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Kick the fear out of your social media strategy

Companies fear the worst and worry they will lose control of their brands when they go on social channels. Turns out they probably will -- but it could be the best thing that ever happens to them.

NEW ORLEANS -- Companies are holding back on implementing social media strategies in their customer service operations because they are afraid to fail. Well, guess what? They probably will.

“You need to understand that you will fail the first time you go on social media,” said Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business, in a keynote address at the International Customer Management Institute ACCE call center conference. “You learn, adjust and move forward.’’

Qualman said the thing that frightens a company most -- damage to its carefully crafted reputation -- can often be turned into a positive online. He referenced a well-known American Red Cross tweet from earlier this year that was sent out by an employee about her plans to consume a lot of beer. Meant to be a private exchange, the tweet was accidentally dispatched it to the entire Red Cross community.

Some companies would have canned the beer-drinking tweeter. The Red Cross, however, issued a tweet in response, assuring its online community that it was sober and had taken away the driver’s keys. The organization posted the tweets and its own account of the incident on an American Red Cross blog.

The Red Cross tweet, showing some vulnerability and a light touch of humor, actually caused a spike in pledges to donate to the organization, Qualman noted. The beer company, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery got involved and applauded the Red Cross’s response and encouraged people to donate even more. The episode shows people are willing to accept honest mistakes are often willing to respond with kindness.

Another big fear in the consumer market is product ratings. The author said executives often squash plans to get online ratings for products or services because they fear a bad review will hurt business. Qualman claims just the opposite can be the case.

He claims consumers are more apt to select a product with many consumer ratings. What’s more, consumers will select a product with a few less-than-flattering ratings as long as it has other positive consumer comments. It turns out, many people consider these reviews to have more credibility than reviews with only positive evaluations.

Finally, Qualman said in some cases companies are afraid of the hard work involved in building relationships on social channels. “There is no silver bullet,” he said. “This isn’t a technology play. That’s where a lot of people get confused. It’s a people play.”

For example, social media newcomers think they need to get out and sell something immediately or they won’t be able to justify investing in the new channels. “If you were at a conference, would you walk up to a group of four people engaged in converasation and say, ‘Sorry to interrupt, but can I talk about why I’m great?’ ” That would have the same impact as being a newbie online and instantly making a sales pitch.

Qualman said the same time and effort that goes into establishing personal relationships will be required to solidify online bonds. “You have to roll up your sleeves and get after it,’’ he said.

The author also recommend that customer service managers take these steps to help push themselves more into social media:  

  • Begin a listening strategy as many industry consultants frequently recommend. But make sure you create a listening report highlighting the more critical customer events and forward it on a weekly basis to top executives.
  • When listening, do not get carried away. There are many free tools -- such as something as simple as Google Alerts -- that can help companies get a fix on what is being said without any cost. Also, do not deploy several different listening tools at once. It can either deliver redundant or confusing data, Qualman added.
  • In every meeting, start asking, “What’s the social angle to this?” This may sound awkward at first, but it will get people thinking about the social impact of customer service strategies.




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