Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why Social Vendor Support Matters for Businesses

In my last blog post, I talked about the challenge of customer support and services in social media. Now I’d like to share my perspectives on why this is such a big deal to (large) companies.

The fundamental difference between how a consumer is using social media and how a company is using it is careabouts. In this context, “careabouts” means that in most cases, an individual will not be overly concerned about things, such as timing of a post or an update, tracking or metrics, to name just a few. However, in the business world, expectations are different. Why is that?

Accountability: The “mother of all” – that’s what everything comes back to. Unlike an individual who uses social media for his or her own pleasure and entertainment, the social media team at work is held accountable for the success of social participation. This changes the rules of engagement on several fronts:

Timeliness: In addition to day-to-day activities, social media is used for launches, events and other programs that have a start date and an end date. Social media is a piece of the overall puzzle and as such, it needs to fit tightly and neatly into the puzzle. Often times, companies use social media to drive to a particular destination or create a desired action….by a certain date and time. If a vendor's application or tool is unreliable, therefore, putting timelines at risk, chances are companies will shy away from using it – especially for business-critical activities. In addition, tight turnaround times and last-minute changes are common in the business world and if the development or support team (if the vendor even has a support team) is not ready for a fast-paced, changing enterprise environment, they may run into some challenges. But if they help a business through these times, people will remember that. These challenges related to timeliness are more significant for corporations than for individuals.

Changing Skill Requirements: Social media managers and often times subject matter experts (SMEs) are now asked to do things that are not necessarily their forte. Creating social media assets, managing the backend of an application or listening platform, or executing social media buys are just a few examples. These are new things that require new skills and time to master. If you're a vendor, offering support during this process is important and your investment now can pay off later. Let’s take a simple example: self-service social ads. If people don’t know what they’re doing and are just randomly clicking on the options to get to the next page, they may end up with a campaign that will be sub-optimal to say the least. They may walk away with the conclusion that social ads on site X don’t work. When in reality, these ads may be effective for others who know what they’re doing. So some investment in training on site X’s part can help shape social managers’ and SMEs’ opinions of and comfort level with site X’s social ads. It may not even need to be anything elaborate - depending on the focus of the vendor, maybe just a step-by-step tutorial video or a 30-minute walk through could do the trick.

Enterprise-Grade Service Levels: Externally, companies’ goal is to provide a user-friendly experience and great quality of service to their customers and influencers regardless of where they are. To achieve this, they need to have the right tools, infrastructure and other resources in place. What’s right is determined by the intercept of their objectives and available tools and resources. To guarantee that they can deliver the level of service and quality they wish to, they will look for those social media applications, tools and resources that will bring them (closest) to the desired service levels.

The same concept applies internally too. If a tool is too cumbersome to use or if it’s too unreliable, therefore, decreasing SMEs or social media managers’ productivity, businesses will think twice about investing in it....especially if support is hard to get.

All I am trying to illustrate is that a business model that includes support and services (in a way that’s scalable by the way) can make a big difference for a (large) corporation because of the objectives we, corporations, need to meet and/or because of the challenges we face. As a vendor, please put yourself in our shoes to understand our careabouts and motivations. Even though we use social media to interact with our customers, partners and influencers, our social presence is tied to our business objectives which will set the tone for our conversations about expectations. So when we ask you about the level of support you provide and the type of metrics we can track through your application or tool, what we're really saying is this: we're accountable for the success of our social media efforts and we need to make sure we can meet our business objectives with your tool, application or whatever it is that you offer.