Every day and all over the world, there are countless meetings taking place to determine the online strategy of companies. Almost every company has asked itself what role it should be playing on social media at some point, and while it is already a key discussion point, its importance only increases with every passing day.
What is interesting is that these brainstorming sessions often focus so intently on online strategy that they completely lose sight of what is really important – 90% of a company’s online success actually depends on its offline behaviour.
Some time ago, I read an interesting article about an incident that happened outside a Walmart store somewhere in California. A lady was mugged in the car park, but after the manager refused to call the police because he didn’t think the matter was serious enough, her understandably furious husband vented his frustration on Facebook. The post was instantly removed to protect the image of a store that already had the worst evaluation on Yelp, mainly because of the dangerous neighbourhood it was located in.
The important question in this case is what would have been the best social media investment for the store? Posting a response on Facebook was not the answer, and simply removing the post only infuriated the people involved even more. In fact, the only solution would have been to have a security officer patrol the parking lot – failure to make this offline investment had a huge impact on the customer’s offline experience and the online reputation. Simply posting online and not solving the actual problem is not enough.
Over 50% of online conversations deal with an offline experience
Analysis of a million social media conversations involving brands revealed that the original topic of these conversations is often an offline experience. Customers discuss the quality of products and services remarkably openly with their friends and complete strangers. If feedback is good then there is a basis for online success, but if it is frequently bad, there are issues to address.
The first concern of a company should always be to help our customers to communicate their positive offline experience through available channels. If a customer has had a great experience and is happy with the product and service, you don’t want them to keep that satisfaction to themselves.
One approach to this issue could be setting up a separate social media profile for your service, creating a platform for customers to share their experience of how the company has gone the extra mile with the world. KLM answer tweets and Facebook messages within thirty minutes, Carglass also vacuum your car mats when they replace your windscreen and online shoe company Zappos has a 365-day return policy. These are all examples of a committment to outstanding customer service that make a company worthy of conversation.
Make a personal connection
Unfortunately, even providing an outstanding customer experience might not be enough to get a customer to spread the word about your company. To do so, the customer also has to buy into the company’s approach, so they like to be associated with the brand and show it off to promote their own personal image. The biggest motivation for customers to establish an emotional link with a company is if they can identify a common goal. If a customer feels that a brand is creating added value in both their own lives and for society at large they are much more likely to get involved and build a relationship with the company. This commitment is the ultimate “money-can’t-buy” conversation driver.
The bank, Triodos is an excellent example of this. Established as the first “sustainable” bank, Triodos only invest in social or green projects, as well as other activities that benefit society in general. At a time when the public’s opinion of the banking industry has been severely damaged, the bank’s financial results illustrate the growing consumer demand for businesses built around a shared purpose.
Prof. Steven Van Belleghem is author of The Conversation Company and The Conversation Manager (Kogan Page). Follow him on twitter @StevenVBe or visit: www.stevenvanbelleghem.com