Businesses STILL don't seem to get it, do they? More often than not, the corporate world leave the management of their social media up to the marketing department or simply outsource to to an external marketing agency. Nothing wrong with this but if a company has a social media presence, they really need to be social. It's not about broadcast, broadcast, broadcast. That's just spamming. There are also many cases where an external agent is used to manage a community for a brand. Again, nothing wrong with that either but when that brand is a product that requires genuine end user support, it would be nice if the "social" arm of these companies were actually able to do this.
If I have a problem with a product and require support, is it too much to expect to be able to talk to the person/team representing them on Twitter about it? Apparently so.
The problem is that as a company grows it tends to divide its self up into departments. This department deals with this and that department deals with that. If you're not careful this can create disparate silos within a business. Where this is evident on the social web is marketing and customer support. Why are companies marketing on the social web but not supporting their customers on the social web? I'm going to use the word "social" as many times as possible here because I'm trying to drop a rather unsubtle hint.
I really began to notice this problem when I was having problems with my O2 phone. I don't have a land line and my mobile phone wasn't working so I couldn't phone their helpline. I went to their support page on the web, went through their FAQ/troubleshooter thing and still didn't find an answer so I used their online support form… Which didn't work. After getting a little pissy about it someone reminded me that O2 had a twitter stream so I contacted them. Their initial responses were to contact the support number or use the web support. Not very useful. In the end (after several days of to and fro because it takes them a whole day to respond when there's actually a problem) they said they had contacted support and I would get an email from them explaining what the problem was and how I could go about sorting it. That email never came. I did eventually sort the problem out but I did it on my own, completely in the dark and with no help from O2's customer support.
The problem with O2 is that (as it says on their twitter profile) their twitter stream is maintained by their press team. They just don't have the information or tools to hand to deal with customer support problems. This begs the question: Why are they trying to support customers if they aren't equipped to do so?
I'm not blaming O2's press team because I believe they did the best they could within their mandate. I'm not certain but I expect their press team is an external entity. Most likely a PR/marketing agency.
The problem is a corporate one, not any one department's fault. The problem IS the departmental structure. On the social web, the very least you need to be able to do is support those to whom you are preaching and selling to. If your brand is something that requires support, you need to be doing this on the social web as well as selling.
How you go about this depends on the product you're trying to support but there are so many ways and with a decent bit of community management you can get the community to do a lot of the hard work for you at little to no cost at all.
Imagine going into a shop and buying a TV. It goes wrong so you take it back to the shop. If that shop told you they couldn't help you because they only sell the stuff, how happy would you be? This is exactly the same scenario. It's unacceptable, don't you think?
Good customer support is one of the best marketing tools available. If you want people talking about your brand positively online, give them an experience worth talking about. Where social media is concerned, it's all about their communication and what they are talking about. It's not about your press releases.
Anyway, you get the point. I'm done with this now. I need a cup of tea.