Check out Part 1 if you haven’t yet. It’s full of sharp insight into this whole social media thing and how it’s changed the way companies interact with consumers. But the fun doesn’t end there, oh no. Three more luminaries have tossed their opinions into the mix,  and those are collected here for your reading pleasure. It’s still not actually a roundtable… more like a trough. A trough of knowledge. So step up to the trough, little piggies (yes, still got swine flu on the brain) and suck up this nutritious opinion.

Again, the question posed was, “In your experience, how has the emergence and growth of social media and social networking affected or changed the way companies interact with their customers?

Stephanie Schopp:

Social media has changed customer interaction so much for the better! Speaking from my experience as a public relations professional in the digital media and interactive entertainment industries, my involvement on the two major social networks Twitter and Facebook revolves primarily around media relations, staying informed and building stronger relationships with associates.

Up until the time Twitter became popular, it seemed that the social network still kept communication with fans of a celebrity or product at an arm’s length – you could have “fan pages” but it was likely that someone else (a manager for a celebrity or hired marketing guns, for example) was managing one-way communication to the audience. It was yet another outlet (albeit a good one) to reach the target audience where they were hanging out – on social networks. But it still lacked the inherent personal touch that Twitter so capitalized on (in my opinion.)

With Twitter (as a customer) I feel more involved with the things (product, brand, game, celebrity) that I identify with – I can have actual interaction vs. merely identifying myself through various Facebook fan pages that place me in my preferred social groups/demographic.

For example, on Facebook, I’m a fan of The Daily Show, Arrested Development The Movie,  NY Times, Stardock’s Elemental video game and Chewbacca. From there you can easily see that I’m awesomely hilarious but a well-informed PC gaming space nerd. But my interaction with all of the above things stops there. I’m merely a member of those groups, I do not interact with them.

With the personal interaction on Twitter I debate various points or articles that the people I follow (primarily representatives of media outlets) post about, provide feedback for upcoming trend pieces and/or interact with fans of my client’s games. While I could potentially do these things on Facebook, Twitter seems so much more of an inviting medium to use: it’s in real time and discussions are concise and to the point. Unlike my answer to this question.

Making a brand more personal through social networks helps create stronger customer loyalty, which is something companies have always strived to do whether through advertising or a good PR program. Social networks have made this objective easier (and less expensive) to accomplish and drastically changed interaction – they are an incredibly valuable and powerful public relations and communications tool when managed effectively. I think that in the near future as this medium continues to evolve we’ll start to see more marketing budgets expand for social network management as part of an overall internal marketing or public relations strategy, rather than a one-off campaign (e.g. – hiring a consultant to create a MySpace page and build “friends” or contracting a “community manager” for certain projects.)

…Shit. Did I just talk my way out of a job?

Marty Kawa:

I’ve got a confession to make here. After going through the first part of the roundtable I feel a bit small, with all these awesome guys, their sleek style and well thought answers. It feels kind of weird when you have so many smart people around and then it’s your turn to add something interesting to the conversation.

A few years ago I was involved in the development of a turn-based strategy game. We started off with a seven-strong team and decided to conquer the world with our amazing product. Among other stuff I was also responsible for PR. Then I learned how much you can do being honest and how important it is just to talk. Back then I had serious problems with putting together a correct sentence in English, not to mention writing a press release. The only thing I was able to do was email journalists with my broken English saying that their help may make or break our game. You’d be surprised how supportive they were; I was offered help with editing of our press release and enjoyed coverage on almost every major gaming site around the world. Eventually the project was canceled, but one thing stayed in my mind – don’t send a press release and then follow-up; talk with the fellows on the other side of the fence and back it up with a solid release.

Thanks to tools like Twitter or Facebook we’re closer to other people — both media and end users — than ever, and that creates a unique opportunity to interact with them in an informal manner, and to create long-lasting relationships. I find it mind blowing that I’m able to exchange views on new releases with editors of the leading gaming outlets or discuss our products with gamers. What’s more important, it’s much easier now to spot new gaming websites and support them. As Guy Kawasaki once wrote: “nobodies are the new somebodies” and “it’s better to have army of committed nobodies and than a few drive-by somebodies.” I’d also add to this that you never know who’s going to be the next Kotaku, and any help offered to a gaming site in its embryonic state is greatly appreciated and allows it to expand. That gives us more opportunities to present our products to wider audiences and, on the other hand, allows the customer to make an informed buying decision.

The transparency that comes with social media may be frightening to some companies, and undoubtedly some of them would love to stay behind an invisible wall of press releases, contact forms and heavily moderated forums. However, I genuinely believe that an open discussion can create winners on both sides and it’s always worth talking. You know, we are people, too.

And yeah, shameless plug is unavoidable here, let’s talk: 🙂

Tom Ohle

How did I manage to make it all the way to the end of a two-part knowledge-trough on a site I started up without actually offering my own opinion? I should give lessons.

To the topic at hand: As Rob alluded to in Part 1, “social media” is today what “viral marketing” was two years ago — it’s just a matter of time before it starts appearing on every PR agency’s list of services (if it hasn’t already), and there are so few marketers that really understand it and know how to effective use it. At the height of its popularity, the term “viral marketing” was bastardized to essentially be the creation of a YouTube channel and a MySpace page — surely it would be enough to just toss out a few little morsels for fans to chomp on, and they’d offer their eternal devotion to your company or product.

That little — for the most part poorly executed — concept has morphed into something much more involving in the past two years — “social media” — but I think a lot of inexperienced (or inept) marketers still assume it’s enough to just create accounts on Facebook and Twitter, using them to push information to consumers. Sorry, I know they still assume that, because I have a ton of people following me on Twitter that do nothing by push their own agenda without reciprocal interaction. The reality is that a good social media campaign takes time; if you really want to build up a loyal fanbase that expands your brand visibility by passing the love along to their friends, you need to be in it for the long haul. You need to spend time every day for months (or years, I’m guessing — we’ll see), slowly building your “social” fanbase, and you have to engage them properly.

You need to use the tools at your disposal — the aforementioned Twitter and Facebook, as well as your own company message boards, external message boards, blogs, media outlets and anywhere else that people gather — to engage customers, potential customers and even detractors. I’ve long been a believer that every single person you deal with is a potential customer, and if you can convince one person to buy your product, you’ve spent your time well. Okay, so the math doesn’t always work out when we’re talking about $5.99 games, but you get the idea.

We have to spend so much more time listening to our customers. If someone talks shit about your product, don’t get upset — just respond and see if you can help them get over their problem. And if you give that one person a positive experience, you may have gained a new customer — or at least lost a detractor, and they might even tell their friends about it. It’s amazing what a personal touch will do to calm the raging fires inside some rabid jerk’s gut.

Until next time, keep fit and have fun.

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