Research shows that Australian consumers want organisations to communicate with them through social media outlets such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Yet many organisations are hesitant and feel unsure how to approach this new channel. How do you know what is right to communicate via YouTube or what to put on Twitter? Can Facebook really help your business?

Today’s consumers have virtually unlimited choices and incredibly high customer experience expectations. It only takes a quick trawl through all the networks relating to your favourite retailer or manufacturer to see that consumers are proactively sharing their comments and views about brands. These contributions are likely to include a good number of customer service complaints and shared negative experiences, publicised for all to see.

While the social web may have made it easier for consumers to air grievances, a recent study conducted by RightNow Technologies involving more than 500 Australians, found that there are also numerous opportunities for positive interaction between organisations and their consumers. 

Australians are very open to receiving communication from organisations via social networks provided, of course, the communication is relevant, interesting and engaging.

Customer service

One of the biggest opportunities for organisations is the integration of social networking sites into wider customer care programs. Getting involved with active communities of users means that you can see whats being discussed and understand your customers concerns You will learn which things they most appreciate and can respond when consumers report problems.

Surprisingly, Australians dont view such interactions as being too ‘big brother’ or overly intrusive. In fact, 60% of those surveyed for the RightNow report said that if they posted a negative comment about an organisation on a social networking site, they would welcome contact from the organisation to try and resolve the issue. 66% also said they’d be happy for an organisation to contact them following a positive comment post.

Provide enticements

The Australian consumers interest in financial incentives is also noticeable when it comes to organisations harnessing social media. In the study 63% of consumers stated they would like to learn about discounts or special offers through social networking sites.

This situation not only expands the total number of communications channels available to organisations, it also introduces opportunities for astute organisations that want to test market reactions to products or campaigns or build loyalty among a particular customer sector.

Encourage advocates

When considering a purchase, consumers still place most importance on recommendations from friends and family, followed by customer reviews and online feedback. Independent industry reviews and discussions in user communities also play influential roles. Much less importance is placed on corporate marketing and product content and advertising.

In other words, fans or brand advocates are amongst the most powerful influencers in your sales cycle.

By monitoring social networking sites for positive consumer posts, a brand advocate can be identified, thanked and rewarded. Likewise, where a ‘badvocate’ is identified, there is potential to resolve their issue and provide a token of goodwill. In those scenarios, it’s reasonable to assume that the positive social influence of the advocate will be extended while curtailing the negative social influence of the ‘badvocate’.

Go cautiously with the sales pitch

However, before you make plans to launch your new sales campaign on Facebook, consider this: overt marketing and advertising will not work. It no longer resonates with consumers and only 25% of consumers are interested in being sold products or services via social media.

Instead of engaging in direct campaigns, organisations need to look for other ways to influence purchasing decisions. Simply encouraging positive influencers to a site may be all that you need. The study discovered that 13% of Australians have interacted with an organisation through a social networking site and then gone to make a purchase.

In addition, it discovered a strong connection between positive discussions about organisations on the social web and the potential to drive website traffic and sales. More than a third of Australians have seen a positive consumer discussion about an organisation’s products or services on a social networking site and have then either visited the organisation’s website or store and made a purchase. Of those purchases, 70% were online and 30% were offline – an indication that the social web can help to drive revenue across both transaction channels.

By cultivating positive sentiment among consumers active on the social web there’s a real opportunity for organisations to harness its transparency and extend relations with existing customers while reaching new ones. By understanding that Australian’s are tolerant of organisations that monitor social networking sites, and open to interactions if they post positive and negative comments, organisations have a huge opportunity to influence, collaborate with, and invigorate their consumer-base.