The Mail on Sunday Social Media Listening – Big Brother’s here or Wake-Up Time for consumers?

It’s official. Social media is now newsworthy. When the Mail on Sunday becomes agitated about an issue then you can be sure its time has come. ‘How BT Sarah spies on your Facebook account: secret new software allows BT and other firms to trawl internet looking for disgruntled customers’  in today’s (6/6/10) paper sets the hare running.

BT, Carphone Warehouse, EasyJet and Lloyds TSB are sited as brands which have used social media monitoring to identify and engage with customers to resolve issues after they have complained on public websites about poor service. The newspaper reported the surprised reaction of some individuals who did not expect to be contacted after posting their views on social networking sites.

I’m relieved that Britain’s biggest brands are awake and listening to the social web, it shows they are ahead of their competitors in recognising that their customers are talking about them. Not enough of them are even listening at all.

The point that the article misses by either design or default is that the brands are responding to public information.  This is not a privacy issue, these are not closed forums – they are open conversations being held in public and anyone can hear them.

No different in fact to a letter written to a newspaper by a customer or an appearance on BBC’S Watchdog. If a brand did not respond it would show either disregard for their customer’s concerns or ignorance of the media.

The issue for brands to address when they have a customer issue in front of them on the social web is what to do with it. That’s where your social media strategy is vital. Is it a PR issue because it’s in the public domain? Is it a marketing issue because it affects the brand? Is it a customer care issue alone? Is it a legal issue? And after that how do you engage with someone who is not expecting to hear from you in this way.

Social media has torn up the marketing and communications rulebook and only a few brands have embraced the change beyond having a Twitter account and a Facebook page.

In 2010 we’re entering one of the most exciting business changes in a generation as organisations face the challenges thrown up by the democratising impact of social media. Who should be talking to customers and what is the tone of voice?

If some brands are getting it wrong with clumsy responses to customers (and there are examples), then learn from them and do it better. There are plenty of positive examples, too Dell, M&S, American Express come to mind.

But, you can’t make an omelette without cracking eggs. And this is cutting edge stuff.

This isn’t a Big Brother issue, it’s about awareness by consumers that what’s online is public information, and for brands that engagement with a client through social media requires a new sensitivity.

Listen to the conversations. Act on the information. Integrate it within your business.


About Al Clarke – I am a marketing and communications specialist who has worked in the motor industry at board level since 1997. I have held senior positions in global brands such as Ferrari and the BBC including a decade working as a journalist.I am a member of the Institute of Directors, the Public Relations Consultants Association, an expert member of the digital community Smart Insights and Life President of the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association.I speak regularly in the field of marketing communications to businesses and the media with particular reference to digital media. Find me on Twitter @alclarkeltd and LinkedIn.


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