Social Media: Opportunity or Distraction?

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineFor some, the mere mention of it produces a spontaneous smile and causes their eyes to light up. To them, it represents the preferred way to communicate; they would be lost without it. Business leaders seek to stifle it or monetize it. Others groan audibly and roll their eyes at its utterance. Some give it a resigned yawn, quickly tuning out the discussion or leaving the room. Still others are desperately trying to figure it out, while some don’t understand the fuss, and more than a few simply don’t care. The reality is, we should all care, because the future of your contact center may be at stake.

For contact centers, there are two social media considerations. The first is promoting your business, reaching out to prospects, connecting with clients, and recruiting and supporting staff. These opportunities have been amply covered by others, but before moving on to the second consideration, let me ask a pair of questions: First, if your competitor is providing customer service via social media, can you afford not to? Second, if the businesses that tap your labor pool use social media to find new hires, shouldn’t you do the same?

The more weighty consideration for social media is the opportunities that await you in providing additional services to your clients. (While this is of greatest interest to outsourcing contact centers, in-house centers also have opportunities to offer value-added services within their organization – an important factor come budget time.) Consider some of these opportunities:

Email and Chat: These first two, which I’ve covered in the past, provide both a prelude and an entry point to social media. Succinctly, everything you currently do with phone calls, you need to apply to email. Answer email, screen email, route email, add value to email, prioritize email, and escalate email. With chat, which is increasingly an expectation on consumer websites, you can do the same things you currently do for the phone number that is listed there: answer questions, assist with site navigation, and keep visitors from abandoning their shopping cart. Contact centers that are already offering these services are one step closer to embracing social media, but that’s not to imply these are social media prerequisites, just helpful steps.

Facebook: Making a Facebook page is easy. However, to be of use, relevant content needs to be posted and, more importantly, the people who “like” you deserve interaction. When customer service issues surface on Facebook, they need to be quickly addressed. Similarly, if an inquiry materializes, it warrants a speedy response – just be sure to follow social media etiquette; doing sales wrongly in social media can be a painful and damaging experience.

Blog Comments: Most blogs allow comments to be made, but to protect against spam, the comments must be manually screened and approved. This is something that a contact center can do easily, especially since approval notifications can arrive via email. Additionally, a response to the comment is sometimes called for and a dialogue can take place, be it within the blog’s comment section or via email.

Twitter: Although Twitter is a broadcast medium, one that is best left to your clients, sometimes a tweet may warrant a personal response. This is another great contact center service opportunity.

Media Alerts: There are services that scan cyberspace for mentions of a word or phrase, such as a company’s name, a trademark, or an individual’s name. Although helpful, this information generally needs to be filtered. For example, there are scores of magazines with “connections” in the title, so my media alert for “connections magazine” contains numerous false matches. A contact center can receive these alerts, cull out the mismatches, and then process the true matches as appropriate.

Other Ideas: These are just a few ideas. As you investigate social media, you will assuredly come up with more. Also consider LinkedIn, Flickr, and YouTube. Even better, ask your existing clients about their social media frustrations – and then solve them.

For me, in pondering the question posed in this column’s title, social media is both an opportunity and a distraction. I’ve been on LinkedIn the longest, but have yet to complete my profile. I do welcome those who want to become part of my network and occasionally send out similar requests to others, but I’ve yet to actually use it for something practical. Next, after hearing horror stories of the time-consuming and even addictive nature of Facebook, I long resisted it, only acquiescing to it in the past year. Though Facebook held an initial intrigue, the criticism of it being a time-waster quickly proved true. I haven’t “checked” Facebook in weeks; I now use it primarily to communicate with friends who prefer it to other methods – or who won’t respond to email.

Connections Magazine has both a blog and a podcast site. Both were started in 2008, so their three-year anniversary is approaching. The blog (348 entries, serving 1,200 visitors a week) is a means to quickly disseminate news and information, while podcasts of industry interviews (thirty-one recordings, serving 300 visitors a week) are a great way to gain insight from industry leaders. Additionally, the podcasts are available on iTunes.

This year, Connections launched a Facebook page and opened a Twitter account; we’ve also been on Flickr for several years, posting convention photos (but we actually have more photos on Facebook). So far, we’re not on YouTube.

All of this to say, we are simultaneously learning and using social media to provide you – our readers – with options. If any of these seem worthwhile to you, then please check them out – otherwise, feel free to ignore them. Just don’t ignore social media for your contact center – its future may depend on it.

Peter DeHaan PhD is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.

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[From Connection Magazine December 2010]