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Avoid chicken shortage and other hitches with social media integration

CRM expert Brent Leary tells businesses to train employees and share information among departments before making a splash in social media integration.

Many companies turn to social tools and technologies to attract customers and build their brands. This is understandable given the media's fixation on who has the biggest Twitter followership or Facebook fan base. But companies looking to quickly gain customers -- and cash -- can be blinded by the appeal of overnight success stories.

In fact, while a splash on Twitter or Facebook may bring attention, the uptick in interest can ruin a company's image if it doesn't support social media integration and lacks a set of internal processes to manage the surge.

A classic example is when the fast food chain KFC Corp. teamed up with Oprah Winfrey to promote its new grilled chicken sandwich. On her television show, Winfrey announced a coupon offer to get a free sandwich at a local KFC. This generated a ton of social media buzz but ultimately caused a great deal of embarrassment and negative customer sentiment.

The promotion, on the surface, did what KFC hoped it would: It sparked interest. But from an operations and internal communications standpoint, it was a disaster. The individual franchises didn't have enough sandwiches to meet demand, nor did they have enough employees on hand to provide service.

It turns out that KFC's promotional team had no contact with the people at the franchise level who'd have to deliver on the promotion. As a result, many stores had to close temporarily and put signs in windows apologizing for not being able to make good on the offer. In the end, KFC apologized to customers -- and had to create a process to try to follow through on its initial promise. The chain also needed to apologize to its franchises, since they were the ones who had to deal with droves of frustrated customers.

Tools help with social media integration

While the KFC sandwich debacle may be an exceptional, large-scale example of going social externally without social media integration, it teaches a lesson all companies can learn. Businesses can only provide customers with great experiences if they collaborate on initiatives and share information among employees and across functional units. And companies that successfully use social media to reach an audience first need to create the right collaborative work environment.

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How can a business do that? Providing employees with the right tools and training so they fully understand the relationships the company has with each of its customers is a great first step. Departments should share customer information using the services that customers use. One way is by communicating in private groups on an easy-to-access platform such as LinkedIn. Or, if larger groups of employees need to work together, there are enterprise social network services like Yammer. If a company has an extensive partner channel -- a relationship with organizations outside the corporate firewall -- it can check out platforms like Hearsay Social and Get Satisfaction.

Still, the best collaboration tools in the world won't help if the company's culture is closed and its departments siloed. Turning a fragmented business culture into a collaborative one requires commitment from executive managers, who must demonstrate how a push toward companywide cooperation will benefit the company. Sharing relevant information with the right people, after all, may be the difference in delivering a customer experience that thrills or kills a customer relationship.

Brent Leary is co-founder and partner of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. He is also an author, public speaker and blogger. In 2009, he co-authored Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Small Business.

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