Customer References in the Age of Social Media

I’ve always been a big believer in the KISS principle —keep it simple, stupid. In the high tech world it seems like things just keep getting more and more complicated. Sure, new products are launched to make our lives easier but why does it feel like my life is getting more cluttered?

That thought came to mind when I was speaking with a former colleague about customer reference programs. In my experience customer reference programs are a big help in fueling PR activities including interviews with editors, briefings with analysts, speaking engagements and customer roundtables. But so often I run into customer program managers who over-engineer their plans.

In this case, simplicity is the way to go. That’s why I’ve always been a fan of consultant, author and loyalty expert Fred Reichheld, the creator of the Net Promoter Score. His books, The Loyalty Effect, Loyalty Rules! and
The Ultimate Question all use one simple question when engaging customers: How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?

Managing customer programs takes skill and guile since you must balance customer needs and time-restraints against the needs of your company to promote itself. For PR pros, it’s very important to have access to happy customers – those who definitely will recommend your company –  to serve as references for the press. For one thing, some journalists won’t accept vendor-hype at face value, insisting that there must be some relatively unbiased third-party to support the vendor’s claims.

But the question we’re facing today is…how has the rapid growth of social media impacted customer reference programs? In addition to traditional media activities, PR pros now have the complexity of working customers into social media programs.  Needless to say, this is not a simple endeavor, but the viral value of a positive customer mention in Twitter feed or blog posting could be considerable.  Building a community is tough, getting your customers to willingly spend valuable business hours contributing to these sites — on your behalf – is even tougher.

While this adds yet one more thing to the to-do list, there are some simple (remember KISS) things you can do to engage with customer on social media. For instance, you can set up a Twitter feed and make sure you follow all your customers on Twitter. Similarly, set up a Facebook presence and engage with customers. Or if you have a blog, invite the customer to provide a guest blog, or maybe you could post on your customer’s blog. The great thing about social media is not only is the customer carrying the message directly to potential prospects, you’re also deepening a relationship that couple be useful when the Wall Street Journal calls asking for a reference.

Customers references are so critical to growing a company.  What are some ways have you tried to get your customers actively engaged in online customer communities?

Rob Goodman

Author: Rob Goodman

Rob Goodman is a communications professional with more than 27 years of experience in public relations, marketing and content creation.