C-suite social media engagement teaches us to make more time for our customers

‘The customer is king’ is a corporate cliche that emphasises the fact that a company’s direction is ultimately determined by its customers. That is why $40 billion was spent on market research globally in 2014 according to ESOMAR (the European Society for Opinion and Market Research). Beyond market research, listening to customers has changed significantly since 2004 at the advent of Web 2.0, which emphasised user-generated content, interconnectedness and interaction.

Web 2.0 allows users to interact and collaborate in a social media dialogue as creators of user-generated content in a virtual community, as opposed to the first generation of websites that were limited to passive viewing of content. This saw the beginning of social networking which has grown to be one of the largest media activities in peoples lives today and attracted an advertising spend of $24 billion worldwide in 2015 according to e-Marketer.

I started off as a social media sceptic. Like many of you, I was concerned that social media was an invasion of privacy and that it seemed more like an activity for people who wanted to share the insignificant moments in their lives to others who couldn’t be bothered with that amount of detail. However being in media research we began to talk about the effects of online and social media very frequently as it became the fastest growing advertising medium before our eyes. So, after resisting it for as long as I could, I set up my first social media profiles in 2009 after studying the need for, and general uses of, social networking. The first thing that I learned to do was to delete a social media profile and I set a six month deadline to experience any benefits, in the absence of which the profiles would be deleted. The second thing I learned to do was to find online communities interested in social causes and to develop relevant conversations with them. I also learned how to simplify marketing communications speak into meaningful talking points that would reach and engage a wider audience. The tangible social and career benefits began immediately and needless to say I did not delete my profiles after the six months.

My experience since then is summed up in Rupert Murdoch’s words in 2005 when he said “I am a digital immigrant… my two daughters are digital natives. They do not know a world without ubiquitous broadband internet access. We may never become true digital natives, but we can and must  begin to assimilate to their culture and way of thinking.”

Some companies have begun to assimilate to that culture and way of thinking and there are multiple examples. One story is that of a customer who was unhappy with service at the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, and shared his thoughts on his Twitter timeline. When he eventually got into his seat in the connecting flight out of the airport, the CEO of KLM walked in with a placard above his head that had the passengers Twitter handle on it, obviously looking for him. On finding the unhappy customer, he apologised for the problem, thanked him for his feedback and offered him a free return flight to a destination of choice as a gesture from the airline to mend bridges.

A few years ago at the same airport, I got a message from the airline on Twitter when I arrived, welcoming me to Amsterdam and pointing me to current activities that would be of interest. Being curious I responded to the tweet and asked how they knew that I was in the Airport, and they cheekily reverted with a question asking if I had recently used another location based social media platform, and asked me to put 2 and 2 together. I laughed out loud and replied, thanking them for making the 7 hour layover in Schiphol a little more pleasant.

There are about 2 billion users of social media globally and that makes up 31% of the worlds population, but there are more people connected to the internet in general which stands at 46% of the entire population. We estimate that about 50% of Kenyans are regularly connected to the internet and a majority of access is through mobile devices. This means that online media is only second to Radio in regards of audience reach, yet it is estimated that less than 10% of advertising spend is on the medium.

This also goes to show that Web 2.0 has given our companies better access to their consumers so that we can meet market needs more effectively through a feedback loop that is continuous and not reliant on the periodic, and sometimes infrequent, consumer research reports. As customers can now voice their opinion and be heard immediately by the CEO and his team, it is important that we make time to listen to and interact with them. Company leaders can no longer have all their time held up in high level meetings but they must demonstrate through their actions that the customer truly is king.

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