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Will Your Inhouse Social Program Win Awards?

Recently I decided to delve deeper into social media than I ever have. Trying to wrap my head around the actual value behind social, in its many forms, I began actively posting on Twitter – like a madman. My goal was simple: get more followers. No clue what I’d do with them, but getting them was goal number one.

A few weeks later, I found a use for those new followers. I reached out for feedback on behalf of Bing around their recently-introduced and updated webmaster tools. Plenty of folks responded, the feedback was valuable and applied to future work. Value established, I took a keener interest in social programs overall.

I’ve always felt there was value in social in terms of building links to support your SEO efforts, but other practical applications of social programs have recently proven the broader value of simple human interactions.

Last summer, I had a very positive experience with Comcast’s social program via Twitter. Within minutes of pinging @comcastcares, a local rep reached out to me to discuss the issue. A few tweets later and I had a truck enroute to investigate the issue. I was impressed. While the latest update on Comcast apparently includes the news that the gentleman who started that social program for them has left the company, I had need to ping them last week. Response times were just as fast, so obviously the program has survived the exit of its originator.

With this new interest in social programs driving my own social posting habits, I recently came across a social program that won an award from the Guinness folks. No, not the beer company; the records company. The Xbox folks earned recognition from the Guinness folks for their effort. (Disclosure: I work for Microsoft.) The “Elite Tweet Fleet” at Xbox managed, in a seven day period, to answer 5,000 queries in an average time of 2:42. WOW! Please see Social Media Examiner for the full article.

Imagine the feeling of loyalty built in Xbox fans when they know they can reach out directly, any time, with problems or ideas and share them directly with Xbox. That’s the kind of connectivity to brand that users crave and brands are constantly trying to foster.  Trouble is, most brands back up the idea with weak sauce. They don’t staff it well, they don’t focus the team on customer service, they simply miss on execution. Xbox is enjoying high customer interaction, which inevitably builds brand affinity. They’re also saving money on support costs as their Tweet Fleet is 10 reps strong. They work crazy hours to ensure they are available when gamers are gaming. What a novel idea. Be there for your clients.

This brings me to the obvious point here, that customer service is a critical component to the folks at Xbox, and they are investing seriously. There are many ways and reasons to invest in a social program, but this example stands out as a way to get it right. This program easily adds more value to the company than it costs to run.

Now, look at your own social program. No matter its actual goal, you need to ask if it’s running at award winning levels. Working for Microsoft, I can honestly say the company doesn’t simply shovel money into projects without a plan. It’s a sure bet that the social outreach program at Xbox started small. When the positive upside appeared, more investment would have then been made.

I mention this to encourage folks to look past the cost of running a top flight social program. Yes, there is a cost, but if you have a solid goal in mind, the path can vary. Low cost need not mean cutting corners on quality. Technology makes a great partner in small social programs to help create more muscle when you need it most.

While the trend today for most companies is to outsource social programs to agencies and consultants targeting this niche, small programs can be run efficiently, though with often limited touchpoints – I’ll admit – by only a couple of folks, some RSS feeds, an app and dedicated tracking systems. I certainly think there is a place for specialist service providers to guide social programs, though many don’t add enough value to the equation for companies, balanced against the fees they charge. I feel every social program needs to provide a tangible ROI at some point, so it’s critical to loop the investment back to actions: traffic, link building, sales, brand affinity, etc.

If your program is smaller though, and a passionate person exists to use available tools ranging from a mobile phone to analytics software, a successful social program can easily be managed in minutes a day. To be fair, those minutes are real minutes, likely to accrue into an hour or more each day when you factor in pushing out info, tracking results and building reports.

Here’s the process I personally use. I’ve used this to post regularly and have attracted over 1,400 new followers in the past month.  It takes me minutes a day to post.

I use Google Reader to aggregate RSS feeds from sites I want to follow and trust. Next up, on my iPhone (GASP, I know…) I have an app called MobileRSS. When I open the app, it displays all the recent inbound posts from the feeds I follow. I then select an article of interest, click one icon to open the posting menu, and then post to Twitter. Shortening the URL is handily built right into the system. I could also select to email the article link somewhere, or post to Facebook and other locations.

This process allows me to Tweet roughly 5 – 7 times per minute, so firing off 10 to 20 fresh, relevant, useful articles to followers is easy. Slipping my own posts into the mix is as simple as following my own RSS feed via the Reader. It’s hardly a pro-grade program, but it works (currently.) While this is simply how I, an individual, posts socially – it could easily be employed by a business.  Overlaying analytics data would allow a much more complete picture of the value of your efforts, obviously.

Getting things right and having your social program wow your users does take work, but a little 1910 customer service, crossed with 2010 technology, can give you a winning edge socially, from the comfort of your office no less.

So, want to go win an award?

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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