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I was at the new JetBlue terminal at JFK last week.  Overall, very nice.  However, I did have one concern, and knowing that JetBlue used twitter, I decided to text them a quick comment. Within minutes I had a response.

I have to tell you how satisfying it is as a customer to be able to do this.

  1. be able to voice my concern

  2. have someone acknowledge they heard. 

  3. tell me their plans to fix (if they can)

I think we forget that about customer service. #3 is nice, but you get a lot from #1 & #2.  Moments later at the same terminal I was going to get some breakfast. I assumed lots of new staff since the terminal just opened.  I sat down.  Waited.  I noticed the staff was clearly swamped.. but staff walked by me several times and said nothing.  I walked out.  Truth is that I knew service would have been slow and if they had simply said "We'll be right there, but we are a little behind with the rush" I would have read my paper until they came.  Without that, I had no idea if they even knew I was a new customer.

Why do I mention this?

Social media can be that conduit.  You don't have to answer every question.  By giving people a place to voice their concern you have accomplished 1 & 2.  Its even better though, because your other clients can step in and help.  Or those same clients can stand by you when you need support.  Customer to customer debate can be a lot healthier. 

Here's a recent personal example. I was using a "free version" of an online service
to test it out.  I had many questions and posted them in the support
forum.  Staff and customers were answering them so quickly that I
bought the service before I had finished the eval.  I felt like I was
in good hands and the "community" demonstrated to me that it was a safe
decision.  I had voiced some concerns about features that were missing, and other customers responded why that feature should be a low priority and how to get the same thing using an existing feature.

So get out their and embrace social media and delight your customers.

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I was recently reminded of an informative survey that appeared in Groundswell, the great book by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li.   It's all about trust, and it really is relevant in today's rocky market.

The gist of the survey is this:  people trust other people -- whether they know them or not -- more than they trust the vendor of a product.  While this is a conclusion drawn from a survey, it really is just intuitively clear.  Most people are skeptical of the claims a company makes in advertising, but they quickly believe the opinion of others who have no vested interest in promoting a product.

Here's the chart of the survey, which originally was posted in this informative blog post "Who do people trust?"

The Internet and social media has made this possible where it never was before.  Without the Web, how would you connect with someone who uses a product in which you're interested or someone who shares a passion that you do?  You'd have to find a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, etc.  Or go to a user group. All way too hard.  Now with a few Google searches and clicks, you can be connected to dozens if not hundreds of other people who can help you.

This is why companies all over the world are trading in traditional marketing dollars and moving to social media marketing:  it's more believable, more influential, and delivers a higher ROI than traditional one-way marketing where you "push and interrupt" a brand message.   Social media marketing connects people to other people who they can trust.  it builds brands in an organic way and generates real revenue.  This movement is accelerated by the economic downturn, where slashed marketing budgets will mean marketing teams are looking for better ways to spend their dollars.

Do you agree?  Who do you trust?

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If I had a Nickel (a US Nickel... not a Canadian one) for every time I've been asked this question lately, I wouldn't have to worry about economic turmoil would I?  In all seriousness, I get challenged with this daily, as if someone is trying to tell me something.  I briefly commented on this already when I was interviewed by Fortune Magazine's Jesse Hempel, but let's talk in a little more detailed way.

No matter what the economic conditions, there is always someone turning it to their advantage.   McDonald's Corp announced some positive earnings recently and CNN attributed it to the "value meal" offering being particularly well timed.  After all, people are even more price conscious as a result of the economy.  I have no idea how true that is, but it supports my point. (yet makes me hungry at the same time).

Social Media supports two things you absolutely must do during economic uncertainty.  
  1. Get close to your customers.
  2. Do more with less

Getting closer to your customers

Without being dramatic, assume your business is becoming a war zone.  It's time to hunker down and protect your turf at a minimum.  A big part of  that is to stay very close to your customers.
Social media facilitates that. Companies are deploying "Innovation communities" to keep the lines of dialog open between your product marketing and your clients.  Clients have a direct line to offer product enhancements and ideas.  Don't assume that you have to implement every suggestion a client offers (and make sure your site sets that expectation), however the conversation has valuable insights into areas that clients are not happy with, or perceived features you lack that your competitors might have. 

When you implement those suggestions, make some noise.  Brag about the clients that came up with the idea and the fact that you offer the feature.  In fact key staff should be blogging about every customer success, every industry insight, and stay as visible as possible.  Make it easy for your clients to spread the word via their own blogs, Facebook pages, etc.

Do More with Less

In the grand scheme of marketing budgets most social media implementations are infinitely cheaper than other ways of doing things.  As far as assisting customers having clients support each other as part of a "support community" saves money and leads to higher customer satisfaction.  That's a fact. 

Any marketing initiatives that were planned using traditional media like Television would have had hundreds of thousands of dollars ear-marked for those campaigns.  (if not more) That's not to say a social media site has the same reach, but it certainly has more depth and in the right hands can influence customers. 

Viral video's, UGC (user generated content) campaigns, can all drive influence like traditional media. A great example of a brand campaign was the CVS "For All the Ways You Care" site.  Basically a UGC site that celebrates women "in the middle".  That is, they are caregivers to their parents and their children.   It's a great example of a brand associating itself with an audience and celebrating them as unsung hero's.

Make every dollar count. The CVS campaign above wasn't actually just community, it was supported by TV. However some of that campaign budget put a community in place that became a platform for their next UGC (user generated content) campaign.  The TV ads can be long over, but the community lives on.

What about events? Is your company cutting back on global events where they bring staff in from all over the world? Supplement, or replace that event with a community.  The life of a community can be infinite, where an event loses its impact the last day.  In an ideal world, use that event (or point of enthusiasm) to drive participation in a community that bridges the dead time between various events.

Do you have any ideas about how you can use social media to cut costs, and get closer to your customers?  I'd love to hear from you.

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Big Day for Awareness Platform

While the folks in marketing will issue a proper press release, I wanted to take a few lines to talk about why I am excited about our latest release....
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