The social channel appears on first glance to provide a readily-extracted motherlode of information and insights that can help firms retain and build relations with customers and attract new ones. For in the huge volume of conversations: blogs, comments on sites e.g. TripAdvisor et al, Facebook postings and Tweets are concerns, complaints, experiences and ideas about companies’ products and services that are waiting to be mined, assayed, processed, refined and used.
Yet as one spends any time on the channel knows, going through it is akin to mining in another way: there is an awful lot of raw ore that must be processed to obtain a few ounces of valuable commodities.
I recently asked enterprise feedback management (EFM) solution providers for a story on EFM in the February issue of Customer Interaction Solutions about replacing customer feedback surveys with social channel comment harvesting and analysis.
After all if customers and prospects are already remarking about firms on social sites why not capture these comments instead of spending scarce resources on reaching out to and getting them to respond to questions?
The doubting responses from these fine suppliers’ executives would, if I could see their faces, no doubt be accompanied by eye rolling and eyebrow raising: or attempts to stop them from happening.
These companies have a point. Facebook conversations and Tweets are so weighed down with and focused on with to others seemingly trivial details on individuals’ lives that they are often useless for meaningful personal let alone for commercial interactions.
My wife has practically given up on Facebook because it has become such a time-waster. If anyone wants to reach her they can send her an e-mail. Or call. The same goes for me. My TMC blog and the odd comments on media sites are about the extent of my social media interactions. When learning from others or offering my suggestions to them I prefer long and in-depth discussions.
And when there is commercially valuable information is it what firms need to know and use at that time? For with the social channel, like any resource, what is there is all that there is: take it, work with it or leave it. There is nothing companies can do to change the composition or the location.
There is the issue of whether what is said on the social channels accurately reflects marketplace sentiment; are the comments and posts instead examples of “empty cans rattle the most?” Who actually listens and more importantly heeds their messages? Are the people who use them also sought-after customers, possessing the right income, interests and demographics?
Moreover because these posts are typically anonymous how can firms find out these individuals’ identities and from there determine their value to their enterprises without arousing their suspicions other than approaching them head-on and only if they agree to reveal who they are?
The majority of the working population rarely has time during business hours--which are becoming longer as are commute times—to spend much time on social media. Stringent corporate policies and tougher laws that rightly restrict communicating in motion are going in place to limit such activities, though their success in doing so is debatable.
More seriously, too often the remarks made about firms on social media are unhelpful and worse yet occasionally inaccurate, which could harm brand and company reputation.
The social channel's anonymity opens the door to concerted guerrilla marketing warfare where commenters would be paid to build up their clients and tear down competitors, with language specially shaped and sharpened to get through the sites’ hosts’ screens. As these posts are anonymous the perps make their attacks and slip away into the ether.
Don't believe me? Since when have there truly been open and honest all-candidates' meetings, online media surveys and comments both call-in and written on public policy issues?
If that were not enough spam has already infested social channel sites, requiring accurate filtering. Suspicious-sounding responses have been sent to blog entries; it takes a careful eye and ear for language to diagnose and remove them.
The social channel, for all its ability to give consumers a global voice, also has its limits in influencing buying behavior; which makes it no different than any other channel. Customers will, for all their squawking, tolerate mediocre products and services if they marginally perform better for the money compared with the competition.
For example United Airlines has been taking a beating rightly or wrongly online. Yet as long as the carrier represents the best choice to get people and their luggage to get to their destinations when they want and reasonably on time and in fair comfort at viable fares it will stay in business.
Companies that want to tap the social channel had better be prepared for the hard work and are willing to invest in top-grade harvesting and analysis tools to extract wealth from these veins. They should must retain and expand their use of traditional voice of customer means and tools, like EFM-launched-and-managed surveys and interaction speech and screen analytics on calls, e-mails, chats and texts. They need to watch for, analyze, investigate and act on negative comments ASAP.
Even more important than that though outfits must design, engineer, deliver, price and support their products and services right. For there is no surer means than that to attract and retain customers: who will encourage others via the social channel to join them, resulting in a wealth of positive, reinforcing feedback that can create a virtuous cycle of prosperity.