Engaging customers via social media? Get a personality.

What's your social media personality?

What's your social media personality?

Almost four years ago, I ran a little experiment to see how companies engaged their customers via Facebook and Twitter. The results were dismal.

Fast forward a few years and surly we’ve got this social media thing figured out, right?

Not really. According to Socialbakers, brands are answering only 60 percent of customer questions on Facebook and only 38 percent on Twitter. Not surprisingly, Zendesk’s 2013 Q3 customer service benchmark ranks Twitter and Facebook as the two worst service channels in terms of overall satisfaction.

Perhaps these brands are following the sage advice from Mark Twain (or was it Lincoln?) who said:

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.

If you’ve seen this story about Amy’s Baking Company in Scottsdale, Arizona, you’ll understand why keeping quiet on social media can be a good idea. Their Facebook meltdown was epic. 

There are some brands who do it right

Some brands do get it. They engage customers with a bit of personality and flair. They use social media to help solve problems, generate positive word of mouth, and increase customer engagement. Here are a few examples:

Cuvaison Estate Wine was one of the brands in my original experiment. I’m happy to say they’re still doing a great job. Their outstanding wine is complimented by a social media personality that is fun, upbeat, and inclusive. Here’s an example:

American Airlines does a great job of responding quickly. Their personality is empathetic and helpful. They handle complaints with class even when passengers are seemingly unaware that severe weather has cancelled thousands of flights across the country. 

And then there’s Tesco Mobile. They’re re-writing the book on dealing with social media complaints with a an edgy, snarky personality. I'll admit to reading their tweets purely for the entertainment value. Check out this example:

It gets even better. They recent had an epic Twitter conversation where they looped in other UK brands. Buzzfeed called it the best Twitter conversation you’ll read today. Check out this gem from the exchange: 

A word of caution

There’s one potential downside to having a great social media personality. You’ll be encouraging customers to air their gripes in public if you are funny and helpful online, but uncaring and clueless via traditional service channels. Do a check and make sure your service channels don’t have multiple personalities

Social media experiment: the #1 way to engage customers

I ran a fun experiment throughout the month of March to test how well companies that I do business with can engage me through social media.  I gained a lot of insights along the way, but here’s the number 1:

If you want to engage your customers through social media, you have to communicate with them, not just at them.

There it is.  Stop reading if you want.  Profound, right?  No, not really, but sometimes we need a Blinding Flash of the Obvious to help us out. 

Below are the rest of my major discoveries from the experiment.  You may want to first read about the experiment itself, or check out an overview of the four strategies I discovered.  I’ll be releasing a ‘how to’ white paper in the next week or so that goes into even more detail.  The white paper will be announced via this blog, Twitter, or you can send me an old-fashioned email and I’ll send it to you directly.

Am I more or less engaged?

The ultimate question is whether I was more or less engaged with these companies now than when the experiment started.  Since I was already a customer, I wanted the answer to be “more” for all 12 companies in the test.  The actual results were disappointing. Here are the companies in the test along with how they did:

  • More engaged.  These companies responded to me quickly and directly.
  • Neutral.  Office Depot is neutral simply because I didn’t have much interaction with them.
  • Less engaged.  These companies ignored me on Facebook, Twitter, or both.

5 Questions Answered

I started my experiment with three questions.  Two of my colleagues, John Curran and Grace Judson, suggested two more.  Here are the answers to all five:

#1 Engagement: Does the business proactively try to engage me as a customer when I connect with them on Facebook and Twitter?

The answer is “no” for all twelve.  I didn’t expect any “welcome to Facebook” messages or “Thanks for the follow!” Tweets, but I know some companies that do it so I thought I’d check.  This didn’t affect my engagement since I didn’t expect any proactive response.

#2 Interaction:  Does the business respond when I reach out to them via Facebook and Twitter?

The table below shows the results.  A “N/A” means I didn’t try to contact them this way. (I tried to contact companies via Facebook or Twitter only when I had a legitimate reason to do so.)

#3: Social, Media, or both?  Does the business focus on the social element, the media element, or both?

The graphic below represents my general observations of how much “social” and how much “media” the companies used.

#4 Does company size matter? (Thanks, Grace!) 

