Why Your Customers Know More About You Than You Think …
Do you ever feel like you're the last one to know about a trend, as if you walked into a conversation halfway through it and don't know what you missed? Yeah, me too. What's more, many businesses are getting that feeling more frequently, often from their own customers.
Here's why: Social media's ability to offer individuals instantaneous communication with others means that companies no longer control their brand. Consumers rely heavily on the experiences and recommendations of friends. They trust what their network has to say — including complete strangers — more than anything a brand could ever say about itself.
After all, when was the last time you purchased something on Amazon.com without reading the reviews? In the digital age, conversations about the experience with the organization, positive or negative, are being communicated, corroborated and shared. This stream of chatter has the potential to reach and influence far more people than most traditional marketing initiatives.
The harsh reality is many companies still don't track social media conversations to the level they should. Before getting caught flatfooted again, here are three essential social media practices that will leverage your customers’ knowledge of you to help you engage with them more effectively while not busting your marketing budget:
1. Listen. Monitoring tools are in abundance and, best of all, still free. HootSuite is one of the most popular platforms for managing and monitoring Twitter, and it can be customized to pull in conversations using keywords as well as specific regions. Social Mention is another free tool that can provide a valuable snapshot of the current social landscape. It's also OK to ask your existing community for more information or feedback.
2. Build rapport. While it may not be prudent to respond to every comment, it's essential to gain the trust and confidence of today's social consumer. Consistent, supportive and helpful information will ensure three things from your customers:
- they'll appreciate your response, which builds loyalty and word-of-mouth;
- they'll be more likely to support you through a mistake; and
- they'll act as an extension of your customer service team, coming to your aid if you've been unjustly attacked in the social media realm.
3. Empower. Take the realization that customers control your brand one step further: Give them the tools and tactics necessary to create their own stories about your brand. Granted there may be the occasional "rogue" player, but they'll quickly be silenced by the many other followers who have become increasingly endeared to you. They'll take it upon themselves to champion your cause in a way they feel is most effective.
There's an important point to note here — none of these tactics will repair a company's product or service that fails to meet expectations. In other words, good engagement with customers will not "shine a sneaker." However, a beneficial social media relationship with customers can pay great dividends, especially when it comes to long-term relationship building.
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