Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Perceptions of Success and the Social Media

Success is an important thing. Besides resulting in a desired organisational outcome, most notably in the form of capital returns, success allows judgements to be made concerning the likelihood of repeat positive outcomes in a given situation. This knowledge offers observers the opportunity to make informed decisions concerning the viability of future successes. Similarly, the perceived likelihood of success is equally important, particularly in the age of the social media. A time in which it has never been easier to generate content, organisational action has never been reported on and scrutinized to the extent that it is now.

One thing I always say to those that are still sceptical of the social media is that if the customer can't say something directly to you, they will say it elsewhere. Remember, the social media provides an electronic voice to anyone with an opinion. The problem with comments made against your organisation within the 'somewhere else' of the social media is that before you are able to action a criticism or suggestion you must first locate the comment. Considering the number of new applications that pop up on a near daily basis, this is no easy task.

It is my belief that any organisation which fails to implement a social media strategy is acting incredibly shortsightedly. As customers spend a greater proportion of their time online, organizations must recognize the value of engaging in the resultant conversation of an increasingly digital society. Simply providing one's customers with the tools to converse with the organisation demonstrates an interest in what said customers have to say. Demonstrating an interest in listening to your customers though is only the first step in an ongoing cycle. The organisation should not take my previous recommendation as grounds for failing to continue listening to external sources of social media; specifically the ones outside of their control . On the contrary, continuing to listen to the groundswell remains one of the most crucial aspects of any social media campaign. Whilst this is all well and good, how do perceptions of success tie into the above? That depends entirely upon how you use the social media.

As we have discussed, the social media is essentially a conversation between multiple parties. Each party must contribute to the conversation. Herein lies the value of the new media. By expanding our knowledge through shared conversation, we as readers are able to benefit from the resultant content. Conversely, if the perceived likelihood of successful access to content is low then the platform will be avoided. This is simple logic. Applied in an organizational context, those organizations which fail to adequately participate in the conversation will be deemed to have failed in their social media strategy. Low perceptions of success will invariably deter consumers from contributing, and the value of the platform is quickly reduced to none.

Perceptions of success are particularly important when the customer has had a negative experience of the organisation. Remember, it has never been easier for users to create content. An aggrieved 21st Century customer can now create a '' site as easily as they are able to vent in a social network or blog. Whilst this information has the potential to damage an organisation's brand equity, it also offers the organisation unparalleled insight into the perceptions of the customer in question. The rantings of a dissatisfied customer can provide insight into service failings, product defects or limitations; as previously identified though, this information is only of value to the organisation when it is located. Whilst this process is made substantially easier through an organisation controlled social media offering similar to that described above, such platforms will only be used if the perceived likelihood of successful redress is high. A low likelihood of success with drive your customers away, and the organisation will be perceived as demonstrating a disinterest in resolving their concerns. This will invariably make the customer's grievances worse.

On the other hand, satisfactorily addressing a particular concern within an open forum can have a plethora of benefits. For example, by openly addressing customer x's concerns in an open and honest discussion (see my recent post on the importance of transparency in the social media), the social media can represent a real time interest in addressing the consumer's concerns. In addition, a number of product or service insights may be suggested which the organisation had yet to recognise. Whilst many may argue that such an approach would simply highlight the organisation's failings, I would suggest otherwise. For me, such a strategy highlights an organisational strength; an ability to engage the customer in direct and often difficult conversation.

The question is, are you listening to the social media?

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