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What Is Your Marketing Department Promising Your Customers Over Social Media Outlets?

I recently read a whitepaper on best practices for integrating social media and customer service and the central hypothesis really resonated with me. Social media is clearly one of the latest buzzes in marketing, my chosen "métier," as the French say. No one is immune from the conversation. It’s sort of like buying IBM in the old days--if you’re "going social" you can't be wrong.

And that's for very good reasons. I don't need to tell anyone about the huge potential for reaching new and existing customers in this new Web 2.0 nirvana, if we can just crack the code. As consumers we all see it every day--all the incentives to “like” or "follow" a company. Free appetizers, 20% off coupons, you name it. We're all trying to figure out how to best capitalize on this new media and add it into our marketing mix, whether we're in B-to-C or B-to-B businesses. We're using it to strengthen our brand, expand our customer base, and slice bread while we’re at it. To our credit, we’re creative, passionate, excitable people! And we’re excited about this! So it's not uncommon or unusual for a company's "Social Media Lead" to be someone within the marketing organization, or possibly within corporate communications, a close sister to marketing.

However, we've also all heard the horror stories about damage that can be done to a company's brand with a clever rant from an irate customer--as an extreme example, the now classic "United Breaks Guitars" video has over 11 million YouTube views. It starts by spreading first on social media outlets. Hopefully it's caught by that summer intern in marketing, or perhaps a more sophisticated monitoring service, before leaking out into the regular press as a funny story about a social media rant. Then poof--in comes the "Social Media Lead" to fix it--this person from marketing, not customer service, throwing everything at the irate customer to fix the problem and save the brand.

Let me ask you: Would you put a marketing person on the phone with that customer if they had called into your contact center? We're not customer service experts, trained in profitable conflict resolution with specific guidelines and SLAs to uphold. We just want to help find and maintain customers, and make them happy! So we may have saved the customer, saved the brand (at least for now), but we've also rewarded this vocal and influential (though perhaps not big-spending) customer for this route to resolution, and trained others for the future. And even when someone from customer service is brought into the resolution, often they have little context and history around the conversation that has taken place to date, teeing up an undesirable customer experience, perhaps fueling further ranting about poor customer service.

So clearly, social media customer engagement is a wide-reaching topic that needs to be addressed with a consistent and coordinated strategy across the enterprise, with the right breakdown of roles and responsibilities and processes for information sharing across different organizations. This strategy needs to factor in not just marketing outreach and monitoring, but it must also fully integrate the customer service part of your organization; everyone must be made aware of what the others are doing, and everyone does what they do best. So as you are building your Enterprise Communications strategy, how you are linking these new pieces of the puzzle together for efficient cross-organizational communications and information-sharing should be an important question to ponder.