Mitch Joel’s Best Practices in Social Media Marketing Writing Project found its way to my inbox from Mike Keliher, a frequent commentor and digital friend. Yes, it’s a meme and no, I don’t particularly like memes, but this one is certainly a useful one. Since Mike asked, I thought it best to respond with a best practice in social media marketing. Keep in mind Joel asked that each person who participates pick one, several folks have gone ahead of me with great best practice ideas and, well, I enjoy bringing something different to the table.

My best practice in social media marketing is to embrace your audience.

[flickr style="float: right"]photo:436065491[/flickr]I spent 11 years as a college athletics publicist. In the sports world, you’re surrounded by real fans — a term shortened from the word, “fanatic,” for a reason. In college athletics, you have an even greater degree of insanity to deal with because the most vocal and intrusive fans are parents of your student-athletes, who are often blinded by their love for their child and incapable of a rational approach to dealing with professionals tasked with supporting their sons and daughters. I’ve been accosted by parents for not glorifying their child with superlatives and even threatened with physical harm for a statistical decision that didn’t favor one man’s daughter. For those in the business of college athletics, there are very few who consider their target consumer to be of sound mind, much less worthy of their respect.

In the world of marketing, I’ve had the experience of dealing with a brand with a fair level of open communications with its customers. Yet, those charged with handling the day-to-day interaction had an obvious distaste for their core fans, often stereotyping the lot of them and making important business decisions based on anecdotal experiences with a very small number of consumers.

Because of my long run dealing with sports fans and inherent, though perhaps naive, belief that even the craziest of people has a valid opinion, I developed a theory to argue for a more persistent and thoughtful approach to dealing with fans, be they of your team or your brand. The theory goes something like this:

Ninety percent of what you hear comes from less than 10 percent of your audience; 90 percent of that is negative.

I call it my 90-10-90 rule and I use it to remind clients that they should embrace their audience. Certainly, the majority of what you hear from consumers is going to be negative. People who aren’t unhappy don’t complain. Unless you have a particularly bad product or service, or are in the midst of a crisis in your company relative to a product or service, the vast majority of your customers are placidly content, churning along with their lives, oblivious to the fact you may want to hear from them. Those that you do hear from are likely raising their hands because of an element of discontent.

By staying focused on the 90 percent of your audience you don’t hear from and can assume are either happy or neutral in their feelings toward your brand, you don’t become blinded in decision-making by the vocally discontent minority. By approaching social media marketing with the same attitude you can see past the superficial negative you might find once you open the channels of communication with your consumers to the overwhelming positive to come from doing so. If you need a case study on how that might work, call Lionel Menchaca. What started out as overwhelming negative quickly turned turned good for Dell.

Embracing your audience applies in several areas. If they seem uncomfortable to you, ask yourself if you’re basing that on the 90 percent or the less than 10. Here are five ways companies can embrace their audience:

  1. Assume your audience is smart, and sometimes smarter than you.
  2. Trust them to follow your lead, even when asking them to go above and beyond for your brand.
  3. Consider negative feedback as an opportunity to improve, even if the delivery isn’t constructive.
  4. Know that it’s okay to say, “no,” so long as you explain why.
  5. Act human and they’ll allow you to be such.

While it may very well be necessary to explain each of those in more detail, I’d like to challenge you to do so. Tell me what one or more of those instructions for embracing the audience means to you. And, by all means, if there are others, add them to the list.

The comments are yours.

And in the interest of learning through the extension of the project, I would ask Beth Harte and Kip Bodnar to give us their one best practice.

IMAGE:But I Love To Hug” by Beard Papa on Flickr.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog and signature Explore events. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.unjournalism.com Mike Keliher

    I love the 90-10-90 rule. And reading that has driven me to solidify something I've done casually in the past: I want to do my part to lower that second 90 percent for the brands I use and like. That is, I want to make sure they hear positivity from consumers, not just complaints. Good brands deserve that, no?

