Posted on Experience Matters: August 24, 2009 10:23 AM
I'm in Toronto this week on business. Arriving a few days early to play tourist, I tweeted for recommendations for places to eat and things to do. In the onslaught of responses I got, one friend suggested Mildred's Temple for brunch. Given the flood of commentary, that would not have stood out, except that someone from that restaurant thanked my friend for the referral, and encouraged my visit. On Sunday, my wife, son, and I had a delightful meal there, one that would not have happened without social media. And Mildred's got some new business.
Clearly, thanks to services like Twitter and Facebook, there is now a global conversation. What's not clear is how businesses can meaningfully embrace it. How can social media augment, fill out, and improve the customer experience?
1. Only hire people who embody your brand
It's disheartening how typically little regard management has for their staff, as witnessed by their onerous policies and procedures for "appropriate" communication. Two companies who lead the way in using social media, Southwest Airlines and Zappos (disclosure: Zappos is a client of Adaptive Path), empower their staff to engage with social media on the company's behalf. What allows them to be comfortable with this is that both companies have extremely particular hiring practices that ensure their employees embrace the company's values.
What's great about this approach is that you don't need corporate social media policies—just let your staff do what they do. What's challenging about this approach, at least for other companies, is that most don't hire with same intent and fervor.
2. If you do need policies, keep them lightweight and human.
Not every company has the luxury of Zappos and Southwest to wholeheartedly trust all staff members to converse with the public. For those companies, guidelines help staff understand how to appropriately engage. The trick is to write the guidelines in a straightforward, human manner, and not to overwhelm with corporate- or legal-ese. Intel's set of social media guidelines are thorough and clear, and would probably serve as a great starting point for any organization.
3. Experiment, prototype, pilot—try stuff out.
This is good advice for any initiative, social media or otherwise. Not sure how you should best use social media? Try different things. Join Twitter and start talking. Put up a page on Facebook and see what happens. Launch a small community on your website, and see if people gravitate toward it. For each of these activities, make sure you've devoted the time and effort that will allow it to succeed—don't assume that because people don't immediately flock to the initiative, it's a failure (or, even worse, that engaging in social media is thus not worth the trouble). Evolve your efforts and see what sticks. ENGAGEMENTdb published a report of the brands leading in social media, and Starbucks came out ahead, notably for their willingness to try a lot of different things, some of which have succeeded beyond expectations (most notably with My Starbucks Idea, capturing customers' love for the brand and transforming that energy into smart new initiatives).
4. It's a conversation, which means you both listen and take part.
The worst offenders are those who see social media as simply another platform for marketing communications, blasting press releases and other promotions without regard. In a discussion within Adaptive Path, a colleague said, "It's not a megaphone, it's an ear trumpet!" And while that is definitely a more refined notion, it's insufficient. While it makes sense to track social media to see what's being said about you, if you don't engage, you're simply not part of the conversation.