To Tweet or Not To Tweet: That’s NOT the Question Customer Experience and Social Media

Here we are again. A new technology is taking over and the world as we know it is coming to an end. The advent of this latest and greatest technology allows individuals to broadcast short messages of up to 140 characters anytime, anywhere. With this newfound ability, some pundits are proclaiming that customer relationships as we know them are over. I should confess that I’m a bit tired of such proclamations and punditry particularly when it is all too apparent that people are simply glorifying a new means to an end, rather than the end itself.

There is little doubt that web 2.0 is exciting. Companies of all types can communicate and interact with customers and prospects at speeds previously thought to be impossible. However, when a 20 employee outfit known as Twitter is unable to establish a business model and clearly articulate its customer experience capabilities, it is logical to surmise that well established brands will not jump head first into the Twitter and social media deep end.

This is not to say that effective usage of social media won’t have positive benefits for company-customer relationships. However given historical trends, what remains unclear is the extent to which the use of such social media will influence the customer experience. Once upon a time when direct marketing exploded, many experts proclaimed an end to or at least the drastic diminishment of the retail channel. With the emergence of email and web chat, many expected the end to call centers. Too many analysts predicted that speech technology would replace traditional interactive voice response (IVR) units. However, as we all know while direct marketing, email, web chat and speech technology, have grown in importance, the retail channel, call centers and traditional IVRs remain alive, well and a critical component in the customer experience.

A recent YouTube video of two Domino’s Pizza employees committing dubious actions has been subject to much debate. In a television segment on this episode a reporter quoted a web 2.0 expert who clearly stated that the company shares some blame as “it is Domino’s Pizza’s negligence for not having a Twitter strategy.” While I am no doubt aging myself here, I distinctly remember thinking that I had never heard of a Twitter strategy and couldn’t fathom how opening a Twitter account represented a meaningful strategy of any kind. I don’t dispute the fact that companies in virtually every industry have accounts through various social media with thousands of “friends” and “fans.” However, what many of these companies are slowly recognizing is that social media simply reflects a new (perhaps more personal) communication medium. So now, instead of or in addition to websites, newsletters, direct mail, email and web chat, companies have Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter. The proliferation of social media doesn’t reflect a strategy as much as it reflects adoption of additional communication tools. Companies still require resources, personnel and actual strategies for managing and incorporating such media into their customer and communication strategies.

No doubt some readers are shaking their heads thinking that I am naïve or short sighted because I fail to internalize the “potential” of social media. Yet I would posit that when companies analyze their core customer experience and relationship challenges, they quickly recognize that the lack of Twitter or YouTube strategies is the least of their problems. The use of this or that communication medium will never be sufficient if the content, format and timeliness of information shared with customers are not customer-centric.

Companies across every conceivable industry currently utilize one or another form of social media (e.g. social media sites, blogs, forums, wikis, podcasts etc.), some to great effect. Zappos.com and Sun Microsystems are but a few of the many organizations utilizing social media to achieve their objectives. Zappos has used Twitter to build fanatical customer support, solicit customer testimonials, generate high quality leads and engage in permission marketing. Alternatively, Sun uses Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Second Life to carry out technology discussions, collaborative publishing, product development, market research and public relations. The benefits of effective use of social media are endless.

However, companies seeking to develop or enhance a social media strategy should carefully consider social media guidelines and determine if they are truly ready to accept them. As you pursue the social media realm, consider the following questions:

• How will you foster customer collaboration?
• What degree of collaboration are you seeking?
• What will make your approach authentic and real?
• Are you prepared to receive critiques and negative comments from customers?
• What parameters will you establish to ensure that the customer is truly equal?
• What value will you provide to customers through social media that you are not providing with “traditional” communication mediums?
• How will your organization modify its web presence to facilitate customer personalization of their experiences?
• To what extent are you ready to share control with customers over content, messages and resolutions?
• What ground rules will guide your social media strategy?

It is indisputable that our customers are embracing web 2.0 technologies in steadily growing numbers. They view these technologies as a personal tool for their own social needs. It is critical for companies to recognize that entering personal and social domains requires a great deal of sensitivity and adaptation.

The objectives for companies employing social media strategies are not surprising – enhance customer loyalty, increase customer insight, reduce customer attrition, and increase customer purchase size and frequency. To meet these objectives, companies would do well to act as they do when entering foreign markets. They need to learn the rules, customs and culture to ensure they are welcome guests. So rather than asking yourself if you should tweet, determine if you have an underlying reason to tweet and if you are willing to do so under your hosts’ guidelines. If so, prepare to receive citizenship in this foreign land!

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