Today I am pleased to present another guest post by Sarah Simon.

Savvy enterprises have caught onto the power of social media to interact with their customer bases, provide alternative service channels and obtain customer and market insights.  Indeed, in many (though not all!) instances, large enterprises have small armies of social media experts manning the social airwaves at all hours in multiple languages.  The large-enterprise social media veterans have written volumes on social media guidelines and rules of engagement, and have a vigilant ear to the ground in the social sphere.

But what about small and mid-size businesses?  After all, social media represents a very special opportunity for SMBs to foster a deeper relationship with their customer base.  While some have mastered the art and science of social media, many are struggling; they have gone through the motions of setting up social media accounts, but fail to activity engage their customers in the social sphere.  They are social media deadbeats.

Imagine the following scenarios:
  • A repeat customer tweets a fawning review of your one-and-only restaurant, complete with photos of his extended family celebrating a birthday only to hear…nothing.   To the owner of a small family business, what could be more flattering than a customer sharing the story of his family sharing a life-moment at your restaurant and giving you very public kudos for the opportunity to pay a three-digit tab?
  • A couple enjoys a long-weekend stay at your 5-room bed-and-breakfast, getting to know you on a first-name basis, sharing coffee and juice with you each morning and dinner each night.  Upon returning to their weekly lives, they post a mostly glowing report of your B&B on your Facebook wall, yet note that the freshly-squeezed juice ran out each day.  Here, you have not only a free public referral to your B&B, but a gentle reminder to increase the amount of fresh juice you squeeze during full-capacity weekends.
These two scenarios are pretty low-hanging fruit for SMBs dipping their feet in the social media waters.  Yet many SMBs would let such low-hanging fruit fall from the tree to rot on the ground.  It is amazing the number of small and midsize businesses with Twitter or Facebook links emblazoned upon their websites that never bother to respond to posts like these.  By ignoring customers that took the time to publically share their feedback, they are potentially burning a very valuable bridge.  Why even bother having a social media presence if your company isn’t going to use it to engage – socially – with customers?

Here are some painfully familiar SMB social media deadbeat profiles:

The bullhorn:  Engrossed in a one-way channel of communication with customers, this vendor ignores customer posts however, they are often too happy to post advertisements to their followers trying to encourage repeat business, like trying to clap with one hand.  If only they understood that their one-way communication style is actually driving a wedge between their company and their followers.

The absentee landlord:  Completely absent from the social media realm, these deadbeats register for Twitter and Facebook accounts and stick the logos and links on their websites, but do nothing with them.    Unaware of the shame cast upon them when their last post was 18 months ago, these deadbeats would do better to simply stop the “radio silence” and back out of the social media sphere until read to properly engage.  It does no good to just build a Twitter profile and Facebook page then walk away and leave them to neglect.

The broken record:  Well, at least this deadbeat is trying…sort of.  This vendor repeats the same message (often advertising) with annoying regularity.  In addition to mass tweets extolling the virtues of their offerings, if and when this deadbeat replies to followers, it’s the same thing over and over again, with no originality, no context.  Yes, there are only so many ways to say “Thank you” in 140 characters or less, but at least try.  Try pulling a little context from the customer post into your reply: “Thank you for staying at our B&B this October to enjoy the autumn leaves” “How exciting that you brought your entire family to our restaurant to celebrate this major event!”  A customer took the time to initiate contact with you via social channels; you owe them more than a canned response in return.

The gladhander:  This vendor sees the world through rose colored glasses, at least within the social media realm.  While it’s admirable to try to “keep it positive,” the gladhander refuses to face negative social feedback, responding to critical posts with a forced smile and cheer.  When the customer posts “Great service, but my steak was overdone” replying with “Glad you loved your steak and our servers really are the best, aren’t they?”  just makes your company seem tone-deaf.  Get over your fear of publically admitting fault, and offer a genuine apology to the customer.  No need to kowtow, just apologize and thank the customer (contextually!) for their business.
Indeed, some smaller to mid-size organizations have social media figured out.  What do they do right?
  • They respond in a reasonably prompt fashion.
  • There clearly is a real human being behind each post.
  • That real human being shares a passion for their product with their customers.
  • That human being believes in their product and the power of social media.
  • Enthusiastic “fan posts” are met with enthusiastic “thank you’s”!
  • Replies include contextual references to the customer post.
  • They publically apologize when things go wrong.
  • They don’t dominate conversations, but instead interact with customers.
Social media is a fact of doing business these days.  For the small or midsize organization, social media – property managed – presents a never-before seen opportunity to engage in dialogue with a specialized customer base, often spread across the globe.  Social media deadbeats, on the other hand, are doing more harm than good with their lazy (or
misinformed) approach to the medium.
  Doing social media right requires energy, attention and effort – much like keeping up one end of a real-life conversation – but can result in building stronger relationship with customers and engaging your customers in an online community.  Do social media right, or don’t do it at all.  Nobody wants to do business with a deadbeat.

Sarah Simon is a career insights professional with 16 years of experience in the feedback industry. Specialties include VoC architecture, journey mapping, developing linkages to business performance, reduction of customer defection, results analysis and communication, with expert survey design skills.  She is the survivor of a botched early-generation “big data mining” operation and is happy to live to tell about it.