Recently, the marketing departments in a few savvy companies have quietly been adding social media positions that didn’t even exist a few short years ago. From small start-up companies to large corporations, the social media expert has now become a highly sought after employee (or team) to engage the online/mobile customer. The marketing function now includes systems and processes to accommodate the rapidly growing two-way conversations that are taking place with the customer. In many cases it’s become a vital path to ensuring the company’s brand stays intact in the eyes of the consumer as well as being an effective marketing channel.

The July/Aug 2010 Harvard Business Review states “these days anyone with a smart phone, [iPad] or a computer can inflict lasting brand damage.” That’s because consumers have quickly become well informed and eager to use the online forum to speak out where they will be seen by thousands (and potentially millions) of people who may be easily swayed.

The same HBR article provided a pertinent example about how “popular mommy blogger Heather Armstrong was so upset over the failure of her Maytag washer and the company’s ensuing service missteps that, using her mobile phone, she told her million-plus followers on Twitter they should never buy a Maytag.” Science Creative also reported in our article that “today’s social media moms rule the social web withFacebook, Twitter, MySpace, Bebo, FriendFeed and more” – and they have the ability to make a difference with the way a company conducts its business and how it treats its customers.

It’s becoming more common that businesses are incorporating this knowledge into their everyday best practices. In a recent article in  E-Commerce Times,  Lynn Brown, vice president of corporate communication at Waste Management, remarked that “interactivity is key… it is about being a part of a two-way conversation. People are talking about your company whether you know it or not.”

That’s why “companies have to respond to customers’ escalating power.” It’s imperative for the marketing, IT and sales force teams to be immersed in the online realm by constantly monitoring and paying attention to what their customers are saying and then responding accordingly in a timely manner.

SmartCompany reported in a 2008 IBM survey ” that 63% and 64% of generations X and Y respectively said they would increase their spending if a retailer “did the right thing by them”. That includes responding to their comments, inquiries and complaints.  Mark Ervin, a former colleague and Gen X’er, complained about faulty caps from the water bottle maker Camelbak on his blog (he also sent them an email.) The company responded by replacing the caps and even sending him new bottles. They went “way over and way beyond what they had to do to reinforce my belief in their brand” said Ervin. He added, “that level of customer service goes so far above and beyond that I will be a huge supporter of theirs from now on.”

This is just one example of how smart organizations have learned to effectively use social media “to avert problems and strengthen their brand.”

For companies looking to hire social media experts, the HBR article stated that it’s important to “find people who are conversant with online social networks, online video, web services, and social applications.” Customer facing employees need to be responsive, level headed and understand that they represent the brand in a very personal manner. The social media expert is your voice and adjudicator on handling inquiries and complaints so he/she has to be well informed on company policy and needs to be empowered to do the “right thing”, much like the folks at Camelbak did.

Again,  “social media can strengthen your ‘brand’ not only as an employer but as a company. Take Dell for example. A recent report claims that Twitter has made Dell $1 million in revenue over the past year and a half.  Further, Apple’s successful launch of the iPhone and iPad was due to the social media buzz pre-launch.”  Managing how people are posting and conversing in the social media space about your brand is just as important – so having a strategy to manage these opportunities is vital.

This has also been posted on Science Creative