How are you managing the conversations about your brand?

Having just spent a few days at the Business Travel and Travel Technology Show I’ve come to the conclusion that there are a multitude of solutions out there trying to solve the age old problem of how to communicate best with our suppliers, trade partners and customers.

However here is the challenge, with the plethora of new social networks a company cannot control the conversations any more. Gone are the broadcast messages of yesterday and welcome in the new age of the “Company Moderator” whose goal in life is to respond to the conversations and play an active role in the dialogue. From many years of doing customer research I’ve come to the conclusion that customers find it very difficult to articulate their unmet needs so you have to try and test concepts with them and this is where I think social media will come into its own as a great way to do the following:

  • Have a conversation with customers about how they use your product or service (you’ll probably be amazed what you learn from this)
  • Learn how they disseminate their customer experiences by who and how they share feedback with their friends, family and colleagues and influence buying decisions in their networks
  • Finding new applications and market opportunies. For example I was reading the travel press this morning and learnt how a company called Superbreak doing short city breaks started to look at its customer data and saw a need for “mini moons”for cash strapped newly weds opting to honeymoon in the UK.

Think how much richer their insights and their travel content might have been if they had set up a community for this segment of customers to network with each other and share their travel experiences.

Social networks create a massive cultural change for many companies. Travel is one of those industries where a customer can have a bad experience due to the weather and will rant on a travel rant website when there was nothing the travel company could have done to change things. If the company doesn’t respond the site can encourage others to have a go and so the viral effect mushrooms as we always tell more people about a bad rather than a good experience.

Some companies have buried their head in the sand and decided to ban all social network sites from their organisations thinking this will keep their employees more focused but in fact they can still browse any of these sites on their mobile. Other companies have mandated that their employees cannot provide any review on their business travel experience so that their suppliers will not know about issues until it’s too late.

For those of you that read the Economist special report of 30 January 2010 on Social Media companies large and small are now doing some entrepreneurial things in this space and the article has some interesting case studies. My view is that a huge upskilling is required to ensure businesses are prepared for this sea change in how we communicate. Young people have really embraced social networks and they will be our workers of tomorrow so my view is that those companies banning them will be unpopular places to work. I’m looking forward to going to a conference next month on Social Media and will keep you posted on insights gained.

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