As social media and social networking have grown dramatically over the past few years, it seems that many businesses are falling behind the trend and finding it terribly difficult to figure out how to use these new tools to reach customers. One of the main reasons for this, I believe, is because social media requires a very dramatic shift in how they communicate to their customers and even their employees.
In the past, previous versions of marketing tools and plans required only that the company come up with a catchy jingle or entertaining commercial. This information was directed to consumers, and even employees, in a one way direction. The company makes the message. The company then sends the message to a distribution tool such as TV or radio. Then consumers receive the messages. There was not much they could do to communicate back to the company or even look for advice outside of their close circle of friends. Sure there were the sales people, but could you really trust them since they were trying to sell you a product? Employee communications were not that different in that a company would have a message or idea it wanted its employees to think/feel, and so it gave it to them.
With the increased use of the Internet and invention of social networking, a review of a company or product is just a few clicks away. A consumer can read reviews, commentary, blogs, or even Tweets from people they may never have met from all over the world and make a decision based on what everyone is saying. Employees can communicate the love or disgust of their company with friends and countless others. Seeing this, businesses have begun to see that this is an area that they need to be involved with. However, if the interaction is done poorly, within hours the attempt can sometimes end up needing brand damage control.
Say, for example, that you have a company that has decided to embrace this new format for communication because you deem it important to be apart of it. So you setup a Twitter account and begin broadcasting all the great things about your company to the world. People message you or make comments, but you ignore them because they are not directly related to the ad you’re about to post. After a few weeks, you’re wondering why it isn’t working, why you have so few followers, and sales haven’t increased. Why did this happen? Because even though you were using the new tools, your communication habits never changed and you were still using one-way communication.
In their book Trust Agents, authors Chris Brogen and Jukien Smith talk about Robert Scoble. In case you are not familiar with Robert, he was an employee at Microsoft back in 2004. What made him so different is that on his blog he not only talked about the good things that were going on, he offered open commentary that would often put competitive companies and products in a better light than Microsoft. He also freely requested people’s comments and even posted his personal cell for people to call if the had questions. This kind of openness and transparency led people to openly trust him and just about everything that he said. Why? Because he wasn’t just promoting the company he worked for. He was giving honest opinions, both good and bad. This is what developed the trust of all the people following his blog. How transparent is your company?
As you may or may not know, I currently work for Ford Motor Company in the Employee Communications area coordinating all of the video production and video scheduling. One thing that has really impressed me during my time at Ford has been their openness to honestly communicate what is going on with the company and how we are all doing to both employees and customers. This type of transparency, I believe, goes a really long way in not only keeping employee morale high, but also develops that all important trust with employees and customers. In a recent interview I recorded with Mark Fields, President of The Americas for Ford, he talked about the importance of being transparent and authentic with your employees and customers to build trust.
So how is your business doing? Has it openly embraced social networking and pursuing that active, two-way communication/relationship with its employees and customers? Or is it still trying to dictate a message that may be falling on deaf ears?