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Is social engagement really getting you closer to your customers?

Businesses are aware of the benefits that being "social" can bring, but we also need to identify ways to avoid the backfire of social "solutions" that promise to keep customers quiet rather than doing what they are here to do – engage in a way that increases value for all involved. The biggest potential connector between businesses and their customers – the promise of "social" – can actually create a risk of breaking that connection, of frustrating or alienating customers, if not done right.

If "social business" is the bull's-eye, let's make sure we have the right arrows

The arrows to that bull's-eye are the tools that connect the right customers to the right knowledge, as correctly and cost-effectively as possible. Social isn’t about building a pen where people can swarm together and figure things out for themselves. Social is about creating active, successful touch points that make it easy for people to find the right information, creating a satisfying, brand-enhancing experience.

Is social teaching our customers the wrong message? Is it encouraging them to be squeaky wheels and whiners?

The right social connectivity does not equal squeaky wheels because it brings customers closer to internal expertise and guides them in locating the right answer efficiently and accurately. It lets internal teams learn from patterns of customer interaction: what they’re looking for, where they're getting answers, things that customers know that companies should also know. When done right, social increases the permeability between enterprises and customers in ways that allows both parties – and others in the ecosystem – to benefit.

That is very different from the whining and complaining that naturally occurs when companies decide, "Ah, let 'social' do it." Usually, when customers are vocal on social media, it means that other more established communication channels have failed in providing them the support they needed. It means, customers didn’t get the right answer through either a phone, chat or e-mail interaction with a company. When this happens, companies are putting out fires on social media, and this is not the right way social should work.

Social should be an avenue to increase customer value

It's key that companies really understand what social is before they invest in the technologies that support it. If you define social as "we're using state of the art technologies to gather and connect people to the right knowledge about a company and its products or services," then you are on a sustainable path. If you look at social as "we're crowdsourcing, swarming, or streaming the things that other people are talking about," you're creating noise but likely not creating value. Social for social's sake is not a long term success plan.

The right social means making it easy for customers to get answers and make decisions, building long-term relationships. By knowing how to be more efficient when interacting with customers, companies show that they care about the value of the exchange and as a result, customers return. Rather than a tool to automate interactions that populate most companies’ ongoing business world, social should be used to create value through each interaction and transaction, in a way that deepens customer affinity and strengthens brand.

Tom Kelly is the President and CEO of enterprise social software company Moxie Software and is a leading authority on achieving business results through collaborative innovation. He's helped hundreds of global organizations change the way they create value and compete. Tom collaborates closely with Don Tapscott, Chairman of Moxie Insight a business unit of Moxie Software and co-author of "Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World" on collaborative innovation strategies for business.