Understanding What Customers Want from Social Media

As having a social media presence has come to be expected of companies, using it to effectively engage with a burgeoning customer base is not only a smart move, but often a critical one.

The most effective social media strategies are tailored to a company’s brand and audience—and they use the medium to interact with, not just broadcast to, audiences.

New York Road Runners, the organizer of the New York City Marathon and numerous other area races, is growing “by Olympian proportions,” according to the April 2 issue of Crain’s New York Business (subscription required). But as it expands and experiences “growing pains,” some members feel that NYRR’s communications haven’t been sufficient, particularly when it comes to social media. Some of its most dedicated members have come to feel ignored and alienated.

NYRR’s problems point to a larger disconnect in the way companies are using, and customers are experiencing, social media. A recent survey by the CMO Council and Lithium reveals that, while many companies believe that customers are connecting via social media because “the content is agreeable,” the majority of customers expect to be rewarded for their engagement with an additional level of interaction.

A great model for such interaction is Starbucks, which was recently named the most socially engaged company in a study by research firm PhaseOne—in addition to being named one of the most innovative by Forbes. Starbucks has “focused its Web page, Facebook page and television advertisements on the individual and his or her individualized experience with the brand,” according to the survey. Social Media Today highlights how the company has fearlessly encouraged “spirited discussion not only of its products, but also of the company’s positions.” Such engagement isn’t new for the coffee chain. It launched its popular interactive website MyStarbucksIdea.com back in 2008 and has been an “early adopter” of social media, including offering the first-ever nationwide deal on Foursquare and staging successful promotions such as Free Pastry Day and Tax Day.

Talking about the company’s social media efforts in 2010 Advertising Age report, Starbucks’ Chris Bruzzo hits the nail on the head: “This was not [built as a] marketing channel, but as a consumer relationship-building environment.” If NYRR would take a similar approach, it could harness the extraordinary potential of its members in support of its growth. Social media is most effectively used when the flow of information is in both directions.

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