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Corporate social media have an anti-social side

Real people — not real publicity — produce buzz, sales

Recently I read a piece in Ad Age that said all of Coca-Cola’s social media buzz efforts didn’t help sales … zip, zero, nada.

OK, not quite that bad. It rang up a fantastic 0.01 percent short-term sales effect.

That isn’t enough to even move the needle!

Someone else in the organization came to social media publicity’s defense and said that’s not exactly true, it just did something “different.”

Different is nice, but the boss (and shareholders) really like sales to keep the wheels of commerce moving.

To ensure that publicists wouldn’t get up in arms and defensive (read attack), we went to the worldwide authority — Wikipedia — to make certain we really understood buzz.

It is defined as:

“A term used in WOM (word of mouth) marketing, the interaction of consumers and users of a product or service which serves to amplify the original marketing message. Positive “buzz is the goal of viral marketing, public relations and even advertising.”

That’s what PR professionals and publicists try (or should be trying) to do — drive sales.

It should drive sales, or Coke wouldn’t invest so much in winning and keeping more than 61.5 million Facebook fans, at least as many Twitter followers and don’t forget their YouTube videos, Pinterest, blogs and any social media activity.

The company’s senior manager of marketing strategy and insights announced the results at an advertising conference in New York City, so you may say the disclosure is a little biased.

Still, he gave himself plenty of wiggle room, saying more study is needed.

Buzz/WOM (word of mouth) works because people talk to people recommending something/someone. And those people are putting their reputation on the line. Then it’s easier to trust organizations, brands and services that are discussed because you know and respect the individual.

Buzz measurement gives you a better idea of how many people are reached/connected with, rather than just counting raw publicity and social media numbers.

Publicists will say that helping and producing sales isn’t what their social media efforts are about.

If they don’t deliver a measurable return, and that’s sales, good will, like/respect, then what does it achieve?

Coke’s social media and website ads produce results and good short-term/long-term results, according to the speaker but not the publicity.

Social media publicity efforts — being liked, tweeted, discussed in a site or blog is all about the customer.

After all, you’re reaching out to them all the time, right? And you’re working to develop a strong 1:1 bond for the company and the brand.

Good, no great!

We both know what the consumer wants:

* Product news, information.

* Customer comments, reviews.

* How-to guides.

* And they want direct answers to their questions and support.

That’s the level of social media interaction notables like Zappos, Nordstrom, Salesforce, Southwest Airlines and Dell provide every day.

Not just pushing information out but listening and providing answers and an intelligent response.

Stephen Rappaport wrote a great book in 2011 called “Listen First!”Since then, according to Rappaport, we’ve seen the rise and stall of media listening.

Most publicists simply aren’t trained in listening.

Instead, they’re trained in writing, media relations, crisis management and increasingly all manners of social media usage.

It’s all fun and keeps them busy.

But it’s all totally inadequate in helping deliver a solid customer/business outcome.

Customers/followers want to use social media to learn more about the companies, products and services they purchase and use regularly.

They want coupons, special/unique offers, hints/help on how to do more with, get more from your products/services.

Whether it’s to deliver a compliment, request assistance or air a complaint, social media are increasingly their preferred starting point, even over the use of 800 customer support numbers.

However, a recent Harris Interactive study found that companies are slow to respond on social media (the place publicists say they shine), leaving concerns unanswered.

Some have even gone so far as to delete questions or problems.

You really mean you’re so proud of your outreach efforts that you can’t respond to, assist and/or get assistance for the customer?

Oh, we know, customer problems/complaints belong to customer service, not PR.

Really?

The fact is you hurt your brand by not responding.

When the company’s image/reputation is tarnished, isn’t that your concern?

Thanks largely to the Internet and Web, companies don’t have a “my area, your area” when it comes to customers. Everyone who works at companies such as Zappos, Nordstrom and Southwest — not just the customer service or PR folks — understands that customer support is their responsibility.

Even if they don’t have the answer or the solution, they respond to the customer and get them to the individual(s) who can provide the answer or assistance that is needed to keep them satisfied with the company and the product/service.

Acquity Group found that 90 percent of the companies they surveyed are active on Twitter, but only 29 percent actively engaged with customers using the platform. Seventy percent of Facebook questions were ignored.

Hello???

Social media community communications and management should follow one unbreakable rule: Respond to everyone or don’t bother jumping online.

Social media efforts can’t succeed today with a sellers’ outbound-communications-only mentality.

Instead, Coke and successful companies must be buyer-focused, not just in a few words but in everything that is done.

Analysts at Gartner developed a progress roadmap for sound social business media efforts/activities. Unfortunately, they found that most companies are stuck in — and satisfied with — the initial and developing stage.

They estimated that it could take three to five years for many of the companies to get to the advanced enterprise-wide phase. They warned that siloed social media activities would keep many from ever enjoying all that social media has to offer.

PR and communications should be the most aggressive proponents of letting loose of social media and making it an enterprise-wide customer program.

The key isn’t that PR and communications people should control social media.

Web and social media publicity can build awareness, interest and understanding.

Web and social media advertising can sell the company, product, service.

Web and social media publicity can build and strengthen the company/customer relationship.

That’s what helps keep production lines — including — rolling.

That’s what moves the sales and profit needle.

Andy Marken of Marken Communications in Santa Clara, Calif., writes on a host of cultural topics. Reach him at Andy@MarkenCom.com

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