“Marketers today are obsessed with tactics such as getting involved with Facebook or Twitter, but they have to focus on an overall strategy around customer service,” said Emily Riley, principal analyst and research director-interactive marketing for Forrester Research.
“Customer relations across channels is hard,” she said, terming the multiplie marketing channels and media the “splinternet.”
Riley said marketers can no longer be specialists in one channel or tactic. The need now is for “cross-platform relationship management,” she said.
Matt Preschern, VP-North America, demand programs for IBM Corp., agreed about the need to integrate digital with traditional marketing. As an example, he cited the increasing prominence of virtual events, saying these online experiences should be used as a complement to physical conferences and expos.
Preschern emphasized the need for customer nurturing regardless of tactic. He said the great advantage of social media is that it is a way to immediately respond to highly engaged prospects. “Customer interaction is in responding about your product or company,” he said. “And when they respond, that's a lead.”
If a company actively monitors social media sites for sentiment about its products, rapid response to negative posts is imperative, said Brian Nizinsky, online marketing manager for Eastman Kodak Co.
Nizinsky related how a blogger erroneously reported that a major Kodak product line, the prepress work flow system Prinergy, was about to be discontinued. The blog post was picked up by multiple other social media users and quickly went viral.
“This is one of our most important products, so people at the company started to freak out,” Nizinsky said. The company quickly began to blog back, denying the end of the product line. In addition, Kodak messaged every social media user who had picked up the original false report to set the record straight.
“We weren't sitting in a room silently hoping this would go away,” Nizinsky said.
Gauging social marketing's return on investment can be a thorny challenge, but Mike Hardy, social media manager for Pitney Bowes, said his company was able to prove the cost savings of a special social forum designed to answer customer questions from its base of postage meter users.
“In 2007, as the U.S. Postal Service was planning a rate increase, we received 430,000 support calls from our customers,” he said. “To try to lessen this, the next year we launched a social forum for customers, which was viewed 40,000 times in six weeks.”
From this, Pitney Bowes estimated that the savings realized from deflected call-center phone calls more than paid for the entire year's investment in the social forum.
"For the first six weeks of operating a new social media venture, we felt good about it,” Hardy said. “Social ROI for us was an easy win."