No, size did not correlate at all with my level of engagement.  Best Buy, one of the biggest companies in the group, does an amazing job of connecting with customers via social media.  Their blueprint is one that large and small companies alike should follow.

  1. Monitor frequently and respond quickly.  Best Buy accomplishes this by dedicating several employees to social media.  Small business owners need to make this a priority, trust an assistant, or get out of social media. Your customers really won’t care if you are ‘too busy to respond’.  One business day is a good rule of thumb.
  2. Personalize it.  Coral is a ‘Community Connector’ at Best Buy.  She responded directly to me via Facebook and Twitter, and was always friendly, enthusiastic, and helpful.  Communicating with Coral was much more enjoyable than communicating with a nameless, faceless “Best Buy”.
  3. Help in public, resolve in private.  Coral and her co-workers make helpful information to customer questions available to all who are on their Facebook page or following them on Twitter.  Have a gripe?  Coral or one of her colleagues will politely request that you send them more details in private (via email or Twitter direct message) so they can help you out. 

#5 Do companies have service level agreements? (Thanks, John)

I was surprised to learn that most companies don’t make it clear what their customers should expect.  Only two companies (Studio Diner and Best Buy) provided information on why you should connect with them via Facebook.  And, just two companies (Best Buy and Ultra Star Cinemas) described why you should follow them on Twitter.

A best practice would be to clearly identify what customers should expect from you on each social media outlet you choose to use. You can see more here.

What's next?

I’m recruiting a few companies to implement some of the best practices identified in this experiment to see if they really do work with other customers.  Stay tuned for more details.  In the meantime, please post your questions, comments, and ideas. 

Social media strategies (4 of 4): Engage

This post highlights the fourth of four social media strategies I uncovered in my experiment to learn how companies use this medium to engage their customers. I highlighted the first two strategies, the Placeholder and the Sell and Tell, last week. Yesterday, I highlighted the Forum. Today's strategy is called "Engage", as in "I'm using social media to engage my customers".  The funny thing is very few companies in my experiment used this strategy. 



This strategy is characterized by high levels of social interaction and high media. The catch is your media piece has to be interesting to your customers to entice them to socialize with your company.

When to use it

This strategy isn't right for every company because it can take a lot of time and effort, but there are a few situations where it can be tremendous.

  1. Your products or services require some education. The Cuvaison winery is a great example here. They post YouTube videos of their latest wine releases to their Facebook page. If you are a wine club member, you can watch the short video and then wait for your latest shipment to arrive a couple days later. Comment on how you liked it and someone from the winery will reply!
  2. Your brand truly inspires passion, and your customers want to interact with your company and with each other. Unfortunately, I didn't find any good examples here, even though I consider(ed?) myself a fan of these organizations.

How to use it

I guess I'm a bit lost here! The point of the experiment was to observe from a customer's perspective rather than simply repeat what so many social media gurus have explained much better than I can. However, I can offer two tips from my observations:

  1. Respond! You risk alientating customers if you don't respond to comments or participate in conversations, especially the conversations you initiate!
  2. Provide meaningful media. Give us something interesting to start the conversation. The Home Depot recently posted a video to their Facebook page that explained how to start a container garden and then asked, "What's the most unusual container you've used as part of a container garden?" They got some interesting responses and I found it helpful because it's something I'm looking into.

Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion. One preview - 7 of the 12 companies in my experiment hurt their image in my eyes. Tomorrow I'll reveal all and tell you why I think a lot of companies have a long way to go.


Social media strategies (3 of 4): the Forum

This post highlights the third of four social media strategies I uncovered in my experiment to learn how companies use this medium to engage their customers. I highlighted the first two strategies, the Placeholder and the Sell and Tell, last week. Today's strategy is called the "Forum". All the strategies are a function of how much 'social' and how much 'media' is used.


The Forum

This strategy is high on social, but low on media. It is generally used to engage in direct dialogue with your customers.

When to use it

The Forum is a great strategy when your customers have something to say. I've uncovered two general ways you can use it effectively. (There may be more, but I didn't see them in my own experiment.)

