SocialCRM: Redefining Influence & Building Trust

Few things can undermine a brand’s reputation faster over the next few years than the rolling wave of customer discontent expressed in social channels.  We’re seeing it with routine product launches as well as major corporate missteps — but just as damaging are the unattended, ‘percolating’ individual complaints about a brand, some of which are related, and some of which are only similar complaints about separate incidents.  Regardless of the context, one thing is clear – over time they will erode consumer trust in the brands they do business with.

Influential Shifts – Redefining “Friend”

Reports of peer recommendations and online reviews influencing consumer purchases grow each year.  Something that’s also expanding is the definition of a “friend.”  What used to be considered someone you grew up with, know personally or have at least met in person is now shifting to someone whose updates you get regularly letting you know where they are, what they’re doing or what they’re thinking.  While the definition and channel for connecting has shifted, the value we put in these relationships hasn’t.  Friends in the virtual sense have just as much, and sometimes more, influence as our friends in the traditional sense.  And, the channels of communication (social media enabled by cell phones and free wifi connections) and speed at which those conversations happen has increased exponentially.  Brands that hold on to traditional definitions of friends and influences will continue to find themselves at a disadvantage.  Truly listening to and addressing these customer conversations in social media must become a greater focus of successful companies’ marketing efforts.  Through this three-part series, I’ll outline some of the basic tenants of what’s being called social CRM and our approach to addressing the increased volume we’re seeing about brands in social media.

Making the Case for Social CRM

The challenge of social media is the high degree of visibility and the volume of consumer opinions.  The fleeting advantage brands have today is that many of these conversations aren’t organized, and their searchability is limited to a few datasets – namely Twitter and blogs.  But, even in this limited set, these conversations are having an impact.  The growing disadvantage is that many more of these conversations are becoming searchable, and the growing use of review sites like Yelp and location-based applications will continue to elevate many of these conversations, taking them farther into the social web, and directly into the collective consumer consciousness and perception about brands.

A common argument I hear is that it’s human nature to complain and that most people will see these complaints as one-sided rants that most people will see through.  The truth is that many customers who are drawn in to the negative comment strings are also finding real, relevant information to inform their opinions and purchasing decisions.  For social media-aware brands, these discussions provide an opportunity to become part of the conversation, taking complaints head-on, working to address them and building a closer connection with consumers.   And, if done right, these conversations are also a valuable source of feedback and insight to make tangible operational changes and shifts.

Addressing the Good and the Bad

To take full advantage of this open dialogue, a company must first be willing to address both the negative and the positive.  They must be able to resolve warranty complaints from one set of customers before trying to sell a new washing machine to another.

Can the proactive happen before the reactive?  Yes, and some brands have the right set of assets to start the conversation at the point of sale.  But, for most brands, whether they have a strong base of brand advocates or are struggling to regain a positive brand image, their best approach is to understand the conversation, recognize what customers want from them and begin a plan to address the entirety of the conversation happening about them in social media. What brands will find is that in order to grow their brand in social media and gain the advantages those channels offer, having their house in order and being able to assist customers with legitimate issues is necessary before they can actively engage in promotion or commerce.

In the next installment of this series, I’ll outline our approach to addressing the increased volume we’re seeing about brands in social media.

(Originally posted Aug 2010 on FleishmanDNA blog)

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