Monday, December 20, 2010

First Steps to Going Social

You know, corporate America is by nature, not social. Most corporations are still wedded to a traditional marketing approach, based on TV, radio and print ads, and aren't sure how to integrate social media channels or where to start. There is also this sense of panic that comes from ignoring the profit potential of millions customers who are consuming media in new ways. Except for executives with their heads in the sand (like the folks that print checks for example), many fear that the new marketing train is leaving without them and that their missing out on revenues.

The solution? I start with the customer experience because it is, after all where the technology is taking us.  Social media enables marketers to engage the customer through helpful and ethical dialog (not shouting out and hoping they'll hear you). And it goes without saying, but I'm saying it anyway, customers are how you make your money. Your customers are the ticket.

First steps should include discovering best practices in your industry. Remember that social media hasn’t been around that long, 3-5 years at best. So keep in mind that your competitors’ efforts are still in “beta”. And when you’re compiling your list of new marketing tactics, focus on non-industry success stories too. Ask if those best practices fit with your customer segments.

To understand your own customers' perceptions and proclivities, next on my to-do list is listening. What are they saying about you? Conduct that customer survey. Equally important is to team up with your customer service reps. Frankly these two items should be part of your marketing plan anyway. When you monitor calls don’t focus on the rep’s response time, focus on what your customers are saying.

Also on my list is finding out about customers’ attitudes in online chatter. Online discussions (groups, forums and complaints) will also help you form an understanding of what social channels your customers use. Not everyone has a home computer but what percentage of your customers use cell phones? Maybe your product isn’t a good fit on Facebook but it’s a great fit for a mobile strategy. Find out so you can “be” where your customers are.

With customer experience improvement as the goal, your marketing strategy will include your tried and true sales methods and now will be improved by offering up social media venues. My suggestion is to start small, in the form of an A/B test. Not only is it less daunting but can lead to some wonderful rollouts and subsequent long term success.

Business needs to understand, that social media is a tool and that waiting to employ it is not an option.  However, this confusion over where to start isn’t surprising. The inherent benefits of social media and networks are so revolutionary that it will take time for the technology, the methods and the key players to solidify. But don't make the mistake of waiting for that to happen. Today, market share belongs to early adopters.