In Primary School you may have sat next to the class chatterbox, the babbling font of intransitives garbled, gargled and machine-gun rapid. That kid has grown up, and she’s now sitting behind you on a flight that has not taken off. She has her camera going and she is speaking to her boyfriend Shawn about the sandwich she bought, and the photo she just posted, and don’t forget to change Max’s water. Aren’t you glad to know the little Yorkie is not in her bag?
For too many web forums, Twitter streams and Facebook pages, the stream of posts can be, well, annoying. Catty, off-color, negative. The number of posts will not diminish. Human brains are adapting rapidly to the new normal, and though it is too soon to tell what permanent rewiring may occur over the next 50 years, we are sure that the need to reply is accelerating. What many enterprises have underestimated is the level of engagement that is required to steer the course of a discussion. Social media is all about enabling the consumer to take control of the dialogue. At the same time the business has to be at work laying invisible railroad tracks, with pathways, signal gates and monitors. These are required to keep discussions going in a healthy direction instead of devolving into a train wreck.
Who is in charge of the effort to orchestrate, even to a minimal degree, the rough sounds from social media? Many of us retrain marketing folks, or take advice from agencies, and then hire a bunch of business neophytes who are born into social media. The experts, on the other hand, are hiring ethnographers and sociologists with business backgrounds. They ‘get’ that 98% of customers don’t post – they lurk. They are not exactly passive. They are like most citizens, who, though they do not run for public office, or even vote, still care deeply about what is being said.
You are responsible for giving a shape to the conversation. Sometimes you will offer a response. Sometimes that response will be as a result of an invitation that you have extended to a customer to allow you to call or email or chat privately. There you can marshall all of the enterprise resources to address their concern or problem. Other times you will just hear (or deduce) what bothers a customer and get it fixed. This is the real value of Social Media – the wonder of the recursive and heuristic: iteratively improving, tweaking, communicating. It isn’t child’s play. It isn’t chatter or banter or prattle. It is serious business. It is your business, and it needs to be put in the hands of experts to the same extent that you put sales and logistics and security in the hands of the experts.
Social media may be the new kid in class, but the kid needs a top-flight teacher to guide them.
(Sidebar: If you are a Gartner client, you might want to read my overview of what Dreamforce seemed to indicate about the direction Salesforce.com is taking with the Service Cloud: http://www.gartner.com/resId=2198415 )
Thank you – so many of you – for your emails with great examples of how to harness social for customer support. I’ll see many of you down at Symposium in Orlando next week!