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Some marketers are afraid to jump onto social networks because they are a place where anyone can say anything -- but experts contend that's one of their greatest benefits.
For retailers, social media is like eavesdropping on what people are saying about their companies and brands, which can provide valuable market research data, as well as the opportunity to turn a negative experience into a positive response.
"Social networking content is largely driven by the consumer rather than the marketer, making it extremely important to be able to roll with the punches," said Dayna Reed, brand manager at RaceTrac Petroleum. "You have to take your praises, as well as your lumps, and be able to satisfy both [types of] consumers with your responses."
Just because a retailer is not participating in social media, that doesn't mean people aren’t saying bad things about that company, noted Jon Gibs, vice president of media analytics for Nielsen Online."They just may not be saying them to your face," he said. "By choosing to sit out, you don't afford yourself a defense or the understanding among consumers that you really want to participate with people."
Social media sites, such as Twitter, can be particularly effective in improving customer experiences. A great example of this is cable provider Comcast, which is notorious for having bad customer service, according to Simms Jenkins, president and CEO of Brightwave Marketing. He said he recently "tweeted" a complaint concerning Comcast and within 24 hours, the problem was solved.
"That's a great example of reacting," a must in social media, he said. "Tweeting provides real-time interaction with brands that can turn someone into a champion of yours."
Plus, since other consumers can see how brands react to the negative comments, the right response can not only make a fan out of that one person with the compliant, but parlay into a whole world of other people becoming fans too.
As long as retailers put in the time and effort, experts say there's nothing to fear.