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Social media is one of those phenomenon’s that have exposed organizations, both large and small in terms of how much they value what their customers have to say, and the extent to which they willing to go to connect with their customers. Unlike in the past, when customers had to follow long and indirect channels, just to get out their views to company representatives, social media has changed all that and it is now as easy as sitting comfortably at your home, a few clicks on your keyboard and as a customer, you are able to extend your views.
As much as it is easy for customers, it is both a great opportunity for organizations as well as a challenge. I say this because if you are an organization that has seen the huge potential that lies in social media and invested all the necessary resources, in terms of time, money, personnel and technology, you have just hit a gold mine. This is because you have an edge over your competitors, and your customers will be able to connect to you directly and communicate to you on some of the areas that you are doing well, as well as those areas where you need to improve. However, if you are one of those organizations that have never given social media much attention, you have to be prepared for the consequences. The moment your clients or potential clients search through the internet and find that you are not on social media, it becomes a bit tricky for you. Your customers expect to find you on almost all social media platforms, and once they find that you not available, and you do not even have an Account on any social media sites, they will definitely be disappointed.
In what ways can social media interaction with customers in real time help an organization?
Data gathering: There is lots of information that organizations big and small can get from social media. This is the one place where customers meet virtually, and even without the organization contributing to the topic, customers will form their own forums and group discussions, where they get to share a lot of things such as their experience with the organization, whether they are satisfied or not and such stuff. I interestingly, the information they share with others on such forums, they might never share with a company representative. Therefore for the organization, the best thing is not to intrude on such forums, but take a backward step and play the role of moderator or monitor the discussions from a distant. The only time the organization should come in, is when serious allegations have been raised during the discussions, and the company feels that it should clear up the air so as to maintain its image. This is the only time the company should contribute, either on its official site or other credible forums. For example, earlier on I was checking through the internet to see when my favorite TV show Strike Back is set for a new season. Of course I was disappointed to find out that its main production sponsor Cinemax has delayed it for a while as one of the show’s stars recuperates from an injury, but far from it, I noticed something very interesting. All the show`s fans were showing their disappointment and putting it in words on the Cinemax’s official site as well on the show`s site. Their views were all in support of a new season without delay, and I must credit them for a job well done in airing their views. There is a lot of data that Cinemax can gather from such views, especially coming from social media; one is that people want the show back, 2nd is that their show has a huge following, 3rd is that they are letting people down with the delay, which may point out to some level of dissatisfaction. This just shows the power of social media as a data gathering tool.
The other aspect is where the organization is actively engaging with the customers, such that whenever someone posts on their official site such as Twitter or Facebook, then a company rep replies within minutes. Therefore, if the client is experiencing problems, a company rep is able to direct them on the way forward. This direct interaction between customers and company representatives contributes to direct sales, and a higher level of satisfaction among customers. Additionally, the company is able to gather a lot of important data and in the process marks out areas where it needs to improve.
Public Relations: Social media presents a more direct form of PR, which may be very resourceful to an organization, if it is well utilized. Every organization should commit a whole PR department to social media, not just inexperienced junior employees, because social media is at the heart of their success or failure. A good organizational PR team on social media is able to respond to complaints and queries in a strategic manner, hence painting a good name for the company.
Brand–building: The most effective way to build a brand, using the least resources is through social media. It is actually the best place to introduce new products or services into the market, and if people like what have to offer, this will easily spread via word-of-mouth. However, you must support that with strategic marketing on social media, and you might as well give established brands a run for their money if you get it right. Getting right means respond to comments in real-time, apologizing if need be and having a human touch in your responses.
Feedback is instantaneous: No one likes having to wait for a long period of time, before we get feedback, whether we are waiting for the doctor’s test results or a job application, we all like instant feedback. With social media, both the client and the organization gains from instant feedback, which may lead to a constructive debate, until both sides come to a mutual agreement. No such thing would be possible, if both ends were taking hours to respond to each other, and chances of either side leaving the conversation with a feeling of total dissatisfaction are quite high.
As a crisis management platform: Social media is the best platform any organization could use for purposes of disaster management. Top executives from the company may use this as an opportunity to calm down clients, hence restoring the company’s good name. I will use the incident of the missing Malaysian plane a few months ago as an example. In the event of such a tragic occurrence, friends and relatives of those who had boarded the plane were obviously in total shock and panic and were even posting hate messages in social media against the Airlines. This could easily have spread, owing to the immense power of social media, and the Airlines risked losing the trust and loyalty of millions of its customers. If top executives from the company had taken the opportunity to give words of encouragement to friends and family of the bereaved, and also interacted live on social media with them and other customers as well, then this would have been a bold step in terms of crisis management.