Since his election in 2006, which coincidentally aligned with the launch of Twitter, Newark Mayor Cory Booker has been using the microblogging platform to engage with citizens about everything from potholes to welfare benefits. Superstorm Sandy attracted even more attention when he used Twitter to assist affected Newark restaurants, sending and delivering food, flashlights, and supplies — many times personally.
Last week, Booker announced his plan to run for Senate in 2014 and was immediately flooded with questions concerning how he would keep up his “hyper-local approach to governing” if elected to the Senate. It’s no surprise that he intends to hold the same level of dedication to his social media channels if elected, though it’s a lofty promise to guarantee.
Booker’s hands-on approach to social media has many characteristics in common with successful social media strategies implemented by brands and organizations. All politics aside, taking a few tips from Booker will keep your customers happy and your product improving.
Engaging in Two-Way Conversations
Many brands use social media simply as a broadcast mechanism, not as a two-way form of communication. When brands use social media solely as a megaphone, they overlook one of social media’s major benefits: the ability to talk to customers (and citizens) directly, no middle-man necessary. Booker converses with citizens openly and sincerely through Twitter, and he gives the impression that he values Newarkers’ input.
Listening to what your customers are saying about your brand helps real issues come to light and helps you recognize problems you may have otherwise overlooked. Engaging directly with customers makes them more loyal to your brand and fosters a personal, human connection. It also spices up your social media presence and encourages people to interact with you. However, more engagement might require more manpower, but the investment will be well worth it.
Manage and Monitor Your Twitter Account Yourself
Though some big brands prefer to pass their social media off to outside agencies, keeping it inside the company helps ensure genuine and personal interaction. Many politicians’ Twitter accounts are run by team members, such as a Director of Communications or PR Manager. Booker insists on having full control over his account, and though it’s a large undertaking, it definitely seems to be working for him.
In an interview with Jon Stewart, Booker said that managing his Twitter account himself makes him aware of issues much sooner than his staff. This also allows Newark residents to completely skip the red tape and bureaucracy and go straight to the decision maker. Consumer patience seems to be at an all-time low, and instant gratification is appreciated and valued more than ever. The less people your customers have to go through to resolve an issue, the better.
Booker is not one to let grass grow under his feet, or even delegate what most would call minor problems to his staff. He might literally go to where the problem is, and fix it (as seen in the Twitter conversation above). When Newark residents tweet at him with a problem, he responds an overwhelming majority of the time, often asking them to direct message him with the details and their contact info.
Taking action and rectifying issues as soon as possible reflects well on your business and makes customers happy. Nipping problems in the bud can also prevent future issues. Yet brands are still dismissing social media as a major outlet for problem solving. According to a study by eMarketer, 50 percent of U.S. Internet users take to social media seeking an actual response from a company about a service issue. Only 49 percent of companies track and follow-up on feedback, while 29 percent did neither. Needless to say, hundreds of thousands of problems are going unnoticed every single day.
Your customers are always challenging you to improve your product or service by voicing their complaints and feedback. This past December, Booker and a Twitter follower accepted a challenge to live on $1.40 a day for a week — the equivalent of New Jersey’s food stamp allotment. He wasn’t shy about his struggle, even tweeting a picture of his breakfast that consisted of a burnt sweet potato. Booker’s challenge brought the shortcomings of the New Jersey food stamp program to light and encouraged government to take drastic action.
Social media is an outstanding tool for crowdsourcing and an extremely simple way to learn where and how problems arise. Your entire business depends on customer satisfaction, so take what your customers say to heart. Learn how to accept criticism and make changes accordingly. Finally, take a cue from Cory Booker’s playbook and above all else, stand behind your brand!
Claire BeDell: Claire works in marketing in Chicago and specializes in social media and content creation. She is also an avid writer and ruminator. You can reach her on Twitter at @clairebedell.