Don’t blame Social Media for ruining your sales plan.

25 May 2011

I read with interest Keith Williams' post today entitled “Marketing and Selling in the Digital Age” thinking I would learn about digital marketing but what I did learn is that someone who has clearly understood the fundamentals of marketing has not understood how social media could make his communications that much more effective.
It’s a common problem that many companies are wrestling with. They think that all they have to do is stick up their Facebook and Twitter page and their fans and followers will appear. Just as people thought in the last dotcom bubble that all we had to do was build our website and they will come. But they don’t. We have to listen first and monitor what our customers are saying about us. That’s the beauty of social media as it helps us to do just that. We can use Google Alerts and other tools such as Netvibes to track the conversations then we have to work out how we can best help them.
We have to offer something of value to engage with our customers. Over the years companies have made it harder and harder to reach them. Many no longer offer any head office number or helpline, just premium telephone lines or emails. Their increasing isolation has meant that they have lost touch and now they want to reconnect and are struggling, but that is not the fault of digital marketing.
In the interests of cutting costs we have excommunicated ourselves from the customers who we need to better understand. How things have come full circle yet again. So whilst we struggle to find a telephone number there are now endless new communities where other brands encourage consumers to share their best deals, insights, frustrations, rants and ideas.
I sense that Keith is really bemoaning the good old days of face to face interactions which many companies now moan they cannot afford as their customer acquisition costs are too high. To answer Keith’s question as to “why can’t the Web produce better contact to order ratios” – the reasons are many but include:
-We cover our websites with marketing speak and not the voice of other customers which are trusted so much more
- Customers go elsewhere to find the answers to their questions if they can’t find them on the site
- Web visitors give up trying to fathom out how to get to the shopping basket. They can’t get past the fancy flashy screens that the web designer thinks are really cool and click away, never to return.
- Companies fail to reassure you that the site is encrypted or share a privacy policy on how they will use your personal data.
Few companies other than ebay and a handful of others, make it easy to post a review on our shopping experience. We have to work harder to build trust when we ask customers to share their personal details.
However social media has already changed how people communicate and how business and people are now buying.  People have conversations on Facebook with many individuals not just one. People don’t buy through one channel any more. They form their opinions from a raft of different channels and interactions that they have with their colleagues, friends and family. Some of your customers may have already checked into your Facebook Places Page without you even being there to welcome them.
I sense that Keith thinks we will continue to buy things like we have done in the past but we are now grouping together on the web and going elsewhere to get views from our social networks before we go near any company salesperson, website or representative to make a purchase. Customers are making purchase decisions on their terms from their own research using trusted networks that they control and not based on a sales pitch from a salesperson. If they are not happy with something they can quickly galvanise their average 120 Facebook friends into boycotting a product or raising awareness of an issue very fast. Witness the recent Twitter phenomenon and injunctions with famous footballers. There is no double that Twitter or YouTube will be one of the first places any breaking news will be found and not on the mainstream media channels. The fear that celebrities and companies have of social media and the damage it can create to their hard earned reputations and brands are very real.
We have a huge toolkit of applications that we can use to stay close to our networks. I agree that it’s hard to keep up with all the tweets and messages and we need the platforms to help make sense of it all. It was a key question that came up in our Social Media Summit. This was not attended by a few individuals but conducted by webinar with almost 2,000 people gathered from across the globe.  Social media has shrunk the world. I can as easily assist my colleagues from the US with their social media challenges as I can my neighbour next door.
Just because we have not had the opportunity to see the colour of someone’s eyes does not mean that we cannot build an online friendship or purchase something from them – just witness the explosive growth in dating sites. Some of what Keith says I agree with 100 per cent, such as listening to your customers, staying close to them and not talking at them. Social media will never be the holy grail to sales unless we apply the same relationship building skills that we use offline. Keep sharing your social media frustrations and learning, it helps me to understand how best to help.
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