• June 1, 2012
  • By David Myron, Editorial Director, CRM and Speech Technology magazines and SmartCustomerService.com

Take a Healthy Approach to Social Media

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Social media is emerging as a viable forum for sales, marketing, and customer service professionals to connect with customers. But be careful not to treat it as "just another service channel."

I've already heard too many CRM professionals describe social media this way. They are likely doing this to make sense of something new, but I'm concerned that they are oversimplifying things.

First, social media is not like some of the more traditional customer interaction channels, because it's not a private and secure channel—it's open and public. If a customer service rep slips up during a phone, email, or Web chat interaction, your organization might lose that customer. But if a rep makes the same mistake on social media, you stand to lose many more. Clearly, there's more at stake when interacting with customers in such a public forum, and a company's approach to the new channel should not be taken lightly.

Another reason social media is not just another service channel is privacy. Organizations can't simply divulge sensitive and private customer, company, or pricing information on social sites. A banking company can't divulge a customer's financial information, a healthcare company can't reveal sensitive patient information, and a company with a tiered partner program shouldn't disclose a top-level partner's pricing discounts for other partners to see. When privacy or more handholding is required, organizations should offer to bring the interaction to a more private and secure channel.

Companies also shouldn't expect to solve the particulars of every customer interaction on Twitter in 140 characters or less. When a richer interaction is required, organizations should again be prepared to take the interaction to another channel.

Conversely, organizations shouldn't go overboard and assume that social media's sudden popularity means it is everyone's favorite communication channel. I suspect that many customers would rather use social media as a last resort. Published reports have already indicated that many people who complain on social media do so because other channels have failed them. For example, Dave Carroll's "United Breaks Guitars" video on YouTube became a viral hit. (At press time, it had garnered more than 11 million views.) However, Carroll spent nine months looking for a reimbursement from the company before posting his video.

Organizations must establish an appropriate strategy for social media—one that doesn't oversimplify or overly exaggerate its importance to a company. That's where the editors of CRM magazine come in—all three features in this month's issue are dedicated to improving your organization's social media efforts.

Our cover story, "Hearing 140 Million Voices," by News Editor Leonard Klie, offers tips on how to approach customer service on Twitter. Our feature story "Find the Right Social Media Monitoring Tool," by Associate Editor Judith Aquino, offers advice on what to look for in a social media monitoring solution. And our third feature, "Transforming into a Social CRM Enterprise," by Associate Editor Kelly Liyakasa, offers change management tips on how to successfully transition your organization to a social media enterprise.

You might experience some hiccups while trying to get your social media strategy just right, but the important thing is to keep listening and responding to customers and improving your efforts. Because, when it comes to social media, if you're not involved in the conversation, over time you'll become irrelevant to customers.

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