Remember when you were in school and sat there confused while the teacher continued teaching something you didn't quite grasp? Then, after the first student raised their hand and said, "I don't get it," a number of other students raised their hand and said, "We don't get it, either." Remember how much better you felt after the teacher addressed the issue?
The Silent Many and the Vocal Few
I just finished reading an article stating that use of social media as a customer service tool is on the rise. There are many advantages to using these channels to help people - not the least of which is related to the anecdote above. If you are monitoring social channels and see that one person declares that they are having an issue with your product/service/company, you can bet there are a whole flock of people right behind them facing a similar issue. If this issue were to be expressed on a call to a Customer Service Rep, the CSR could resolve their issue and that would be the end of it... Until the next customer with the same issue calls.
In the social sphere, your CSRs can respond openly to any issues or concerns that are voiced. Those responses are available to anyone else listening in the social sphere. Those listening may even add color commentary to the original post so that you get a better understanding of what the issue actually is. In the same way the first student to say, "I didn't catch the concept," got other students to ask for clarification, the first Tweet can uncover a group of people who have been suffering in silence. You're opportunity is to fix a bunch of broken stones with one bird.
I'll Be The Axon And You Be The Dendrite, Honey
I believe that social media, either by design or evolution (I'll let the digital theologians of the future sort that out), have turned us into nodes in a network analogous with the nervous system. We are the nexus between two bodies of content - one inbound and the other generated by us and sent outward into the network.
Think of Facebook: The messages I post to Facebook are not particularly directional. Generally, I post a message for all to see but the reaction generally comes from the intended audience. Likewise, my News Feed on Facebook is filled with things that receive only passing attention. However, when I encounter certain items, they elicit active participation from me. The parallel is drawn even more vividly on Twitter, where I review a stream of content and if it resonates with me, I pass it on. Likewise, if I post something that is of particular interest to segments of my following, they get passed on to their followings as well.
Now, consider the way the body transmits pain: Damaged cells on the surface of the body release a battery of chemicals. Depending on the amount or makeup of the chemical cocktail released by those cells, the nerve cells decide whether or not to pass it on. Passing certain thresholds induces more and more nerves to start sending out messages. Then, depending on the message sent by the first nerve cell, the next nerve cells in line decide whether or not to pass it along. If the message that reaches the brain is loud enough, the brain sends a response that says, "Move your damn hand!"
Minimize The Damage And Start The Healing
Now, think back to the example I brought up before about using social media as a customer service tool. Those expressions of dissatisfaction from the social sphere are like that chemical cocktail released by damaged cells. Just like pain messages, the intensity and volume of messages should guide your response. Social media allow you to respond both broadly and quickly. You can not only help them remedy a painful situation, but you can give them guidance on how to avoid it in the future.
Just like the pain response gets us to remove our hand from the fire, your social response can ensure that the surface of your organization suffers as little damage as possible.