Don't Be Fooled: Social-Media Consumers Aren't in a Relationship With You

They Can Boost Your Brand in Seconds, but Bring It Down Just as Fast

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The huge clouds of hype around social customer relationships may have led you to buy into the idea that your customer is desperate to begin a passionate long-term relationship with your brand. But let's face facts. Your customers aren't looking for an LTR. Far from loving you, they've never been more critical of you.

A customer's love for a brand is nothing close to the unconditional positive regard we give and receive in relationships. The second you slip, deliver a disappointment, stop giving them reasons to engage, or stop acknowledging and rewarding their participation, they'll drop you in a heartbeat.

Today's brand-consumer relationships are not balanced. Make no mistake, the consumer is in control. Never before have consumers been so empowered. Social media today lets customers broadcast their sentiment over brand experiences -- good or bad -- to enormous audiences.

Because of this major shift in power, consumers are now in a position to deliver a whopper of an ultimatum to businesses: meet expectations, or die. Does that sound like someone who wants a relationship with you?

Today's consumer-brand dynamic is decidedly lacking in many of the characteristics we normally associate with relationships. There is little forgiveness, zero privacy and customer love is 100% conditional. There's no kissing and making up with social customers when you disappoint them. Further, they turn others against you when they go. Fifty-seven percent of social customers say they won't buy any more of a company's products or services after a single negative experience, and 40% say they are also likely to warn others to stay away after a poor experience. And with social media at their fingertips, they can exercise those inclinations in just 140 little characters.

This brings us to the zero-privacy part. Whereas the real substance of any personal relationship is what happens between the two parties privately, there is no privacy in the consumer-brand relationship any longer. Your business has never been so transparent. The effects of a single bad customer experience today -- online or off -- can be hugely damaging. Any customer experience, be it in a call center, in-store or online, can be amplified through your customers' social networks in an instant.

Brands still approaching social media as an afterthought, a bolt-on to their customer experience, can count on tough times ahead. The social customer experience is fast becoming the battleground on which brands live or die. But there is a silver lining -- the social media blade cuts both ways. If you do deliver positive customer experiences, your customers are increasingly happy to tell their friends. Fifty percent of social customers say they are likely to share positive customer experiences, and indeed they do.

The reason social media have been adopted faster than almost any new technology we've known is that it takes an age-old natural inclination and makes it fast and easy -- the sharing of experience. We've been sharing our experiences with each other since day one, it's what makes us human, and that includes our consumer experiences. We've always relied on family and friends for recommendations. As we might expect, 71% of consumers say friends and family are among the top three ways they became aware of new products and services.

People have always socialized around their consumption habits. Social media just lets them do it faster, more easily and with hugely greater volume and reach. Your job is to ensure that what they have to talk about is nothing short of great.

Katy Keim is CMO of Lithium.
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