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24/7 and social

01 Feb 2011

Not that long ago, if you had a problem with a company and you wanted to sort it out, you could have done a handful of things to get in contact with them. You could have written a short letter, walked to the post box and dropped it in, then waited for a few days and a written response may have come back to you.You could pick up the telephone, work your way around the sometimes confusing and annoying automated answering service and hope that you get to speak to the right person in the first instance, but more often than not, you’d be transferred to a different section, only to recite your story once again.You could send a fax or email and wait for a response, or you could even pay them a visit in person. But today, there are a whole lot more ways you can communicate with that company, and dare I say it, in very public ways.Your choice of how you want to communicate with a company is totally up to you; do it in whichever way works for you at the time. I am talking about the "new” social media channels that we are currently using, because they are simply extra communication channels, and nothing more. If I am busy chatting to my friends on Facebook, and a mate has just had an upgrade on her telco plan and it suits me to change over too, where do I want to go for more information? I’m certainly not going to write an email, a fax or a letter. It’s after hours so I won’t call, I may go to the website but more than likely, if I’m on Facebook, I will see if the company has a page on there. If they do, and it looks interesting and is updated very regularly, I will probably click the "Like” button, and post a question on their wall. From my point of view, my part is done and I expect an answer within a few hours or the following morning, if it is late. When the company responds, I will see the message come through and can reply to it immediately if I need to as I, like thousands of others, now have a smart phone. The conversation is easy, painless, stressless and on my terms. And as it is in the public domain, others will have seen the conversation and possibly decided to make the change too, which is a great way to educate your customers, and deal with enquiries at the same time. In fact, you very often find that other customers will answer the query on your behalf if they know the answer, so you simply have to confirm or deny.So where do your customers hang out online to enable you to start to build a relationship with them? They could be in a variety of places but here are the main ones:LinkedIn

  • LinkedIn is a business to business only networking site
  • You have to be aged 17 or above to register
  • Over 85 million users worldwide with approximately 275,000 in New Zealand
  • Approximately 82% are aged between 25 and 54 years of age
  • Top three titles: owner, director, manager
  • Do you have a company page and/or group set up?
Facebook
  • Facebook is both a B2B and B2C networking site
  • There are over 500 million active users worldwide (who used it in the last month)
  • You have to be aged 13 or older to register as a user
  • There are approximately 1.7 million users on Facebook in New Zealand over the age of 17 – nearly half of the population
  • The average person on Facebook has around 130 friends
  • 50% of Facebook’s active users log onto the site every day
  • Do you have an appealing Facebook page updated very regularly?
Twitter
  • Approximately 50 million tweets are sent each day
  • All age groups and all demographics
  • No one really knows how many are actually active on Twitter
  • Appropriate for both B2B and B2C communication
  • Presents a very public conversation
  • Are you listening to what your customers are saying?
  • Consider several different brand names for different areas of your business
Now you know a little more about each of the main three sites, you can probably work out where to spend your initial social media efforts. But how do you make a start?Building and maintaining relationships online is relatively simple if you apply the same principles as you do at a real, live, face-to-face event, but for some reason, we rarely do. When you set up your Facebook page and get some ‘Fans’ or ‘Likes’, as they are now called, engage with them.Make sure that you fill your page with all sorts of useful information, and when someone does leave a comment on your page, do respond in a friendly manner, be human. In fact, it may be appropriate to be very relaxed (no swearing) to compensate for the computer between you. This is your chance to start building a relationship, so use it.What if the comment left isn’t friendly, how do you handle that? The simple answer is how would you like your message to be responded to if it was you? Don’t fall into the trap of being defensive or obnoxious; just politely thank them for their comment and say something along the lines of: "I take your comments onboard and thank you for  sharing them”.If it’s something you can help them with do so, and if it’s serious, ask them to email the details so you can respond in private. Set up a separate email address for such instances, giving you a way to measure your efforts. In reality, you’ll get few negative comments unless something has gone very wrong.So what about Twitter, it is all about conversation anyway isn’t it? I have found Twitter to be an invaluable tool for watching and listening to what my prospects and clients are up to in the hope I can contribute in some way, and also listening to what is being said about my brand and other search terms. It really is like a rolling newsletter: you add value to your customer’s world, and at the same time, put yourself back on their radar for the future.LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter all have great advantages for extending your networking and customer service efforts in the online space. Give your chosen site or sites a real good go but do remember to think about how you treat customers offline and apply the same principles to your online efforts. Remember that others can see it too. You need to hang out where your customers are hanging out, and be better than the best.