The Biggest Mistake Companies Make When Engaging Their Fans Via Social Media

by Mack Collier

A few years ago I was attending a conference, and the keynote was the CMO for an extremely large brand talking about how they used social media.  At one point he said ‘What we love about social media is that it gives us a way to help our customers tell our story’.  There was much smiling and head nodding in the audience, but my jaw was on the ground.

Sadly, many companies are starting to realize the ‘power’ of connecting with their fans, especially via social media tools.  And like this CMO, they are attracted to connecting with their fans because they view their fans as an exciting new promotional channel to spread that brand’s message.

Sigh.

Let me clear the air for you: The greatest value of your fans is not as a promotional channel, but as a feedback channel.

This seems counter-intuitive, after all aren’t your fans actively promoting your brand already?  And aren’t we all on the same page that a positive endorsement from a customer about a brand is more credible than an advertisement from that same brand?

Yes and yes.  Your fans are actively promoting your brand, and doing a better job of it than you ever will.  Why?  Because your fans have direct contact with your current and potential customers.

Your fans are the passionate customers that are in the grocery store isles and the department stores, encouraging other customers to try your brand’s products.  But they are also there to hear feedback from those customers.

For example, let’s say your brand is Tide.  One of your fans is in Target and sees a customer looking at different washing detergents.  She tells the customer that they should try Tide.  Think about what the customer’s response might be:

1 – ‘Well I’ve tried Tide before, and I don’t really like it as much as Joy because…’

2 – ‘Hmmm….well the water where I live is extremely hard, would that affect it?’

3 – ‘Yes I’ve tried Tide and I love how it…’

As soon as your fan engages with the customer, they are getting incredibly valuable feedback from that customer not only about the customer herself, but about the product and how she uses it.

Think about if you had an army of just 100 fans that you worked with, and each one had say 50 encounters like this a month with other customers.  That’s 5,000 opportunities per month to get valuable feedback from current and potential customers of your brand.

The best part?  Your fans will still be promoting your product to other customers, but they’ll also be collecting incredibly valuable feedback from other customers.  Once you begin collecting that feedback regularly, you can begin to spot trends in the feedback you receive, and then make changes to your marketing as a result.  Which makes your marketing more effectively and lowers marketing costs.

Now ideally, you should have a formal program in place to stay connected with your brand’s fans, and you can coach them on how to better collect feedback from customers they encounter.  And Think Like a Rock Star goes into exactly how to do all of this.  But if you don’t have a program or Brand Ambassador effort in place, there’s several quick and easy ways to collect feedback from your customers.

One example is by checking Amazon reviews.  You can do this for your product, as well as for your competitors.  I actually did this for my book.

Think Like a Rock Star isn’t technically a social media book.  I actually walk readers through how to engage with their fans in both an online and offline setting, but a good portion of the book does deal with connecting with your fans via social media tools.  And since I knew a lot of people would compare it to other social media marketing books, I carefully studied the Amazon reviews of the most popular social media marketing books.

But I wasn’t focused on the 4 and 5-star reviews.  I was far more interested in the 1 and 2-star reviews, in other words, what were people complaining about with these books?  After checking reviews for a few dozen books, the most comment complaint I found was something along the lines of ‘The author spends a lot of time telling us ‘why’ to use social media, but not a lot of time telling us ‘how’ to do what he suggests’.  I saw this same complaint over and over again.  So as a result of this feedback, I decided to alter the proposed flow of my book and incorporate detailed how-tos into every chapter.  Basically I made myself commit to giving a ‘how-to’ for every ‘why-to’.  And while this created a lot of headaches while writing the book, it kept me honest and it forced me to carefully explain to readers HOW to do everything I was talking about.  The end result is that the book will be much more valuable to readers.

That’s just a simple example, but you hopefully get the idea.  If you are a brand that’s getting excited about connecting with your fans to help them ‘tell your story’, don’t forget that the value they can give you as a feedback channel can be far greater.

At the end of the day, your fans are far too special to simply hold a megaphone for you.

Rick Noel January 8, 2013 at 10:32 am

Amazon reviews rock both for consumers and more importantly for this context, marketers. Smart marketers know the value of the negative reviews, especially effective when evaluating the competitors. When evaluating a product, no matter the overall rating, I always review each negative review. Great technique and post provides a compelling example convincing me to add Think Like a Rock Star to my required reading list. Thanks for sharing.

Mack Collier January 8, 2013 at 10:38 am

Thanks Rick! Amazon reviews are way under-utilized. I talked to Erin Nelson, who is Bazaarvoice’s CMO, and she said for their clients typically 4-star reviews are as or more valuable than 5-star reviews. The reason why is because typically the customer will say ‘I would have given this 5-stars, but…’, and the ‘but’ tells the client what they need to work on.

And thanks, you should definitely check out Think Like a Rock Star, here’s the link on Amazon ;)http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0071806091/

John Heaney January 8, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Never underestimate the bone chilling fear that genuine customer feedback frequently inspires. I can’t count the number of executives I’ve worked with who have never asked a single customer the most basic question: why do you do business with us? because they’re afraid that asking the question may lead to the customer reassessing their business relationship. Best to just leave well enough alone. And God forbid that they ever ask the natural follow-up question: what could we do better? because that may necessitate both acknowledging a deficiency and correcting it.

Mack Collier January 9, 2013 at 9:27 am

Hey John, great insight, and I think this ties into Tom’s comment below. The key distinction here (which to your point, many companies will miss) is that the feedback would be coming from your fans, not your customers. Fans will want to bring to the brand’s attention the things they need to work on but they will do so with the thinking that they want to help the brand FIX those problems! Whereas an average customer might take to social media and bitch about a brand if they see a problem, a fan will want to connect with the brand directly, so they are aware of it, and can do something about it.

But back to your key point, if a company is scared to hear from their customers, then they are scared to hear from their customers. And they likely won’t be embracing their fans, which is another reason why they will have fewer of them.

Tom Martin January 9, 2013 at 8:53 am

Mack,

Brilliant insight here. Don’t know that I’ve ever thought of an Ambassador Program from a research perspective… but reading it here caused me to firmly plant my palm on my forehead!

I’ll be passing this tip along to my clients, with full attribution of course ;-)

@TomMartin

Mack Collier January 9, 2013 at 9:24 am

Tom here’s another painfully-easy example of leveraging feedback.

Erin at Bazaarvoice told me another gem from working with one of their clients, Land’s End. She said that for one of the sweaters that they only offered in one color, they kept getting customer reviews saying if it was offered in green, they would buy it. So Land’s End began offering the sweater in the requested color, and sales of the sweater immediately spiked by 28%.

PAINFULLY easy way to generate new revenue, assuming you are willing to listen to your customers. I think this ties to John’s point above, a lot of companies are leaving a LOT of money on the table simply because they are scared to death to hear ‘what’s wrong’ from their customers.

But why not ask your FANS what’s wrong? Your fans will tell you, and what’s better your fans will WANT TO HELP YOU FIX IT! In fact, nothing delights your fans more, because they will gladly bring problems to your attention so you can FIX them! The average customer that has little to no loyalty toward your brand likely won’t bring a problem to your attention unless it directly affects them. Otherwise, they just don’t care.

Tad January 10, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Send this column to Mercedes Benz. Their facebook personality is like a hooker and a john putting a deal together. I drives me nuts to see a brand with their equity crawling in the dirt with lines like “sophisticated new safety assistance systems … designed for anyone with a passion for driving, these new two-doors are the latest in a long line of three-pointed star dream cars”. Barf…

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