I can't see myself ever participating in speed dating. While I understand the desire to inject some efficiency into an inherently inefficient process, there's just a little too much emphasis on "business" and not enough on "pleasure" for my taste.
A lot of folks seem to have similar feelings about businesses employing social media to make sales. Rob Siefker, senior manager for Zappos' customer loyalty team and one of the sources IT Business Edge's Susan Hall interviewed for her story on companies using Twitter, said Zappos sees Twitter "mainly as a connecting tool" and "a relationship opportunity." He told her Zappos employees "relate to each other on a very personal level and we want our customer to feel they have a relationship with the brand, too."
Some companies make the mistake of viewing Twitter "with strictly a business transactional attitude and a lot of times they end up not seeing the value in it," said Siefker. Earlier this month, I wrote about a Weber Shandwick study that found more than half of the Twiitter accounts of the Fortune 100 lacked "personality, tone or voice." They aren't doing enough to engage their Twitter followers.
But do increased sales follow engagement? That question seems to get lost as consultants advise companies to keep their social media efforts "conversational" and to avoid a hard-sell approach, writes Jason Falls on his social media explorer blog. Here's the thing, he says: Companies must sell stuff to make money. They're interested in "conversations" if they'll help them make money, not just for conversation's sake.
Falls tells social media consultants companies would take them a lot more seriously if they'd acknowledge this and offer advice with more tangible payoffs: entice Twitter followers or Facebook fans to subscribe to newsletters that include calls to action, for instance. Or include a link that helps folks buy products that are mentioned on a blog, a tactic successfully employed by Wiggly Wigglers, a purveyor of garden gear. This example includes a customer testimonial, a healthy dollop of humor and the all-important link.
The challenge, of course, is to move past the obvious sales pitch and inject some personality into the process. If consumers like and trust your brand -- feel a more personal connection with it, if you will -- they'll be more likely to buy from you than from your competitors. It's the same reason that all other things being relatively equal, companies often buy from vendors with the most personable reps, the ones who remember to ask about the appropriate sports teams and family members during their sales calls.
Social media can also help companies improve their customer service and serve as a sort of focus group where customers can offer ideas that lead to product developments or improvements. Both of these functions will -- yep, you guessed it -- help drive sales.