Managing Brand-Consumer Relationships via Social Media, A Conversation with Miami University’s Dr. Glenn Platt

Image courtesy of @GlennPlatt

Social media relationships between brands and customers are connected to an important shift in marketing, putting word of mouth in the digital sphere and bringing brands into the conversation. According to Dr. Glenn Platt, professor of marketing and co-director of the Interactive Media Studies Program at Miami University, this change puts the focus on value and utility. He notes, “marketers are no longer in the job of selling the sizzle, but rather are about showing how there is value in that product. If you use this product it solves this problem. It makes your life better.” Social media helps facilitate that message by allowing customers and brands to connect with each other about that utility or value.

Developing the Relationship

Platt asserts that there are three important parts of a successful social media campaign—creating personal connections with the customer, showing them the utility of the product, and addressing customer service concerns. According to Platt, social media marketing is all about communicating what is best and most valuable about your brand in a way that connects with the customer’s life. “Your job is not to convince people that coffee cures cancer…Your job is to say ‘This is a really delicious cup of coffee.’ This is what it is and this is why it’s great” Platt says. “Marketers get kind of a bad rap for trying to convince people of things that are untrue, but for the social media marketer–that isn’t their job at all. Their job is to find the things that are most true about the brand and elevate them.”

A key facet of building the personal connection is addressing customer concerns. While there are plenty of stories about people who didn’t realize they were on their personal account and sent out inappropriate tweets, according to Platt, “Classic mistakes for social media marketers are not responding to your customers, responding poorly or defensively, not being authentic, or trying to mislead people.”

He says that social media has “almost become a 1-800 line for the brand” and in order to develop a strong relationship between customers and your brand, as well as a trustworthy presence in social media, it’s important to respond to your customers in a timely, helpful, and sincere manner.

Using the Right Platform

In addressing those customer concerns, not all platforms are equally useful. A visit to the Facebook page for the lifestyle subscription service Birchbox historically showed a litany of customer complaints and referral codes to a competing brand. While Birchbox didn’t delete any comments and quickly addressed them, their brand-related posts often have been overshadowed by complaints.

Platt suggests that Facebook is not a great platform for consumer-brand relationships because of the chronological nature of the site. In order to keep relevant posts fresher on the page, brands have to be selective about what gets posted: “Once you know that a company deletes Facebook posts you don’t trust them. It’s just game over. You can’t delete stuff, but you want to delete stuff.” He suggests that brands like Birchbox move customer concerns to a specific tab and publicly post that policy, as well as in a response to any posts not filtered under the tab function. A better move, however, would be to address customer service issues on Twitter. Platt notes that successful brands such as Best Buy and Comcast already have multiple Twitter accounts, some designated just for customer issues. “It’s not in their face, but it’s public, which is the important part,” he says. “You want people to say, ‘Look, I’m owning all my problems. I’m dealing with them. Here you can see I’ve solved problems and I’m not trying to push things under the rug.”

Connecting with Influencers

Aside from helpfully addressing customer concerns, to make the most of your efforts on social media, it is important to get the attention of influencers, the people who will help get your posts and your brand seen by more people. As explained by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point, there are different types of influencers, too. The first type of influencer is an expert, someone who contacts and friends turn to for their expertise on a particular topic. The second type is a curator or maven, a person who finds and shares interesting products, articles, etc. and tends to accumulate a lot of information. The third kind of influencer is the connector, a people’s person who is good at connecting people to each other. For example, if you have a question, a connector might not know the answer, but probably knows someone who does and would send you his or her way.

Platt says that influencers can be identified through social media by looking at the ripple effects of posts and retweets, tracking how information spreads throughout a social network: “Some people look to social media influencers to see how large their networks are…People with more followers are probably going to have more influence than people with fewer followers.” An influencer can be a big name celebrity or expert or someone with a smaller, more local network, as long as their activity makes ripples in social media activity. Platt argues that while people with big social networks may have more reach, because there are anthropological studies that suggest that a community can only really have 150 members, it is important not to neglect influential people in smaller more local communities. For example, he points out that in his local community there is a Facebook group for mothers and certain members of that group have a lot of influence. When they post events or activities, their posts tend to have a big, tangible impact in the community.

There are a number of ways to get the attention of influencers on social media, from direct messages to sending samples or products. Because bloggers are required to disclose if they have been given a free product for review, however, Platt suggests that more subtle methods may be more effective. “People immediately are not going to trust it as much when they see that [free products were supplied],” he says, “even if it is an honest post.”

Instead, Platt thinks an effective method of getting influencers’ attention is communicating to them how your product or brand is valuable to them or their community: “The trick with influencers is to find those things that are true about your brand and find a way to get them in front of them. Like someone who’s an influencer in the mommy group here in Oxford, they genuinely would be grateful to know if there’s a kids eat free day at Bob Evans.[…]And so simply reach out and let them know that, finding ways to just make them aware, not pushing it, not making it look like you’re bribing them.”

The bottom line in creating a solid social media relationship is cultivating a trustworthy presence through honest answers to customer concerns and product marketing that meets customers where they are, showing how your product or page adds value to their experiences.  ~Kasey

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