSocial team also likes to stay on top of what other companies are doing with social media, to get a sense of what best practices can be adopted. “We check out what the heavyweights are doing that are really good, like Pepsi,” Lewis says. “But we also like to look at the smaller but more nimble players too.”

Tap into existing customers to get new ones. Rosetta Stone takes advantage of its social-media pages to let supportive customers serve up testimonials that come across as more genuine than those presented in traditional marketing materials. “We’ll have a potential new customer come on the site and ask, ‘Does this work and is it worth it?’ ” says Shavanna Miller, social-media manager for Rosetta Stone, the foreign language-learning software company. “Now, if we respond ourselves, that user will just see this as a ‘please buy our product now’ pitch. But if we let real customers reply by saying ‘Yes, here’s what it did for me and this is why it was worth it,’ that’s a far better endorsement.”

Align social media with organizational policies. An esteemed Washington law firm such as Wiley Rein LLP won’t move forward on social media without conducting due diligence with respect to how disclosure of information/conversations may impact internal policies. “We can’t risk any violation of client/attorney privilege, for example,” says William B. Baker, an attorney for Wiley Rein. “The social-media sites themselves certainly aren’t going to police this for you. Getting information out there is what they do. So we need to make sure none of the activity will conflict with internal policies.”

Wiley Rein also had to get a clear sense of how this was going to benefit the firm’s business strategies. “It’s not enough to say ‘We need to be on this site because everyone else is and it’s really cool,’ ” Baker says.

As the content guy at a hi tech PR agency, the biggest takeaway translates to this: Virtually every company “gets it” now. Social media isn’t something to fear; it’s something to embrace. Whether they sell tech products, communications services or widgets, the organizations that continue to find newer and better ways to maximize social media to connect to customers will emerge as the winners. But, before you can react, you need to listen first.



Dennis McCafferty is Director of Content for W2 Communications.