Four Principles to Follow in Social Media: Build the Love

Social Media Camp NYC‘s “Making Love to Your Customers” session presented by online invoice service FreshBooks’ Saul Colt got me thinking about real-life customer relationships. Colt discussed building customer relationships by using social media to connect with them — mainly blogs and Twitter. His primary goal is to thank customers without directly considering potential payback. With old-fashioned gestures such as sending flowers to disgruntled customers, hosting dinners in various cities, and donating to customers’ charity races, FreshBooks shows it cares and is involved with its customers. (For example of a resulting blog post, see these comments.)

Build the Love: Four Principles to Follow

From a corporate perspective, loving your customers involves the following four principles:

  • Listen to your market — including prospects, customers, competitors, dominant players, the media, and the broader public — to better understand and respond to your community’s needs and wants. Consider how they experience your product and brand.

  • Open your organization to engage with prospects and customers. Integrate this process into your company culture so every employee is a brand ambassador.
  • Value all forms of customer communications at every customer touch point where your company and brand interact with people.
  • Expand beyond online executions to extend your reach by:
    • Leveraging offline marketing to support your online efforts. Use packaging, billing correspondence, customer service, and general correspondence to spread the word and drive traffic.

    • Meeting customers in-person and building real-world relationships. Maximize the size of the audience that knows about your engagement because this can enhance brand perception.

Spread the Love: Five Factors to Consider

When it comes to spreading the love, social media enables you to increase your reach quickly. Understand the rules of the community and what’s acceptable behavior, or you may inadvertently commit a faux pas. Use social media tools to build and extend customer relationships rather than to promote your products directly:

  • Create a public face or personality for your company. These traits should be genuine and in line with your brand. For example, Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh blogs and tweets. By contrast, the March of Dimes uses Twitter to send short, useful messages to pregnant women. It’s helpful to set corporate guidelines in advance. Consider how to respond to negative comments to allow quick response and prevent problems from growing.

  • Test various types of social media. Determine which ones work best for your brand and products.
  • Stake out your brand on every relevant form of social media. Ensure that you own your brand platform across formats rather than risk that disgruntled customers may use it to broadcast their message unchallenged.
  • Bring the social media engagement process in-house. Short run, it may be necessary to use outside agencies and train staff, but ultimately this work should be done by your employees. To this end, bring a diverse group of staff together to think about how to communicate with your audience using social media. Think about ways to empower a broader group from beyond the marketing function. It should start at the top of the company and permeate all parts of the organization.
  • Have a database that works for your purposes. During a visit to Portland, OR, Colt inadvertently invited customers from Portland, ME, to a dinner. Since he couldn’t be in both places at once, he treated customers from the Maine Portland to dinner at a restaurant in their town.

Can’t Buy Me Love: Four Metrics to Track

While money may not buy you love, as an online marketer, you can assign a monetary value to customer relationship building. By his employers’ reckoning, Colt’s efforts return over 50 percent ROI (define), since FreshBooks attributes all nonmeasurable marketing results to his work. For many firms, though, large portions of sales can’t be tracked back to specific marketing initiatives, so other indicators should be used provide important insights as to customer sentiment and how it influences your firm’s bottom line. Among them are:

  • Social media engagement. Track this activity to understand your community’s needs and how they regard your firm. These efforts should encompass all forms of social media that are relevant to your business. Specific examples include:

    • Tweets related to your firm particularly those that lead to customer engagement.

    • Blog posts that mention and discuss your brand. Monitor positive and negative comments and respond to both.
    • Facebook groups that are fans of your brand.
    • Tags on social bookmarking sites that are relevant to your brand.
  • Revenues. While it may be difficult to attribute sales directly to these efforts, it’s possible to track customer referrals and post-engagement sales. Remember, customers may need to hear your message multiple times from different sources before they buy. Further, they often want additional information to get the most out of your product once they’ve purchased it.
  • Costs. The largest expense may be the cost of the time of your employees responsible for these efforts. In reality, to succeed, every employee must be an ambassador for your brand.
  • Customer lifetime value. Enhancing customer relationships makes them more immune to the challenges of customer service and price increases. The objective is to increase average customer life time value (which takes into consideration revenues over time less the costs of acquisition, ongoing marketing costs, and product costs in light of the time value of money).

In this down economy, it’s important to do all you can to maintain your relationships with your customers and build the love for your brand and products. Using social media can be a very effective means of expanding your customer relationships and building your understanding of your market.

What’s your favorite marketing tool or service? Which one made your campaign a success? We want to know! Nominate your choice in the 2008 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards. Nominations are open until August 14. Nominate now!

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