FAQ the Third

I’ve recently conducted a couple of online seminars about social media topics. The Q&A sessions at these events are almost always too short to get to the issues that are on people’s minds. So over the next few issues of this newsletter, I’ll run down a few of the best questions I didn’t get to. For a good, free webcast on this topic, check out the recent event sponsored by Listrak.

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Q: How do you reach international audiences? Are the tools you showed just for US consumers?

A: The Internet doesn’t know geographic boundaries, so with few exceptions your message can reach across the globe. The one area that is geographically sensitive is social networks, which seem to gain more active followings in some countries than in others. Google’s Orkut, for example, has been a nonstarter in the U.S. but has a huge following in Brazil. Cyworld is popular in Korea, while Hi5 has a big Latin American membership. In Japan, Mixi is the largest social network. The Swedes love Lunarstorm, and the Poles take to Grono. I’m not sure why that’s the case, but if you’re trying to reach people on social networks, you need to go where they’re already congregating.

Q: Can you give some examples of return on investment?

A: That depends on how you define “return.”  Often, businesses look at return in terms of visits to a designated landing page, such as a download or order form.  In that case, look at referring URLs. You can also track actual orders back to the URLs or e-mail links that referred people to that page. That’s a relatively easy way to translate links into sales. Use unique URLs and/or tracking codes to document where your customers are coming from. This podcast interview with Avinash Kaushik on Paul Dunay’s Buzz Marketing for Technology podcast series has some sound advice.

In other cases, however, companies may look for an increase in favorable press coverage or blogger comments as an indicator of ROI. In that case, tracking an increase in press or blog citations compared to a base point can yield a pretty good idea of the effectiveness of a campaign. Note that these are not web analytics and that the collar value of these results can be difficult to quantify.

Q: What (if any) silver bullet can you use, to encourage your client to create a blog for their company, when they are deathly afraid of negative feedback?

A: A substantial body of evidence is emerging to support the effectiveness of social media marketing.  For example, here’s a list of links to archives of successful social media campaigns. A study of the Inc. 500 by the University of Massachusetts found that three quarters of the respondents now consider social media to be essential to their marketing efforts. Sites like eMarketer and Marketing Sherpa also have extensive case history and statistical evidence about the value of blogs and other tools. Recent McKinsey research reveals that companies that have bought into Web 2.0 marketing are planning to expand their commitment this year.

In my view, negative feedback is an overrated problem.  Every company has some unhappy customers, and most people understand that that’s part of the landscape.  In most cases, critics can be converted to satisfied customers or even fans with a little hand-holding and special attention.  There is overwhelming evidence that simply responding to disgruntled customers with a message that shows you’re listening can put to bed the vast majority of complaints.  If a company does have a customer satisfaction problem, however, it is wise to step lightly into new media.  Be prepared for negativity and be ready to respond to each and every comment.  You’ll quickly find that criticism will diminish as you demonstrate responsiveness.

Q: Does social media marketing apply more to medium and larger businesses than to small businesses?

A: In my experience, small businesses are more active, creative and effective at leveraging social media marketing than big companies.  There are many reasons for this, including the compelling cost advantages, the speed and responsiveness of small organizations, their willingness to engage directly with individual customers and the accessibility of senior managers.  The University of Massachusetts research I mentioned above found that small businesses are adopting these tools much faster than large ones.  In my own presentations and seminars, I consistently find that small companies are more enthusiastic and responsive to the potential of social media than the big guys.  In fact, large companies tend to excel at finding reasons to AVOID talking to their customers!

3 thoughts on “FAQ the Third

  1. Great summary of social media FAQ. Thanks

    For the last question (small vs large company attitude), it is true that small ones are more creative and eager to ‘change’. But 2009 crisis time will put great pressure to these fat cats to move towards these collaborative process, mainly in Customer Support area. Otherwise they won’t be able to keep thei operation cost as low as their shareholders want to.


  2. As a consumer, I definitely have to agree with you on your response to question 3. When I go to a company’s site and see negative feedback, it actually makes me trust the company more, seeing that they allow uncensored feedback. Of course, if I see *nothing* but negative feedback, that’s usually not a good sign….but that’s rarely the case. If I’m able to see the customers’ actual comments on why they didn’t enjoy their services/product (as opposed to just something like a star rating on a scale of 0 to 5), it makes me better able to evaluate whether this product is for me. If a reviewer doesn’t like a product because they say did A and not B, but I WANT something for A, even though it’s seemed like a “bad” review for the company, it’s won me as a customer.

    Also, when I see individuals from the company replying to the criticism is a courteous and respectful manner, whether they promise to resolve the issue or explain why the product has that particular feature and why it can’t be changed, it makes me feel the company would be willing to listen to me if I had problems. This willingness to go back-and-forth with their customers makes a company really stand out, especially, as you say in response to questions four, most businesses seem to not want to have any contact with you if it doesn’t involve taking your money.

  3. One other thing about small companies: the “personality” of the company is often largely associated with the individuals that run them. Owners often go out of their way to make their customers happy. Small business owners that anger their customers are likely to do more damage to their brand than one bad customer interaction at a large company that might be chalked up as a random experience with someone underpaid.

    Unlike large companies, it is difficult or even impossible to hide behind impenetrable layers of powerless customer support at a small company.

    Large companies are less likely to know “who they are” in an existential sense, as they are composed of thousands of individuals who don’t really feel the heartbeat of the organization. Small companies often have founders who think of the company and their employees as a family. These attributes quickly position the small company as a more earnest and genuine character in the social media story, while large companies are more likely to feel fraudulent and disingenuous.

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