Social Media Enables Customers and Non-Customers to Shape Your Brand


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Brands are owned by both customers and non-customers. Social media enables customers and non-customers to shape, interact with, and influence your brand long before they are touched by your own branding and public relations efforts.

Figure 1: Touch-point Experience across the Customer Lifecycle – Acquainting

There was an interesting article in The Mail Online[1] recently. It accused organizations, which have adopted the social web into their communications mix, of “spying” on customers. Organizations such as BT, T-Mobile, Virgin Media and many others use technology to check on “brand” conversations; they can “hear” what is being said and know who is saying it. They listen because:

  • They very much care about Brand perception and reputation, and protect it vehemently; and
  • They care about their customers’ experiences with their brand and wish to ensure they are always of a high quality.

The fact that this article exists, demonstrates there is a risk to this approach. “Eavesdropping” is probably a more accurate term to use, which for many still isn’t associated with above-board behavior…it is very 1984. “Brand Trust” could be compromised.

So what are the options for organizations? Consider these from a consumer and from a brand/PR point of view:

  • Continue listening in to all brand buzz, deciphering sentiment and then assessing whether or not to interact. (Eavesdropping or “spying.”)
  • Consider a more proactive and transparent approach and actively invite consumer feedback.
  • Do nothing. (Not considered a real option, unless as an organization, you don’t really care.)

The second option dramatically reduces the overhead of analysis, technology (a lot of which interprets sentiment inaccurately) and people’s time. More importantly, it eliminates the risk of compromising existing consumer trust. You’re receiving opinion from people who choose to give it. If people are genuinely passionate enough about your brand and offering, they will let you know.

One organization that stands out as an excellent example of this, and surprisingly they come from the usually conservative financial sector, is First Direct. They actively invite feedback and have invested heavily in the interactive part of their website. They are accessible, responsive and take action. Hence, they build high degrees of trust with their customers, and rate highly on many review sites.

First Direct have just recorded a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of +42%, which is 46% higher than their sectors average of -4%. This is a clear demonstration that being accessible, open and responsive really does improve advocacy. They are also present across the main social web platforms. They have invested heavily in time, resource and money to create this level of “transparency” – a luxury many organizations cannot afford, even if they wanted to.

Real transparency can only be achieved by inviting feedback on an unmoderated, independent platform. Even better if it enables people to provide a meaningful score, backed up by detailed reviews. There is no organizational control and no possibility of censorship. Of course, this requires a massive leap of faith for many brands and a big change in mindset, introducing a level of transparency previously considered insane. However, the way the social web (or the web) is developing, it is fast becoming a reality. Soon we will see such invitations (as shown in Figure 2) appear across a number of consumer-focused websites, making it really easy for the general public to offer their opinions; and in turn, really difficult for organizations to ignore them.


1. “How ‘BT Sarah’ spies on your Facebook account: secret new software allows BT and other firms to trawl internet looking for disgruntled customers”, Daily Mail, June 6, 2010.

This document “Social Media under One Roof: Integrate Social Media with the TCE Model” is composed of nine sections. Three sections are written by Sampson Lee, and experts in each specific domain contributed the other six sections: Wendy Soucie from Wendy Soucie Consulting; Karl Havard from pownum; Jim Sterne from Web Analytics Association; Axel Schultze from Xeesm; Rick Mans from Capgemini; and Guy Stephens from Foviance.

Section ONE: Where Social Media meets Customer Life Stages
Section TWO: Social Media and Research & Development
Section THREE: Social Media and Branding/Public Relations
Section FOUR: Social Media and Marketing
Section FIVE: Social Media and Sales
Section SIX: Social Media and Operations
Section SEVEN: Social Media and Customer Service
Section EIGHT: Integrating Social Media with Total Customer Experience
Section NINE: Managing Your Brand and Social Media with One System

Click here to read the 30-page complete document in PDF format.

Karl Havard
Karl Havard has been involved in the online world for 12 years plus and is primarily focused on consumer behavior and interactions between individuals and organizations. He is the founder of pownum and of Somatica Digital, a small but beautifully-formed consumer brand trust consultancy. He speaks at industry events and provides training for individuals undertaking various courses (including post-graduate degrees) provided by econsultancy, MMUBS and ESCP Europe.


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