Mack Collier

Brands: Customers aren’t Your Social Media Mouthpieces

By: Mack Collier | April 8, 2013 | 

Brands- Customers aren't Your Social Media MouthpiecesA few years ago I attended a social media conference where the keynote was given by the chief marketing officer for a brand that was touted for ‘getting’ social media.

I couldn’t wait to hear this CMO walk us through how this global brand effectively leveraged social media to connect with its customers.

About five minutes in, the CMO spilled the beans, “We are excited about social media because it gives us an exciting new way to connect with our customers and to let them tell our story for us.” Yes, I threw up in my mouth a lil’ bit.

Sadly, this has become a more prevalent theme in the last few years as brands have become entranced with connecting to their fans and advocates.

They’ve seen how companies are using services such as Klout and Kred to identify customers who are influencers, and believe there’s great untapped potential in turning their customers into megaphones for their brand.

The problem with this approach is that, shockingly, most customers are not sitting around waiting for brands to let them shill their products to their friends and family. Amazingly, this comes as a great surprise to many brands!

Social Customers

Right now I’m prepping for a workshop on helping companies understand how customers are using social media, so this is all top-of-mind for me. If we were to start naming the reasons why most people use social media, our top three choices might look something like this:

  • To stay in touch with friends and family
  • To stay up to date on news and information that’s important to us
  • To network and connect with others to improve our lives (maybe job-hunting or dating)

The point is, we use social media because we are trying to fulfill our own self-interests, not because we want to sell more stuff for Brand X.

Feedback Channel

Let’s revisit the idea many brands have of leveraging their customers as a way to help the brand tell its story. If we look at the three ways that most people use social media, how else could a smart brand leverage social media that also ties in with the ways these people are already using these tools?

How about as a feedback channel?

What if Brand X, instead of trying to reach out to its customers and fans and ask them to ‘tell our story’ to their friends and family, started listening to the conversations these people were having around and about that brand? What if Brand X started actively connecting with their fans and started asking them to help them learn more about what other customers think about their brand?

What if, instead of trying to leverage their fans as a new selling channel, Brand X tried to leverage its fans as a new learning channel, to better understand who its customers are, and what they like and dislike about Brand X?

What if Brand X had thousands of fans across the country who were actively listening for and encouraging feedback from other customers? What if Brand X then took that feedback and processed it, distributing it internally so that it could act on that feedback to improve business processes?

If Brand X better understood its customers and crafted more effective marketing and sales communications as a result, sales would go up. Which is what Brand X wanted to happen to begin with.

The better you can understand your customers, the more effectively you can reach them, connect with them, and sell to them. Stop thinking of your customers only as a potential sales channel, and begin to understand the enormous potential they offer your brand as a feedback channel.

About Mack Collier

Mack Collier is a social media strategist, trainer, and speaker located in Alabama. He specializes in helping companies better connect with customers, as well as cultivate fans via social media and other marketing initiatives. Mack is a highly sought-after speaker and has been quoted in some of the world’s most prestigious news sources, including The Wall Street Journal, Time, ESPN, The Washington Post, and others. He founded and moderates #Blogchat, the largest Twitter chat on the web. His first business book, Think Like A Rock Star: How to Create Social Media and Marketing Strategies that Turn Customers into Fans will be published in April, 2013 by McGraw-Hill.


Interesting, because I read the first section of this thinking "wait a minute, customers DO tell brand stories"...then I got to your Feedback channel section.

I agree that brands should be LISTENING, and should look to leverage opportunities where consumers are telling a personal story related to the brand. We've all seen cases where consumers write glowing product reviews based upon personal experience...or post to Instagram or YouTube because of their enjoyment of a brand's products.

When talking with some companies, I'll find these little nuggets and tell them: Look, folks are saying GOOD stuff about you...for FREE. Engage them and work on that lifetime value. Also consider asking them to share their pics/videos within a community you maintain. Many will do it for "free and a thank you". Others would do it for a free lunch/coupon.

Listening allows you to pull unsolicited feedback from the public stream...versus running a promotion that requires you to sort through all the fluff (even though those still have value, too).

