Photo taken from http://www.apmkt.org/

It’s hard to deny that social media can improve your business. It allows your business to reach exaggerated amounts of people in a short amount of time. Once a single tweet goes viral, you can reach millions of people quicker than any other forms of media on earth. This means increased sales, publicity, branding, and ROI for your business.

It’s no surprise that businesses are rushing onto the social media bandwagon, hoping to improve their numbers through social media. This is dangerous. Social media on it’s own does not guarantee improved sales. It’s not a formula. It was made to allow people to build relationships interact with one another. Similarly for businesses, social media is not a formula you can simply apply to your ‘To-do’ lists and expect your business to grow. It’s a channel through which genuine relationships with your customers can be built. These relationships will then in turn encourage your customers to tweet and ‘like’ your business, and in turn, your publicity improves naturally.

When you treat social media as a formula, you are removing the ‘social’ out of social media. Consider Cara Pring’s (author of the Social Skinny) experience with robotic social media customer service. Cara once had a telemarketer from Commonwealth Bank attempt to sell her life insurance. The telemarketer was unprofessional, and even started laughing and talking about a different topic altogether halfway through the phone call. Though Cara was not upset, she naturally tweeted her experience and tagged the bank. She then received 3 robotic responses from the bank:

1. @carapring Hi Cara, we’re so sorry for this, we strive to maintain our high standards of customer service and professionalism at all times.

2. @carapring we are sorry to hear about your experience. Is there anything that we can do for you? Thanks

3. @carapring Hi Cara, we’d really like to discuss this with you. Please DM us your contact details and we’ll be in touch. Thanks.

The first response was robotic and unfeeling; it’s hard to believe that the CSR was ever paying attention to her tweet. The second response was equally robotic; certainly not a natural human response (who ends a request so abruptly with ‘Thanks’?) The third response was better, but Commonwealth Bank never got back to her. This is what happens when we remove the ‘social’ part of ‘social media’. It becomes robotic and fake, reduced to yet another business channel.

Instead of focusing on just ‘doing social media’, businesses should focus on ‘doing social media right’ – placing an emphasis on genuine customer interactions and relationship building.

Here’s a good example of genuine interaction and relationship building. During Rakesh Agrawal’s stay at Sheraton New Orleans’, he casually tweeted about how he was spending his Starwood American Express card points at Sheraton New Orleans. When the social media manager saw his tweet, he tweeted Rakesh to ask how his stay was going. Rakesh replied that he was having problems with the hotel’s internet service. The manager apologized and offered him a choice between beer and snacks, or strawberries and wine delivered to his room. Rakesh’s encounter with the hotel manager is an example of a genuine two-way interaction between businesses and their customers. It was not robotic; it was sincere customer service, done through social media.

In essence, social media should become the ‘person’ of the organization whom customers can interact with whenever they need help. Businesses have to realize that in order to tap in to the vast potential of social media, they have to use it in a manner that produces genuine interaction with their customers. This means to use social media as how you would interact with a friend. Your relationship with your customer will help you understand your customers. That, in turn that would help you improve the way you serve your customers. This is why social media was created in the first place – to be a channel that enables people to stay connected with one another despite physical limitations.

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samuel lee

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