How To Win – And Lose – Customers With Social Media

By February 24, 2014Social Marketing
How To Win – And Lose – Customers With Social Media
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I picked up this bit of advice from my dad: “Do it right or don’t do it at all.”

I bet he had no idea his fatherly wisdom would be applied to social media!

Unlike TV or print or even our websites, social media puts your customers in charge of marketing. It has incredible potential to bear fruit but just as much potential to backfire. So if you can’t put your full efforts into it, you might be better off crossing it off your to-do list until you’re ready.

But if you are ready – to meet your customers on their turf, to tackle the playing field that is social business – then these tips can help inform your plans. Take a look at what some companies have done very right and others have gotten equally wrong. I’ll show you how you can apply these lessons to your social marketing so you can succeed.

See The Opening, Take The Leap

The Good

I’m a big tea drinker. Hot, cold, black, herbal, you name it. So when I made an offhand comment on Twitter about some yummy tea I had just tried, I was pleased when a tea company I had never heard of tweeted me back. They asked me what my favorite kind of tea was. We had a short conversation about beverages and snacks and then they did a surprising thing. They offered to send me a free sample box of their teas so I could try them and see if I liked them, too.

I thanked them and sent them my address.

A few days later, a package arrived at my doorstep. It was a box, all right. One that the whole teapot could have fit into and it was filled with flavors of all sorts.

You can bet I tried those teas and tweeted about those teas and even bought those teas later.

How much do you suppose it cost that company to win a new customer and fan? A few dollars of product plus five minutes of time? Was it worth it?

I vote yes! And all it took was paying attention.

The Bad

One of my favorite things to do while I drink tea is read. Books, magazines, blogs. Especially books. There’s nothing better on a relaxing weekend afternoon than a good story with a hot cup of tea (and maybe a cookie!) So whenever I connect with an author on Twitter, I’m quite interested to learn about what they write and to explore their books.

In fact, you could say I’m a shoe-in sale. It doesn’t take much to get me to cough up the few bucks for a Kindle book, whatever the topic. Authors like to stalk me on Twitter.

Anyway, I once received an unsolicited tweet from an author about a book he just published. I was intrigued. I tweeted back and asked him about the book.

Here’s what I got back: {  }

That’s a big, fat empty set.

But I’m motivated, so I tried again. And a third time. Each time my questions were met with nothing at all.

Do you want to guess how much I spent on that author’s books? Hint: zero. And I unfollowed him. And never paid attention to him again.

Unlike the tea company, this author was not paying attention at all, not even to his own messages. He was simply broadcasting. And not only did he fail to make a sale but he failed to make a connection with a person who would have gladly been on his team.

The Lesson

It’s simple: pay attention. You don’t need to sit in front of your social streams all day to do so. Set up a keyword search using a tool like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck and monitor terms that relate to your business and industry. If you want to catch tea drinkers, “tea” might be your keyword.

When a conversation hits your stream that looks like an opportunity, then jump – first into the conversation and then, if you can, with an offer that will entice someone to buy or engage with your product or service.

At a minimum you must monitor mentions of your brand. And if someone talks directly to you then you must be present to answer.

People notice when someone notices them. Be the one who notices what someone says. Surprise and delight. Even if you can’t give something away you can certainly offer your attention.

Leave Your Goals At The Door

The Good

I had a problem with a service I was using so I tweeted to the company. I could have called. Or looked up their website and sent a contact email. But I’m on Twitter so often that it’s second nature to me to simply pop off a tweet whenever I need something.

In this case, resolving my issue required a more in-depth conversation, including my account number, which is something I wouldn’t have wanted to share publicly.

So this particular company responded by following me on Twitter so that I could send them a direct private message.

It took some time, but over the course of a series of 140-character questions and answers, we got to the bottom of the problem and resolved it.

Was it hard? Well, technically no, though I suppose conversing in snippets plus typos was a bit more challenging than it might have been via phone. But was it worth it? You bet. In the end the company left me happy and satisfied and I have been a long time customer ever since.

The Bad

Conversely, I tweeted another company about a problem with a service I was using. And this company sent me a quick reply, too. But their reply gave me a phone number to call so that I could speak to customer service.

I didn’t want to speak to customer service. I tried again. I got, essentially, the same request to call.

By the time I got through the phone queue and explained the problem, the only thing that resulted from that conversation was that me and the poor rep on the other end of the phone ended up having a very bad day.

Someone on the other end of that account was following the script, but customers don’t follow scripts. By the time I was done giving people a bad day I decided not to renew that service.

The Lesson

It might sound counterintuitive but you have to forget why you want to use social media and use it the way your customers want you to use it.

Sure, you need to start out with goals and have a good reason for using social media as part of your marketing, but at some point you need to let go of your preconceptions and see where your customers lead.

