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In a world where social networking is key, I was glad to be involved in the Engaging Times summit in Chicago last week.

According to Engage chairman Stan Rapp, 'today’s consumers are the most narcissistic in history. We’re all looking after brand I.', while Don Peppers, head of Peppers & Rogers thinks that companies  should not 'waste money on social media until your organisation can competently handle a customer phone call or email.'

The event was thought-provoking for a number of different reasons but the stand-out message is summed up nicely in these two quotes.

The first quote is a succinct observation on the fact that millions, hundreds of millions in fact, now manage our own I brand, primarily through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.

The second is a warning to those who think this funky stuff looks ultra cool but jump straight into the deep end without paddling through the basics first.

The link between the two is not just that they are from two of the most important thinkers in marketing in the last 25 years, it's that those of us with I brands are all too willing to trip companies up when they let us down, don’t deliver and disappoint us.

And this negativity can be devastating. Just ask doomed UK phone and internet providers Tiscali and Talk Talk and embattled US airline SouthWest.

Here’s another poignant quote from Bob Knorpp of The Beancast: "Customers wouldn’t feel the need to embarrass us en masse, if our customer service channels weren’t so completely broken." 

The marketing buzz in the US right now is about two things: listening and engaging.

By connecting the two, businesses and organisations can respond to the conversations their current and prospective customers are having. But while that’s great in itself, the real winners are those who stepped back to build or mend the crucial first step: accepting that the world has irrevocably changed forever and that they no longer control the message.

It’s not a comfortable thing for businesses and marketers to acknowledge. But those who think they are in control are doomed.

Maggie thinks that by turning her toy steering wheel in the back seat while Marge is in the front, she is driving the car. Some marketers are labouring under the same illusion as little Maggie Simpson, and she never grows up!

The good news is that those who get it, really get it and are prepared to accept that in the act of letting go, they can win and win big.

While @ThatKevinSmith (of Jay and Silent Bob, Mallrats and Dogma fame) and his 1.6m Twitter followers are destroying SouthWest Airlines because he was too fat to fit, United Airlines are issuing bonus airmiles to passengers who Tweet about delayed flights from the departure lounge.

The thousands of employees that make up Best Buy's Twelpforce (professional tech help in Tweet form) are answering customer service issues minute by minute under common sense and open ended guidelines.

They have wiped out Circuit City and made Radioshack a virtual irrelevance in the US and now Best Buy are in the UK: Comet, Dixons be afraid!

So whilst there are huge opportunities to grow sales, increase web traffic, develop new products, carry out research or nail your objectives whatever they are through social channels, the first place to look is your own backyard.

Are all of your customers happy all of the time? Of course not. What aren’t they happy about? Address these things first. Turn negativity to positivity without asking for proof of purchase first!

Don’t get carried away and make sure your house is in order before you dive in.

As Stan Rapp also said this week:

Doing to is bad. Doing with is good. Doing for is great.”

Chris Bishop

Published 25 August, 2010 by Chris Bishop

Chris Bishop is Founder & CEO of 7thingsmedia and a contributor to Econsultancy. He can also be found on Twitter and LinkedIn.

17 more posts from this author

Comments (7)

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Mike McGrail, Digital Marketing Consultant at Standard Life

Couldn't agree more with your thoughts. Diving in without the prep is almost guaranteed to cause you some major issues! You must work out what you want and your customers/prospects want from the space before you even start the strategy. A while back I attempted to pull together a diagram that should help people visualise the steps - you can see in on The Social Penguin Blog here - http://bit.ly/aXECIB

about 6 years ago

Sanjit Chudha

Sanjit Chudha, Integrated Marketing & Communications Consultant at Personal

Thanks Chris - This common-sense approach to the fundamentals of social marketing and modern customer service is timely. Mike, your plan also makes total sense.  

The challenge of marketing remains the same as it ever was; to understand your customer and organise your business accordingly to meet their expectations and challenges positively.

The problem is that too often social marketing remains the preserve of the wilder shores of the marketing department. To honestly say you 'run' an organisation - as your BestBuy example illustrates - you need to walk the floor, hear what customers are saying, measure your oganisations responses and plug gaps where those are found wanting. Anything less is, well, weak and disengaged.

A disengaged leadership cannot engage or inspire the very staff teams tasked with delivering engagment with customers.

Here at Creative Nation, we place customer engagement at the heart of what we do - without that the most creative and sophisticated communication, or even the simplest brand message that we create for our clients, is doomed to fail. Failure is not an option.

about 6 years ago


Mike McGrail, Digital Marketing Consultant at Standard Life

@sanjit Thanks for the kind words. Agree fully, a truly succesful social presence has to live and breath the business and the customers it is representing.

about 6 years ago


Chris Simpson, Marketing Director at Home Learning College

Thanks Chris - a succinct reality check!

about 6 years ago


Babar Bhatti

You are spot on when you say say that marketing buzz is about listening and engagement. We are seeing that with our clients. They love the ability to respond directly from the listening results to engagement. And they like how MutualMind dashboard combines insights from listening and engagement in one place.

And to Sanjit's point, social media engagement should be handled by the whole team, not just marketing or communication folks. 


about 6 years ago


Sanjit Chudha

@ Babar - which was exactly my point, if you had read it.

about 6 years ago



I wish we could just drop the word "social" from the conversation. Totally onboard with the concepts, I just think they are more about the overall strategic marketing philosophy of an organization and not just what they happen to be doing in the social channels.

almost 6 years ago

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