Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Ilana Rabinowitz, Vice-President of Marketing for Lion Brand Yarn Company.

Last week on Twitter, Christopher Penn asked a good question, “How often to do you talk to your customers?”  The short answer is “virtually all the time.”   When you are developing new products, hiring people, or designing a website, if you aren’t at least talking to your customers in your head, there really is no point.  Along comes social media and that requirement increases exponentially with very public results.

Talking in the evening. Porto Covo, Portugal
Image via Wikipedia

On Facebook, your blog and Twitter; on the ratings and reviews you receive on your products and wherever customers are talking about you; the opportunity–I would say the obligation–to speak to customers grows considerably.  Think about it. If someone who is part of your circle of friends and acquaintances calls you or emails you, unless you’d like to inject a little tension into the relationship, you pick up the phone or respond to an email or voice mail.

Social media has allowed me to have a conversation with big brands, like Jet Blue, and with people who are celebrities to me.  Recently, on a flight from San Diego to New York, I was waiting in line to buy some food for the trip when I realized that Deepak Chopra was standing in front of me.  I have read many of his books, seen him on TV, and I’m a big fan.  We spoke for a few minutes, and it turned out he was on my flight.  When I sat  in my seat, I tweeted “@DeepakChopra so nice to meet you at the airport” and within 2 minutes, just as the doors of the plane were closing he tweeted back, “@Ilana221, nice to see you too.” Since in our conversation I mentioned I’m from New York, he added “I’ll be at the Open Center on September 21.”  I knew it was him tweeting because he was a few seats ahead of me and that’s what he was doing.  It was a thrill for me.

When I got home and mentioned it to my son, who knows Twitter but doesn’t use it, he said, “doesn’t that mean that everyone could see that conversation?” And that is part of the thrill.  Not only was someone I admire talking to me but there it was, for anyone to see in a way that was better than a phone call or email.  I was being publicly acknowledged by someone I admire.

I have had the same feeling when Chris Brogan or Gary Vaynerchuk spoke directly to me on Twitter or when I commented on Mitch Joel’s blog and he commented back that and used the words, “awesome comment.”  I won’t forget any of these moments because they were attached to an emotion.

As a user of social media, even though it’s a thrill to talk directly to a person or an individual at a company that I like, it is also something I have come to expect.  I tweeted a nice experience I had on Jet Blue and wasn’t asking a question or complaining, just complimenting.  There was no reason to expect Jet Blue to acknowledge a comment, but a little part of me wondered if they might.

The expectation bar – the likelihood that the mere mention of a person or brand is going to result in a response – is high in social media.  I’ve tweeted a problem I had with Overstock.com and heard nothing. I’ve tweeted a problem I had with Nike and heard nothing until I later went through a maze of emails and finally got the opportunity to evaluate my purchase in a survey.  Each one of those brands took a leap or drop or turn in my mind with each one of those interactions.

What are people saying about you on social media?  When you are being challenged, are you running for cover?  When customers compliment you, are you smiling and moving on with your day? When they ask a question or need real-time help are you hoping things work out?

Or like many brands, are you not even able to listen well enough to the throng to know what portion of customers are looking for help, or voicing a concern? If you have tens or even hundreds of thousands of Facebook fans, blog readers, podcast listeners and Twitter followers, keeping up with them takes time and energy. Many brands are jumping into social media and doing whatever it takes to get fans and followers (advertising, coupons, contests) without regard to what is involved in nurturing the relationship.

The number of people who follow you on Twitter or “like” your Facebook page is not as important as the amount and quality of your interactions with them. Growing your fan base too quickly may be setting you up for a situation where customers with higher and higher expectations are feeling ignored.  Accumulating friends is not the same as being a friend.

Editor’s Note: We will feature occasional guest posts from smart peeps from time to time. This is one from one, namely Ilana Rabinowitz, Vice-President of Marketing for Lion Brand Yarn Company.

Ilana RabinowitzRabinowitz approaches marketing with an uncompromising focus on the customer and a grounding in psychology and neuroscience to understand what motivates people to make buying decisions.  She believes that businesses need to develop their own media as a means of creating a branded experience for customers.  She has spoken at digital marketing conferences including Web 2.0, Blogher Business and Internet Retailer. She is the author of a book about psychology, a book about mindfulness and co-author of a book about the culture of knitting.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls 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 Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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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://twitter.com/patstrader Pat Strader

    Great post. The last two paragraphs really sum it up nicely.

    I see far too many brands more concerned with how many fans/followers they have, than the value they provide to them.

    • Ilana Rabinowitz

      Thanks for your comment, Pat. It reminds me of the fact that a few years ago, the metric that brands used to use when taling about their websites was “hits” which was similarly meaningless. I wonder if a good measurement will come along for social media. Whatever happens, there are certain things that can not be measured with numbers.

  • http://www.summerhills.com Bangalow Accommodation

    This is an excellent post. We are a company new to Social Media and it is so true what you say about our responsiveness to customers being much higher now, not only in engagement in Social Media, but in real life we are more responsiveness to customers on a daily basis. Social Media has definitely tuned up our engagement more than a few gears, and that's a good thing. so to answer your question, with Social Media are we ignoring our customers? Absolutely not. Social Media is only about engagement. Full stop, so if you're not engaging you're just wasting your time. Thanks for always inspiring great group discussions at our team meetings, your posts are always well written and insightful to a company like us just starting out in both Twitter and FaceBook.

    • Ilana Rabinowitz

      Thanks for letting us know that the post was helpful. I wrote this as a guest post on Jason's blog and you pay me the ultimate compliment when saying it has been helpful in the context of his great writing and that of other guests. What you have discovered at your company is the hard work involved in taking care of your growing list but when you do the right thing for your customers, they will reward you.

  • http://www.futuremarketingskills.com The Market Future

    Great piece. It's kind of like the whole “with great power, comes great responsibility” idea. When you have the opportunity to interact with customers so much, you definitely need to take advantage of it. Because having a presence on Facebook or Twitter or having a blog and not responding to customer interaction is probably worse than not having a business social media presence at all.

    I'm looking forward to reading more of your articles.

    • Ilana Rabinowitz

      Thank you. i like the analogy. What businesses will discover, though, is that if you mess up with a large audience on social media, the power reverts to the audience.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Cunningham/1352349861 Paul Cunningham

    Social capital is the sum of strength of the bonds between contacts. I know people with very few 'fans and followers' etc but their ability to pull favours from and inluence the few people they know is enormous. While others have literally thousands of 'friends' on facebook but they have very little influence at all.

    • Ilana Rabinowitz

      Nice point, Paul, that's a definition I will write down.

  • http://www.wickedinnovations.com/ Jeorge Peter

    Yeah, I've seen some who were just concerned of their followers but ignore to talk or relate to them.

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  • http://PersonalSuccessMarketing.com CharlieSeymourJr

    Clearly there is a difference between quantity of chatter and quality of connection.

    When I talk back and forth through Facebook or through the comment section of my website, the quality of connection is MUCH higher than when I send a tweet to the thousands I have on twitter. (I have 11 twitter accounts, each based on a keyword – those in my PhotoCharlie don't want to read the same thing I put on my DrMarcNCharlie account.)

    It's important for everyone to realize that we are building RELATIONSHIPS here… it's SOCIAL media, not “throw as much crap out there as possible.”

    And clearly a website like this connects well because we find great content and then we can communicate with you. Nice job!

    Charlie Seymour Jr
    http://CreateYourOwnLegendNow.com

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