Community Management, Social Media Strategy, Social Media Marketing, Social Media Monitoring

The Consequences of Social Media Silence

social-media-silenceIs your inaction in social media killing your brand?

Most companies know they have some sort of operational or customer satisfaction skeletons in the closet, and fear a customer that has had a genuinely inadequate experience pointing out those shortcomings to an audience that is far larger than one.

But isn’t it possible that those same customers will shine the light on truly excellent facets of the company? Now that they have their social media program rolling, does Comcast fear feedback from it’s customers? No, because that feedback is an opportunity to improve.

Yet companies still remain on the sidelines. Either listening passively to the social media chatter about them, or ignoring the praise and criticism from their customers altogether.

At what point, however, does a refusal to participate begin to erode brand loyalty?

Your Competition Will Force You To Get in the Game

Many companies are looking inward and focusing on customer experience. In a down economy, paying greater attention to your current customers is a much more efficient sales and marketing strategy than trying to acquire new customers, many of whom are refusing to spend money regardless of discounting. There’s been a lot of talk at industry conferences recently (including my own chatter) about using hyper-relevant lifecycle marketing – including exceptionally targeted email – to help retain customers. Augment this with a renewed interest in Web usability, and you have the ingredients for an online customer experience renaissance.

However, your customer experience is defined both by what you do, and by what you don’t.

What does it say to your customers when you refuse to acknowledge them in social media? What does it say when you still don’t have a Twitter account, Facebook page, blog, or any other mechanism for humanizing your brand? Your social media active customers could interpret your silence as lethargy, ignorance, disinterest in their opinions, or a general Amish-ness. None of which are sentiments you want associated with your brand.

Fundamentally, your competitors are setting the bar for you, and like an airline fare sale, the longer you wait to match it, the more damage you’re doing. Speaking of airlines, how would you like to be Delta Airlines, playing social media catch-up to Southwest and Jet Blue, who have been widely applauded for their early, savvy adoption of social media outreach? As of this writing, Southwest has 13,493 Twitter followers (and more importantly, 1,418 Tweets). Delta has 1,401 followers and just 30 Tweets (and doesn’t even have a customer Twitter profile background). USAirways isn’t on Twitter at all.

I recognize that we’re still in the early days of proactive social media outreach via brands. But, we’re certainly not in the early days of customer service provision, and ultimately it’s not going to matter whether you WANT to engage or whether you feel you’re READY. Your competitors that have already adopted social media outreach are going to force you into the game.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

It’s always been so online. The early adopters set the rules and force the hands of the subsequent waves. I remember when Amazon (then highly influential regarding e-commerce usability) first added tabbed navigation to their site. Presto! Within the time it takes to make and consume a ham sandwich, every e-commerce site had tabs.

How did we decide search boxes are top right? How did we decide to use bread-crumb navigation? How did we decide to use distinct landing pages? How did we decide (recently) to embrace email pre-headers (content above the logo)? How did we decide that oysters were not rocks, would not kill you, and were actually pretty awesome? Somebody(ies) took the leap, and everybody else then nodded their heads and got in line.

The same is coming true in social media. Someday soon we won’t be having a conversation about whether to get involved, and all discussions will revolve around efficiency and automation. Why? Because customers are going to gravitate to the companies that they believe care about their opinions.

Are you ready to break the silence?