Online Relationships: Falling in Love with a Corporation?

Once Upon a Time on Instagram

Instagram is the setting of this love story. Yes, it’s nothing like the streets of Verona, or the cover of a Harlequin novel. But, does it really matter where you meet your loved one? What if our modern day Romeo had met Juliet online? Would their relationship be any less real or authentic?

Maybe in another hundred years, a gifted writer will conjure up a romance which involves a social networking app? Bollocks! The internet can’t replicate the same emotional cues people experience face to face, right? Well, if that’s the case, then don’t tell Denis Lafargue and Elizabeth Wisdom that you don’t believe in genuine online relationships. Denis and Elizabeth have become engaged after corresponding on Instagram for several months.

All it took was one photo. One photo sparked the flame for this romance. Elizabeth posted a photo that caught Denis’ eye. I guess you could call it love at first sight. Whatever you call it, it just goes to show you that posting content online can be quite powerful. In this case, it was a life changing experience. So, if people can fall in love with other people online, can a person fall in love with a brand or corporate entity? Maybe love is a bit of a stretch. It might be more practical to say that a person could like a brand. A person could like a brand the same way they like their friends.

The relationship a company should aspire to have with its customers is friendship. Think of your closest relationships, what do they have in common? Trust, loyalty, caring, and honesty. You trust that your friends are looking out for your best interests. A real friend wouldn’t throw you under the bus to make a quick buck.

Likewise, your friend wouldn’t ditch you because they met someone new. Your friend listens to you, and tells you the truth. If your friend lied to you all the time, you probably wouldn’t be friends for very long. So why doesn’t this apply to corporations? It should, and social media can help.

Do You Want to Be My Friend?

According to Morrison & Forrester, in 2011, people spent an average of 6.9 hours per month on social networking sites. In addition, social media now accounts for 18 per cent of time spent online. Time spent on social media is on the rise. So, it’s becoming increasingly vital for companies to establish an online presence.

Companies can interact and engage with their customers through social media. You’ve probably heard the expression, “He/She’s a great listener.” Well, most people like when others listen to them. So, one of the things a company can do is to listen to consumers.

In a recent study conducted by Experian QAS, 82 per cent of British consumers are willing to share their personal information with organizations if they see a benefit in doing so. It follows that corporations should use this data to provide value for consumers. The data should be used to create better products and services.

For instance, when you call your telephone service provider you’re prompted to input your phone number. Then, when you finally get a hold of a customer service agent, they ask you to provide your number again.

The service experience would be greatly enhanced if you didn’t have to input the same information twice. Imagine your friend asked you how your day was, and then five minutes later, they asked you the same question. And let’s say that this happened on a consistent basis. You would probably think there’s something wrong with him. I already answered that question! Are you not listening? Or do you simply not care?

Target the Right Customer

It should be noted, however, that companies shouldn’t target every customer. How many friends do you have? Malcolm Gladwell states that a person can only have meaningful social relationships with a maximum of 150 people. Think about it, do you think you can be friends with everyone? Of course not.

You form friendships with those people who provide the most value. That person who makes you laugh, the person who comforts you, the person you enjoy spending time with, etc. So, corporations can’t cater to everyone either. Or at least it would be more profitable to focus on catering to the right customers.  The old adage, “The customer is always right,” isn’t necessarily true. Rather, “The right customer is always right.”

Approximately 165 million people use Facebook in the U.S. Other social networks may not have achieved the same popularity as Facebook but, it’s clear that a lot of people use social media. So how can a corporation find the right customers? Well, businesses can gain access to the profiles of consumers on Facebook when users “Like” their page.

This information can then be analyzed to gain more insight on consumers. Social media mining can provide companies with the opportunity to garner an enhanced understanding of its customers. A list of social media analytics tools is provided below. These tools can aid in measuring social data, and improving the efficiency of your social media strategy.

Be One Step Ahead of Your Customer

What’s more is that social data can reveal trends and even give rise to predictive analytics. DirecTV, for example, uses Twitter data as an early-warning system to spot power outages based on customer complaints. Predictive analytics should be used cautiously though.

We’ve all heard the stories of how Facebook can predict breakups, or how Target sent coupons to a girl for diapers before she knew she was pregnant. These types of insights can be quite scary and off-putting for some. On the other hand, if you were able to get your friend coffee before he/she knew she wanted coffee, then we’re onto something.

Your coffee drinking friend would really appreciate the gesture. Moreover, with all this information and data collection comes the obvious issue of privacy. When I tell my friend something personal, I trust them not to tell anyone else.

Again, a corporation can strengthen its relationships with consumers by ensuring that data collected will be kept private, confidential, and safe. In addition, a company should adopt a system of full disclosure. Customers should have the right to know what personal information a company has on them. This practice could also ensure that the information is accurate.

The Wave of the Future: Social Media

In closing, companies can create meaningful relationships with their customers through social media. These relationships should be based on the same principles that guide our personal relationships. Trust, loyalty, caring, and honesty are the foundations for long term customer relationships.

Like any successful relationship, it’s about making sacrifices. It’s about giving and taking. In the long run, it pays off. Who knows, maybe one day someone will fall in love with a corporation. Crazier things have happened.

Social Media Analytics Tools:

  1. Hootsuite
  2. Tweriod
  3. Klout
  4. Sprout Social
  5. Viral Heat