This is the second post in a series of posts on social media.
I recently had the opportunity to interview a Vistage member whose company was an early-adopter of social media and has seen great success because of it. Sid Banerjee’s company, Clarabridge, sells text-mining software to help Fortune 500 companies better track and analyze customer experiences. Much of that customer experience text is mined from social media sites. This shift in where customers voice themselves forced Sid to think seriously about having a presence on Facebook and Twitter to grow his own company. After some experimentation, Clarabridge now uses social media not only to monitor its own reputation online, but also to gain new business.
Here, Clarabridge CEO and Vistage member, Sid Banerjee discusses how he developed a successful social media presence.
Q: How do you use technology to keep in touch with employees and customers?
A: We noticed early on that our prospects were looking to social media before they bought a product to see what others were saying. They relied on the insights of customers, bloggers, and analysts, and were often using social media to educate themselves before making purchase decisions. We also found that a lot of people went to their social networks, whether it be in an online service chat, via twitter or through industry blogs, to get tech support and service advice. This made us realize that we needed to have a presence in that space if for no other reason than to help our customers find solutions to any difficulties they’d experienced with our products.
Q: Can you tell me about some of the successes your company has had using social media?
A: About a year and a half ago, I was just starting to delve into Twitter and understand how it could work for our company. I happened to see a tweet about our company in which a customer complained our technology wasn’t compatible with the Firefox Internet browser. This particular customer was at company headquarters in on-site training that day and was frustrated because he thought he was wasting his time learning a new product that wasn’t going to work with his browser. Despite being across the country at the time, I was able to quickly respond as the CEO of the company and let him know that I had seen his tweet and would have someone show him how to set it up so that it performed using Firefox. An hour later, I saw the customer send out another tweet stating that the problem had been solved and how impressed he was to learn the CEO monitored the company on Twitter and had reached out to him personally to ensure a solution was found. He proceeded to tweet about the superior customer service and products our company offered. After that, I knew the value and importance of social media and was convinced it was something we needed to focus on.
Q: What gadgets or technology tools have helped you stay on top of the social media trend?
A: Despite the fact that everyone seems to have an iPhone these days, I still stick with a Blackberry. I’ve downloaded Tiny Twitter and Facebook, and have experimented with a few other social media tools for Blackberry that aggregate content, but tend to stick with traditional platforms rather than services that combine all the social media forums. As most CEOs aren’t shy to admit, we don’t have a lot of time. So I often don’t get onto the different networks until the end of the day right before bed and then again first thing in the morning. It’s become part of my routine to spend about 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening catching up on what people are saying about our company and responding to any messages I’ve received. For me, it’s great because I’m able to look at it as something I do casually and comfortably as opposed to something I need to really sit down and focus on.
Q: You spoke about Blogging earlier. Does that take up a lot of time? How do you work that into a CEO’s schedule?
A: Blogs are the exception to my casual and comfortable rule. I usually keep a list of topics I want to cover on my Blackberry and in my office so that when it comes time to blog, I have a few different things to choose from and don’t waste time brainstorming an idea. When I first started blogging, I didn’t get the concept. I’d sit down for an hour and hammer out a 1,000-word blog post and think I’d done a good job. It wasn’t until my Marketing Director sat me down and explained that my posts were too long and they didn’t need to be so formal that I really understood the technique behind blogging. Now I write three-to-five paragraphs and it takes me about 30 minutes per topic. I write two or three times a week and try to keep each post to one screen and one scroll down as a common practice. Our blog is prominently positioned and easily accessible from our corporate web site.
Q: How does social media play an active role in your company’s communications and marketing plans?
A: Social media has become another communication channel for our company. Anytime we have an announcement about a new product or a tip on how to use our current products, we send it out through our social media networks and traditional channels. Anything exciting that Clarabridge does is always posted on our Facebook fan page and via our corporate Twitter handle.
We’ve also realized how important that social media content is for our customers who buy our text-mining software, and earlier this year we’ve even adapted the products we sell so that they can easily text mine social media content from Twitter, blogs, and Internet review sites.
Q: If you could offer CEOs one tip about social media, what would it be?
A: I would say that you really need to get out there and personally understand how it works before you start on a social media plan. I admit that even after our PR firm suggested it, I didn’t really understand why we needed to have a presence in social media until I had a firsthand experience with it. Following a plan that you don’t understand won’t work. Experiment with it first, and then determine whether or not it’s a fit for your business before you dive in head-first. Once you’ve determined what type of presence your company needs, then utilize a more formal plan.
Q: How do you respond to something negative being said about your company?
A: Social media gives you a chance to be involved in a conversation you otherwise wouldn’t know about. If I see something negative said about my company, I look at it as an opportunity to change someone’s mind by finding a solution that works for both parties. As soon as I see the comment or complaint, I make sure we follow up with a response to try and hammer-down the issue. This way, not only does Clarabridge get seen as a responsive company, it also offers me an opportunity to interact with my customers. The worst thing to do is to ignore negative feedback – it can create brand and reputation damage. By following up, I have another chance to fix the damage and make my company responsive and customer focused.
Q: If you’re a small company that’s not yet into social media, what’s the single thing you could do that would have the biggest impact?
A: I think the best thing you can do is find out where your customers go and set up a presence on that media–it could be Facebook, Twitter, a support environment, or a blog. You should think about providing a way for your customers to get support online and develop a relationship with you online. There are likely to be segments of your customer base that are not social-media savvy, but almost every industry has a growing base of customers, partners and prospects who are. It’s better to get with them before your competitor does and to establish a presence before your average customer arrives, rather than after.