Sunday, November 23, 2008

Social media is a trust-enabler

It's been interesting to see how the marketing portion of the blogosphere has changed over the last few years. When I started blogging in late 2005, many of the posts were of a more 'philosophical' nature. We talked about why social media SHOULD help companies better connect with their customers, simply because there weren't really that many case studies that we could point to. Those of us that were using blogs to connect with each other could see how companies could benefit, but we couldn't really point to any working examples to help bolster our theories.

Thankfully, we now have plenty of successful examples that highlight the positive changes that can happen when a company successfully incorporates social media into its existing communication efforts. But a recent post by Hugh reminded me of why social media is so vitally important.

Social media changes the way a company and its customers communicate with each other.

The average company has average customers. The company likely doesn't make much, if any, effort at actually communicating with, or understanding its customers. Likewise, the customers probably don't understand the company, or have much of an incentive to.

Which means that since neither group understands the other one, neither group TRUSTS the other one.

So the average company is spending big bucks on blasting one-way messages at their customers, while the customers get on every blog and forum and YouTube and talk about how much the company sucks, because they are blasting one-way messages at them that totally miss connecting with them.

The company is having an internal conversation about the customers. The customers are having a completely different external conversation about the company. Both groups are speaking in a completely different language, and making completely different assumptions about the other group. As expected, this leads to neither group understanding the other, and neither group really trusting the other.

But the great thing about social media is that it gives companies a way to connect with their customers. Suddenly, the participants in the internal discussion within the company, and the external one among the company's customers, have a way to interact. The language of the company begins to slowly seep into the conversation the customers are having, and vice versa. Over time, each group begins to slowly understand the other, and trust the other.

When the company begins to better understand and trust the customer, it then increases its level of interaction with its customers. This helps the company make its marketing and communication efforts more effective and efficient, because it now better understands its customers.

And with that higher level of trust comes the creation of a barrier to entry for your competitors that are still blasting one-way messages at its pissed-off customers.

Does this make sense?


Anonymous said...

If there's one thing social media accomplished is give anonymous companies a face. After the 60ies corporations got bigger and bigger and lost that thing consumers could identify with. Social media re-establishes that feeling. Bringing people back together :)

Anonymous said...

Social Media gives companies the opportunity to engage their customers in a new and meaningful way. Many still blow it, though, because the company still wants to attempt to control the brand name and the conversation.

Ask Bob about it -

Unknown said...

"The company is having an internal conversation about the customers. The customers are having a completely different external conversation about the company. Both groups are speaking in a completely different language, and making completely different assumptions about the other group."

A great post Mack! And this underlines the importance of having a Community Manager to do that translation of communicating between customers & company. The opportunity is there, but the company needs to have a community manager with strong communication skills to execute it.

(I saw your tweet about highest blog traffic ever - congrats! you deserve it!! you always have good advice)

Mack Collier said...

Tom I purposely didn't touch on that and was hoping someone would mention it in the comments ;) That's a great benefit to social media for a company, because it allows your employees to connect with customers as people. I spoke recently at a small biz conference, and told the audience how I knew my next laptop was going to be a Dell. And it's not so much because the Dell laptop I have no is a revolutionary product that's performed flawlessly for me.

But rather it's because I can name at least 5, probably closer to a dozen Dell senior digital media/community employees that I have connected with. So if I get a Dell laptop and its a brick out of the box, all I have to do is go to Twitter and tell my Dell contacts about it, and I'm sure they'll be on the case to get my problem solved, within minutes. I have no idea how to get in touch with anyone from any of Dell's competitors.

Social media has allowed me to connect with the PEOPLE that work for Dell.

BTW thanks for your comment Stephen, and always good to see you here Connie!

Lisa Hoffmann said...

Thanks for crystalizing this concept for us, Mack. Once a company establishes trust with a customer, he or she is likely a customer for life (as you illustrate with your Dell example).

This is another powerful justification for interactivity - not between "a company" and its customers, but between people. Understanding one another is an incredible advantage for both sides.

In the end, it's always about humans connecting with one another.

Anonymous said...

Agree, thanks for the great post. Social Media and SMM is in the end a complete waste of time UNLESS it translates into meaningful relationships of trust. Which in business terms, translates to turning relationships into clients or resources.

Anonymous said...

I love that companies engaged in social media get immediate feedback in the conversations taking place.

I saw a brilliant example of it today - a company blogging, a reader misunderstanding/asking a question, which actually gave the company blogger an idea for a new/improved product!

I think I'll have to blog about it! =)

Anonymous said...

@Kristopher Mencak - I look forward to that post. :)

Feedback --> new ideas for better experiences means everyone wins. Social media provides the tools for people to collaborate and get around barriers for communication, and yes, as Mack said, build trust. It's the way the pieces fit together and people like Community Managers that facilitate that interaction that translates into delighted (repeat) customers and revenue.

Anonymous said...

@anwith1n: I'll let you know once it's ready. ;-)

I like your handle/alias! Clever!

Gavin Heaton said...

I keep coming back to the Cluetrain Manifesto. It seems that we are still a long way from understanding the nature of conversation ... and until we have this context - a shared language - we have little chance of bridging the gap.

Excellent post, as usual, Mack!

Anonymous said...

Connie already comment on this, but to drive the point home, I will too.

This statement is the heart of the problem "The company is having an internal conversation about the customers. The customers are having a completely different external conversation about the company. Both groups are speaking in a completely different language, and making completely different assumptions about the other group."

Until this changes, companies will not be able to move forward because too many wrong assumptions are being made.

Social media aside, I don't understand why companies are SO afraid to talk to their customers.

Any ideas?

A great post Mack!

Anonymous said...

This is all true, 2 way communication is the reason I like Social Media. Your website/blog/twitter account all offer opportunities to connect that you cannot get with other traditional forms of advertising.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mack,
Great post and some good comments. For business owners who are early adapters, “Participating in the Conversation” can actually become something that separates you from your competitors, particularly larger ones. Notwithstanding the handful of companies actually participating, and the number is growing, but it is still far from mainstream in most business sectors. Although it sounds odd, that having a TWO WAY conversation with your customer gives you an edge, it does, and for those brave enough to adopt Social Media as normal business practice, you will be miles in front of the pack.

Anonymous said...

@anwith1n: here it is:

There is a related follow up, taking a broader perspective, coming very soon. =)

All the best,


@heatherrast said...

I don't want to come off as a curmudgeon, esp. because academically/theoretically I agree with your position.

Er, perhaps with an amendment. "Social media [can be] a trust-enabler." I'm suggesting that not only is social media a set of technological tools or platforms serving in a "new" channel, but its also a language (stay with me now). A language that can be spoken and shared by persons from different places in the customer/vendor dynamic.

Only if the prose of the language is carefully considered, well-written, and revealed to an attuned and interested other party is there any hope of a connection.

Tried another way, what I'm saying is that any 'ole company can get a Twitter account and blast away self-centered, retail-ish messaging without regard to what it is their flock (or potential flock) want to--need to--hear. Same story, different channel.

I'm certain your post, Mack, was written with the presumption that the company in question would study up, define their objectives, listen to a constituency, and begin conversations in a measured way. That the company would realize their targets wouldn't want to associate with "Company X" but rather "Whitney_Company X" because Whitney, the individual, would be real and tangible (of a sort).

But unfortunately, there are those companies that believe Twitter adoption and messaging should be about the company. Not a person (a fallible person with a perspective and tone and voice) at the company.

Which, IMO, doesn't work unless you're retailer WOOT!.

And therein lies the difference between [can be] and [is] a trust-enabler.