Why Social Media Really Matters to Business

Now that my email is finally working, I can continue a theme that started as my big “rant” about customer service and apply it more globally to why social media matters to business. Lost at the bottom of that long post was a case example of why my hosting company did not get the impact social media was having on it market. They are the market leader in domain registration, but they were losing the war on market perception. They are opening the door for competitors.

It doesn’t really matter how many people will join a “I hate XYZ brand” facebook group. Nor does it matter that one exists. It is almost a badge of honor to have a “I hate” group. The larger point was that they did not have a group of their own. They had more employees on linkedin than their facebook group. What does that say for a leading internet company?

Additionally, I put a major “rant” post out there that was pretty brutal in the describing the poor experience. I heard nothing back. You would expect that even a counter post, or a message back on Twitter, Facebook, or Linkedin, or something, but the silence was deafening. That is the major point. If you realize that for all of the money that your company spends on “branding” can be balanced by the broadcast messaging from your disgruntled customers, what does that mean for marketing? It is becoming more telling that customer testimonials, good or bad, are displacing and discrediting marketing. All of that advertising dollars now go to getting back to a nuetral position, forget about creating a positive. That I think is the underlying issues with social media for business.

Additionally, couple customer messages with the employee or ex-employee messages out there. The most damaging Anti-brand sites are run by disgruntled employees or ex-employees. Not only are they pissed off, they have insider knowledge about your organization’s warts. The ex-employees have an axe to grind and they are using it.

So, what does that look like. You spend a lot of money on advertising, your website, direct marketing, search engine marketing, etc. At the same time, your prospects do a search and see all of the negative opinion of your service. Doesn’t matter if it is actually true or not, perception is reality…. if you don’t counter it, enough of it will be taken as a sign of larger problems. If you are a public company, it is even harder to counter that because of the communication restrictions. You have seen instances of short sellers creating rumors to drive stock prices down, right?

Well, how do you counter the negative noise? First, assume transparancy in your customer experience. What happens will get out. I would be looking at ways to strengthen my processes, bring my employees closer to the customer experience, and making sure that we are using the web 2.0/social media collaboration tools internally.

Second, I would make sure that I am systematic in my social marketing participation. For those companies that ban social media sites from corporate networks, you are running a race with one leg tied behind your back and are even farther behind.

The point of social media is engagement. The good companies are empowering employees to become ambassadors for the brand out on the web. They are anyway… everytime you tell someone who you work for socially or professionally, it represents the company. If the guy is a schmuck or arrogant, it reflects on the company. It is hard for business leaders to realize that it isn’t about them… companies are made up of people, cultures, and relationships.

The best companies are trying to tap into that internally and externally. What if you could take your internal employee engagement and extend that to ex-employees. There are tons of corporate alumni networks. Many of them are proud of their experience and would love to advocate on your behalf. Probably for self-interest reasons in that if the company has a good brand, it translates into better marketability to be associated with a strong brand.

Also, the best way to prevent disgruntled employees and ex-employees is to improve engagement and communication. If you lay someone off via email and cut off their system access overnight before they know themselves, then you are probably going to get the same level of respect that you give out. If they don’t have a forum for communicating their emotions regarding a layoff, they will create their own.

Additionally, a layoff or a firing is a reflection of poor management. As business leaders, we have to realize that separating an employee from a company is on us. We made a poor decision that led to this situation. It may be the right decision to separate them now, but we made a bad one before. Same with business decisions. Giving a voice to that and receiving the feedback will actually difuse the situation. Hiding behind the corporate veil only compounds that situation.

As we do research into social marketing, we are seeing a pattern emerge. Companies that engage employees and treat them with respect are the ones who are winning the war in social perception. Companies that assumes that employees will behave badly or who ignore customer complaints as annoying distractions, are getting hammered online.

If you are a large player, you have a lot more to lose. Public companies get nailed for missing forecasts when they are growing market share, they get hammered when they lose it. The average tenure of a CMO is something like 2 years. Part of it is the pressure to perform, but a lot of it is the speed of market conditions are accelerating.

You see the same in College Football Coaching. You don’t get time to have a “rebuilding” year in either case. If you are doing the traditional market development and branding model, it takes a long time to turn negative brand perception around. You don’t have it. You have to figure out how to first address the fundamentals, then perceptions, and then focus on growth.

Not spend more money on flashy marketing campaigns and larger budgets to drive more customers. Not that you will get bigger budgets in this economy. You are fighting inertia in that the more you spend against negative perception, the more desperate that you look. People are intuitively discounting marketing messaging.

There is a great deal of cynacism in the market when it comes to corporate messaging. It is perceived as self serving. That is why buyers are craving social media; it is perceived as authentic. A complaint from a customer is perceived as a natural response to a poor customer experience. It isn’t seen as self-servicing, but rather a natural response to an impotent customer service interaction. Other customers can relate to that more than they can relate to a canned advertising message…

This isn’t going away.

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