This is a guest post by Mary Woll who has a Bachelors in Business from Point Park University and has recently become avidly involved in Social Media.

I’ve worked in the retail industry since I was sixteen.  It was my first job, and I’m proud to say I still work at the same store where I started.  At the time, the new training program they had was administered via a computer.  The Human Resource Manager was very excited to show me something that had been in development for a while.  She felt it was quite effective and somewhat fun, for what it was.  It was new to her, but familiar to me: Videos, followed by games that reinforced what you were told in the video, and finally a quiz, complete with cheesy and repetitive “Good Job!”  animations when you got the answer right.

Technology has a place in every aspect of every field.  The training videos back then told my sixteen-year-old self that every customer who has a poor experience tells, on average, eight people about that negative experience.  However, a positive experience might make enough of an impression to reach the ears of one friend, at most two.  That was 2002, and training videos on CD were the best technological advance to hit the business world.

This is 2010.  Social Media is the firestorm of instant communication that blows everyone’s minds.  Sites like Foursquare, Twitter, and Facebook are taking over the business world in a way that was unimaginable ten years ago.  The idea that you would actually call eight people and tell them about a bad experience was frightening to business professionals.  Imagine  a business professional from ten years ago, finding out that the unhappy customer wouldn’t just call five or ten friends, but would let everyone with whom they attended high school know about their negative experience within the hour.  That would make for a relatively panicked professional, would it not?  However, that’s what today’s businesses need to be able to withstand.  Sites like Foursquare, Facebook, and Twitter have forever changed the way people communicate.

Foursquare tells people where you are.  It tells people which grocery stores, coffee shops, Laundromats, stores, restaurants, and salons you patronize and when.  The power of suggestion has long been hailed as one of the most powerful.  Every time someone updates a Foursquare, telling people where they’ve most recently “checked-in”, they’ve suggested that business.  What’s more powerful than a friend of yours constantly updating their Twitter or Facebook with the knowledge that they just entered a coffee shop you haven’t even heard of.  Chances are, next time you’re in the mood for a latte, you’ll at least give it a thought, if not actually walk in the door.

Twitter is an instant way to let all of your “followers” know how you feel.  If you’re in bad mood, or just heard a really great joke, you can tell them all right away and all at once.  There are several applications to share pictures, too.  Saw a great rainbow?  Post it on Twitter.  See a sign in a store advertising a price that the manager says ended last Wednesday?  Uh-oh.  That manager better honor the price so you can post how great they are, instead of posting that picture with the caption “Why do I shop here again??”

Facebook allows users the room to write status updates, similar to Twitter, but with a maximum of 420 characters, instead of Twitter’s limit of 160.  If that’s not enough room for you, you can always write a Note.  Up to 60 people can be tagged in this Note.  Not only does the note show up on you Facebook Page, it shows up in the MiniFeed of all of your friends.  And everyone you’ve tagged?  It shows up in the MiniFeed of all their “friends”, as well.

The old idea that a negative experience reaches the ears of eight people on average is outdated.  Social Media outlets like Twitter and Facebook offer everyone a chance to vent their frustrations to everyone they’ve ever met, and some people they’ve never met!  And the posts are instantaneous.  The information shows up in everyone’s MiniFeed and Twitter updates all at once.  And you don’t just see the frustrations of your closest friends, either.  Remember those people you know from high school  that you never see anymore?  I bet that you’ve read something from at least one of them in the past two weeks.

Eight people?  Try a few hundred.  Today’s smart companies are listening to the conversation, to see what people have to say about their business.  And today’s successful companies?  They’re providing feedback and rewards for loyal customers, as well as publishing it where all their friends and followers will see it.  A perfect example is Giant Eagle’s Market District: they held a contest for their followers.  Many companies give rewards to the Foursquare “Mayor”, for merely publishing the fact that they patronize their business.

So tune in.  Big things are happening, and they’re happening fast.  And the last thing you want to be is uninformed

Mary Woll


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