Christina Miller from VML has nailed it on the head in a piece penned for Digiday.
She argues that brands spend countless hours and dollars creating content that speaks to their target audiences on social media, but while engaging and relevant content is important, it can only take the brand so far.
'Community management is the personal touch. It’s how the brand can show it cares and can create a more intimate relationship with its audience through thoughtful one-on-one interactions.'
She goes on to make the point that brands that truly embrace social understand the importance of customer service, are poised to respond swiftly and with care, but also seize positive endorsement and amplify it quickly.
It reminded me of a deck we pulled together a few years back to explain, initially internally, what social media was all about and why it should matter to everyone at Asda regardless of function or job title.
It's fair to say our strategy evolved over time based on trial and error, and was driven out of PR not marketing.
We learnt as we went.
But on reflection it also became clear that our successful approach was based on a very sound formula.
Listen. Engage. Influence.
I'll never forget being asked to present by our then chief operating officer to the Operations Board.
A group of hard nosed retail operators, who'd all grown up in stores at the real front end of customer service not the virtual world of social media.
There was a hefty degree of cynicism in the room as I entered.
Rather than try and sell the benefits of Facebook, I started with stories of why and how we got involved at first.
Twitter was exploding. A free focus group of customers talking about our brand in real time.
Good, bad and ugly. A true reflection of our reputation, what people say about you when you leave the room.
And an early warning device that enabled the PR team to fix issues before they escalated into a crisis. Countless examples of pricing errors, advertising slip ups, or simply well connected angry customers who we got to quickly and handled well hence negating a potential PR story.
Twitter alone was helping us stay one step ahead of the media.
If nothing else, the bare minimum now for brands I told them was to listen.
"So it's not just people taking about what they had for their tea?", said one. Precisely.
I still firmly believe you only have the right to engage on positive territory with your customers if you are doing the basics of listening well.
Yet all too often you see glossy marketing campaigns on social media that simply ignore the noise already out there.
Everyone wants to jump to the engage and influence phase without having first mastered the basics.
Social media is, as Christina points out, made for conversations — a way to connect with the people around you.
'Brands won’t be successful if they’re just talking at the audience by pushing out content; they should be talking with the audience through the extension of community management. It humanizes the brand and creates relationships with fans.'
I couldn't agree more.
Christina Miller is a senior channel manager at VML, a global marketing agency.