The Opportunity of Listening and Responding

A brand is no longer in charge of its own destiny. Channels controlled solely by the brand, like TV, radio and print, are the minority. New social platforms controlled by consumers are coming out day after day, and consumers are using these channels to share their positive and negative views of the brands they interact with.

This is not a new concept, but many brands are missing the opportunity and potential threat of this new relationship.

Consumers Want a Response

A study from American Express found that 50% of consumers use social media for customer service to get an actual response from a company about an issue. Nearly half do so to praise a company and share information about an experience with an audience. Users also use social media to vent frustration about a poor experience and even ask others how to get better experiences.

Consumers are seeking our help.

These quests for help shape brands’ online perceptions. They live on social networks. They pop up in organic search results, and more importantly, negative consumer experiences left unanswered mean more than just one lost customer. They could mean many, many more.

Many brands still don’t get it.

What Are We Missing?

Creating a branded social presence also creates an unspoken contract with customers that says, “We’re here to speak with you and to listen.” Too many brands focus on the ‘speaking to’ part of that contract.

The reasons for this are many. They may be spread too thin across multiple platforms and can’t deliver a deep experience on a single one. Or they haven’t made responding to consumers a priority.

A study from Satmetrix found that nearly half of companies do not respond to consumers. They don’t have a plan to respond to consumers, and many don’t have a plan to track conversations. These conversations are opportunities to not only retain customers who might be lost but also show their social connections the brand’s commitment to its customers.

Get On the Same Page

Consumers and brands are on different pages. Consumers expect help, and many brands aren’t prepared to provide it. This means the brands that do deliver will stand out, and the ones that don’t will be left behind. 

Every Response Is an Oppotunity

I’ve had the opportunity to speak and work with a variety of community managers, and the best community managers, whether it’s managing a community on Facebook, a forum, Twitter or other platform, view every single consumer response and post as an opportunity. Customer content is nothing that should be ignored or removed or even taken for granted. The best community managers embrace it with open arms and aim to make the piece of content into something more.

Customers Want to Be Heard

A report from eMarketer found that 49.5% of consumers stated they’d be less likely to buy anything from a company that did not answer questions/complaints through their social media channels. 38.8% said they’d be somewhat less likely to buy, and only 11.7% stated that they wouldn’t care. To bring the point home even more, 83.8% of consumers find it at least somewhat important that company’s answer questions or complaints promptly.

There’s no way a brand can respond to every single response in the social space, but it’s certainly a worthwhile goal. It’s not all on the brand either. We have a lot of tools at our disposal, including bringing brand advocates in on the conversation, to help address questions. Consumers care. They want to be heard.

A brand’s social channels aren’t broadcast tools. They’re avenues to engage and respond to customers. More importantly, engaging and responding to customers helps protect a brand’s online reputation, which in the short and long-term can influence consumer purchase decisions.

Every Post Is an Opportunity

No matter what a customer says, it should be looked at as a potential opportunity, not only to retain the customer but also to maintain a positive online brand reputation. Brands can’t take consumer sharing for granted, and community managers should focus on providing help for customers.

Brands can offer real assistance through social channels. This doesn’t mean viewing community management as an automated machine. Provide custom solutions, and try to avoid pushing a customer somewhere else for more information. Chances are they’ve already gone down a few routes for support. Social media is often a last try to find a solution. Provide it as much as possible, and try to make it public. You may be saving yourself some time in the future by addressing the problems of more than just one person.

Don’t let problems or opportunities sit there. If someone posts something positive, say thank you and share it. If someone says something negative, be quick to respond. You may not have a solution right away. Just let them know they’ve been heard, and you’re working to help them. That can go a long ways. Mobile apps for Twitter and Facebook Pages make this easier than ever. Brands can offer personalized replies and customized solutions from just about anywhere.

You Have to Listen

All of the above is null and void if a brand isn’t listening. Brands should be tracking sentiment and mentions on an ongoing basis. Being on top of what’s being said and providing responses is the best way to maintain a positive online reputation and retain customers in the social space. Don’t let things linger. Seize opportunities when they come up.

Don't Forget to Welcome Newcomers’s nothing more awkward than walking right into the middle of a conversation with no context and only a hint of what is being discussed then being asked to contribute. How do you respond? You can’t… at least, not meaningfully. Still, many brands ask their customers to do this everyday.

Brands are constantly having conversations with customers through various social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which is excellent for customers already part of the conversation, but what about new people?

What if someone were to visit your Twitter profile for the first time or land on your Facebook Page? Would they know what’s going on? Would they understand the conversation that’s taking place?

That first impression is critical to getting a customer to sign on to have an ongoing dialogue. Brands need to make him or her feel welcome and that he or she has a stake in the conversation. They should understand what they can expect from the brand and what the brand wants them to do as well.

Social media conversations are often broken up into chunks over an extended period of time. Someone who isn’t involved with the first “chunk” can easily be lost once they start getting involved, but brands can take steps to welcome newcomers to a conversation.

Now, there is a caveat. You don’t want to do so much handholding that the vets (those who know what’s going on because they’ve been connected to the brand for some time) feel like they aren’t welcome. Here are some basic things brands can do:

Use About Sections to Invite Conversation. Use Facebook’s, Twitter’s, YouTube’s and other social platform’s about sections to provide users with what they can expect from the brand and what the conversation surrounding the brand on the specific platform is all about. Too many brands use these sections to communicate boilerplate language about the founding of the company, number of employees or something else. Customers visiting social platforms already know the company. They’re ready to take the relationship to the next level by connecting socially. What they don’t know is the topic of conversation. Introduce them. Give them an idea of what kind of content they can expect and what you want them to do.

Introduce Your Brand. Platforms have about sections (and if you have a blog you can create one), but those only go so deep. Make that first impression a memorable one by offering content just for newcomers. This might be an introductory video on a YouTube channel titled “Watch This First,” a pinboard on Pinterest communicating everything someone should know about the brand or a tab on Facebook welcoming new members. Offer something compelling to make that first impression worthy of connecting again.

Incorporate Reminders. Don’t be afraid of using primary communication channels to communicate to newcomers. This might be an “In case you just ‘liked’ us…” Facebook post or a similar tweet. It could be links to your most popular blog content. Take the time to acknowledge the newcomers in your editorial calendars. Chances are you’ll remind the “vets” of content they missed or would at least enjoy being reminded of, too.

It’s important to remember that customer relationships are at different levels. Everyone’s different, so brands should think about how they can give customers, no matter what stage they’re in, the information they need.