It’s not good enough to say, “Well, we don’t use social media for customer service.” If that’s what your customers expect, then you can give it to them or you can fall behind. The easiest way to do this is to be a human being. Throw out the scripts and the automated responses and talk to people at the other end of your social account as if – get this – they were people. Because they are!

Treat every customer engagement as an opportunity to help, guide, solve and otherwise prove to your customers that you are both accessible and attentive.

Be Quick Or Lose Quickly

The Good

I told you I’m a shoe-in for authors, right? Well I’m also a sucker for the whole Etsy crowd. If you make it, I probably want to buy it. So I tend to fan/friend/follow creative people.

For Christmas I wanted to do something fun and I remembered someone who paints custom ornaments. It was pretty late in the season but I sent her a message on Facebook where we’re connected and within minutes she got back to me. I told her what I wanted, she explained how busy her schedule was but that she’d let me know within a day or two if she could fill my order.

Within a day or two as promised, she responded that she could. So I ordered 10 ornaments and she rushed them out to me. When they arrived on my doorstep I loved them so much that I asked her if she could paint 10 more. Mind you, the season had only gotten later! But somehow she squeezed me in, sent another express delivery, and we had one of the coolest-ever Christmas trees that year.

Whether she had been able to fit me into her schedule or not, she responded. In fact, the next year I contacted her again but she couldn’t fit me in – and yet that doesn’t stop me from going back to her each year.

Yes, I like her product but I bet there are about a billion people who can paint ornaments. But I contact her for this simple reason: she’s always, awesomely there.

The Bad

Same holiday, different year. I was looking for fun gifts to send to clients when I remembered a local company that I wanted to support. So I sent them a message on Facebook where we’re connected and asked about their product options.

Days went by. I waited. Nothing happened.

They don’t have a website so even if I was motivated I couldn’t have found them elsewhere.

As I waited I searched for more gifts. And found some. And bought them for my clients. Some time after I’d given my money to another company, I got a reply to my Facebook message with a link to a PDF catalog. No suggestions, no assistance, just that link.

I haven’t bothered to buy from that company since. How well do you think social media is working out for them? I don’t know, but I can tell you about at least one pretty big sale they missed.

The Lesson

Social media is immediate. It can seem especially immediate because we use it so frequently. You probably sign onto Facebook when you wake up in the morning, check your newsfeed as you wait at a red light on your way to work, peek in at lunch, check again when you’re bored at 2PM… and 3PM… and 4PM…

I bet your customers do that, too.

And if each time your customer does that, and she does not see a reply from you, it only makes your reply seem that much slower.

Perception is reality, right?

Twenty-four hours on social media is about two weeks in the real world, so if you’re not responding to people quickly then you’re losing.

Forget responding in a “timely” matter. You really need to be thinking about responding within minutes. Hours. Certainly less than 24. More than that and your customer has either forgotten about you or is cranky with you.

So how do you so this without staring at your streams all day? Simple. Designate specific time slots when you will check your messages and mentions on all social networks where you maintain an active business presence. Make it your mission to look in every morning before you do a single other thing, then midway through the day and last thing before you shut your computer down for the night.

You can set up email filters so your mentions get delivered to a special folder or you can have specific messages sent to you via text to your cell phone. It doesn’t matter how you do it but you need a system that allows you to monitor your communities so it seems that even when you’re busy doing 237 different things, you’re still there for your customer.

If that sounds like too much work then follow my advice from the beginning and consider not doing it at all. Your brand reputation depends on it!

The Last Word: It Takes Commitment

Whoever said social media was some great new free way to market your business has clearly never heard the phrase “time is money”. Whether it’s your time or you’ve outsourced it to a social manager who is always-on, social marketing takes an entirely different level of commitment than just about any other type of marketing.

You must treat it as social, because that’s how your customers treat it. And if you fail to do that then you risk the very serious consequence of appearing uncaring, disinterested and ineffective.

But on the plus side, if you follow these simple lessons, if you pay attention to your fans and followers, if you’re willing to extend yourself, engage, participate and respond, then you can build a pretty powerful following of customers and brand advocates.

Have you witnessed any great responses from companies on social media that are worth emulating? How about failures worth learning from?

Carol Lynn Rivera

Carol Lynn Rivera

I'm a business owner, content creator, podcaster and marketer. In 1999 I founded Rahvalor Interactive, a web and creative services production studio, with my husband and business partner Ralph. In 2011 we created Web.Search.Social, a consulting and marketing service line for small businesses. We also cohost the Web.Search.Social Podcast where we challenge the status quo of marketing and the Carbon Based Business Units podcast where we talk about the human side of being an entrepreneur. On any given day I wear the hat of project manager, consultant, social media manager and content marketer. My true passion is writing and in my spare time I'm busy planning my early retirement to Barcelona as a famous and wealthy novelist.
Carol Lynn Rivera
Carol Lynn Rivera