Forget Facebook and Twitter: every brand needs an online customer service community

Forget Facebook and Twitter: every brand needs an online customer service community

Many organisations waste time and effort in social media trying to ‘reach out’ and ‘engage’ with what they believe is their target audience of consumers.  The problem with this approach is that the people we think of as our consumers don’t want to spend their time being ‘engaged’ by brands within the social digital space. They would much rather spend their time talking to their friends.

Brands need to think of themselves as waiters with their consumers as their guests. Guests don’t want the waiters to stand on a chair and shout at the whole restaurant (reaching-out to an audience). Nor do they want them to sit down at their table and ‘join the conversation’ unless specifically invited to do so. However, they do want them to take their orders and bring more drinks. Some guests may also be prepared to give some feedback on the meal or ask questions of the chef.

So how does a brand behave like a waiter? The most important thing to do is provide a way in which you can identify the moments when individual consumers want ‘engagement’ from a brand and be able to respond accordingly. In the social digital space you are never going to be able to talk to the entire audience in the way in which you could in the traditional marketing space. You are only going to be able to talk to a few people at a time and you will only create value from these contacts if you respond to what it is those people want from you at that moment.

The best way to do this is create a space where a consumer will know they can find you, when they want to talk to you. Research has shown that consumers don’t necessarily want these spaces to be within open social networks like Twitter or Facebook – because these are spaces they reserve for more genuine social connection. However, consumers are happy to come to brand specific customer service communities in order to find answers to their questions. The advantages of such communities over the old fashioned one-to-one customer service process is that activity is transparent and collaborative. Consumers can see what questions other consumers have. They can also see how other consumers rate the brand’s response. You may even have a situation where consumers start to answer each other questions – saving the brand time and money.

These communities also have the advantage of allowing a brand to know exactly what issues are important to consumers at any moment in time. They can thus provide guidance to whatever content strategy an organisation has in place. Content that is produced at the specific request of consumers is always going to be more effective than that which is produced as a part of some brand editorial meeting.

I firmly believe that customer service communities should sit at the heart of all brand social media strategies and be used to drive all activities – not just marketing activities but product and service design initiatives. If you have an effective on-line customer service community, your brand will never be out of touch from what its consumers are thinking. If your community is run on the right platform you will also find that the information ‘published’ performs far better within Google than content published in other ways because it has a social endorsement process already built into it. In fact I believe that within the next few years having such a community will become as necessary as having a website eventually became.

There is one further benefit from these communities. You will find that there will be a handful of your consumers who become your community rockstars. These will be the people who are highly active and often spend a lot of time doing your job for you in terms of answering questions and soliciting feedback. However, they can also be quite strange and they are certainly not representative of your average consumer – so don’t think of them as brand ambassadors. These people are superfans and while they are very small in number and often rather weird, they can none-the-less be hugely valuable – if you use them the right way. For example, computer peripherals company Logitech calculated that its’ number one superfan was actually saving the company $250,000 per year in terms of answering questions that would otherwise have had to be handled by their call centre. Superfans can also play a role in helping with new product design as well as reporting back on the market as a whole.

Social media is a medium of connection, not a medium of distribution. The social digital space is the world of the individual, not the world of the audience and communities are very effective ways to extract the maximum value through connection with individuals. So forget spending money on pumping out content that no-one really wants and focus instead on building an effective on-line customer community and nurturing your superfans.

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