Next thing you know, your company is the butt of thousands of jokes and you can’t even begin to assess the reputational damage.
If there is a downside to the new two-way marketing paradigm, this is it. Marketing is no longer a monologue, with a company dictating a message to potential customers. Instead, marketers increasingly find themselves in the middle of wide-ranging online conversations with customers and prospects that might extend from pure marketing activities to customer service, technical support, product development or public relations.
The big question is what to do about it, since a misstep can result in a viral drive-by.
“Everybody needs to monitor that online conversation,” said Jean Gianfagna, president of Gianfagna Strategic Marketing. “It’s a paradigm shift in marketing that [means] now the customer controls the conversation, and they want a response.”
This is the exact challenge before Chris Chariton, senior VP-product management and supplier marketing at GlobalSpec. GlobalSpec is an engineering and industrial search company that markets to a base of potential advertisers, as well as end-users of the company’s search engines. The company’s direct marketing efforts are “almost exclusively” online via e-mail and search marketing; and it has a presence in social media platforms.
“Social media has added another path for engagement with customers and prospects,” Chariton said. “The important thing is that you monitor social media channels so, if your company is coming up in conversations, you can step in and offer your perspective.”
Ultimately, said Mac McIntosh, president of Mac McIntosh Inc., it’s an internal as well as external communication issue.
“Marketers have to react quickly and hand [a situation] off to someone who can take action,” he said. “And it’s not just about passing it along but about being able to do something about it and not letting marketing be the black hole.”
If this sounds like basic customer service, it is; and according to marketing experts, this is an area where b-to-c marketing has outpaced its b-to-b cousin. In large consumer companies organizational charts, it’s not usual for customer service and marketing to fall under the same department. With b-to-b companies, however, this is less common, in part because many b-to-b companies sell technically advanced products or services that require sophisticated customer service.
“We have a process in place for monitoring and responding to those inquiries, which starts with screening inquiries and assigning them to the appropriate people in the company to respond,” Chariton said. “Marketing owns the monitoring and assignment, but the response can come from across departments. We’ve also put some technology in place to track the assignment and make sure that inquiries are answered.”