Sunday, January 25, 2009

Using Social Media to Create Conversations while Maintaining Corporate Authenticity‏

Social Media is a great way to start a conversation. Social Media is a great way to host one-to-one and one-to-many conversations. Social Media is rapidly becoming the mechanism that provides companies a means to be a part of the conversation. Smart companies are beginning to realize this and to leverage Social Media technologies to insure Corporate Authenticity.

By Corporate Authenticity I mean that companies are conscious of their role and responsibilities to provide access to information & content as a means to promote their brand and to reinforce what they stand for as a company.  

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This article is intended to provide companies with a few specific ideas on how to leverage Social Media tools and technologies to engage and encourage customers to become active participants in conversations.

What do companies need to consider? By my calculations you can start with these three F words - Foster, Facilitate, and Follow up.

Companies that are looking to extend Social Media to Create & Participate in Conversations should be doing the following: 

  • Foster
  • Facilitate
  • Follow up

The reason they need to consider these three specific words is because by doing it right they will create unique and authentic conversations.

How to Foster an Authentic Conversation

For a company new to the Social Media game it sometimes does image require a leap of faith. Putting their name, brand and ultimately their reputation on the line is a big step for every company. Putting mechanisms in place (not just for regulatory purposes) is a significant hurdle.

Once these sticking points and hurdles are cleared companies are finding it's relatively easy to get into the Social Media experience.

They are finding that tools like Twitter enable them to start and continue conversations with customers. I have written about Comcast and Dell before and how they have jumped on the Corporate Authenticity wave (SM+ECM Trends). Many other companies are jumping in and it seems they are starting to find success.

How to Facilitate an Authentic Conversation


Facilitating an authentic conversation can take many forms and span the gamut of Social Media technologies – including what I call Social Media front end tools like Twitter, Facebook, and Ning. Also, back end tools like building out communities with products like Community Server from Telligent and even providing call center capabilities with Chat & Search. The key point is being present. A company must make a commitment to insure their presence is predictable and from a Corporate Authenticity point of view it should be repeatable.

How to Follow Up an Authentic Conversation


Follow up takes time, patience and forethought. As I’ve written before no one wants to feel like they are “being sold” or otherwise being treated as just one of the masses. Customers want a 1:1 relationship and the smart companies are using Social Media technologies to try an achieve this. The key point is that Following Up requires a thoughtful response.


RED FLAG – Content Dumping is NOT Follow Up
A lot of companies want to dump a pile of “information” onto customers and potential customers on the first and every follow up encounter. This is NOT the way to the customers heart, mind, or wallet.

Keep in mind that the response may be the same for many of the 1:1 relationships that are established – this may be to insure Corporate Authenticity and also because oftentimes the questions are very similar.

For example, Gary Vaynerchuk mentioned in this video (at 5 min 20 sec) that he used to answer the same question over and over again. The question was “what wine goes with fish” and while he lamented the fact that he had to answer the same question he also realized this was the commitment he made. He wanted to make sure every customer had an authentic and 1:1 experience. He wanted to insure he followed up with every inquiry.

Why are companies doing this?
Because they have to. Customers are demanding it (see #2 and 3 here). While it’s true some companies and certain aspects of businesses do not require a social media technology to make the experience better. For example, as someone on Twitter said the other day, I don’t need to have a “social experience” with the cashier at McDonalds. However, just because it’s a relatively short term transaction it does not mean that this conversation should be any less authentic. It still needs to carry the same level of corporate authenticity.

Some companies will do it because they need to meet regulatory requirements. Other companies will do it because they want to generate good will, repeat business, and to pad the bottom line (see Dell in this story)

Companies are realizing that if they take care of the customer - the customers will take care of them. For companies that have jumped into the Social Media pool they are starting to realize that by providing a communications channel for their customers it helps them to improve their double bottom line too.

Three Elements allow Companies to Create Conversations

  • Will we see more companies getting into Social Media? Yes.
  • Will we see more companies seeking to Foster, Facilitate, and Follow up conversations? Absolutely.
  • Will we see companies looking to insure their Corporate Authenticity? Without a doubt.

What will keep companies coming back for more?
Metrics. Recently I wrote about companies that are turning to Social Media Measurement (SMM) tools like Radian6 and platforms to build communities like Telligent. Companies will need to prove that their investments in Social Media are the right place to spend their limited resources. More Return on investment (ROI) studies are needed.

How can you help? Share your stories and experiences. Comment on this blog or send me an e-mail. I am looking for evidence to show that Social Media does indeed have an impact.

Thinking Points

  • What companies are doing a great job using Social Media to create conversations?
  • Should companies become actively involved in these conversations?
  • Do you have a better (or worse) impression of a company that wants to be part of your conversations?

Photo credit(s):


About The Author:
I have spent the better part of the last 16 years working in various aspects of the ECM space. I spent time at Kofax, Microsoft, FileNet, K2, and most recently Captaris (which was acquired by Open Text in Nov 2008). Prior to that I was a Unix VAR running my own company.

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