Whether you’re a startup just beginning to build an online community or an established brand with embedded fans and followers, it’s important to remember that vocal customers and potential customers carry an amplified voice online.
We all operate in a fluid, fast-paced world where social engagement with customers is now the norm. While this can seem intimidating for companies at first, developing a strong online customer engagement process doesn’t need to be overly complicated. The payoff? The potential for creating loyalty and quickly transforming customers into powerful online advocates.
Let’s take a look at an example. Recently, a coworker passed along the following exchange he had with car-sharing service @zipcar:
Kudos to Zipcar for their smart engagement and quick move to capitalize on transforming a vocal customer into a loyal customer. An engagement such as this never would have occurred unless Zipcar had taken some preliminary steps to maximize this opportunity.
So, how does a company go about ensuring that they engage and embrace customer advocates through social media? Here are a few tips to get started:
1. Listen & Assess
Obvious – it always starts with careful monitoring. Put your ear to the Web and carefully track conversation/keyword activity across your own social channels as well as overall brand mentions across the Internet. Whether you do this using a free approach with alerts and keyword monitoring in Google Reader or through a paid service such as Radian6, active listening and monitoring is essential. Over time, you’ll quickly see engagement and volume trends surface to help you plan for resource staffing.
2. Put a Process In Place
You need to have a strategy and process in place before you start engaging with customers through social media. This means having both a technical platform in place (e.g. a simple tool such as Get Satisfaction, established a separate support Twitter handle, defined FAQs, etc.) and an established flow chart that clearly outlines how inquiries will be handled as well as who has the necessary knowledge to address those inquiries. “Grow and adapt” is not a sound customer service approach.
Will engaging customers through social channels require more time and resources? Yes. But, I assure you that the investment will far outweigh the cost. Social channels exist and customers expect to be able to engage directly with your company through those channels. Provide the home and structure for them to do so efficiently.
Take a moment to think about how important first impressions are to everything we encounter on a daily basis. The success of your brand or product relies on A) providing value that meets or exceeds customer expectations and B) excellent customer service. Nail both these early on and you’re well on your way to building strong customer loyalty.
3. Move Quick
In most cases, customers just want to know that they are being heard. Think about your own customer service experiences – would you prefer to be left on hold or unanswered for a long period of time or regularly provided updates about your issue being worked on?
Even if an answer to a customer’s issue is not readily available, it is imperative that a company communicate progress and actually work as fast as possible to resolve the issue. As with any social channel, your interaction with one customer is often being viewed by many, many others. Engaging customers quickly in a public forum can set the tone for how your company operates and also be hugely beneficial for setting precedent on how to resolve an issue, thus eliminating need for further similar customer interactions on a specific topic.
4. Reward Customers for No Reason
I can’t harp this one enough. In the case above, Zipcar changed a satisfied customer into a powerful advocate through a simple Twitter exchange and small monetary gift. Companies often only think about rewarding customers following negative experiences. By following Zipcar’s proactive approach of rewarding supportive customers, you are enhancing your credibility and strengthening brand trust for a very nominal cost.
In the end, your customers will be happy when they know they can rely on a consistent, humanized customer service experience.
What other tips would you share to help companies set up for success with online customers?
A couple weeks ago, I attended the 2nd annual Content Marketing Retreat (#CMRetreat) hosted by Fusionspark Media along with our Content Director at Weber Shandwick (@mydeadlyballoon). Having missed the first annual retreat, I was excited to finally head across the sound to beautiful Langley, WA for a day of big learning.
The Retreat exceeded my expectations on all accounts. Great location, stellar organization throughout the day, knockout food (holy homemade pumpkin bread) and of course most importantly, an all-star lineup made for an excellent trip.
Throughout the course of day one, attendees hear from Rod Brooks, Russell Sparkman, Tim Frick, Jayme Thomason, Chris Baggott, Pawan Deshpande, Mark Jacobs, Jeff Erramouspe, Simon Kelly and Robert Rose.
The crowd was a diverse group from all over with a slant towards those working in smaller organizations. Topics covered a wide range, from top level content marketing strategy to maximizing use of Google Analytics data to improve content optimization. While many conferences can drag at certain points, the short presentation structure followed by panel discussions made for a great format to maintain audience attention throughout.
Below are five key takeaways that stemmed from the Retreat.
1. Content Marketing is Not Rocket Science
Sorry, it’s just not. Does content marketing require smart analysis, technical insight, natural instinct for audience demands and the ability to piece everything together into a solid strategy? You bet, but it takes practice and requires that you are constantly thinking about how best to stay a step ahead of your audience and the competition.
2. Brands That Succeed at Content Marketing Fail…a Lot.
During his presentation on developing a step-by-step content marketing plan, Robert Rose emphasized the importance of establishing an office culture that embraces innovation. You, along with your coworkers or employees, need to feel that it’s okay to fail. In fact, you need to be realistic about the fact that success often stems from a series of smart failures where you’ve progressively learned more and more about how best to achieve your goals. The iPhone and iPad weren’t created overnight and neither will your strategy for how to sell X products or engage with Y number of people. Try and keep trying.
3. Data Is the Hidden Gem Behind All Good Content Marketing
It’s scary to me these days when a company or organization gives you a blank stare when you ask about website or engagement analytics. Data drives strategy. If you don’t have a benchmark and ongoing consistent measurement to track what content is resonating with which audience, you don’t have the fuel necessary to revamp your content marketing plan.
4. Curation is An Art Form
Successful curators have amazing taste. They know their audience’s taste like the back of their hand. They know the value of attribution, the importance of framing and how to deliver content to their target audience in the right format in a consistent fashion.
5. Content Marketers Understand the Difference Between Audience “Needs” and “Wants”
Rod Brooks did a great job putting this point on display. Rod is the CMO for Pemco Insurance. We all need insurance. We know that. Do we all like to talk about insurance on a daily basis? Nope.
What we do love to talk about is our family, friends and community. We love to discuss topics of shared interest that resonate across the board relevant to our safety and well being.
The same applies for your company. Stop trying to shove your audience’s needs down their throat and take a broader look at the shared values and interests of your target community. What type of content does this audience want? What do they care most about? THAT is your point of entry. That is your bridge to building trust and creating robust dialogue.
Thanks again to Russell Sparkman and all of the presenters. Looking forward to another fantastic gathering next year.
A few weeks ago, a friend determined that it was time for me to finally get active on Instagram. Following the app’s launch, I used it a bit but eventually went static out of sheer laziness. It’s easy for that to happen these days.
Regardless, returning to the app with a rekindled desire to engage has been a breath of fresh air for this photo buff. In reflecting upon my newfound photo app addiction, I’ve determined that there are a few important elements that naturally entice me to get involved with an online community.
1. Clean Mobile User Interface
I’m a minimalist and particularly when it comes to online photo content, less is more in my book. Instagram is a great example of an app that knows how to keep the sign up process simple and quickly get you synched up with your existing network and engaging within minutes. It loads and refreshes quickly and keeps engagement simple through likes and comments.
2. Passionate Community
There is nothing better than dropping into a community where there is an existing abundance of activity, dialogue and content sharing. Instagram is one of those communities where photo enthusiasts are extremely passionate about seeing who can make the most of the app. Kudos to Golin Harris for using the Instagram API to build out the Lollagram aggregator for last week’s Lollapalooza event – a great example of the community engaging around a big cultural event.
3. Simple Sharing
Beyond the app, Instagram makes it simple to publish and distribute across your other social media channels for easy output. A given necessity in today’s day and age but again, they keep they synch process very straightforward.
If you’re on Instagram, track me down at scmeis.
What elements immediately entice you to dive into a community?