Social media isn’t complicated. When you boil it down it’s about listening to your customers, being helpful by offering your knowledge and giving them interesting content to share and thereby advocate for you.
So why is it so difficult for so many companies to successfully integrate social media?
. They can’t talk about anything broader than their own products
Citrix Online created the Workshifting community to address the rise of telecommuting and remote work. Sure, it ties in with Citrix’s GoToMeeting/Webinar/PC product line, but the blog isn’t a commercial for its products. The same holds true for Kodak’s photography blog. It’s about photography and creativity in general, not about Kodak cameras. Humana developed Freewheelin bicycle sharing communities with plenty of online and “real life” components to the program. Bicycles don’t have much to do with health insurance specifically, but they are about being healthy. If a company is only talking online about its specific products and not looking for ways to connect to the bigger picture, it’s pretty difficult for people to be engaged.
. They listen to customers but don’t take any action
If you’re going to listen to your customers, you’d better be ready to do something about what you hear. If a company creates an online presence that’s open and allows customer feedback, it creates the expectation that the company is going to do something with that feedback. Worse than not being heard is being heard and then ignored. Southwest Airlines shared how a simple blog post stating the airline was considering assigned seating amassed tons of customer comments showing a lack of support for the idea. This feedback changed the direction of their internal debate and led to a new boarding procedure that maintained the open seating arrangement.
. They aren’t calibrated internally with the technology
Many corporate Web sites are little more than online brochures. Customers expect interaction. Content creation is key to social media success, and every company should have a Web site with a content management system that allows for quick, easy content creation without the IT department needing to recode a Web site. Anyone in the organization should be able to publish via a CMS. And companies can’t expect to have a strong social media presence when social sites are blocked internally to employees.
. They’re not framing risk accurately
A corporate blog has never been fatal to an organization. Often a company’s entry into social media is a clumsy, shotgun blast and that there’s an equal chance of looking foolish by having a ham-fisted marketing department launch a social media presence as there is if a rogue employee “goes off” on Twitter. The risk of social media is not abated by not participating. And really, while there have certainly been some hiccups and miscues along the way, social media has yet to be the undoing of any company.
. Their internal culture isn’t aligned for social media success
The customer should be at the core of the brand. When policies, procedures, products and processes become more important than the customer, there’s no way social media efforts can be effective. When your employees are more concerned with what’s in or out of their job description than doing the right thing to help the customer, that’s not a culture that’s likely to build trust and advocacy for your brand. Zappos is cited time and again as a case study, but largely because it has a culture that makes social media work. All of its employees are focused on customer service at the core. The same holds true for Southwest Airlines.
These are great examples of simple, effective social media strategies that have humanized organizations and allowed them to build better relationships with customers. But time and again companies are either rejecting social media or participating in a way that defeats the purpose.