A few weeks ago I was in Las Vegas (Vegas BABY!) speaking at a CEA Industry Forum panel on Web 2.0 and social media. My comrades were leading lights, and I was honored to be there (they kept mistaking me for the VP of Comcast, which was flattering to me if completely incorrect as per my minion role)...
Moderator: Craig Stoltz, Blogger & Web Strategy Consultant, Web 2.Oh... really?
Bruce Eric Anderson, Enterprise Evangelist, Dell
Jennifer Khoury, Vice President, Corporate Communications, Comcast
Phil Kramer, Industry Director of Technology, Google
What's important to remember about CEA is that its conferences attract the big corporate folks (like the companies represented in the ig panel) but also small businesses and electronics shops that do repairs and dealers that deal with big companies - in all, the gamut of American business. We got a question that said essentially "Well, that social media and community stuff is all fine for you big guys but what advice do you have for the little guy?"
I leapt in as I always do and gave the One Girl with the Email Speech (which for those who have followed me know as the story of Gotdotnet). All it takes is one person who cares, who is perhaps the business owner or the front person in the store or the delivery driver - to answer the email, post on the blog, make the personal return phone call to the angry customer.
Not all projects in a company have funding for big social media budgets. Not all companies need big social media applications. But they really need that One Girl (or Guy) with the Email (or Blog, Or Twitter acct, or Facebook page) to say: hey, I am out here, bitch at me, I'm accountable, I will make the fix happen or tell you why I can't.
I heard the CEO of Zappos.com speak at a SxSW a couple years ago and he talked about his customer support/call center staff. They use phones like everyone else in the business. They use humans and not robots or members of an alien superrace. The difference is that they hire specifically for the job, train those folks, and create an ethos where that One Guy on the Phone is empowered to make it right with the customer.
I'm sure they didn't start with an army of customer support people - they started with a few good people. Those good people made it absolutely necessary to hire more good people, because business went so well. Your business should be so lucky as to justify Two Girls with an Email or Five Guys on the Phone. Whining about scale now, when you are just drumming up business or winning customers back, seems premature. Start with that one. If you are a one-person shop BE that one. (And you may well be a one-person shop inside a large corporation).
I started with this tip - of being open, having a place where people can contact you directly - because it's the corner stone of the other fancy tricks I might tell you. If you don't have this karmic stance from the get go, and perhaps a willingness to use "primitive" social media tools like email, it will be more difficult to make the elegant and complicated contraptions of social media work for you. You won't get the results you want with people because your stance isn't close enough to where they are or where they want you to be.
Live it vivid!
Edit: This seemed to get a weird datestamp so correcting it to when I wrote it.