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Do Sociable Media herald the transition from complaint to FYI?

My social Network on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter...
Image by luc legay via Flickr

Much has been written about growing Enterprise use of social media (usually Twitter, these days) to successfully track and mitigate customer complaint. Many have been quick to spot that the disproportionately high cost of satisfying (or, more cynically, silencing) these early adopters is unlikely to scale effectively as an increasingly large cohort of customers move onto these services, and it must remain an open question as to whether ComcastCares and its peers can survive any move to the mainstream in recognisable form.

It appears, though, that Enterprise engagement in the social sphere changes the game far more significantly than merely enabling a select few twitterati to jump the Customer Support queue, and that this change is worth effort and investment in order to ensure that it does scale. What’s actually happening is that a relationship is being enabled between a brand and what Seth Godin might recognise as its tribe; a relationship in which interactions are no longer driven predominantly by the desire to seek redress. Rather than only raising those issues serious enough for us to have written letters or endured telephone muzak in the past, we now comment on issues at the periphery of a brand. Collectively, we’ve moved from simply complaining about the worst failures of companies, their products and their employees, toward emitting an impressive stream of FYIs. Individually insignificant, and possibly unimportant, together these light touches on and around a brand build into an ever-changing and valuable commentary that brands and the corporations they front would do well to take notice of. The minor niggles about an otherwise exemplary service, the human touches that made us smile, the odd inconsistencies in a polished persona; none are enough to make us pick up the phone, but we comment upon them endlessly in Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed and elsewhere, and by tapping into this fundamentally honest stream of consciousness there is much for those about whom we comment to learn. Good companies probably already know about fundamental failings in a product long before their customer support operation melts down under the weight of complaints or their quarterly sales targets are seriously under-achieved. Do they have as good a handle on the things we love? Do they have a clue about the minor gripes of customers outside their pre-launch polling groups? Do they know about the gut reaction to a colour, a touch, a smell, or a careless word that persuaded a likely prospect to buy a technically or aesthetically inferior product from the competition instead? All this and more is there for the taking in the stream of online chatter freely directed their way.

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Paul Miller works at the interface between the worlds of Cloud Computing and the Semantic Web, providing the insights that enable you to exploit the next wave as we approach the World Wide Database.

He blogs at www.cloudofdata.com.