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It used to be an advertiser’s world. Newspapers, magazines, radio, and television shows were but mere vehicles for the advertisers paying the bills. Soap operas derived their very name from the commercials featured during broadcast.

Where are the soap operas now? But for a few soldiering on, they’ve all faded away — some after 50 years of daily airtime. The internet, and most importantly, social media, have brought changes — the most important being an unexpected message to marketers and brands: You’re no longer in charge. And one angry consumer can change your world.

The rise of the consumer-centric landscape

“Social” is the key word in the phrase, and consumers are owning it. What are their terms? It’s an unwritten code telling brands, “It’s about me, not you.” Where brands and marketers used to thrive on the strength of their products and name, they now have to be “friends” with consumers or find a way to emotionally connect — or they’ll be edged right out of the conversation.

Savvy brands are using social listening to accomplish this. They’re getting to know consumers as people (not as patrons of their brand), and approach them with individualized messaging that shows they care. Marketing now must convey messages that speak directly to their experiences and demonstrate an affinity for those experiences, “We think you’re the best because you run and stay healthy, and our sneakers/health food/what have you supports that journey.”

This is an adjustment — but it comes with perks. When brands connect in deeper, more personal ways, consumers love them all the more for it. At least, they do when things are going well.

I thought we were friends?

But social is a minefield of pitfalls cleverly obscured by cat memes and emojis — and make no mistake, when you misstep, the ramifications can be severe and long-lasting. Though consumers will insist your brand act like one of the gang to get in on the party, their loyalty is conditional, and easily revoked if you disappoint them.

And it’s important to note: not just your actions on social will be judged on social. Anything you do that is or can be made public will be judged on social. We saw this with the Bloomingdale’s holiday ad — which appeared in their print catalog, but inspired social users to rake the brand over the coals (and rightly so). And we saw it as well during the Barilla Pasta debacle a few years back, though the CEO’s controversial anti-gay comments were made during a radio interview.

Social media is the bridge that connects consumers across every channel, and there is (for them) safety in numbers. For brands, it doesn’t always feel so safe. They should proceed with an absolute sense of caution, and use every resource at their disposal (social listening software among them) to give consumers what they want, and to understand the meaning behind trending topics before jumping in with horribly inappropriate tweets

Monitoring social helps brands avoid unfortunate messaging. That alone makes the ROI worthwhile. But it’s not just their own mistakes brands must attend to. They’ve got to be available to solve problems for consumers in the social realm, because that’s where discussions now happen.

Social customer service is mandatory

Many consumers take to social media when they have an issue with a brand — and their expectations are that brands should respond quickly. In fact, 60 percent of consumers complaining on social expect brands to reply within an hour. And if they don’t, who’s solving the problem? Probably a competitor.

Social is also the place consumers come to take unresolved customer service issues to the next level. Twelve percent will escalate customer complaints via social media, making a bad situation even worse. Eighty-two percent of consumers will drop a brand when customer service is bad — and will tell their many social connections about it. And we all know how important word-of-mouth marketing is.

Meanwhile, if you get social customer service right, 71 percent of consumers will recommend your brand to others. Why is this number so high? Because social customer service is still the exception (though it should be the rule).

You don’t have to be a math whiz to see that social customer care is a crucial component for brands to offer — but too many still aren’t. And with tech-dependent generations coming of age, you’re running out of time.

It’s not all bad news

The good news is, if you’re making use of social media monitoring for your brand, you’ve got all the data you need available to you — you just need to adjust what you’re looking for, and ways to pull actionable insight.

And if you haven’t dived into the social data pool, doing so will open up an entire world of deeper consumer relationships that can only help your brand — as long as you take care with your messaging, and remember who’s in charge.

Previously appeared on iMediaConnection

Image from CurrencyFair

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