  1. Customer service. If a customer is going to rant, make a suggestion, or sing your praises online, why not join in on the conversation? This strategy reaches beyond Facebook and Twitter to include any forum where your customers might congregate, such as Yelp or Trip Advisor. Best Buy is an amazing example of how to use this strategy effectively on both Facebook and Twitter.
  2. Technical support. This strategy involves using social media as an extension of your support team. It can also encourage customers to help each other resolve technical challenges. Home Depot helped me find an answer to a product question I posted on Facebook by actually researching it and getting back to me!

How to use it

There are three basic steps to effectively using the Forum social media strategy.

  1. Clearly state why your customers should participate. Encourage customers to participate and help each other. On Facebook, it's a good idea to post a few rules of engagement. Best Buy provides a wonderful example of how to do this.
  2. Monitor and respond. You'll lose customers fast if you fail to check your messages and respond. Assign someone to monitor social media channels and give them the training and authority to respond quickly. Don't forget to look anywhere your customers might be ranting and raving, such as Yelp, Trip Advisor, etc. Active participation is a great way to amplify the positive comments, lessen the impact of negative comments, and spot emerging trends in your service levels.
  3. Help in public, resolve anger in private. Best Buy provides a great example of when to answer directly and when to take it off line. In general, it's a good idea to respond to compliments and requests for help in public so others may benefit. If someone is using social media to vent in anger, respond to their post quickly and offer a private way for them to contact you (email, Twitter Direct message, etc.) so you can resolve their issue. This way, all the public sees is that you are responsive and caring.

As always, your comments and suggestions are appreciated! 

Social media strategies: the Placeholder

All ideas are subject to revision when better ones come along, right? Last week, I discussed three social media strategies I had observed companies using when trying to engage their customers. This week, I offer a small modification that yields four strategies along with a description of the first one: the 'Placeholder'. Tomorrow, I'll discuss the "Sell and Tell" and next week I'll discuss the last two and reveal all the companies in my experiment.
Read More

State your purpose when using social media

The most basic definition of customer service is how well you meet your customer’s expectations.  If you meet their expectations, that's good. If you fall short of their expectations, that's bad. If you exceed their expectations, that's great.

Telling your customers up front what they can expect from you is a great way to avoid disappointments and misunderstandings.  That’s why I can’t figure out why so few companies in my social media experiment are clear about why they are using Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook was a total strikeout.  Nobody in my experiment explicitly states “here’s what you can expect from us on Facebook”.  Best Buy comes the closest with a set of ‘House Rules’ that you have to scroll down the page to find:



Twitter is a little better.  Here you can see the difference between Best Buy (clear purpose) and Starbucks (some guy named “Brad”):


As always, your comments and suggestions are very much appreciated!

Yelpiquette suggestions for customer reviews

Yelp is a great resource for customer reviews on everything from restaurants to dry cleaners. I often turn to Yelp for suggestions and sometimes post a review myself. It's a great tool but some of the reviews are just plain outrageous.

Some of these outrageous reviews include inflammatory insults, vulgar language, and reviewers that readily mix facts with fiction. Inc. recently ran a great article called You've Been Yelped that gave an inside look at how small business owners handle Yelp reviews. It profiled one business owner who found herself on the wrong side of assault charges after confronting a reviewer at his home.

My current social media experiment shows that rude and crude reviews aren't confined to Yelp. The exchanges on many companies' Facebook pages could peel paint and make babies cry. It's truly amazing what people will say in a public forum.

It's OK to be a critic, but I have a few Yelpiquette suggestions for making your reviews both useful and fair. There's also an old, but good, discussion on the Yelp website.

#1. Be constructive

A good review should help others make a decision about whether or not to visit the business. If you feel the urge to write something negative, make sure you explain why you are down on the establishment so others will know what to avoid. Some good Yelpers make it a personal policy to visit a place twice before giving a negative review just so they are level-headed when giving their take.  It's offensive to see someone describe a multinational organization as being "a group of Nazis" because one employee was having a bad day.

#2. Be civil

Dowsing a business in the flames of your profane prose may feel like sweet revenge for a bad experience, but other people will be reading your review. A vulgar reviewer generally looks worse than the business reviewed. Try to write as if you were sharing the feedback face to face with the business owner. This will soften your tone a bit and your reviews will become much more useful to others.

