In recent months a crop of companies have moved towards Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and now Google+ for their community solutions in some case abandoning their own communities in favor of these social forums. Generally I applaud any company’s attempt to be part of the conversation that surrounds their products but I wonder whether they have the correct motivation.
Bilal Jaffrey addressed this in part yesterday in a great article entitled “Why you Shouldn’t Send Your Traffic to Facebook” where he mentions the term “sharecropping” that refers to one person getting all the profit from other people’s labors. However there is more to this than simply ownership of content.
Let’s look at the main reasons why a company has a consumer facing community site. In part it’s so they can see the discussions surrounding their products and services and here the interest in Twitter, Facebook and other social networks is well founded. These media can act as an early warning mechanism for a company allowing skillful handling of problems to avert public relations disasters. They can also be useful in building the kudos of a company and subsequently it’s brand equity with the customer base. The rules are simple, listen to your customer base and react in a positive pro-active way.
However, this is only part of the story. The majority of companies also implement communities to allow them to deliver a cheap alternative to their own phone help desk and here is where Twitter and Facebook leave me cold. They are horrible media for providing support.
They are hard to assess, provide few tools for providing advanced support (auto-search, automated data collection, problem categorization) and worst of all, they aren’t perceived as a destination for support so sorting problems from general chit-chat or plain hate-mail can be a nightmare. Add this to the fact that as Mr Jaffrey so rightly says, you’re giving away the crown jewels, your content belongs to other people, and the large social media networks start to look less attractive.
There’s yet another reason for my skepticism at the current corporate rush to Twitter and Facebook. At the moment it’s trendy for companies to be engaged with social networks, the money is there because there is a general feeling that “everyone’s doing it” so shouldn’t we be doing it. To be fair there are obvious marketing benefits if you’re skilled or perhaps lucky enough to create something truly viral. However, when some of the noise dies down and social media is no longer “the latest thing” the bean counters are going to start asking “So what was the financial benefit of our social media strategy this year?” These steely eyed individuals, and I’ve known a few in my time, have little patience for fuzzy KPIs like “we engaged with our community” or “everyone’s talking about our great Twitter strategy”; they want to know how it impacted costs or revenue, can you tell them?
I recently talked to a company who have a dedicated team for providing Twitter feedback, their presentations on customer feedback look fantastic, customers love the service and why wouldn’t they with a team of six people dedicated to answering Twitter. However, step back from the hype for a minute and look at the finances, six people? Answering a few thousand problems? Pro-active, exciting, trendy, yes. Positive ROI, not a hope.
If you’ve been running your own community with some of the latest community software then you’ll be able to tell your financial director exactly how much interaction you’ve had with your customer base, whether it’s increasing or decreasing, and how many problems you’ve solved and possibly how many calls you’ve prevented to the call center. In other words you can put a direct value on the benefit of your community. As most in house communities run with a minimum of moderation and company interaction your overheads are likely to be small. With the ability to crowdsource problems with the large social networks built into new community solutions, this method of running a support community can have most of the benefits of Facebook and Twitter with none of the disadvantages. If you integrate rich media then it’s *your* rich media, not YouTube’s and you’re perceived as delivering that extra value to the customer.
Facebook and Twitter doubtless have a part to play in your social media strategy but it’s not as large a part as many have companies have chosen. In the long run the community projects with longevity within a company are going to be the ones that have a solid financial model behind them. Whether it’s at the next budget or in two or three year’s time, are you prepared to show that your social media strategy is bearing financial fruits? Ironically perhaps now’s the time to stop following the crowd.
Published in Social Media Today September 2011.