social media adoption and no support forum? bad.

It amuses me when a business tentatively moves into the “social media/networking” arena and has really no idea what they’re doing. I’m no expert (unless you count ~20 years socializing online), so I’ll try to keep this to short bullet points on individual ideas. This has a bit of a Twitter slant to it…

I should add my inspiration. I was on a security vendor site and popped into their forums. Which hadn’t been used too much lately. I then ended up on some unrelated vendor’s site as well, and I popped into their forums. There’s something about support forums where I can do things like self-serve, browse other people’s questions and realize, “Hey, that works for me, too,” and post my own questions. Honestly, I love forums, and every time I see one populated with a good social presence from the business, I feel a happy pang of nostalgia (which is sad itself, since I still feel forums are far more effective than any social media whizzbang in the last 10 years). I then checked out their Twitter link on their front page, and was extremely let down by how Not Right it felt. One felt tended to with loving customer service hands, and the other with sanitized Not-With-It marketing gloves.

[Aside: I do have to mention that while I love forums, I have to say that they’re also N-O-T-O-R-I-O-U-S as security black holes. I think Valve/Steam can give the most recent lesson on keeping your public systems secure, segregated, and updated….]

1. If you’re on Twitter and point me to your Twitter account in some fashion, I will judge you if you have only 75 followers. There are many, many accounts out there that look for popularity, and if you follow them, they will automatically follow you back. This artificially pumps up your own numbers. While I will check for and judge you on that, it definitely helps you blend in and look busy to a casual glance.

1.5. Being a security guy, I will also judge you (and I will check!) if most of your followers appear to be your own employees. While honorable, it just makes me think you emailed your own employees to sign up and bloat your numbers. I’ll check how active your followers are (I bet they’re not, at all). And I will also make note how I would social engineer my way into your company with all this spilled knowledge and access to people. Be careful! (I can probably also assume the first few followers are the marketing team and/or people resonsible. With context into what you do, my social engi attempts can be very targeted.)

2. Don’t let marketing own and stifle the social media presence. Too often a business thinks social participation is only a marketing opportunity. That’s wrong. Adopting social media is a way to open communication between you and others on a personal level. It allows people who like (or hate) you to talk with themselves as well! And it allows you to provide customer service and support.

Think of it this way. Social interaction with outside people has been happening far longer than we’ve talked about “social media.” It has happened in things like web forums where users can sign up, ask questions, make comments, and otherwise form a little social community. This is often organic between users and support departments; not marketing.

Marketing too often thinks about marketing opportunities and forgets about the customer support opportunities. And, really, when eliminating the planned marketing stunts out of the equation, I would guess that most Feel Good Marketing Stories don’t come from marketing’s presence with social media, but rather good (surprising!) support offered through such. That’s not the marketing team, that’s the customer support team (which can arguably report to Marketing…). That’s also not part of some brand campaign, but rather day-to-day attentiveness and quality.

3. For the love of all that is pure and good in this world, don’t let your Twitter feed turn into a press release pipeline or megaphone for links to the corporate blog. At least feel like a real person is behind the username. That’s really one of the biggest failures: when the social media presence feels stuffy, artificial, and useless to the sorts of people you’re wanting to follow/like/engage you. In short: be interesting to the people to whom you want to be interesting. Don’t be safe, and square, and otherwise a stick in the mud. Flavor, mistakes, and opinions make us interesting people.

4. Embrace the anonymity of the Internet. Don’t force me to register to submit comments on your blog. Don’t force me to have a Facebook account. Just because I don’t want to share my identity with what is almost certainly going to be your marketing machine, doesn’t make any of my opinions or experiences or needs any less relevent. Never, ever disparage one of the strongest pillars of Internet usage: anonymity. If you do, you immediately sound older than 50 and you shun a significant number of users. Unless you’re Facebook or Google+ where gathering this data is part of your direct revenue-generating business model, don’t do it. If you want to avoid embarassment and Internet trolls, use moderation or people who can handle those types of discussions/situations (those people who are social media experts but would never call themselves such because they were around before the term).