A few weeks ago, I was the "victim" of a technology-induced Customer Service disaster - the result of powerful "customer service" technology being improperly used by a consumer electronics company. I wrote about an article about the topic, and received a number of questions.
One particularly insightful question - from Justin Dennis was "Where do brands draw the line between engagement and support? For instance, if a consumer asks an open ended question on twitter about 'tennis shoes' should Nike start a conversation? Or do you think that is intrusive?"
I felt this question (and my best attempt to answer it) deserved it's own article.
First of all, the world is rapidly changing - whereas 12 or 18 months ago, there were few expectations that a vendor would monitor, much less respond or engage to any kind of social media or blog posting. Today, there are some expectations in this area - and in the near future, it will simply be "table stakes".
Open-Ended vs. Feedback
So, YES, engagement is appropriate when open-ended questions are posed via social media or posted on Facebook or on blogs.
And specific product/brand feedback (complaints or kudos or questions) should ABSOLUTELY be monitored and responded to - the stakes are simply too high and expectations are changing so quickly that you can't afford not to do this.
So What About Engagement vs. Intrusion?
Here's my own opinion on Justin's question - it's only intrusive if it's UNWELCOME.
So in this example, a Vendor can (and should) engage in conversations - making sure that they are welcome additions to the thread.
How? Well, it's difficult to put hard and fast rules in place, but some general guidelines that I follow:
1) Don't Sell. It's not appropriate to blabber on - for example, about which tennis stars endorse your shoes, or how they're the best selling shoe ever or something equally inane and uninteresting.
2) Add value. Instead of providing meaningless verbal sales diarrhea, add meaningful content that helps propel the conversation forward. For example (this is made up):
We did a study professional tennis players' shoe preferences. 87% ranked "Stability" as the most important. 55% said "Grip/Traction"; 33% "Support". In follow-up interviews, players explained that Stability and Grip/Traction were most important because of "injury prevention".
For details on the study information hows shoes are built for better stability, traction and grip - and other features that reduce injury potential, visit us at www.whatever.com/safety_and_construction.html
3) Make it relevant. That should be obvious - don't try to change the topic of the conversation.
4) KEEP IT BRIEF - 50 to 75 words is ideal for a blog article response. The two paragraphs above are about 65 words.
5) Don't overstay your welcome. Stop in, say "hello" AND LEAVE. Don't dominate the conversation, don't keep adding posts about this and that and the other thing. Good guests never overstay their welcome.
6) Be honest - Identify yourself. "I work at..." is a good place to start, if you are talking about your company's products/services or talking about a topic directly related to what your company does.
What other guidelines should vendors follow? Please comment!
By the way, I work at Dell.