Brands warned: Speak only when spoken to on social networks

By Chris Lee

Brands have been warned: Speak only when spoken to on social media. These are the findings of a recent study in the US by marketing agency JD Power. According to the survey, half (51 per cent) of consumers do not want companies “eavesdropping” on their conversations while 43 per cent believe that monitoring intrudes on their privacy. In fact, two-thirds of consumers (64 per cent) would prefer that brands respond to social comments only when spoken to.

So where does this leave brands which have been told for years to formulate proactive social media engagement strategies?

Fine line between service and intrusion

According to Andy Atalla, founder of online marketing agency atom42, it is not surprising that most consumers only want brands to respond to social comments when spoken to.

“There’s a fine line between helpful customer service and engagement and intruding on people’s private conversations – which can come across as pretty creepy,” he told NMK. “Companies need to be careful not to act in an intrusive way and engage with their consumers only when they’ve made it crystal clear that they’re interested in engaging, either by commenting on your Facebook post, replying to a Tweet or asking a direct question.”

Atalla believes an exception to this rule of thumb could be when a customer has made a clear complaint via a social media platform, for example by tweeting about a bad experience they’ve had with the company.

“In this instance a careful apology, combined with an offer to put things right, for example with a refund or a gift, has the potential to turn a hostile consumer into an advocate for your brand,” Atalla advised.

See the bigger picture

Customer engagement does not stop at dealing with queries and engaging where appropriate, it also involves the careful collation of feedback to improve the wider organisation’s products or services. This is the view of Jonny Rosemont, head of social media at digital marketing consultancy, DBD Media.

“Savvy businesses realise that their social media response is a large part of keeping their custom. Yes, it is true that vast sums of customers don’t expect a business response when they tweet or blog about a poor experience,” Rosemont said. “But, when done in the right way, it shows that you are listening and care about their custom and it gives you a last ditch opportunity to potentially rectify the situation.”

Rosemont believes that successful businesses are not only responding to customer gripes but they are also taking significant learnings from them.

“By monitoring social media conversations, along with other customer feedback techniques, you can understand customers’ concerns with your business, where experience needs to be improved, what products or services are failing and why,” he continued. “Businesses realise that in order to become closer to the customer, listening is the first most crucial step. This isn’t a bad thing; customers will ultimately be getting a better product as a result. Therefore, when you do engage it is important to be explicit as to why it is you are doing so.”

Growing consumer power

For Le’Nise Brothers, group director of media agency MEC Global Solutions, the fact that 42% of companies see social media monitoring as a priority for 2013 demonstrates the ever-growing power of the medium.

“J.D. Power makes a very valid point that it is about understanding rather than just listening. By using specially designed tools, agencies can now track mentions, measure sentiment and map conversations for their clients,” she told NMK. “However, without the relevant thought, insight and comparison, these are next to useless to a brand’s overall strategy.”

Brothers added that different brands need to communicate in different ways and be mindful that they use social in a way that fits with their overall communication strategy.

“For example, take the luxury sector: many of these brands avoid having direct conversations with their consumers in public forums, so they should apply this principle to how they communicate on social platforms. Just because brands can have a two-way conversation with consumers doesn’t necessarily mean that they should,” she concluded.

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