Your regular host Adam Lashinsky is out this week. Heather Clancy is a contributing editor at Fortune.
It’s tough to find a marketing team that isn’t increasing their social media budget—Forrester Research estimates spending for 2016 at $15.5 billion. But very few companies are engaging in two-way dialogues with their followers on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube. They’re too busy broadcasting their own splashy photographs, videos and other “native content.”
New research out last week from Lithium Technologies, which specializes in software running customer support communities, underscores how little companies are listening. Fewer than 2% of the 85 brands studied by Lithium consistently respond to complaints or comments posted on social media about their products or companies, while fewer than 40% are making an attempt to start conversations. (You can find Lithium’s report here; registration is required.)
What companies are getting things at least partly right? Some of the names on Lithium’s top 10 ranking might surprise you, such as pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Merck. Others make lots of sense, like Sephora and Starbucks.
Interestingly, just one business technology company is mentioned, Microsoft. Many tech companies do a good job of broadcasting information ad nauseum but aren’t engaging deeply enough with their social communities, according to Lithium CEO Rob Tarkoff, who spoke with me about the finding last week.
“You need to be responsive across channels,” Tarkoff said. “You need to personalize the brand experience. You have to stop the historical practice of walking away.”
A great anecdotal example of why this matters was shared this week by JetBlue vice president Jamie Perry during a marketing conference hosted by The Economist. When a passenger jokingly griped about being unable to stop for coffee during a tight travel connection—something that wasn’t JetBlue’s fault—the gate personnel in the second airport ran to Starbucks for him. “We cannot control the way customers come to us,” Perry said, adding, “That guy raved about us for weeks.”
The good news is that both Facebook and Twitter are taking steps to support customer service activities using their social platforms: both with changes to their messaging services. Apple, for one, is taking some steps in the direction Tarkoff suggests by officially designating Twitter as an official support channel. But far more companies—notice that I’m not limiting this responsibility to marketers—need to get far better at listening to social signals.
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BITS AND BYTES
Dell unloads IT consulting division for $3 billion. The transaction should expand Japanese firm NTT's technology services presence in North America, specifically among healthcare, insurance, and financial services companies. Dell needs the money from selling the former Perot Systems to reduce the debt it is assuming to fund its pending cash-and-stock acquisition of data storage provider EMC, a deal worth close to $60 billion. (Reuters)
More tech titans condemn North Carolina's anti-LGBT legislation. Last week, the state's governor signed legislation that forbids cities from passing laws that protect gays, sexuals, and transgender individuals from discrimination. IBM, a big employer there, criticized the move quickly. Apple, Google, and Facebook have also spoken out against the law, although none have threatened specific action. (Fortune)
European nations take aim at encryption. French legislators this week will debate proposals that could require Apple, Google, Facebook and other tech giants to weaken their encryption for the sake of national security interests. Britain is considering similar measures, although the Netherlands and Germany remain staunch supporters of privacy. (New York Times)
Oculus Rift arrives! Inventor Palmer Luckey hand-delivered the first edition of Facebook's virtual-reality system over the weekend to a surprised buyer in Alaska. The first wave of the technology ships to consumers this week. (Wired, Polygon)
Even high-altitude Internet is subject to regulation. Both Alphabet and Facebook are testing how to offer wireless services to remote regions of the world using drones and balloons, but the current fabric of international aviation laws will make it difficult to move beyond the experimental phase. (MIT Tech Review)
One fiftysomething guy's life in startup hell. Hear the one about the unemployed middle-aged guy who tripped and fell into the new economy? After longtime journalist and novelist Dan Lyons lost his position at Newsweek, he accepted a job with marketing software company HubSpot. A critical memoir about his 18 months "misadventure" there, Disrupted, is being published April 5. Lyons, who never signed HubSpot's nondisparagement and nondisclosure paperwork, is now a writer for the HBO series Silicon Valley. Read Fortune's exclusive excerpt of his latest book.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
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by Philip Elmer-DeWitt
ONE MORE THING
Former Justice Sandra O'Connor wants kids to play this video game. She helped create "Win the White House," a title that teaches middle-school students about politics by casting them in the role of presidential candidates. (New York Times)