In the olden days, when people got annoyed with their dentists, passionately embraced a new restaurant, or found a new electronic gadget impossible to use, they would share their feelings with a few friends or maybe with a customer service representative.
With the ubiquity of social networking, they can now share their feelings, positive or negative, with millions around the world in an instant. “Your voice of satisfaction and dissatisfaction is now amplified,” says #b#Lee Mikles#/b#, CEO of the Archer Group, a Delaware-based Internet marketing company. “Businesses have an opportunity to reach a consumer not through a press release or a 30-second ad, but directly.”
This gives businesses unique opportunities to listen to what their customers are saying and to build relationships with them. “They are able to start conversations with consumers and hear what they are thinking while they are thinking it, and not wait for a survey to come back, culled through by a market research company,” he says.
One example is the online shoestore Zappos. “They are selling shoes — nothing that crazy or interesting — but it’s all about service,” says Mikles. And they use social networking to provide that service. One page on the Zappos website, for example, includes the Twitter feeds of all its employees. “If someone says there is a problem with Zappos on Twitter,” he says, “they can jump in and say, ‘What is the problem? Can I help?’”
Mikles will discuss how to develop a winning social marketing strategy for your brand on Wednesday, September 15, at 6 p.m. at the Social Media Club at Princeton Public Library. For information, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 609-858-2016.
Social networking is not just marketing. It’s not just an ad that used to run on television or radio cut down to 140 characters, says Mikles. To move a business beyond the limits of face-to-face (or ear-to-ear) interaction to social networking, Mikles offers a few suggestions:
#b#Listen#/b#. Listen to online conversations about your product or service, competitors’ products, and your industry. “Imagine going to a cocktail party with people you haven’t met before,” says Mikles. “A circle of people are talking, and one way to join the group is to jump in with a business card and start talking about yourself — that’s the old way of marketing, and no one wants to talk to you.” The way to join in successfully is to listen to the conversation.
#b#Determine how to add value for your customer#/b#. The trick is to figure out how to participate in online conversations in a way that makes people want to listen to you in return. To do so, you need to figure out people’s concerns and offer them something of value that addresses those concerns.
Suppose the product you are selling is a school backpack. You might go to search.twitter.com and type “backpacks” or “school supplies” or even “school lunches” or “nutrition,” to learn what people’s concerns are for their children returning to school. Parents, for example, may be despairing about how to fit all of their children’s books into their backpacks. Or perhaps they are worried that the backpacks are not sufficiently sturdy.
Free tools are available to pull up any keywords you indicate as well as any mention of your product, your competitors’ products, and the geographic location you are interested in.
Mikles also cites the online bank ING Direct’s response to a tweet complaining about how expensive it is for kids to do sports in the fall. ING offered value by responding with a link to an article from USA Today with tips to save money for kids in sports. “The person saw that ING was listening, cared about saving them money, and cared about them enough to send a note,” says Mikles, “and millions of people were able to witness that exchange. Everyone following ING Direct got reinforcement that they are there to help people save money.”
#b#Set up a social networking team and get into a conversation#/b#. Businesses should avoid the temptation to turn over social networking to an intern or a young person fresh out of college. This function is best handled by people who really know the brand. The team should include representatives from marketing, customer service, and communications.
Mikles cautions that all conversations with customers, whoever initiates them, must be dialogues, where the business is asking customers questions and learning from them. Conversations should also be top-heavy on value offerings. “You should offer 12 things of value before one message of your own,” says Mikles.
#b#Put together a crisis response plan#/b#. Sometimes customers can be very angry and make negative comments online. That’s when everyone needs to know who will respond and how, and what the escalation process will be. “When customers get negative, you have to know what the plan is for dealing with bad comments,” says Mikles. “It can be a real moment to shine, or, if all your employees are attacking the person, it can come back and hurt you.”
Mikles offers examples of both a positive and a negative response to these kinds of crises. The first was Nestle Foods’ initial response to Greenpeace’s claim that the company was depleting rainforests to get palm oil for KitKats and other products. When people posted nasty comments on Nestle’s Facebook page, the person responding got huffy and started deleting all the messages — as the whole world was watching. Eventually Nestle had to apologize for its unprofessional behavior.
On the flip side, Southwest Airlines got into deep water when a pilot asked film director Kevin Smith to leave the plane because he was too chubby to fit in a single seat. Smith got angry and started attacking the airline on Twitter. Southwest responded with an apology and a request to Smith that they continue the conversation more privately. Although Smith continued to bash the airline publicly, Southwest offered its side of the incident in a blog post, including the fact that it had apologized. It also offered its justification for the policy — ensuring the safety and comfort of all its passengers.
Although Mikles earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Delaware in 1990, he says he always wanted to get into marketing, in part due to the influence of his father, who was a marketing manager at Dupont. He was responsible for Surlyn, a resin used in the manufacturing of golf balls. “He got to travel the world and check on his golf balls at all the different golf tournaments,” says Mikles. “And he never had to buy a dozen.” Mikles remembers loving to read his father’s copies of “Ad Age” magazine and looking at its creative ads. Mikles’ mother was an emergency room nurse.
Mikles first job was with Leeds and Northrup, where his final position was as line manager for technical products. After five or six years he became a consultant in process engineering, with a focus on customer service and ordering products. One of his clients was Thomas’s English Muffins, where he rode on bread trucks and helped the company improve its dealings with grocery stores and make its products more efficient.
Another client was Phillips Plastics, which makes a product used in making Rubbermaid containers. Having that resin available to Rubbermaid at all times is critical because it is very costly to shut down the machine that melts the plastic and puts it in molds. To give more control of this product to its Rubbermaid customer, Phillips Plastics, with Mikles’ help, built an online program that enabled Rubbermaid, to see at any moment where its product was in railcars all over the United States.
With the birth of his first child, Mikles wanted to stop traveling and got a job at GDA Communications, an Internet marketing firm with a heavy focus on pharmaceuticals. In 1999, the principals of GDA Digital Media started their own company, Insight Interactive.
Mikles sold his stake in 2003 and started the Archer Group with Patrick Callaghan. The company’s name is based on a fictitious person, Bob Archer, who blogs about his adventures around the world. Amidst his tales, his creators were able to drop in new technologies and marketing messages; they finally wound him down a couple years ago, although he still exists at meetbobarcher.com.