Social Schizophrenia – The Distance Between Brand Promise And Business Delivery

You’ve hopped on the social media bandwagon and are Tweeting and Facebooking to your heart’s content. But does your brand deliver what it promises in social media? Is it possible to do so?

I’m an iPhone user, and one of my favourite applications is Zite. Zite aggregates feeds from your social networks and renders popular stories in a magazine format for easy consumption and sharing. Seeing as I’m in the business of social media consulting and strategy, the “social media” section of the site is especially useful.

Scrolling through that section this morning I was astonished at how almost every article title follows the syntax of “X tips / hints / tricks for successful marketing / customer service / brand awareness in [insert appropriate newsworthy social platform here]”. As much as I agree that this kind of article is important, and in many cases genuinely useful, I feel there is a deeper, almost completely unaddressed issue facing businesses trying to make sense of social media today.

That issue is the disconnect between the personality and delivery you and I as customers experience when we deal with them in social channels, and what we experience “behind the scenes” when the time comes to deal with the meat and bones of the organisation.

Social Schizophrenia

I recently switched banks from a brand I’d spent more than 20 years with to a brand I had no experience with, owing almost entirely to the social profile of the latter. The online experience was phenomenal – they were intentional, intimate, proactive and professional. I was sold. However, once I got past the lipstick, I discovered the pig. The new bank, a few months down the line, is in essence no different to the one I left.

Here’s the thing though – I don’t think it’s the brand’s fault. I think it’s indicative of a challenge all modern companies face, that of dealing with Information Age customers (and employees) with Industrial Age processes, infrastructure, values and products.

Few companies would deny these challenges and their massive impact on all aspects of business. In an ideal world, a company would address them from the inside out, first by embracing the change at an executive level, addressing the values and culture of the organisation and ensuring that the “outside” experience of the business matches the culture of the “inside” of the business.

It doesn’t happen this way, because platforms like Facebook and Twitter are where brands feel the most pain, so it’s where they act first. And who can blame them? Everyone is yelling and screaming about the dangers and threats of not being in social media and as a result we get pockets of proactive, social media-savvy staff either engaging with an agency or setting up their own social engagement strategies and tactics. In many cases these parties are doing significant, profound work. The problem is, the promise they create through all their efforts in social media doesn’t translate through to the actual experience of doing business with the company.

As an agency we experience this all the time. We feel like we make significant ground interacting with a particularly irate customer on Facebook or Twitter, or we convince someone looking for a product or service to go with one of our brands, only to see it go belly up when that customer dials into the call centre or visits the branch. As far as is possible we try and help our clients close the loop from response through to resolution, but if the social ethos is not understood, owned and exercised by the entire business it feels a little like we’re patching up a body that’s bleeding profusely.

Hence, social schizophrenia – the distance between what your company promises in social media, and what it actually delivers in ”real life”.

Diagnosing social schizophrenia

Do you find that you or your organisation treats “social media influencers” differently than “regular customers”? Is someone who has a few thousand followers on Twitter and is ranting and raving about your useless call centre more or less likely to be looked after better? Do you find yourself favouring influencers without actually thinking about why, or what value they offer your brand if any at all?

As much as it is critically important to understand online influence and find ways to deal with influencers effectively, we have to try narrow the gap between the treatment those individuals get and the treatment the ordinary man and woman on the street gets.

If we fail to do so, three potentially nasty things start to happen:

  1. Less influential customers in social media (the person with 40 or 50 followers) see your remarkable treatment of an “influencer” and expect the same treatment. If they don’t get it, your kind gesture to one person potentially results in a hundred angry customers!
  2. If you only treat people in social channels well, and don’t replicate those levels of service at a branch or call centre level (or any other touch point with a customer for that matter), you never know when a very influential person walks into your branch, has an abominable experience and then broadcasts that to thousands of people in a matter of seconds.
  3. Your staff begin to assume that remarkable customer service is the job of one very small department, as opposed to an ethos that should drive the entire organization. 

Healing social schizophrenia

How do you narrow the gap between what you promise and what you deliver? I believe that if you identify with this challenge there are only two possible fixes. Either you need to become a more “social business” from the inside out or you need to train your customers and potential customers to ensure their expectations aren’t out of whack when they do business with your staff.

Becoming a more social business does not happen overnight. We’re talking about a fundamental shift in the way you hire and manage staff, handle finance, formulate policies and governance, design products and communicate with stakeholders. Essentially, if you acknowledge that social computing trends and technologies have changed the way people connect, communicate and collaborate then you must acknowledge that it’s changed staff and customers. That’s your entire business!

There are a number of steps you can take toward being a more social business, beginning with lobbying for education and buy-in at an executive level in your organisation, and then reading the multitude of very good content on the subject available online. Look for small wins within your organization instead of trying to turn the proverbial Titanic with a ceiling fan.

The second option is to  train your customer base to manage their expectations. This is a big lesson we learned running Vodacom’s brand and service channels on Twitter. Former Vodacom CEO Pieter Uys and I sat down early on in our formulation of the strategy to decide what kinds of behaviour we would encourage from our social media audience through intentional engagement. We realised that if every time some irate, murderous customer asked us to jump on Twitter, and we responded, “how high?” we would be rewarding the wrong kind of behaviour. So we began responding to respectful, balanced comments and mentions as a directive and quickly realised that the audience learned that respect equals results. It hasn’t eradicated the problem of the distance between promise and delivery, but at least we are tempering expectations.

I’d love to hear your feedback on whether you or your organisation suffers from social schizophrenia, and what the impact has been. Please leave your comments so we can continue the discussion there.

  • Great post, Mike. But as with every other medium that has presented itself in business – you have to stay true to your promise. The medium may change, but your message should never. Your message must be sincere for customers to buy in. Nobody wants to deals with someone who is dishonest. Which proves the old cliche right: “the more things change, the more they stay the same”

  • It’s always tough to keep up with everything that technology and user adoption ends up throwing at us – for businesses and consumers a like!
    If you take the time and make the effort to actually do what you say, even if you never have to say it, then you’re doing pretty damn good… but if it was easy, then everyone would be doing it.
    Great read Mike – thanks!

  • I love this: “Look for small wins within your organization instead of trying to turn the proverbial Titanic with a ceiling fan” :)

    As a professional services firm with an online presence, social schizophrenia does exist but I think that I’m lucky in this regard as the majority of the interactions that happen online, end online. I may have to nag our HR department to hurry up with a student’s query regarding bursaries or vacation work, but I am lucky in the fact that the “voice” of the firm lives really only with me. So, I am able to maintain a good level of conversation and relationship with our followers, without the rest of the firm doing any kind of damage.

    I’ve personally seen how some big brands online tend to only focus on the “influencers” and, in my opinion, it’s discriminatory. If you’re going to respond favourably to one person, the expectation is there to respond to everyone! What’s good for the goose, etc!

  • Nice one, Mr Stopforth. I think too many brands spend too much time trying to ‘figure out’ social media and appease so-called influencers and lose sight of the very simple fact that, if you deliver on the service/product you provide, you will be better placed with your customers. I do agree that by providing solutions for the influencers – of which I have been considered one – they are, to a certain extent, hurting their brand because the majority of their customers won’t get that and it comes across as elitist and disrespectful. By gradually changing the thinking within the business on how to use the different platforms to continue to deliver service on the business you are in will hold you in better stead than just using social media as a pretty plaster with cartoon characters.

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