Technology industry journalist Tom Foremski wrote recently that social media is not corporate media, and that the current gold rush among consultants and social media experts who are exhorting corporate marketers to turn social media into a powerful sales channel will ruin social media.
The trend, he said, is inevitable and sad because as the corporate presence becomes more pronounced, social media will cease being a valuable source of naked conversations about companies and brands and become simply another channel for multi-channel marketers to use to deliver a message. When that happens, consumers will find another less accessible place to vent their frustrations, share their ideas about what a company should do, and conduct their naked conversations without interference or participation from marketers.
The concept of naked conversations (as Foremski notes in his article) comes from Shel Israel and Robert Scoble’s book Naked Conversations. In their book, they argue that that every business can benefit from smart “naked” blogging, whether the company’s a small town retailer or a multinational corporation.
“If you ignore the blogosphere… you won’t know what people are saying about you,” they write. “You can’t learn from them, and they won’t come to see you as a sincere human who cares about your business and its reputation.”
The book’s subtitle, “How blogs are changing the way businesses talk to customers,” is the first of many clear insights the book offers. Blogs and social media, they explain, give companies access to naked, unfiltered conversations about their products, their people, and their marketing messages for the first time short of a blind (and expensive) focus group.
One of the lessons in the book is to listen more than you talk – rather than trying to respond to every negative comment as it happens, take some time to look at the sum of multiple comments, and then take steps to investigate their validity. If there’s a problem with your product, your employee training, or your policies, fix it before you respond.
This is different than moving quickly to resolve a social media PR crisis like the high profile case of the soldiers charged for excess baggage on their way home from Afghanistan. It’s even different than the kind of everyday customer service issues that arise in social media.
Naked conversations — the unvarnished opinions you can’t get anywhere else — are the stuff of long-term product management and planning. And, at least in the beginning, following the advice your grandmother gave you (“You have two ears and just one mouth, so listen twice as much as you talk”) is the best advice.