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Great goal, Mike. I think social media, if done well, gives brands a chance to lower the second 90. It also gives them the chance to increase the 10 and lower the first one. The fact of the matter will always remain, though, most people don't care to take the time to respond. It's just a fact of life. The smart brands, though, are servicing the ones that do with a mindful eye on the big picture.

  • http://www.unjournalism.com Mike Keliher

    I love the 90-10-90 rule. And reading that has driven me to solidify something I've done casually in the past: I want to do my part to lower that second 90 percent for the brands I use and like. That is, I want to make sure they hear positivity from consumers, not just complaints. Good brands deserve that, no?

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Great goal, Mike. I think social media, if done well, gives brands a chance to lower the second 90. It also gives them the chance to increase the 10 and lower the first one. The fact of the matter will always remain, though, most people don't care to take the time to respond. It's just a fact of life. The smart brands, though, are servicing the ones that do with a mindful eye on the big picture.

  • http://www.digitalcapitalism.com Kipp Bodnar

    Jason,

    Another great post. I agree with Mike, the 90-10-90 rule is good stuff. You asked for my thoughts, so my response is here.

    http://www.digitalcapitalism.com/digitalcapital

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Excellent advice, Kipp. Nice job carrying the baton.

  • http://www.digitalcapitalism.com Kipp Bodnar

    Jason,

    Another great post. I agree with Mike, the 90-10-90 rule is good stuff. You asked for my thoughts, so my response is here.

    http://www.digitalcapitalism.com/digitalcapital

  • http://www.theharteofmarketing.com Beth Harte

    In my experience, your 90-10-90 rule extends to existing customer sales interactions as well (i.e. constant support & communications with the 10%). It’s the old adage about the squeaky wheel. The other rule of thumb that companies rely on is that 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers (the Pareto principle). I am seeing a correlation here. Is it that 10% of those 20% are the most vocal because they know they are generating the most revenue for you and thus have the ability to demand features, functionality, etc. (perhaps generating the superficial negative)? And is it that the superficial negative becomes the only feedback heard because it could potentially affect sales commissions? Either way, that 10-20% of customers is being communicated with weekly, if not daily.

    I am in complete agreement with your top 5 ways to embrace your audience/community. My best practice (for my industry) is three-fold and interrelated.

    1. Only focus social media marketing & communication efforts on the other 90% (because you never know who will rotate in & out of the 20%). —> And LISTEN to them!

    2. When you listen to and engage with the 90%, test the demands of the 10% (Is the negativity, request or demand viable? If so, why isn’t the other 90% being vocal and what does that indicate? If it’s not viable, question spending research, engineering, production, etc. dollars only to appease the 10%. Sounds simple, but pressure from sales can sometimes negate what’s realistic). —> Yep, customers are smart…listen to them!

    3. Focus on the 90% for evangelists, references, focus groups, primary research, etc. (the other 10% hold their references hostage as leverage). —> Yep, they will go above and beyond for a brand, especially if they know you are human and that you care about their business.

    Marketing needs to embrace the other 90%, because sales typically doesn't. And until that changes, social media is the best practice that will give all customers a voice.

    • http://www.theharteofmarketing.com Beth Harte

      Heh. I suppose I didn't add to the meme…will do so tomorrow. Consider the above my comments on yours. ;-)

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Too many numbers … head hurting … gonna be sick …

      Heh. Just kiddin'.

      I think the 10 percent I spoke of and the 20 percent you speak of are totally different groups. In my experience, the 10 percent that complains the most are not the most vested and not the most reliable customers. They are the ones that have found a method of communicating with the brand and feel entitled to do so, even more so than necessary. They may very well be part of the 20 percent that make up 80 percent of the business, but I don't think they are the same groups.

      Now I'll go rest my head after the math test. Eeeeeeee.

      • http://www.theharteofmarketing.com Beth Harte

        You know us marketers, we like our numbers…take an Excedrin, it'll help ease the pain of analysis! ;-)

        Agree with your point…the 10% could fall anywhere within the 100% of revenue generators. That said, knowing when/where they will strike is altogether a different type of analysis. However from my experience, the largest revenue generators tend to be the most vocal…but agreed, there is that occasional annoyance that comes from out of the blue without reason.

