Goodbye corporate brick wall. See ya later marketing spin doctors.
It's hello to social media – the thing many write off as being "only for the young" – but is now being used by businesses to talk directly with customers. Companies are now also reaping the rewards of engaging in the new media space where others have been criticised for spamming users with marketing guff. And the main ingredient to the success? Humanisation.
"Social media" is a term to describe tools such as Twitter and Facebook that people use to share and discuss information.
Neil Forster, one of around eight regular staff members who tweets from Telecom's Twitter account @TelecomNZ, said customers were often shocked that a "real" person responded to feedback left about the telco. "One of the first comments was 'I didn't think Telecom could do this'," he said. Telecom opened a Twitter account around two years ago as part of a conscious shift in the company's culture. It now has more than 6000 "followers". "It's not a controlled marketing stream. We're an eclectic bunch of people," he said. "We think we have done a really good job."
The team of technology enthusiasts has used Twitter to deal with customers' queries during arguably one of the toughest times the company has faced during the various XT outages. "The really good thing that I saw come out of that event was the increase in improvement of communication," said Mr Forster. "It's a lot more dynamic – there's really powerful value in it. "From a business point of view there's brand benefit, better communication with customers. It's really enhancing that whole cultural change." So while some customers were using the portal of Twitter to "rant", a lot of "positive stuff" was also coming in, he said.
Telecom's success with social media is mirrored at Air New Zealand.
General Manager of marketing, Steve Bayliss, said the company began to get more serious in the social media space around 18 months ago "both as a channel to gain valuable customer feedback and as a channel to share brand messages". Air NZ have dedicated staff working on a social media strategy and execution of its accounts, including @flyairnz (with more than 12,600 followers) and @airpointsfairy (with more than 3400 followers). Mr Bayliss said the Airpoints Fairy – an account set up with a fictional Tinkerbell-like character who "grants wishes" to do with AirNZ products – was set up after a Wednesday morning idea from the internal team and went live by 3pm the same day.
"That's the speed of these new social channels," he said. "The reaction has been terrific. We keep being tempted to expand the Fairy as she has such a strong following, but then taking a breath and reflecting that a broad scale commercialisation would spoil the intrigue." Mr Bayliss said the biggest benefit of social media has been the speed with which you get customer feedback. "It's unfiltered, free form, instant, and brutally honest." He said social media will be a "massive area of growth and change" in the marketing industry over the next 24 months "especially in the way we do customer surveys and gather insights".
Others businesses not only use social media but were actually born out of the communication medium.
Tom Reidy, co-founder of Wellington-based company @Tweet4yourtee, puts it simply by saying his company wouldn't exist without Twitter. The company, which helps people promote their Twitter profile through personalised t-shirts, began in November. The response, says Reidy, has been "awesome". "The sales were a lot more than we expected. We're selling t-shirts globally – that wouldn't have happened without Twitter," he said. Tees are being worn by customers in Australia, Denmark and United States. "It has been a really fast growth. It's been pretty surprising though, especially the speed it's picked up."
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