Juliet Barbara, Contributor
At the intersection of marketing and the social web
Just when you thought it was settled that your business should leverage social media, someone goes and makes you think twice. On Friday, Jeff Wilson, Partner/Chief Customer Experience Designer at Sensei Marketing, published a post entitled “Social Media is Creating Bad Customers” that is sparking discussion among digital marketers.
In the post, Wilson argues that social media equips the average person with four “factors empowering bad behavior, particularly against companies:” (1) No Guilt (2) The Mob (3) Relative Anonymity and (4) No Accountability. He points to the #McDStories disaster, when customers shared negative stories about McDonalds on Twitter, as an example of how social media is having this negative effect.
While the risks Wilson highlights are real in some cases, the risks of not using social media are even greater. How did I find Wilson’s post (and consequently Sensei Marketing)? I saw a tweet from Sam Fiorella, another Partner at the firm and marketing guru, who shared it.
As Fiorella adds in the comments stream of Wilson’s post:
“A successful business cannot lay in fear of risk but embrace the rewards it can achieve. Brand negativity by those few you speak about will occur even if your business never logs into a social network. In fact, there’s a greater risk since that negativity will be the only content feeding social proof around your brand. Social media does embolden haters but it also provides a new soapbox for great experiences. If anything, social media has increased the importance of building positive customer experiences online and off.”
Social media does have a powerful amplifying effect. But just like any technology, it can be used for good or evil. The key is building the right social strategy for your brand. It’s not a “one size fits all” marketing solution. It has to be adopted in strategic, tailored ways. As Wilson points out, the #McDStories story was the result of “poor planning combined with outright naivety about the their own brand perception.”
Building a social strategy takes time and careful attention, but the point is: you need one. Many of my friends don’t watch TV, don’t read magazines or newspapers, and get most of their news from Twitter and Facebook. So where will brands have the best chance of engaging my friends? On Twitter and Facebook. Social media builds brand awareness in ways that no other form of media can and reaches customers who would be otherwise unreachable.
Wilson warns that social media can create “bad customers” because it builds a guilt-free, relatively anonymous environment with no accountability. But social media is increasingly an “online extension” of personal identities. We still experience guilt and accountability online; our friends, family and colleagues are on social media, too. For most people, social media is not anonymous at all.
Whether you agree with Wilson or not, the questions he suggests businesses consider are important: “What are the risks?” and “What is the compelling reason for you to use social media? (And please don’t say because my competitors are…)”
Interestingly, the post itself is an example of content-driven engagement that promotes brand awareness. Since Friday, it has sparked a substantive discussion, with 18 well-developed comments on the post so far, and it’s all taking place on Sensei’s website. Before you read this or the original post on the firm’s site, you might not have heard of Sensei Marketing. Now you know that it’s a marketing firm focused on customer engagement led by CEO Don Whitbeck and Partners Wilson and Fiorella.
Although I’m not sure what kind of impact this discussion will have for Sensei (many people who commented on the post respectfully disagreed with Wilson), I admire the firm’s willingness to take its own risks in publishing content like this. Fiorella’s additions in the comments help to highlight that this is one of a number of opinions Sensei has adopted.
In the world of “New Marketing,” every business is a media company. Every post, whether on a blog or a Twitter handle, is an opportunity to tell a story and engage a potential customer. So take Wilson’s advice: consider the risks associated with social media and have a compelling reason for using it. But as all good business leaders know, risk taking is critical for progression. It’s all about the calculated risks you take.