Sara F. Hawkins
Sara F. Hawkins

Mack, spot on my friend and now go preach it to those C-suite guys (and gals). I'm at the point of exhaustion watching brands throw money at "influencers" to "speak authentically" rather than just engaging with people who already are being authentic about the brand. I'm starting to tune out these so-called influencers with high Klout scores and huge twitter/FB/G+ followers who hashtag and rave about products w/o disclosure that they're being paid. I don't mind if they're being paid or provided freebies, but neither the brand (with their fake engagement with these folks) nor the "influencers" think it's important to tell me this isn't real.

I know some brands do a very good job of engaging with their fans/followers, but for the most part the brands are so focused on just a certain few "ceWEBrities" (or people who have ninja/guru/jedi in their profile) they forget that us regular folks are the ones actually paying money for their widgets and that we have a choice and can go to their competitor.

Thanks again, Mack. 


Damn Mack love this! You know my whole "squeaky wheel" philosophy...Find the people talking- whatever they are saying- the ones that actually care enough to say it, then listen and respond. 


Wow, nice post!  It's funny how companies misunderstand the relationship they have with customers.  I believe that word of mouth is a real phenomenon, but if we've learned anything from social media, it's that WOM is very difficult, almost impossible, to control.  If anything, people are much more prone to share their negative experiences...  I completely agree that the companies that learn to listen with social media are the ones that "get it".


Maybe it's because I'm in the field and use social a lot (understatement, yes)  but nothing chaps my tail more than when I DO try to engage a brand and get NOTHING back from them! If you're going to put yourself out there, for Pete's sake, be ready for when it DOES happen. 

Most recently I was at HalfMoon Resort in Jamaica and was tagging them everywhere - Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. I was a resort marketers dream! And do you know I still haven't received one bit of response from them? I even mentioned it to them in their survey and graciously offered my services to them in case they "needed help" :) Unfortunately, what sticks out in my mind most now is not their beautiful resort but the fact that they're just doing social media.. they don't care to hear what their customer is saying. Too bad.


I love that you actually wrote that you threw up in your mouth a little bit :)   You must be puking a lot because THIS is all we hear these days - "getting customers to be evangelists."  What IF we all stopped talking about 'Big Data' and used social to listen, but also to HEAR - like you suggest.  Imagine how less annoying social marketing would be for consumers.


The 'learning channel' concept is brilliant @MackCollier - I mean, what are your clients and consumers if not a wealth of knowledge about your organization and/or product..?? They probably know more about it than the average CEO does - and a lot of that experience could be negative as well. Engaging them as information resources - effectively empowering them in the change process - is a smart idea. 


@dwfmarketer Hey thanks for the comment!  Yes social media definitely enables WOM, and customers will share bad experiences.  But if brands are responsive to customers, two things will happen:

1 - When the brand responds to the upset customer (assuming they address their problems and help them), then the chances are that the angry customer will be converted into a happy fan

2 - When the brands FANS see an angry customer, they will step in to help them and DEFEND the brand if they can!

Engaging customers pays, whether they are happy or upset.


@SpinSucks Of course! Great content, as always for Spin Sucks & Mack :) Happy Monday!


@KristenDaukas Oh, I agree Kristen. I have shared kudos about companies online also and *crickets* - LARGE companies, with active social media accounts. Drives me batty. I mean, it's not like you need to be stroked for giving props, but the whole "are you listening?" thing really hits home when you don't even get a nod. 


@KristenDaukas Hi Kristen, this happens a LOT, and I agree it's very frustrating.  I think a lot of brands have the attitude that if someone is promoting them, then leave them alone.  But they can't see that to your point, if they ENGAGE you and say THANK YOU, it just encourages you to promote them MORE!

Then again some brands are just lazy/insensitive and simply don't care.  These brands tend to get what they deserve :)


@MackCollier @KristenDaukas @belllindsay Here's a timely sports analogy @dbvickery might approve of!  Ignoring what your customers are saying about you online is like not even swinging at a pitch you could have knocked out of the park. People really remember social interactions ... and lack thereof, don't they? So simple -- such an underutilized tactic. Sometimes one positive interaction is all it takes to catapult a person into brand loyalty. (most likely building on many other things leading up to that moment, of course)


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