As companies begin to explore whether or not social media is a viable channel for them, a question skeptics often ask is “What is the point?” How can using social help the business, sell more, or increase customer retention? This is a good question – and one that should be examined before starting any social effort.
The business goals of social can vary from company to company but the underlying driver for social is to increase engagement with ones customers and prospects in order to increase awareness of the business, understanding of the offerings through the experiences of its customers, and deepen a relationship with a customer. As buyers, we feel more comfortable giving our dollars to someone we know or something we understand.
Engagement offers companies an opportunity to connect with their prospective and current customers. This is why companies hold marketing events, sponsor seminars and participate in conferences – in order to connect with the people that matter to the firm. Through social media engagement, there is a new playing field available on the digital channel.
There are many ways to engage online. Some companies choose to to participate on public social channels, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter where there are a large number of people, thus increasing their odds of reaching more people. Others find value in creating their own communities where they can bring the relationships “in-house” where they can have more control over the content, programs and permissions. There are benefits to both approaches and often when they work together, the real magic happens! A company can run a successful online customer community and use the public social channel to drive awareness and enhance brand and reputation. No matter what social strategy you use, it the conversation that matters most.
Here is how the Engagement Cycle works:
Someone has a question, an issue or a problem. They reach out to a community of people in search of an answer. Through the interaction with either the company or with another person they get a problem solved or an answer to their question. Here is where the magic begins. It is human nature to feel gratitude or appreciation when you receive help. And, more importantly, we become fueled with a desire to reciprocate. Often times, the feeling of gratitude plays out as need to help another person. Therefore, we share the information (often in the form of a retweet on Twitter, or a discussion group post in response to a request for help) or seek an opportunity to help another person. We now feel connected to the person (employee or colleague) who helped us.
Once the information flow begins, other people benefit from the information they have seen online and they too experience gratitude and connectedness. In turn, they often make a contribution within the social channel, sharing their insights or recount their experiences. This persistent information flow creates a robust body of work about the issue, product, service or company. When it is positive or informative, the company benefits. And if it is negative, the organization has a brilliant opportunity to participate, help or set the record straight. A problem only happens when the company who is getting negative attention fails to respond as they are more likely to continue to experience negative information flow.
Clearly, the engagement cycle is critical to advancing brand and reputation. When a company gets actively involved in the engagement cycle they can ensure accurate information is shared in a timely fashion. They can create nodes of connectedness with current and prospective customers, increase the impact of the relationship with the company and potentially heighten the likelihood of being considered when a buying decision is underway. It is important to remember the fundamental rule that people buy from people, not companies.