How to stay engaged with customers using Social Media – Part 2

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As I’ve mentioned so frequently before, the primary activity in Social Media is the ‘social’ part.

It’s all about connecting and a major reason for it’s viral explosion is that it’s interactive – a two way street where organizations and their customers or prospects get to know each other in an informal setting.

The trouble with organizations using Social Media is that often it’s a case of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It doesn’t work that well unless the organization understands and fully subscribes to this less formal means of communication.

Trying to control your Social Media presence can be quite tricky, as Starbucks discovered during it’s foray into Hungary.  It would be quite amusing if it weren’t so typical of corporate angst.  The story goes, according to this account published in SM Monitoring, that Starbucks fans in Hungary set up a ‘Starbucks’ fan page on Facebook and a Twitter account – both of which were unauthorized by the Starbucks group.

At any rate, the fan club grew to around 3,000 members.  The activity obviously convinced Starbucks that the time was now right for a Hungarian opening – though they had apparently tried before and failed.  But – and here’s where it gets to the part where you scratch your head – Krisztian Szabados, author of the article says that a few days before the Grand Opening, the Facebook fan page suddenly disappeared.  In it’s place appeared a new FaceBook fan page put up by Starbuck’s PR agency.

Quite obviously, the fans were pretty ticked and Social Media being the free and open-to-express-yourself platform it is, they were also very vocal about their displeasure.  Pretty soon Starbucks, although denying involvement in the fan controlled fan page disappearance, was receiving flack in the media.

Hmmm.  I guess as the Expedia ad goes, “… the fans know, man.  The fans know…”

The moral of the story? If you want to use Social Media to bring prospects and customers closer, you have to be able to relinquish some control and allow the interaction that makes Social Media so effective.  Yes, you want to protect your corporate image, but do you really want to stifle free discussion?  If you’re not too secure in how you think you’re being perceived in the market place, you might want to stifle any discussion that could make you look bad.  If you weren’t clever.

A clever marketer, or P.R. professional would take advantage of the situation, and as Twitter invites, ‘join the conversation’ rather than shut it down.  Only by joining the conversation is there an opportunity to get to that rotten apple in perhaps an otherwise perfectly good barrel.  By addressing negatives openly and honestly and having an opportunity to respond is the best and most credible way to repair any damage your image is currently suffereing.

Being concerned that the fans won’t treat your image properly and somehow make you look less professional or credible is short sighted.  In fact, if people like you enough to create  a mostly positive Social Media buzz about you in the first place, they’re already in your court.  They WANT you to succeed.  They WANT to interact with you.  And how they portray you is a pretty good indicator of how you’re perceived in the market place, anyway.  This in one case where you don’t want to ‘beat them’ you actually do want to ‘join them’, win them over and empower them to give you more positive free exposure than a P.R. Agency could’ve dreamed of 10 years ago!

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