#3 Make friends with facts

Someone recently reviewed my local barbershop. They wrote about the convenient location, the good haircut, and the nice touch of having a brief shoulder massage at the end. Then they went on to complain about the $20 price and gave it one star. One small problem -- haircuts only cost $12 here. Get your facts straight if you are going to write a review, especially a negative one.

I hope you do Yelp or find other ways to share your feedback so others can benefit. In the meantime, here are a few of my recent reviews: http://jtoister.yelp.com

Social media experiment: who has a clear purpose?

The social media experiment is getting interesting. I've gotten a few more responses, discovered something surprising about most of the 'participants', and added another company to the mix. Here are the updates. (Read a description of the experiment here.)

More Responses

I'm feeling a bit more encouraged today than I did on Friday. Last week, I posted a question to the Facebook pages of five of the companies in the study and only received one response. I posted a question to a sixth company over the weekend and have now received a response from three out of six companies. Even better, the answers I received were very helpful. There are still some companies that I haven't interacted with on Facebook, but I'll try to get them involved this week.

Surprising Twist

John Curran asked if any of the companies in this study had Service Level Agreements for their Facebook or Twitter pages (find John on Twitter @TrainingTsar). In other words, did they have a clear policy that described what type of service customers could expect through these outlets, such as how quickly they'd respond to inquiries. I couldn't find published service standards for any of the companies in the study, but John's question helped me realize I had overlooked something obvious:

Do these companies clearly identify their reason for being on Facebook and Twitter?  It is a best practice to set clear expectations when you interact with your customers. Companies should state on their Facebook page "Here's why we have a Facebook page". Their Twitter page should contain some statement that says "Here's why you should follow us on Twitter." I checked each of the companies in the study and found a big gap:

 One company's Twitter page described why you should be a fan on Facebook, but not why you should care about their Tweets (odd). Only one company had a statement of purpose on both Facebook and Twitter. 

New Company 

I added a 12th company to the study over the weekend. One of the unresponsive companies in the original group has a direct competitor that I also frequent. Their competitor didn't show up in my initial search on Facebook and Twitter, but I discovered over the weekend that they are in both places. Now things will get even more interesting with some head to head competition for my discretionary income!

What's ahead...

This week should prove interesting as I attempt to interact with the remaining companies in the mix. I've also decided to start revealing the companies as I reach some conclusions about their social media approach. Finally, your comments and suggestions are much appreciated!

Social media experiment starts with a fizzle

My social media experiment is off and walking. Not for any lack of trying on my part. Just a lack of social on the part of the companies I'm trying to interact with. (Read more about the experiment here.)

What happened in round 1?

I kicked things off by posting a question on the Facebook fan page of 5 of the 11 participants. I'll get to the other 6 later, but I want to keep it natural and I only had a legitimate reason to contact 5 of these companies so far.

One day later, I've received a response from only one company. A fellow 'fan' answered the question I posted to another company's page, so I suppose that's fair too. The other three companies are radio silent so far.


My colleague, Grace Judson, offered a theory on how this will play out:

I suspect the level of engagement will depend heavily on the size of the company - which isn't something you've listed in the demographics. My guess is that the smaller the company, the more interactive they'll be.

I think Grace's theory is a good one, but the one company that's responded to me so far had over a million Facebook fans. Here's a snapshot of the fans and followers for my test subjects:

More predictions...

Angela Hill is one of my social media gurus. She offered an interesting perspective on what will determine whether a company succeeds or not in this arena:

The gaping chasm between followers and true engagement will grow deeper as we move towards a fully integrated online branding experience. Companies who do not quickly evolve and adapt will struggle with measuring and controlling the effectiveness of their marketing efforts. Whereas companies who do embrace this new Marketing 3.0 methodology will develop stronger, more transparent, interactive relationships with their client base, which will in turn generate revenue, allow for predictable metrics and build brand loyalty.

Yeah - Angela can get a little deep, but I think her theory is essentially that companies interested in engagement (the 'social' aspect) will do well while companies following a more 'media' strategy may get left behind. You can hear more of what Angela has to say about branding and social media by following her on Twitter: @incitrio.