Will Social Media Make You Ignore Your Customers?

by Jason Falls |

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 the Author

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).