A collection of articles written by Customer 1st

Social Media: a Blessing, or Something to Fear?

6th February 2011 | Posted in Social Media, Communications

I have just been reading about Edward Saatchi and his communications company "National Field" in this month’s Professional Manager journal. He promises to take social media into the world of business and change it as much as it has changed our private lives. "It’s becoming the Facebook for enterprise" says Saatchi. He goes on to say, "Many people tell us when they give a presentation to colleagues, six months later they don’t remember what has been said, or everyone has interpreted what was said differently. The theory being that in two-way conversation everyone gets everything, and regular communication through social media will change the way organisations work in the future.”

Saatchi also added that the idea of quarterly performance reports is “dinosaur-ish;” reports and other information should be available real time. Employees are being let down by a lack of information and feedback on a regular basis, which, as we all know, is vital when your goal is customer satisfaction.

Saatchi believes that the type of communication with customers (both internal and external) that is made available by social media is the future, and that it will impact on business success. He goes on to say that, “The power of social media has brought down dictators, and will change the way companies work.” As business people, we need to take advantage of that, because we can then see trends and gain a feel for what is going in the customer base, which, in turn, can influence innovation.

With this concept in mind, should we be building social media into our customer service strategy? I think so. Perhaps we should include a digital section within our communication strategy. I guess some people might choose to ignore this issue, fearing the consequences of reprisal, and of problems and complaints being aired in public. When something is going wrong for customers, adverse comments and reviews can come through at a rapid pace, and one could have the feeling that something uncontrollable is ruining the reputation of our business.

I feel that organisations need to overcome cultural and technological barriers in order to use social media to communicate both internally and externally. There appears to be a sense of handing over control of our messages to our staff and customers which makes our reputation harder to manage. We have also heard of managers being suspended or dismissed over inappropriate postings, so training in the use of social media is vital.

We have to change attitudes and overcome fears. Consider the positives. Customers are more knowledge-hungry; the more information you give them about your organisation, the more likely they are to remain loyal. Customers want to know all about your organisation, and what they need to do if they have a problem. If you provide as much information online as you can, and you encourage your staff to direct your customers to your social media, you can often reduce call volume.

Remember that individuals can complain online, and tell thousands of people about your products and services. The response from business organisations must be to embrace social media, and manage it, whether it is Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or responses to blogs. But one does need to be proactive, and this includes training all employees on how to monitor and respond to messages in an appropriate way. This, by the way, is not just training employees how to respond positively, but should include empowerment, trust and confidence in them, in order to ensure that your customers receive the best possible experience from your customer service professionals. Existing protocols will be questioned, and many changes made in order to comply. This is what makes embracing social media frightening for some and exciting for others.

More importantly, as Saatchi has alluded to, there are other benefits to the organisation internally; for example the speed of internal communication can be much higher (up and down) as a result of using social media. Intranets are becoming a thing of the past. Developed in the 1990s, they are not now fit for purpose, since they are used mainly for top-down information. They do not provide much in the way of interaction, and do not give employees or customers a feeling of community within the organisation.

All your teams should be social media aware, and able to manage relationships online. Social media is, of course, ultimately just another communication channel. It can be one part of a holistic approach to communications and customer engagement, and you need confident people to take responsibility for managing all online relationships.

Saatchi certainly believes we will all have to conform to these ideas in the future, just to stay ahead of the competition and the changing demands of our customers. This always brings me back to the importance of building relationships, both internally and externally, and the faster this can happen the more successful the business is. I firmly believe that careful planning of a business’s social media option can go a long way in building lifelong relationships.

Saatchi enthusiastically spells out that, in real time, managers can be much more informed about the health of the business on a day-to-day basis. Staff can indicate how they feel about certain decisions, products, systems, processes and new technology. This can change habits and mind-sets rapidly within the organisation, leading to more robust cohesive teams where everyone is travelling in the same direction.

I believe Social Media is the future, and most people love it, so organisations need to embrace it now or get left behind. My advice would be to think about your customers. Ask yourself, “Where are my customers?” Think carefully about your people, your resources and your customers and work out what is best solution for customers.

Saatchi finishes by saying, “People definitely underestimate the importance of social media and they misunderstand it.” He adds, “It is not the information that social media brings with it, but the speed with which it is delivered that’s the crucial factor.”