Since the publication of my book 'The Conversation Manager' (2010), I've worked with quite a few companies to inspire and advise them in this new marketing field. The same questions keep coming back across all regions and sectors of activity. Social media, community and conversation managers will definitely recognise them, because they are the same type of questions they hear from colleagues every day.
In view of these recurring questions, I thought it would be a good idea to make a list of the 10 most frequently asked questions and their answers. The contents are open to debate and new arguments can certainly be added to this summary. Please feel free to add your own contribution.
For most of you, the answers on these questions are well known, but there are still a lot of people to educate in this field. See these answers as possible tools to convince your colleagues, friends or managers about the role of social media in a modern organization.
1. Aren't social media exclusively for B2C and not for B2B?
The basic philosophy of conversational thinking is pretty simple and as old as the hills: the best kind of publicity is an existing client convincing someone else to work with your company. For years, manufacturers were able to exert a strong influence on public perception through intelligent and creative publicity. In those pre-social media days, publicity produced an endless stream of information about everyone and everything, thereby diminishing the impact of word of mouth. B2B marketers got to benefit much less from this luxury and, as a result, conversations have always been important in a B2B context.
Besides, I'm convinced that B2B marketers hold several advantages over B2C marketers:
- Knowing clients: a good B2B marketer knows who the company's clients are (certainly the top clients).
- Co-creation is ingrained in the mentality: a lot of B2B companies habitually involve clients in R&D projects.
- Customer feedback has always been a first-hand experience. In a B2B organisation, direct customer feedback comes with the territory. Since sales and service people work hand in hand with customers, they get feedback on the company's operational processes and service straight from the horse's mouth.
- Smaller volume of conversation. A final advantage is the fact that B2B companies average a smaller number of conversations.
2. What is the profile of a Conversation Manager?
When we analyse the many vacancies for conversation managers, it's apparent that two profiles are in demand. There's the strategic approach on the one hand and the operational approach on the other. Both jobs are valuable and both are essential to effective conversation management. I found the inspiration to describe both routes in the various papers of Jeremiah Owyang.
Choice No. 1: The conversation manager as a reactive helpdesk
A large portion of the job descriptions for conversation managers remind me of the profile of a modern webmaster. These guys start up the conversation for the brand by sending Facebook and Twitter updates. They represent major brands and help companies find their way in conversation management. Every one of these tasks is of crucial importance but they are very operational in nature.
Choice No. 2: The conversation manager as a facilitator of strategic change
Let's consider why so many companies are looking for a conversation manager. The answer is simple: we are living in a time of change. There isn't a company out there that doesn't realise we need a new form of interaction with the consumer. They want to engage the consumer in conversation so they go in search of someone to manage that conversation. Logical, isn't it?
What companies are really looking for is someone to aid them in that transition. In order to facilitate that change, a strategically competent conversation manager is the best choice. In this role, the conversation manager is proactively involved in determining the strategy. The conversation manager heads the most important projects but also involves the other departments in his plans. He makes sure that the learning effect ripples throughout the organisation. In his ideas, he takes a proactive approach to other departments. He thinks a year ahead and goes in search of the most relevant content in order to maximise the effect of the conversations about his company. He designs a conversion strategy: how can all these conversations lead to conversion and consequently impact our turnover?
Most companies simply look for the operational people. However, operational people need 'the (wo)man with the plan'. Combining both profiles is what generates true change.
3. What if the boardroom doesn't buy into social media?
The answer is simple: If you want to convince management of the use of social media, then don't talk about social media. Instead you should talk about things that managers find important. One of the challenges for top managers is improving customer satisfaction at a lower cost. Another challenge consists in consolidating sales results in a world where customer contact is becoming a rare commodity. Base your arguments on the challenges they face. Explain the long-term advantages of your plan. Contribute to one of the company's main goals through your social media plan.
Also, it's always a good idea to submit a concrete step-by-step plan. Such a plan brings clarity and sets people at ease. The plan consists of a number of pilots. Pilots with a long-term plan have the biggest impact. A successful pilot survives the initial test phase. The ideal pilot is a pilot with the ability to keep evolving with time.
Try to include a broad spectrum of factors in the plan. It shouldn't merely outline the external communication strategy but also the role that staff will play. Take the structural changes into account and be transparent about the investments required for the plan to be successful.
4. What is the role of the product in social media?
It goes without saying that the quality of the product is essential. Analysis of consumer conversations clearly shows that customer experience is the topic of conversation in more than 50% of cases. This experience is always a combination of product quality and the quality of the service. When these two elements are satisfactory, you're off to a flying start on social media: thanks to the quality of the product, consumers will already be exchanging their product experiences of their own accord. The product has already created a positive buzz, regardless of what you yourself are doing.
If your product is lacking in quality then you will be confronted with that fact in a hurry. Faster than ever before, careful observation tells a company what's wrong with its products. We can help consumers by taking part in the conversation, but even more than that, it's crucial to bring the observations into the R&D department and make actual improvements to the product.
