It is no secret that many brands (both B2B and B2C) struggle to engage with their customers and prospects socially. Many organizations see social media as a technology trend, but it is a really a communications channel, with a different set of expectations from both the organizations and the individuals interacting with them.
The obsession with social has led to the expectation that not only every business should have a social presence, but that even individual brands should be speaking with the public as well. BusinessInsiders recently wrote an article about Proctor & Gamble’s latest round of layoffs. They frame this in the context of social: that the organization is gaining so much from their social campaigns they do not need as many folks in brand, creative, and other areas of marketing. “P&G’s Old Spice campaign is a textbook example of what the entire company should be doing. The problem is that the entire company isn’t doing it. Check out Mr. Clean’s Twitter stream, for instance. Oh, right—he doesn’t have one.”
Does Mr. Clean need a twitter stream? As consumers do we even want to connect socially with individual brands? By checking off the box on each social site, marketers feel like they have done their job. But if there is little or no engagement with their audience, what’s the point?
A report authored by Jeremiah Owyang and the team at Altimeter takes a look at the issues faced by large corporations when dealing with rapidly multiplying social media accounts. According to the report, the 140 global corporations surveyed have an average of 178 different social media accounts. Unless you have 1000’s of employees managing those accounts 24/7, there is no way an organization can maintain any sort of brand consistency or strategy, let alone engage with the folks who are using those channels. And most organizations do not have a strategy to apply to all of these social media channels. According to Jay Baer of Convince & Convert: “only 43% [of companies] have a formalized social media strategy that dictates HOW social media will meet business goals.” Companies need to create a strategy and make decisions on how to engage with customers and non-customers, but they cannot make these decisions from the top-down, because of the social “perception gap” that has been brilliantly documented by IBM in their CRM Study 2011:
Obviously, businesses cannot attempt to engage with consumers trying to help them “learn about new products” if that is not one of the most important reasons consumers elect to engage. And the consumers for your products might have something else top of mind when they make the decision to engage with you. The question then becomes: how best to craft a sustainable model for social engagement?
First, find out what the expectations of your customers and prospective customers are. The only way you will be able to map your organizations’ perceptions to those of your consumers is through direct engagement. Ask what they want from you: discounts, information, tech support? Use social analysis tools to take a look at the posts directed your way. Take a look at an average month of activity and place the posts into the categories based on the request. Use this for decision making regarding the teams responsible for managing your social entities, as well as to formulate your social strategy.
Once you understand what the expectations of your followers/fans/friends are, your organization will need to make some tough calls on what you can reasonably deliver to them. You should certainly listen to your customers and try to deliver on their expectations, but you may not be able to. We hate to say no (both as an organization serving its customers and as individuals) but saying no is better than over-promising and under-delivering. But eliminating social channels to focus on those where you can deliver the most value to your customers can only lead to a better experience (and more sanity for the organizations with 150+ social accounts!).
Once the rules of engagement are outlined, creating a reasonable strategy to deliver on social expectations might be easier than you think. Keep it simple — focus on what you can deliver for your audience, and how to best deliver it. And keep flexibility in mind so that your engagement strategy can react to new technologies and channels. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that commercials featured AOL keywords and brands were rushing to establish SecondLife presences.