I said yesterday that I envisoned social media gaining adoption via stealth means rather than a concerted effort to push for adoption and Rob Diana asked "so what are we going to do about it?" Now, I am not a social media professional or involved in marketing but my response, which seemed obvious, was that if big business is going to drive stealth adoption then that's where we need to concentrate: on the outreach.
Chris Brogan posted on the responsibilities a "Community Manager" for a company would have (here's a good idea of what one does) and I believe that building the community is key to the adoption of social media as a means of interaction between business and consumers.
Chris stated that organisations should develop "a non-marketing community outreach" which is spot on. Creating a community via social media is not spamming potential customers with a sales pitch it is about outreach and availability. Providing existing, or future, customers with a means to engage with the company, receive pre-sales advice, learn about the products and services on offer, and even get after sales support. A community could also extend to allowing customers to discuss their experiences amongst themselves.
Too often the wrong questions are being asked. Businesses should not be trying to push their products via these avenues so should not be seeking the best way to market a product via social channels. By creating a relationship with their customers they will instead develop a feeling of trust which itself will lead to initial sales and repeat business.
Measuring the effectiveness of social media is going to be difficult to generalise so will have to considered with regards to the specific organisation. There must be a way of gauging the quality of any outreach so just saying that you’ll respond to a query within 24 hours is only the start, the result of that response is what's really important.
A qualitative measurement will have to include the rate of conversion of interactions and the ability to effectively manage your online reputation. Can you convert a query into a sale or turn around complaints to give the customer an overall positive experience of your organisation even if their initial impression was a poor one.
The uptake of using social media as a means of communication between business and consumer will depend on how much emphasis and importance is going to be placed upon the ‘community’ in comparison to more traditional methods of interacting with customers. With an increasing number of consumers switching to online shopping or using the web for research before making a purchase decision the importance of establishing an effective online community around your brand cannot be stressed highly enough and cannot be ignored. At the same time the traditional methods should not be ignored as we are a long way from any sort of mass adoption.
Just as you cannot force a product on to people without being accussed of spamming them, the adoption of social media cannot be forced on them (see Rob's comment) or you will end up with a backlash. People like to discover things for themselves or be given a choice; those comfortable with interacting in this way will set the tone and even become evangelists of the community if they have good experience of it.
People listen to their peers and word of mouth recommendation is fundamental to building a better reputation. It is, therefore, vital to look after your customers and treat each one as though they are your first.
Image by Marco Cassè.