Social media changing customer service, disaster relief
Twitter empowers angry consumers, customer-aware companies
Increased sensitivity to customer service, from the customer's perspective, is not a bad development. "I personally think it's a really effective way for consumers to give their opinions to the company," Thuet said. "That's important to me."
Armstrong agreed. "I think (social media) is a great equalizer. Our network of friends is so much bigger than just the people in our living room … the people we complain to now, they have voices that can be heard as well."
The ripple effect of Twitter and the like is important enough to be getting increased attention from businesses. Dell, among others — Armstrong mentioned Comcast as a good example — is looking to not just monitor online conversations, but be involved in them.
"Listening is only as good as your ability to respond," Edwards said. To that end, Dell has a team in place to do just that. "(Dell has) 84 people now, who on a full-time basis are sifting through the vast amount of data that's being put out by our command center … this group of 84 people then reach out through those channels to folks who are having an issue."
The strategy is helping to change the company's online reputation, Edwards said. "Currently 34 percent of (social media users) who go on a tirade (about Dell) … they end up becoming ravers, happy to the point of publicly expressing their thanks. We're thrilled about it."
A new frontier
The elaborate game of "Marco Polo" customers are playing with companies is spilling into other aspects of public life. Social media is not just boosting customer services. Today it can give voice to those in need of more than a new Maytag.
This month, the American Red Cross announced its commitment to using social media for humanitarian relief.
"Our goal at the Red Cross is to be the social liaison — for people, for families, for communities — to support one another," Gail McGovern said. As CEO and president of the American Red Cross, McGovern was presiding over an event announcing the launch of the organization's first Digital Operations Center. The Center is modeled on and guided by Dell's own command center, allowing the Red Cross to monitor and aggregate social media conversations during disasters. The two organizations have a longstanding relationship.
McGovern emphasized that this innovation — which features sleek monitors mounted on walls on which maps of social media 'mentions' are displayed — "is going to give us a better idea of what's going on the ground (during a disaster)." In times of crisis, she said, people are increasingly taking to social media to ask for help or give and seek information.
In those situations, "Information is like gold," McGovern said. The Center has already weathered its first storm, aggregating information during last week's devastated spate of tornadoes in the American Midwest and South.
Michael Dell, CEO and chairman of the board of his namesake company, also spoke at the event, along with Macon Phillips, director of new media at the White House.
"The importance of this center … cannot be overstated," Phillips said.
In keeping with their social media emphasis, the organizations jointly hosted a livestream of the event online, complete with a space for viewers to discuss.
Sure enough, social media users had things to say. "MelyMello" wrote, "this is a HUGE step for the Red Cross! Very excited by the possibilities here!"
Naturally, she tweeted about the event. She has 1,703 followers.