Social Media Must Be Human to Work

The Harvard Business Review just ran a piece by Umair Haque called “The Social Media Bubble” in which Haque likens growing social media buzz to the subprime trading that put our banking institutions into the death spin they’re still trying to recover from (a great read…make sure you take the time to do so).

I agree with his most of his suppositions, however I think there’s a very clear path to avoid the “pop” when the bubble bursts. You just need to be human. You have to be personal.

Social media has unfortunately become a numbers game, with people and brands doing everything they can to gather audiences and build the size of their following / fan bases. Many rely on auto-bots to follow (and unfollow) people, and have tons of programs to manage the connections.

Everyone wishes they had the Twitter following of Ashton Kutcher, or the Facebook fan base of Starbucks, and they end up getting stuck building up their numbers instead of making sure that they’ve got a clear purpose backed by great content.

Ashton and Starbucks are great social media case studies because they both do a stellar job of connecting with people. (By the way, I’m an ardent Peet’s supporter, but Starbucks’ social media success is undeniable.) They listen to their criticisms, they answer their detractors. They’re doing everything they can to add value to the people who follow them on the respective networks.

This must be a driving force in any effect and long-tail social media strategy: focus on your connection with your community, not only on the size of it.

Yes, you can use a hundred different tools to build substantial Twitter followings, or Facebook fan bases, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You can run giveaways to pull people out of the wood work. But mark my words, people won’t stay and continue to follow you if you aren’t engaging. If you aren’t providing compelling or contagious content, you’ll be discarded.

So, pay attention to what Umir’s talking about, because he’s right about a lot. Social media relationships can be shallow, and at times hollow, but you can change that by working hard to connect with your community in each and every way possible.

Try it right now. Instead of spending time building up your fan base or following, spend the next two days only working on improving the quality of your conversation and communication with your existing community.

Do it, and let me know how that works out for you.

Please jump in and get involved in the conversation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider leaving a comment below and sharing/bookmarking this article. Thank you kindly.

Is Social Media the Front Lines of Customer Service?

Last week, a few days before heading out of town to South By Southwest in Austin, I ordered a box of Kodak’s (relatively) new handheld HD cameras, the Zi8. When I received the cameras, a few days before leaving to SXSW, I immediately opened one up that we had purchased for me, and tore into the box eager to play with the camera.

I was pleasantly surprised by the camera, and was blown away by some of the smaller details and unexpected items in the box: an HDMI cable (which many other devices require you to buy separately), a convertible USB/power cable, and a very nice and sturdy leather strap with a great little “Kodak” stamp in the steel piece that held the strap together. The screen was big, the controls simple, and I really couldn’t wait to start shooting my first HD footage.

But when I pressed the power button, nothing. No response. So, I looked around and found the power cable, and plugged it into the wall to start charging. I’m not one to get stuck on something minor like that, so I kept sifting through the box to make sure that everything else was in order.

And then came strike two in the new product experience came with the realization that there wasn’t any internal memory on the camera, nor was a memory card included in the kit. At this point, let me be clear – neither of these things take anything away from the camera itself – it’s a great full-featured camera, and I love the purchase. It wasn’t a completely negative feeling, but I really wanted to play with my new toy, and I imagine that I wasn’t the only person to experience this disheartening realization. As it was, I had to go out and buy something else for this camera to work.

I think we should be able to open up any new equipment we buy and be able to turn it on and immediately start recording/shooting/listening (depending on what the product is, of course). That seems like a pretty reasonable thing to want as a consumer, and a fairly attainable goal as a product company.

Instead of getting bent out of shape, I did what I felt was the best possible solution: I sent a tweet to Kodak’s wildly visible and gregarious CMO, Jeffrey Hayzlett, and their Chief Blogger, Jennifer Cisney. (Important to note: the role of ‘me’ will be played by @Breakcom, which I write and manage for my employer, Break Media.) In my mind, it’s important to share both your frustrations and your happiness with the products you purchase, because then you can help make the products you love, better.

So I sent this tweet through, excited to share my happiness, and to offer my suggestions on how to improve the initial customer experience with their new product:

Needless to say, when this arrived as the response, I was less than thrilled:

Let me be clear here, I hold no malice or resentment, but I don’t understand the response, and from their CMO for heaven’s sake. It was bookended with a little :) emoticon as an attempt to keep it light-hearted, but that just cheapened the response even further.

In fact, I immediately started packing the camera back up into its box, and didn’t follow through only because I was quickly hit with a barrage of tweets from @KodakCB, who, in my mind, completely outdid her superior in every single way.

The reason that I’m writing this blog post is nearly identical to the reason I sent the tweet through in the first place: I believe in sharing my experience with companies when it is exceptionally great, or poor. If we listen to our fans, whether dissenting view or praise, we have a real chance to learn how to grow and become more effective. Hopefully, Kodak will pay attention and find ways to communicate a little better in the future.

After all, isn’t social media the front lines of customer support? For a company still struggling to find its way in a world that doesn’t need film any longer, you’d think Kodak would be more eager to embrace every fan willing to still patronize the brand. Companies interested in improving their products and branding don’t get defensive when offered constructive criticism – they welcome it.

As a company, and as a marketing team, they’re doing a lot right, for sure. Hopefully things like this don’t happen often for other customers, because it really bummed me out and had a deleterious effect on the experience with my new camera.