Do you need a webcare team?

helpdesk2At the Dutch National Architecture congress (LAC2009) we have given a talk on the organizational and architectural aspects of introducing Web2.0 tools. One of the main issues we discussed was how to support your employees to make responsible use of social media and how to deal with negative responses, complaints or online discussions about your brand that are getting out of hand. One of the interesting approaches companies such as ING and UPC are experimenting with is a webcare team.

A webcare team monitors online conversations on Twitter, blogs and other social media and has a strategy on how to deal with various types of negative responses via social media. When necesary, they can join the conversation, offer support, provide facts or anything else to steer things in the right direction. But it is not just about customer care, the webcare team can also do PR (discovering and preventing issues) and marketing (educating customers or providing feedback to product development).

Why do companies actually care about what is being said in social media? More and more companies realize that, in line with the Cluetrain Manifesto, “markets are conversations”: customers trust opinions of friends a lot more than they trust company websites, and they use information about products and services found on social media to make informed choices.

Who should be in your webcare team?
From the type of work a webcare team has to do, it should be clear that this is not a job for the IT department. Instead, people from marketing and corporate communication should be involved, and maybe even experts on your products and services. Pick your team from people who understand the norms of social media and are able to respond from a personal perspective. As such, your manager PR and corporate communication is probably not a good candidate for the job.

The tools of the trade
Webcare teams get more and more tools to discover what is currently being said about their brand, products and services. Important tools of the trade are Google Alerts, Twitter search, Technorati and Google blog search. These tools are all aimed at discovering relevant online conversations, without having to spend the whole day looking.

What is a smart social media strategy?
Unfortunately, there is no universal recipe for a smart social media strategy yet. Nevertheless, an important starting point is to accept each opinion as such, and not call opinions into question. As with any employee that takes part in an online conversation, the norm is to identify yourself as an employee of the company and behave accordingly. Also it seems important not to be drawn into online discussions: seek direct communication with the person behind the complaint. For more inspiration on social media strategies, I suggest you take a look at the IBM Social Computing guidelines.

I would like to hear your experiences with webcare teams!
(Cross-posted on the Future Workspaces teamblog)

The slides of our talk (in Dutch) are available via slideshare:

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