Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Of fan mail and thank yous

Despite all the chatter about social media, it’s still very easy to underestimate its effects. And it’s still very easy to get it wrong.

The other day a friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to some items on the Boden website, declaring how much she wished she could order one of everything. Until I saw that posting, I never quite understood why merchants should make it easy for visitors to their website to post product shots to their Facebook pages. Who’s really going to use that function? I wondered. I’ll tell you who: People who are debating whether to go ahead and splurge, and for whom a few responses from friends along the lines of “Love it!” and “That would be perfect for that wedding you’re complaining about having to attend” will make the difference between pass and purchase. And we’re not just talking kids; my friend is a hard-working mom in her forties.

I responded to my friend’s post by telling her I’d actually met and interviewed Johnnie Boden himself (when I’d started here at Catalogue e-business two years ago; you can access the article here), adding facetiously, “Are you impressed?” Ends up she really was. Things that you and I may take for granted because they’re part of our job--interviewing the heads of companies, attending fashion shows, going to trade exhibitions--are not taken for granted by most of our customers. By offering customers a peek behind the scenes--blogging about a runway show, posting snaps of a catalogue photo shoot on your Facebook page--you’re inviting them into the family. Which in turns transforms admirers into advocates.

But with the great power of social media comes great responsibility--the responsibility of not inadvertently snubbing even one customer or prospect. Unfortunately snubbing is all too easy. A somewhat off-the-track example: I’ve written before about the Comics Curmudgeon, a blog that pokes affectionate but snarky fun at US comic strips. When the writer of the blog launched a Twitter feed (@JFruh) I signed on to follow. Imagine my disappointment when the next day I saw that he had blocked me. And here I had just posted a tweet bigging him up. I was as hurt as if a friend of mine had told me that all those anecdotes I’d regaled him with for years really weren’t very entertaining and that, in fact, I was a big bore he only put up with because I paid for rounds at the pub.

So I wrote a post on the Comics Curmudgeon blog about how I’d been blocked and wasn’t feeling the love. Within a day @JFruh got back to me, telling me he’d thought our Twitter handle (@catalogbiz) sounded “spammy” and that he was sorry, honest. Ah, the love was back!

Now imagine that I had been communicating not with a blog but a multichannel marketer, and that my blog post had been ignored. I could easily have written about this on my Facebook page, my Twitter feed, this blog, my next editor’s letter...

One last anecdote and lesson: Never underestimate the importance of “thank you”. During the weekend I found that my new favourite writer (yes, Miri, I’m still on about John Wray and Lowboy) is on Facebook, so I sent him an email, briefly telling him how much I appreciated his latest book and how it has galvanised my own writing. On Monday he replied. It was a brief reply (“Thank you Sherry. Much appreciated”), but it was a reply, an acknowledgement nonetheless that had me squealing and blushing. (Really--I hadn’t gotten that hot in the face since my 50-second chat with James McAvoy in February.)

If someone has taken the time to contact your company, whether it’s just to post a “love the widget” on your website forum or to email with what may seem like a silly question, make a point of responding. For at least a few seconds, let him feel that he means as much to you as your brand means to him.--SC


  1. Sherry,

    I love this post because it says what I want to scream from the rooftops. It's amazing to me that people talk about how social media is all about the conversation, then choose to ignore others saying hello.

    The prevalent argument is that there isn't enough time to respond to everyone. The reality is that you will end up with plenty of time on your hands if you alienate those reaching out to you.

    Great Post! I hope people take note.

    Debra Ellis

  2. I wrote a piece for my blog ages ago about the importance of thank yous. I think one of the early signs of societal breakdown is not chariot races and honeyed dormice but that fact that nobody thanks the gladiator any more.
    The relevant links are below - if you're happy to publish them: