3 Things Social Media Can Do For Any Business

Social media is the new hotness in the world of marketing, and as with any popular trend it’s brought with it a truckload of buzzwords, hundreds of self proclaimed social media gurus and loads of hype. So, let’s cut through all that and look at three things that social media can do for any business. 

Thing 1 – Publicize your Customer Service

Good customer service makes for happy customers, but it’s time intensive and costly.  Social media can’t replace old-fashioned customer service, but it can help to magnify its impact.

When you provide customer service over the phone, in person, or via email, the only person who knows about it is the customer you’re helping.  When you provide customer service through social media, that interaction can reach thousands of other potential customers.

Take a look at this story about a passenger tweeting @JetBlue.  It’s a case study in getting it right.  The passenger contacted JetBlue with their complaints through a tweet, and @JetBlue responded with a quick, helpful resolution. 

Now, that interaction is on the internet for other potential JetBlue passengers to see, and the original passenger has blogged about the experience for who knows how many readers to discover.  Make a happy customer through traditional customer service, and you’ve got one happy customer.  Make a happy customer through social media channels, and you’ve got the potential to make thousands of happy customers.

The Downside – You can’t make every customer happy.  Miss a message or provide “inadequate” customer service, and the whole world could know about it. 

Learn More – A case study on twitter.com about Jet Blue using the service.

Thing 2 – Replace Focus Groups

Focus groups are wonderful things, but they can be both expensive and slow.  Enter social media.  Using Facebook or Twitter, you can quickly reach your customers for feedback.  Thinking of developing a new product?  Ask your Twitter followers for their opinion.  Trying to choose between two options?  Post a Facebook poll on your fan page. 

Not only will you be getting direct feedback – you’ll be getting feedback from the people who are most interested in your company, interested enough to follow your social media presence. 

Starbucks liked the idea so much they created a community  just for customers to share their ideas with the company.  Of course, not every company is Starbucks, but every company with a successful social media presence has followers who would be happy to share their opinions.

The Downside – Many of the same pitfalls that apply to traditional focus groups also apply to using your business’ social network as a social network, which essentially boil down to being careful about interpreting the data you get back.  Check out Tom Fishburne’s take on the subject.

Learn More  – The New York Times wrote about Tropicana’s experience with social media feedback from their rebranding campaign. 

Thing 3 – Get Friendly With Your Customers

Besides placing orders and getting support – what real reason do most customers have to interact with a company?  The answer is most often,  no reason.  Social media can help. 

Social media gives you a chance to connect with your customers on issues outside of your core business model.  In the pre-digital world, “connecting with your customers on issues outside of your core business model” meant taking them out for drinks.

Now, don’t get us wrong.  We’re all for taking customers out for drinks, but due to the dangers of liver poisoning, it’s not a practice that scales well to a large customer base.  When you’ve got more than a few customers, social media can be a more practical approach. 

Social media gives you the chance to find common ground with your customers.  Nike’s Chalkbot campaign is an excellent example of how.  The campaign won a Cyber Lions Grand Prix award this summer, because it was fantastic.  It gave people the chance to tweet messages to Nike, which the company printed using a chalk-printing robot on the course of the Tour de France.  Catch the right moment on your DVR and you could watch Lance Armstrong ride over your tweet.

The campaign had nothing to do with shoes, and everything to do with Nike telling its customers, “we care about the same types of things that you do, let’s be friends.”  When it’s done right, that can be a very compelling message.

The Downside – Chances are, your customers use social networks to socialize, not shop.  Your social media presence needs to be friendly, but stay this side of becoming intrusive.

Learn More – Read an analysis of what a friendly company does, and doesn’t do. 

What’s Next?

These are, of course, just the surface.  Social media marketing is a booming business.  Part of that is hype, but underneath the hype is a huge amount of potential, the potential for businesses to connect with their customers in new ways.  And that’s a potential well worth pursuing.