Today on Customers Rock!, I have the honor of having a special guest blogger with us: Brian Solis. Brian and I met earlier this year at the Customer Service is the New Marketing (CSITNM) conference in San Francisco, where we were both giving lunchtime workshops. Brian is one of the brightest people I know on new media and how to best engage customers. As Principal of the PR and new media agency FutureWorks, Brian is constantly breaking new ground in PR-social media relations.
His post is a two-parter, so be sure and come back to get the second half! With no further ado, here’s Brian!
Social Media Empowers Customer Service to Build Relationships
Customer service is the new, new marketing and Social Media is facilitating the convergence between traditional marketing disciplines, customer service, with a new proactive approach to relationship cultivation and management.
Earlier this year I published a free ebook with Becky Carroll, “The Art of Listening and Engagement Through Social Media,” in which we explored how companies can listen to and participate in the various and important conversations that are constantly taking place online.
We’re entering an entirely new paradigm for cultivating relationships with customers as well as the people who may one day become customers.
Social Media is about facilitating interactions between people online. Just because we have the tools to engage, doesn’t make it any easier to do this the right way. Or, on the contrary, just because we don’t have the tools to monitor and engage in these online conversations, doesn’t mean that they’re not important or actually happening.
You’ve heard that old saying right?
If a conversation takes place online and you’re not there to hear or see it, did it actually happen.
The answer is resoundingly YES!
If you’re not part of the conversation, then you’re leaving it to others to answer questions and provide information that may or may not be qualified, helpful, or accurate. Or, even worse, you may be leaving it up to your competition to jump in to become the resource for the community.
Many companies are participating in social networks as a form of proactive outbound customer service with a twist of social marketing such as Zappos, JetBlue, Southwest, H&R Block, and Dell. They’re engaging customers on their turf, in their way, in order to help them solve problems, find information or simply engage them in healthy dialog.
It’s breaking new ground and it’s setting a new standard.
Participating in social media is not as easy as simply blasting messages, answering questions, or joining conversations. We’re talking about people here, and depending on the online network where they’re participating, the understanding of the culture, demographics, and interaction, our approach will vary.
We’ve all heard the mantras that the customer is always right. I think we can all agree that the customer is critical to our success and their emotions, experiences, state of mind and their resulting influence within their community are imperative to our survival.
Instead of top down communications and focusing on the influence and control of messages and perception, we’re learning that those influential groups of people are now more like peers and therefore require respect, honesty, and support in order for us to earn their trust – and hopefully their business and enthusiasm along the way.
The customer comes first, and if we fuse sociology, social media, customer service, relationship marketing, experiential marketing, and traditional marketing, we’re creating a new formula for outbound influence and fueling a new generation of brand ambassadors and loyalists.
Essentially, social media empowers customers to effectively sell and represent our brand as a powerful and influential surrogate sales force. Similarly, they also have the ability to negatively affect it if they’re left to influence freely without input or guidance.
The future of marketing integrates traditional and social tools, connected by successful, ongoing relationships with media, influencers, and people. That’s right…it’s about relationships and it’s about people. Relationships serve as the foundation for everything, whether it’s traditional or new media, and the constant reminder that we’re reaching people, and not audiences, will keep us on a path of relevance. And, each social network fosters its own unique culture dependent of the people who are populating the overall community as well as niche micro communities.
As such, social media is driven by sociology and the study of human behavior and online cultures and not necessarily limited to the technology that is fueling it.
This is where we start in order to effectively identify the cultures of relevant online communities and listen to and respond directly to the people within them.
Sociology – The study of human social behavior, especially the study of the origins, organization, institutions, and development of human society.
Through sociology and social media, we’re learning to peel back the layers of our target demographics to see the people underneath as well as their online behavior. As such, we’re starting to figure out that we need to humanize our story and the process of storytelling. And, through observation, we’re able to find our real customers and those who influence them.
The recognition of people independently from the tools is an important reminder that their interests are at the center of what we do.
Borrowing insight, teachings, and experience from the school of sociology teaches us how to observe, listen to, and analyze the online cultures we wish to reach.
However, many marketers are merely engaging in cultural voyeurism at best. They look from afar and roam the perimeters of online societies without ever becoming a true member of any society. This means, they don’t truly understand what, where, or why they’re “participating,” only jumping in because they have something to say and have access to the tools that will carry their messages into play.
Conversational marketing requires observation, which will dictate your engagement strategies. It starts with a combination of social and traditional tools to discover, listen, learn, and engage directly with customers to help, not market, but indeed help them make decisions and also do things that they couldn’t, or didn’t know how to do, before.
Be sure to come back for Part 2, coming soon!
Brian Solis is Principal of FutureWorks, an acclaimed PR and New Media agency in Silicon Valley and also blogs at PR 2.0 and bub.blicio.us. Along with Geoff Livingston, Solis recently co-authored “Now is Gone,” a new, award-winning book that helps businesses learn how to leverage New and Social Media.
(Flickr photo credit: joekerstef)