Social Media is not a contingency plan for having a shitty product

by Mack Collier

For the last half decade, we’ve had it beaten over our heads that ‘it’s all about the conversation’. That all a company has to do is ‘be social’, to throw up a Twitter and Facebook account, and they have passed the marketing test. Add in a company blog for extra credit.

Of course, this is utter crap. If your product sucks today, it will still suck tomorrow if you start using social media. The only difference is that more people will know about it.

Now please understand that listening to your customers and monitoring what they are saying via social media is hugely important. But the quickest way to honk off your customers is to tell them ‘we’re listening’, and then prove to them that you are not.  You can’t simply monitor what your customers are saying, you need to apply their feedback and act on it.  You need to start a discussion with them.  You need to create a continuous feedback loop, so what your customers are saying about your product is understood internally at your company, and your company’s response is sent back to your customers.

The goal isn’t just to ‘be social’, it should be to establish connections with your customers that help you improve your existing products and business processes. For example, last year Dell had its first #DellCAP event in Austin.  This was where Dell brought in 30 customers that were actively using social media tools to discuss Dell and its products and services. Dell talked to these customers about several core areas of its business, as well as its products. Dell then took that feedback, and acted on it. A perfect example is its Facebook Tag Team app. One of the main feedback points that Dell customers gave during #DellCAP was that they would like a way to see how other customers are using Dell products. For example, if a Dell customer views himself as a hardcore gamer, he understands that fellow gamers will want Dell products that perform differently than a Dell customer that wants a PC to turn her home business.  So the Tag Team app was created with this feedback in mind. Here’s what Lionel Menchaca said when it was introduced:

Back when we invited customers to Dell for CAP Days, one of the clear requests we heard from customers regarding Dell.com is that we need to make it easier for them to find the system or accessories that will meet a specific set of needs.

Besides the request from CAP Days attendees, there’s  any number of studies that show most customers trust the opinions of their friends and family a heck of a lot more than what a company tells them. Here’s one of my favorite Hugh McLeod cartoons which illustrates that point beautifully.

How do we make it easier for customer to find the system they need based on how they plan to use it and augment that with content that’s written by our customers instead of us? The Tag Team app is our first attempt to bring those things together. We know a lot of our customers use Dell.com to research what kind of machine is right for them. That usually means starting with a product, browsing the product page, then digging into ratings and reviews from other customers.  With Tag Team, you can start by thinking about how you will use the machine and find the reviews from customers who are using reviews for that same thing.

 

Dell went beyond simply listening to the feedback its customers were giving, and actually used that feedback to improve its offerings based on its customers recommendations.  This is the difference between taking a crappy product and making it social, versus leveraging social media to improve your product.

Extra credit: Listening to your customers and then ACTING on their recommendations increases brand advocacy. Nothing impresses a customer more to tell them that you are listening, and to then prove that you are.

If you want to start using social media to actually improve your products and services, here’s some tips to get you started:

1 – Start monitoring what your customers are saying online. You should already be doing this, but if not, make sure you start ASAP.

2 – Make sure that information and feedback from Step 1 is collected and distributed internally within your company.  Marketing, PR, Product Design/Development, Customer Service, etc.

3 – Incorporate customer feedback as applicable. Just because one customer in Idaho says you should change a product feature does NOT mean you should spend millions of dollars to change your existing manufacturing process to accommodate one customers’s wish. But if thousands of customers are saying the same thing and many are saying they won’t buy your product as a result of this feature, then maybe its in your best interest to make the change.

4 – When changes are made based on customer feedback communicate that back to your customers. This will not only increase customer satisfaction once they see you are actually acting on their feedback, it will greatly increase the volume of feedback you get. And getting more feedback means the quality of that feedback improves. It becomes easier to distinguish between issues that are marginally important to your customers, versus ones that are affecting the majority, as illustrated in Step 3.

 

But make sure you push for Step 2, getting the feedback you collect via social media monitoring, distributed to relevant departments in your company or organization. That should get the ball rolling and help your customer move from being one that simply listens to social media conversations, to one that acts on them.

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