• December 1, 2007
  • By David Myron, Editorial Director, CRM and Speech Technology magazines and SmartCustomerService.com

Social Networking: The Harbinger of Trust

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As we close out this year and look toward 2008, there is one overarching trend that will likely make an indelible mark on customer-centric strategies. Whatever you wish to call it -- Web 2.0, CRM 2.0, the Next Wave of CRM -- it will involve social networking in a big way. Here is one example of why this is happening: At a recent marketing conference, Editorial Assistant Jessica Tsai witnessed a presenter for a large American brewery explaining the importance of building your company's brand. One way to do this, the presenter suggested, is to encourage employees to be advocates of your company's products. This makes plenty of sense, of course -- but then the presenter recounted a crucial mistake: Upon learning that a colleague preferred a competitor's beer, the presenter had made it mandatory that employees only drink their own company's brew. This is conventional marketing wisdom? Give me a break! Forcing people -- even if you're paying their salary -- to become product and company advocates is the wrong way to build a brand. It is exactly this kind of strong-arm tactic that fosters consumer distrust of vendors and encourages consumers to turn to their peers for honesty through social networking--the theme of this month's issue. It's real, and according to our cover story -- "It's All Coming 2.0gether"
by Senior Editor Marshall Lager -- social networking will continue to have a significant impact on businesses in 2008 and beyond. Social networking has catapulted into the stratosphere in terms of popularity, thanks to Web sites such as YouTube, Facebook, and MySpace. The beauty of these sites for the customer is that they put her in the driver's seat, empowering her to act as a company advocate or guerilla marketer capable of influencing the masses overnight. What's scariest for marketers, though, is when customers attack. When faced with a consumer backlash that could negatively impact a company's brand, marketers would be smart to respond. And if a company truly slips, it should own up to the mistake publicly -- and quickly. Take Dell, for example: A marketing maelstrom struck when Jeff Jarvis, founder of Entertainment Weekly magazine, blogged about his negative experience with the computer giant. This set off a slew of responses, "sending the computer manufacturer's reputation on a downward spiral," Jessica writes in her feature "Power to the People". Dell, however, didn't sit still: The company built a community page on its Web site for customers to freely exchange their thoughts and ideas. As a result, Dell achieved improvements in product development, public relations, sales, and customer service, which resulted in better press and higher earnings. Instead of viewing attacks as negative press and ignoring them, perhaps it's better to view them as constructive criticism. After all, many of these attacks are generated by customers who genuinely want your company to excel. Listen to them; their advice is valuable and inexpensive. Your inertia and inaction, meanwhile, could be very costly indeed. David Myron Editorial Director dmyron@infotoday.com
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