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.

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.

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