Using Social Media to Power Connection with Customers

I had drinks the other night with my buddy Paul Shustak (successful serial-entrepreneur, co-founder of KOR water bottles, and all-around good guy), and he was faced with a common social media marketing dilemma. Specifically - how to shape and control a brand message – the goal of every marketer – when anyone and everyone can pile into the conversation.

Now, for a bit of background, KOR had designed a cool new water bottle, nailed the kickstarter thing, and began prototyping… And then, they ran into a design challenge (the water bottle made this crazy whistling sound) that set them behind schedule. And this is where the social marketing dilemma comes in – do they tell their kickstarter backers about the problem; and if so, when?

Paul’s initial (reflexive) response was to stay tight-lipped about the challenge, even as the delay grew, and just wait until he could post the good news that the whistling was fixed. Not for nefarious reasons, by the way. First rule of traditional marketing – if you’re going to report a problem, best to wait until you can provide proof that you’ve solved the problem - or at least know what’s causing it. In this case, Paul simply wanted to wait until he had a substantive update that he could share.

The social media dilemma, however, was that saying nothing (being unsocial) missed the best part and true value of social media marketing – which is inviting the customer into a dialogue with the business (in this case, the business owners) in order to bring them closer TO the company. KOR’s Kickstarter backers were believers in the product and the company. More to the point, KOR’s backers gave up something of value – their money – to be a part of what KOR was trying to achieve. Stated differently – KOR’s backers wanted to be in a relationship with the company.

And once Paul looked at it from that perspective – that of a relationship – his whole strategy changed. Rather than trying to control the message, he told his backers about the design problem they were up against (complete with video demonstrating the problem). Why? Because what he wanted most from his customers was a strong relationship with them and the fact that his company's backers CHOSE to be in a relationship with his brand and support it on its mission... well, that's the whole marketing / advertising / PR enchilada.

Now its important to point out that the response from KOR's backers wasn't universally positive.  But that’s the natural risk of a relationship. The reasons relationships don't work are as varied as the people in the relationship. But when a brand engages in a dialogue with its customers, and communicates, you can build a relationship - and I would argue, based upon the response that KOR got, that this strategy worked. They strengthened their relationship with their customers. And that is the power of connection that social media offers.