The Real Lessons of Social Media

Donovan Cronkhite
President, RJM

Posted On March 1, 2012

These days it’s hard to escape the endless barrage of social media. Even if your phone isn’t constantly notifying you of Facebook posts, Twitter re-tweets, LinkedIn requests, or Instagram comments, you are still very aware of the presence of these sites, and how they are infiltrating our lives, and by extension, the way we do business.

The real lessons of social media for business aren’t in the newest app or site. They aren’t in whatever redesign that Facebook just forced upon its users. Over time, all of these sites and apps will disappear, and if you stake your entire marketing budget on the tool, you’ll be left behind as well. The real lessons lie in how they’ve reminded us of how businesses should operate.

Customer Service Still Matters

After a customer sits on hold with the phone support for an hour or two, after they get shutdown by the store manager, and after they hunt for thirty minutes for an email address on your website, they get on Twitter and blast out how much they hate your company in 140 characters. Within minutes, they’re helped. It’s a true story, just ask Comcast. After years of making customer service hard, social media has taught businesses that customer service still makes a difference.

You don’t have to have a presence on social media to provide customer service. After all, Apple doesn’t have a Twitter account and nobody would accuse them of not offering customer service.

Customers are Searching for Something Unique

In the age of big box stores and the big brand, many people have begun to believe that small companies just can’t compete. Social Media is teaching us that that just isn’t true. One of my favorite companies to follow through social media is a craft brewer from a small town in Delaware, Dogfish Head, who is competing against the two giants in Anheuser-Busch and Miller-Coors.

Where the two large companies hold almost no presence on Twitter, Dogfish Head boasts nearly 80,000 followers. Over on Facebook, over 200,000 people subscribe to their updates. This social media following has enabled Dogfish Head (which started in 1995) to develop a cult following around their uniquely crafted beer. This ability to reach their target market, along with an unique product, has allowed Dogfish Head to now boast a television show on Discovery Channel, a New York City restaurant with Mario Batali, and a 25 state distribution area.

People seek out and define themselves through the products that they buy. Products that offer no unique value to customers will soon be engaged in a race to razor thin margins, constant competition and hard marketing challenges. Products that can stand out in a crowd, however, can energize and activate a customer base that will help you grow.

The Customer May Not Always Be Right, But They Have a Voice

One of the most common questions I receive about social media is, “what if they say negative things?” From Yelp to Facebook, consumers have power in their voice unseen in recent years. What we’ve forgotten is that the customers have always had this voice. It’s the businesses who’ve never had an opportunity to listen in.

Consumers have always talked. Whether it was over dinner, in the aisle at the store, or a bumper sticker, people have always endorsed or disparaged brands. Ask ten people and you’ll probably get five different answers on what “Ford” stands for. If you look at online reviews as nothing more than that modern day equivalent to the comment card, what you have been given is the gift to improve your business.

Even negative reviews and comments give you a chance to improve your business for the next customer. They also provide an opportunity that the comment card never did - to right a wrong, on the spot, in public.

Social Media is People

At the end of it all, social media is people. Whether Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest survive to become long term businesses is still undecided. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that we talked about MySpace, AOL, and Yahoo! in the same manner. However, your customers will always be a part of your brand and your bottom line. If we continue to keep in mind that consumers want to buy unique, quality products that are backed by supportive, appreciative companies, the tools can change constantly and the business will continue to survive.