Social Media is a two way street

In this month’s FC Business magazine there is an excellent article about how Social Media can be a brand destroyer overnight. With over 4.7 billion minutes spent on Facebook, 53 million status updates and 2 million blog posts written in the past 24 hours, there has never been a more important time for brands to turn on “listening mode”.

Companies are very quick these days to adopt the latest fashion in terms of Social Media. Not a day goes past where I am asked to “Tweet this”, “Pin that” or “Like Me”. You would think that companies really wanted to hear my opinion on their products and services based on their keenness to engage with me.

But do they really care if I “like” them or not? I get the feeling these days I am simply just another tick on their Social Media ROI chart. As Patrick McGoohan famously said in the TV series The Prisioner “I am not a number, I am a free man”. Few brands really engage with specific customers and are missing a massive opportunity to humanise their brands.

The public at large want to feel loved by everyone they interact with. The reason why first text messaging, then instant messaging and now Social Media networks such as Facebook have taken over (some of ) our lives is that we crave attention. We really are all that shallow. It probably relates back to us being cavemen or something.

But some brands simply do not get it. You can almost see their brand strategy meetings now:-

“We need to be on Twitter, on Facebook, on YouTube. Oh and that Pinterest thing. Smethers, go and sort it out.”

So the marketing junior sets up these services and starts pumping out information into the ether. All good so far – the brand is getting more exposure, consumers are getting some new information and everyone is happy. But what happens when something goes wrong? What happens when a consumer dares to click on that “reply” or “comment” button?

The companies that really understand Social Media realise that this is the tipping point. This is their defining moment to sometimes save a customer. We all know that we do not live in a word of mouth anyone but a word of many. Put a comment on Facebook and it can be seen by everyone you know immediately; on Twitter a simple retweet can see an innocolous comment go viral in a matter of minutes.

A company who understands the power of Social Media will be proactively monitoring all avenues. They will hear when someone engages with them and will respond accordingly. They will see when someone mentions the brand and channel the question to the right people. All sounds easy right? Well if that is the case, how come so many get it wrong.

Here are two personal examples of differing engagements. One relates to my Mobile Network provider. For months I have noticed a deterioration of network coverage where I live. I tweeted direct to their customer services arm. Nothing. I sent another to their general Twitter address. Nothing. And finally to both addresses. Success! I got a reply. But not from them – it was from a rival network encouraging me to come to them and pointing me in the direction of their latest offers. What do you think my opinion is now of a company I have been loyal to for a decade and have spent close to £10,000 with?

A second example is with a major High Street DIY chain. Recently I was in one of their stores, queuing to pay. Ten minutes later I was still queuing. So I got my phone out and Tweeted that they needed to sort out their tills. Within 30 seconds they had responded and asked which store, and then once they had this info they said they would do something about it. Two minutes later four members of staff appeared and tills were opened. Result = happy customers and an advocate.

We are not talking about major high-tec, expensive solutions to be good at Social Media. Most of us have PC’s, the applications to monitor Social Media at a base level are free, the training to press “reply” is relatively quick. So why do companies simply not get it?

I am not sure if these companies actually realise the damage they do by ignoring their customers. I have had fruitless and frustrating attempts to communicate to organisations who have made mistakes or errors on websites and above the line advertising without even one reply let alone a “Thank you”.

So here is Social Media 101 for every company out there. If you really want to build your customer base remember that you have two ears and one mouth for a reason.

So my top four offenders of not understanding how to use Social Media as a communications channel currently are:-

1. South Eastern Trains – Twitter @nre_seastern – 6,433 followers, following 2 – 
Our commute is made all the more painful by the appalling lack of information when things go wrong, which is a daily occurrence.  This morning they tweeted “There are no current line problems on the network”.  This was while train was running 37 minutes late and then was stuck outside a station for 10 minutes.  In the past 24 hours they have tweeted seven times, of which 3 have been to the same person.  Hardly useful considering they run the busiest rail network in the UK.  Try and tweet them and it disappears in the ether.

2. West Ham United – Twitter @whufc_official – 49,255 followers, following 29
My football club.   No idea how to actually engage with fans, simply pumping out links to stories from the website, or retweeting random thoughts of David Gold and players.  They simply do not respond to ANY tweets.  Even when they screw up on something (such as sending the wrong URL’s out) they will not acknowledge it.  Perhaps they feel they are above communication with fans but they are seriously annoying fans.

3. The FA – Twitter @thefadotcom – 137,591 followers, following 149
Another football organisation who simply pump information out all the time and fail to interact with fans and followers.  Try asking them a question and it is simply ignored.  Try pointing out when they have errors, broken links, wrong urls and you are also ignored.

4. TMobile Support – Twitter @TmobileUKhelp – 22,689 followers, following 19,741
As a customer of over 10 years and one who spends over £2,000 with them I do expect a certain level of support.  However, it seems that whenever I tweet them they ignore requests.  Network issues around my house have led to significant frustrations and requests for help.  No one is there.  Well no one from T-Mobile that it – O2 and Vodafone have all offered to help if I move to them.

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