Brands & Social Media: Serve Customers, Surrender Control


Crowds have gathered on street corners since the dawn of humanity to share information, love, indignation, politics and every other type of interaction. A lot of good and plenty of damage was done to brands below the radar.

Now the clout of  engaged social media users is affecting reputations on and offline. Three of four Americans are involved in social media, yet there are still a surprising number of CEOs who aren’t ready to allow their customers a corporate-hosted public voice.

The business community needs to learn they can’t control the conversation, but manage it.  This  was the goal for yesterday’s Search Engine Strategies San Jose Social Media Track session: Social Media: Managing Conversations and Reputations When the User Is In Control

Walmart Real-Time Reviews are a great example of encouraging consumers to participate in their brand and share their experience by sharing online reviews in their stores. Social marketing helps consumers get info to make purchase decisions by taking advantage of what  others have already learned.  People are influencing purchase decisions on and offline through social media.

Moderator Anna Maria Virzi, Executive Editor from ClickZ, a journalism major, shared that there is a parallel between managing info to share as journalists and online marketers managing the conversation when the user is control.

Dave Evans, VP Author and Digital Voodoo cautioned, don’t try to trick the audience.  Advertisers can influence  social media, but not manipulate.  Providing transparency creates trust.  Dell participates in their community online by being themselves and adding value to the community.

Liana Evans, Director of Social Media at Serengeti Communications notes the change from push marketing to consumer-generated content.  How do advertisers win when the marketing message isn’t important unless users care about product impressions and value?  Participation is key.  Establish buzz about your business before engaging them.  Click to purchase is rare from social media so other measurement is needed to establish value.

Understanding social capital and defining the little things that matter to your customers is the first step to truly listening. Understanding and sharing these messages are more powerful when addressing customer interest.

Home Depot executes on customers priorities by addressing that pricing is less important than associate product knowledge and depth of products for home projects.  Use social to listen to customers needs and address them on and offline.

Brian Kalma, Head of User Experience and Web Strategy of Zappos confirmed that bad reviews as well as good are a part of the consumer story and need to be respected and seen as an opportunity to provide better products and services.

Jet Blue provides info about the whole flyer experience beginning at the airport by creating an exceptional standard for delivering bags.  Positive conversation begins with positive customer experiences.

Listening before engaging in the conversation is an important method said,  Mike Volpe, VP of Inbound Marketing at HubSpot.

“Successful websites get about as much traffic, leads and sales from social media as they do from search engines.”

It is highly measurable and attributable.  Volpe recommends combo of content, engines and social.  Make content link worthy and share worthy and then make sharing as easy as possible for lead generation as well as  content and social also drives search.

Kalma stated that social is a great medium because customers engage when they want and how they want.  Zappos did an exceptional job of engaging their customers through listening, observing and interacting.   Zappos inspires 700,000 social media interactions per day on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, My Zappos and other sources. He  recommends that advertisers don’t over plan it, but nurture it “be smart, be real, talk.”  If customers say something negative, do something positive and respond and use it as an opportunity to improve.

Understand the types of social media in your space and speak directly to those personas.  There was a great deal of content published when Amazon acquisition was announced, yet Twitter was the #1 referring site for that content.  Consumers are talking about you whether or not you’re involved with social media, you can’t drive, but you can get in the car.

Lisa Williams has been an online marketer for 12 years and search marketer for eight.  Williams is CEO of MEDIA forte marketing located in Hood River, oregon which specializes in pay-for- performance search marketing for ecommerce sites.

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