Yes, this is going to be another social article. I reasoned there just aren’t enough of them online, and one more would complete the stack nicely. Rather than cover what it takes to build a social program for your business, I want to examine specific areas of your social media program. Last month, I noted one approach to creating an award winning social media program. This time, I’d like to look deeper into sentiment. After that, we’ll touch on managing expectations within your company and with customers.
Tracking, measuring and understanding user sentiment is one of the holy grails of social media. Every business desperately wants to know what their clients and customers think of them, their products and their services. Reasonably, they believe that understanding this “communal feeling” towards their business and its offerings will yield clues they can use to their advantage. This is little different from the days of sitting in the sandbox wondering if, maybe, the new guy liked you, perhaps he’d share his cookies with you.
These days, a multitude of tools exist to help your inhouse effort in tracking sentiment via social spaces. If you have the budget, maybe Radian6, Scoutlabs, Hubspot, Sysomos or Buzzstream might meet your needs. Those seeking the no cost path may be served by Google Alerts, Addict-o-Matic or Netvibes (tip of the hat to Marty Weintraub for the condensed list.)
While I’ve personally heard of every one of those above, I only have hands on experience with Google Alerts…and I can state that relying on this service to alert you to instances of your targeted keyword being noted is fine. If you’re OK with “sometime” updates, as opposed to “real time” updates. Don’t get me wrong, Google finds the references, and communicates them to you, it’s just that there can often be a time lag, so it’s clearly not capable of supporting your entry into a conversation in near real time.
And that’s my point here. Tracking sentiment is all well and good. Many executives and managers love to see the graphs and glow or glower, depending on how the sentiment flows. The real value, though, is in doing something with the data. All the reports in the world won’t help you engage. That’s where your company needs to step forward with a detailed plan on what to do with the data. How are you going to translate those sentiment reports into action?
This is where real time or near real time tracking comes into its own. Showing up late to a conversation about your business is, in some cases, better than not showing up at all. By showing up during the conversation, though, you can now influence the sentiment. Yes, this will take time, effort and manpower. Folks like to think that at this stage in the earth’s history, we can automate, short-cut and generally find ways around investing our time into something. Sorry to disappoint you, but the best way to change someone’s mind from negative to positive is still to talk to them, understand their issue and offer to fix it. There is no automated system that can manage this, to my knowledge.
Enter your social media program. You can now jump in and influence the situation, if you are seeing conversations in near real time (think within 30 seconds or so of a Tweet, FB post, etc.). There is a lot needed to back up a successful engagement, but without this first step, you’ll be showing up to customer conversations long after the customers have left.
By their very nature, conversations in social tend to be fleeting. Your window to communicate is dictated by the customer and how long they happen to be online at that moment. If you are not alerted to the conversation and ready to respond immediately, their sentiment is left for all to see. In cases where this is positive, you’ve nothing to worry about. But, with increasing numbers of customers turning to the online world to voice concerns, complaints and issues, those untended negative sentiments can leave a lasting trail that will haunt your business for years.
During a recent marketing podcast I participated in, one of the questions we grappled with was does social media help companies solve problems, or does it simply expose how broken your other customer touch points are. If a customer is left to feel lashing out on Twitter is their only recourse, how much of that is the customer being lazy (not calling, not visiting a store, etc.) and how much of that is a failure on the business’ part (dead-end phone systems, no customer service reps to talk to, apathetic staff)?
Manage Expectations Before They Manage You
I think the first step in managing expectations is to start inside your company, with your management & executives. If you’re lucky, they will already understand social spaces, human psychology and the bigger concepts around sentiment, branding and how fickle customers can be. I’d say most managers in business today understand most of that mix, some understand all, but most are missing key data around social.
Start with them so they understand what your program will be capable of. What type of data will it yield and what type of work items will emerge from that collected data. Be clear around response times, and even if responding is part of the program. If responding to users is part of the program, management better get ready to fund some head count. Talking to customers takes time and effort. Better be ready to empower people to give the right responses to customer complaints, too, which might facilitate a review of the overall customer service program.
As your program gets into a grove with customers, it’ll start to shape their own expectations as well. You could post a notice on your website telling customers what to expect when they engage socially with you, but the proof is in the real-time responses. Nothing builds positive sentiments like resolving a customer’s issue almost immediately. Even just acknowledging their problem one-on-one socially can often change the entire tone of the conversation.
I firmly believe that managing expectations within your company will be the bigger challenge. The results of investing in a social media response program are not often measured directly or quickly in revenue. Still, if you have an investment in brand, beefing up your social response program should be seen as protecting the brand investment. For those struggling to establish a brand, use this as a way to leverage yourself past your competitors. Bigger companies often struggle with moving quickly enough, and you know what? Good customer service still builds loyalty…and links, too.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.