A glorious future where we can ignore our customers

I’m not sure if it’s just me, but this LinkedIn update gave me the heebie jeebies.

I think it’s the use of the words “should have to.” It implies, pretty directly, that interacting with your followers is a chore. Using Hootsuite, the social media management tool that Ryan Holmes is the CEO of, makes it a lot easier to interact with those pesky followers. You can plan and schedule and set up all manner of time-saving tricks to ensure that your time spent with the people talking to you is kept to a minimum.

What I want to ask is – why are you doing that? Why do you hate your customers so much?

People like to interact with the brands and companies they use. Whether it’s to confess their love (Yorkshire Tea’s Twitter account is a good example of this) or to complain (Southern Rail) these interactions make them feel empowered. It’s important to consumers to keep in direct touch with the things they use every day. People feel the need to talk to everyone about what they’re doing, what they’re using and how they feel about it. That’s not the Millennial effect. We did that.

Businesses and brands have spent the past 30 years developing advertising that doesn’t just instruct, but encourages a feeling of loyalty. The idea that an individual would buy a cup of coffee not for the contents but because they want to be a part of something bigger (Starbucks Pumpkin Spice every damn year) is a sales and marketing dream come true.  Fostering that warm and fuzzy feeling of togetherness means answering a few Tweets, offering a couple of competitions and replying to any complaints. That’s the price you pay.

Why would a consumer use social media to talk to a brand?

  1. To make a visible complaint (empowerment)
  2. To talk about how much they love the brand (loyalty)
  3. To join in or add to a conversation (being a part of something)
  4. It’s how they communicate (convenience)
  5. To make a smartass comment in front of “everybody” (also empowerment, but a bit of fun too)

If you have never talked to a brand on social media yourself, try to think about a situation that would encourage you to do so. For most people who don’t use social media regularly, it’s to make a complaint.

Imagine you spent the time thinking of the best way to complain to a company who you believe have made a mistake. You’ve found their Twitter handle and you’ve hit the word count dead on. Everyone is going to see how mad you are and they’re going to apologise. You’ll feel better, and maybe they’ll take the time to improve their services in the future for other customers.

Now imagine you ‘send tweet’ and an automated response comes back to you. It tells you that your concern is important to them and that in 18-24 hours you’ll receive a full response. Or, it offers you a discount code and hopes you have a nice day. How does that make you feel?

Social media isn’t about fire-fighting – or at least it shouldn’t be. A well-cultivated social media account is a place where your customers feel listened to, and where you initiate the conversation. You might get complaints – in fact you almost definitely will – but with a decent social media plan behind you, your company or brand will be able to cope well with that situation.

Social media isn’t an inconvenience. It has become integral to most people’s everyday lives, and to treat it as peripheral means losing out on valuable consumer feedback and customer retention. Using automated services may save time, but they will never be the same as a proper representation of who you are – they will never be a trained employee able to give quickfire responses, start conversations on a whim or turn a negative conversation into a sale.

If talking to your customers is a job your organisation feels it can’t spare the time for, it might be time for a re-structure – or at the very least, some social media training.

Thank goodness then, that this was posted on April 1st. This whole thing was a Hootsuite joke, aimed at making the exact same points I made above. If you’re still wondering whether AI chatbots could help your business, hire a social media Apprentice instead, or ask me to come in and talk to your team about why it’s so important.

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