5. Is operational conversation management something we do ourselves or should we call upon an outside company?
In a perfect world it's better to implement conversation management ourselves. Managing the direct relationship with the customer yourself is undoubtedly an asset.
In some cases, though, it's better to use a partner:
- If round-the-clock availability is required but the terms of employment don't allow it.
- If the company lacks the in-house knowledge to take part in the conversation.
- To provide assistance at peak moments. For instance, if a company can handle the daily flow of conversations but needs outside help for a product launch, they may call upon an outside partner to help them deal with the peak in activity.
- In case of a pressing need for specific competencies that are not available within the company.
The conclusion is that apart from the ideal case scenario, there's also the everyday reality to take into account.
6. Are Facebook likes and Twitter followers important?
Many social media experts would say 'no' but I beg to differ. However, two conditions must be fulfilled: first of all, the fans and followers must be genuine fans instead of 'purchased fans'. And secondly, you have to get those followers involved. An entirely passive audience has little worth.
If these two conditions are fulfilled, building a wide reach is a great asset. This is true for several reasons:
- The main reason: while the investments in campaigns and content remain the same, their impact increases. In turn, this generates a bigger impact on investment.
- Managers like figures and success indicators. As a conversation manager, you will have to report to your superiors from time to time. A growing online reach may help you secure additional means.
- The perception of the outside world is still determined by volume and reach.
7. How do I get a lot of followers and likes?
Three conditions must be fulfilled to build reach:
A. Strong content: the most important way of building reach is sharing relevant, creative and enjoyable content with your network. Not only should the actual content be good, but more than anything else it should also be visually convincing. Our communications are slipping back toward the age of hieroglyphics: text is slowly but surely disappearing from the online world and photos and videos are taking over.
B. Discipline: doing something fun once a year just isn't enough. You have to settle on a rhythm for making and sharing strong content. Keep to that rhythm even if not much is happening in the short run. Discipline coupled with patience is a second condition.
C. Be human: don't fall into the trap of one-way communication on social media. Keep it human. Play an active role in the conversation, react to other people's input, joke around... Make the personality of your brand tangible.
8. How do I react to really negative people?
There are two kinds of negative people. The first kind had a bad experience with your company and the second kind is negative by nature. The first are relatively easy to convert. The second are the so-called grouchy smurfs that are impossible to please. Both groups require a different approach.
Negative reactions after an incident: open a dialogue
This group often spreads negative content about your company. They feel you should do better (as opposed to positive criticism from those who think you COULD do better). Open a dialogue and listen to their feedback. Maybe you can make some actual improvements that will change their opinion of your company. Make sure their negative comments are processed in a positive, empathic manner. Even if their opinion doesn't change, at least you've neutralised the negative conversation.
Haters: ignore their hate but understand its source
This group has lost all trust in your company. They are convinced your company simply can't do any better. Everything you say and do comes across the wrong way. The thought of having anything to do with your company makes them shudder. You won't change their minds, not even through dialogue, so there's little sense in reacting to their negative comments. Anything you say will only fuel their anger and it's a discussion you can't win. Don't pay any attention to them. Do not delete their negative comments but simply ignore their remarks. By reacting, you are giving the impression they're succeeding in their mission. The only interesting thing is to determine (listen) the cause for these extreme feelings. You can learn from the past to keep other people from developing the same feelings towards your company.
9. If I become active on social media, do I run the risk of stimulating negativity?
Consumers don't need your permission to talk about your company. Conversations will take place regardless of whether or not the company itself is involved. If you're not, then you don't know what they are saying and you can't react; by participating in the conversation, you are aware of what they are saying and you can react.
Also, your presence will have a psychological effect in limiting the number of negative conversations. After all, people are reticent to make negative comments when the target of the remarks can hear them. It is very easy to be angry with someone who isn't in the room. Arguing with someone who is actually there takes more nerve.
Not being active on social media means turning a deaf ear to your customers' feedback and that's obviously a bad idea. After all, marketing is still about understanding your customers and reacting appropriately. In other words, it all starts with listening to what consumers have to say.
10. What use do I have for conversation management if my customers aren't on Facebook or Twitter?
Conversation management goes beyond Facebook and Twitter. It's about establishing an emotional connection with customers that results in positive conversations. These positive conversations are the basis for growth. I've never heard of a company that doesn't care about positive conversations, regardless of the channel being used.
Needless to say, the new media also play a role in conversation management. While it is true that not everyone uses these channels, they are still important to every company. Digital marketing goes beyond Facebook and Twitter. Company's often underestimate the importance of their own website. Establishing your own channel for interactive communication with the customer is also part of a conversation strategy. This involves a larger target group, viz. the entire internet population.
In addition, the indirect effect of social media is often much bigger than the direct effect. More and more, news is being shaped online. Once the classic media pick up a story, it grows and may eventually become a fad. The quickest road to offline visibility is scoring on social media. The opposite is also true: the quickest road to online success is your offline behaviour. In other words: thinking in silos is not a good idea. Everything is interconnected and every channel has its own part to play.