The Social Mistake You Cannot Afford to Make



Brian Cantor
05/14/2012

From emphasizing personalized responses that read like they came from humans rather than robots to assuring your Facebook page is not simply a syndication of what appears on your Twitter feed, the mountain of "best practices" for social media strategy is simply too tall for any customer management executive to ignore.

And even though these tips and tactics often come from questionable sources with limited practical experience, many are indeed legitimate. Social might be in its infant stages, but enough evidence certainly exists to determine some obviously correct and obviously incorrect strategies for reaching and engaging customers through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and the like.

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Customer management leaders, by all means, are urged to pay careful attention to the "dos and don’ts" of social strategy to assure their investments are not wasted and their brands are not irreparably damaged. But before focusing on specific strategic blueprints for maximizing social media, these leaders need to assure they do not fall victim to the most fundamental of pitfalls; one which, in and of itself, can completely cripple the organization’s ability to ever succeed with social media.

In order to even think about succeeding with social media, customer management leaders must assure social is approached with complete organizational alignment. From the customer service team, to the marketing team, to the C-level executive team, every corner of the business must commit to an overarching objective for the investment. Each business unit must understand precisely why the organization is adopting a social media strategy and precisely what success must entail.

Without that alignment, the internal butting of heads will prove prohibitively destructive. Departments will be fighting over resources rather than collaborating, exacerbating the staffing, resource and budgetary woes that are already crippling many social media strategies.

The gateway to a territory that is unchartered at best, the shoulders of social media strategy are too flimsy to handle the burden of organizational uncertainty. If the C-level sets expectations for its social investment that are not met by the customer management team, which has a different vision for social, the entire investment will collapse. The C-level will hesitate to reward business units that are not achieving its vision of a suitable ROI, and this will further hinder the practitioners’ ability to achieve the return they are trying to deliver, let alone the one that the C-level wants them to attain.

In essence, the units will be using resources in ways that are isolated at best and counterproductive at worst. Managers will be forced to create an artificial balance between appealing to budget holders and delivering on their idealized visions of social strategy, creating the organizational version of "jack of all trades and master of none." And social strategy will be a game of jockeying for influence and budgetary dollars rather than on achieving the big picture goals that lift all ships.

In a recent survey conducted by Call Center IQ, customer management professionals underscored the toxic misalignment that exists within their organizations. Of those surveyed, 65% believe their marketing team’s number one priority for social is lead and revenue generation, while 50% feel that way about the C-level. When it comes to the "customer" team, however, only 29% recognized that goal as a top priority. More customer-oriented concerns like monitoring feedback and reducing complaints, meanwhile, were far less valuable to the C-level and marketing teams than they were to customer teams.

This gap is unsustainable.

Success in any business focus, let alone an unproven one like social, will prove completely elusive without complete buy-in to a unified vision. Customer management professionals will naturally have different priorities, values and expectations than marketing professionals, but when it comes to launching a brand new strategy, they must find a way to unify their efforts.

Questions to consider: How can marketing achieve its social media tasks in a way that improves the customer experience? How can the customer service team leverage its tasks to improve branding? And how can the two teams work, in unison with each other and the many other business units, to drive success against the benchmarks that matter most to the organization?

Given the proclivity to view social media as a marketing tool first and foremost, it goes without saying that many C-levels will, at least initially, prioritize metrics like lead generation, web traffic and sales conversions over call deflections and improved customer satisfaction scores. If this turns out to be fruitful for business, it is the customer management function’s duty to help further that success, achieving whatever "social customer care" goals it has for itself as an extension of its efforts to boost social marketing, rather than as a substitution.

And if social marketing is not going to pan out the way the business wants, it is the customer management team’s duty to educate the C-level—and other businesses—on the rewards of prioritizing the customer experience as the driving social media objective. Customer experience improvements can indeed offer the tangible monetary rewards that cause C-level salivation, but those rewards are often more subtle and indirect than marketing-fueled lead generation. If a customer-care-minded social strategy is the way to go for the organization, proper organizational education will prove the key to priming the business for the most valuable vision.

No one yet has all the answers, and it is inevitable that for every facet of a social strategy that succeeds, a dozen will struggle. As businesses get a better grip of the new media climate, and as customers better articulate what their expectations are for social interactions, that ratio will improve dramatically, and businesses will reap the rewards.

But that can only happen if the business units, leaders and staff members unite to navigate the journey together. It can only happen when the meanings of success and failure are clear to all, and when every department determines how best to contribute to that conception rather than its own conception.

Aware that I manage a publication that has its roots in the call center industry with Call Center Week, I recognize that many readers are far warmer to "social customer care" than they are "social marketing." I have previously written with that mindset in mind, and I will definitely do so in the future.

But when such professionals stress over the organizational hurdles to effectively leveraging social media, there are some important considerations:

  • Why has my organization decided on "marketing" or other, non-customer service objectives for success?
  • What is my vision for social, and how have I justified the importance of that vision to decision-makers?
  • What have I done to enhance the realization of my organization’s vision for social? What have I done to hurt it?
  • How well am I collaborating with the other business units in achieving the proper vision?
  • How can I constructively incorporate my vision and expectations for social into the greater business’ strategy?

By taking ownership of organizational alignment instead of playing the role of another business unit that undermines it, professionals can assure their business moves forward with social strategy and gains access to the valuable intelligence that will dictate more meaningful success down the road.

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