        And with that, back to the topic…

  • http://www.theharteofmarketing.com Beth Harte

    In my experience, your 90-10-90 rule extends to existing customer sales interactions as well (i.e. constant support & communications with the 10%). It’s the old adage about the squeaky wheel. The other rule of thumb that companies rely on is that 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers (the Pareto principle). I am seeing a correlation here. Is it that 10% of those 20% are the most vocal because they know they are generating the most revenue for you and thus have the ability to demand features, functionality, etc. (perhaps generating the superficial negative)? And is it that the superficial negative becomes the only feedback heard because it could potentially affect sales commissions? Either way, that 10-20% of customers is being communicated with weekly, if not daily.

    I am in complete agreement with your top 5 ways to embrace your audience/community. My best practice (for my industry) is three-fold and interrelated.

    1. Only focus social media marketing & communication efforts on the other 90% (because you never know who will rotate in & out of the 20%). —> And LISTEN to them!

    2. When you listen to and engage with the 90%, test the demands of the 10% (Is the negativity, request or demand viable? If so, why isn’t the other 90% being vocal and what does that indicate? If it’s not viable, question spending research, engineering, production, etc. dollars only to appease the 10%. Sounds simple, but pressure from sales can sometimes negate what’s realistic). —> Yep, customers are smart…listen to them!

    3. Focus on the 90% for evangelists, references, focus groups, primary research, etc. (the other 10% hold their references hostage as leverage). —> Yep, they will go above and beyond for a brand, especially if they know you are human and that you care about their business.

    Marketing needs to embrace the other 90%, because sales typically doesn't. And until that changes, social media is the best practice that will give all customers a voice.

  • http://www.theharteofmarketing.com Beth Harte

    Heh. I suppose I didn't add to the meme…will do so tomorrow. Consider the above my comments on yours. ;-)

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Excellent advice, Kipp. Nice job carrying the baton.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Too many numbers … head hurting … gonna be sick …

    Heh. Just kiddin'.

    I think the 10 percent I spoke of and the 20 percent you speak of are totally different groups. In my experience, the 10 percent that complains the most are not the most vested and not the most reliable customers. They are the ones that have found a method of communicating with the brand and feel entitled to do so, even more so than necessary. They may very well be part of the 20 percent that make up 80 percent of the business, but I don't think they are the same groups.

    Now I'll go rest my head after the math test. Eeeeeeee.

  • http://www.theharteofmarketing.com Beth Harte

    You know us marketers, we like our numbers…take an Excedrin, it'll help ease the pain of analysis! ;-)

    Agree with your point…the 10% could fall anywhere within the 100% of revenue generators. That said, knowing when/where they will strike is altogether a different type of analysis. However from my experience, the largest revenue generators tend to be the most vocal…but agreed, there is that occasional annoyance that comes from out of the blue without reason.

    And with that, back to the topic…

  • http://2levelsabove.com mythsnlegends

    I agree strongly with making the best out of a negative experience with a discontent customer. It's an excellent opportunity to utilize one;s customer service and turn it into an experience the customer would not forget.

    I guess it's just natural that those who are making the most noise would like to be heard, and once we listen, we will (most probably) come back to us just because we listened. Any good company will know that.

    It is the 10% we should tune into most :)

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Agreed and thanks for adding to the conversation!

  • http://2levelsabove.com mythsnlegends

    I agree strongly with making the best out of a negative experience with a discontent customer. It's an excellent opportunity to utilize one;s customer service and turn it into an experience the customer would not forget.

    I guess it's just natural that those who are making the most noise would like to be heard, and once we listen, we will (most probably) come back to us just because we listened. Any good company will know that.

    It is the 10% we should tune into most :)

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  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Agreed and thanks for adding to the conversation!

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Agreed and thanks for adding to the conversation!

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  • http://DCincome.com/blog Gerald Cotley

    The secret of social media lies on your fans and followers.. So you'd better create a great relationship with them or else, this marketing strategy will not work.

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    nice topic.thanks for all the tip .even if it take time to read you article it has a goo and important point,

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