Social Media – Digital Word-of-Mouth

In the not-too-distant past, I knew of a systems integrator that boldly listed their “Top 10” clients on the back of their sales sheets. They were 10 churches that most pastors in the house of worship market would know. All were previous clients of this firm. The implied assertion of listing these ten churches was that these churches were Class A referrals. Funny thing is, if you actually called and talked to the church technical directors, all of them would tell you they’d never hired this firm to come back and do more work.

The systems integrator knew something, though, about how the church market used to operate: They could get away with it because the name-drop was sufficient, as churches didn’t check references very well (or at all). All it would take is a phone call or two and this marketing tactic would be blown out of the water.

The Digital Age

Gone are the days of limited networks and localized word-of-mouth information about the value of a particular firm, installation or manufacturer. Social media has made everyone a publisher and given equal voice to every church. This has two potential sides to it.

The upside is that when a manufacturer, integrator, salesperson or install tech does a great job, the praise is easily shared. The downside is when a customer is unhappy, they’re likely (actually, more likely) to tell others about it.

Here’s where this really matters: In both instances, the people they’re sharing their experience with are likely other churches and peers who are potential customers. It’s a focused group of people you want to make happy, not make want to avoid your firm. It’s been said that it takes seven positive messages to overcome a single unhappy message. With the instant, widespread reach of social media, it is vitally important for your employees to understand how to provide outstanding sales, service and support experiences.

When Things Go Virally Wrong

It hurts your business when a church no longer will use your products or services. It’s exponentially worse when the staff are happy to tell everyone within their sphere of influence about your failure. A proactive approach is obviously best, dealing with the issue before it has a chance to blow up on Twitter or Facebook. However, when someone does decide to vocalize their displeasure, your best defense is a over-the-top helpful — and very public — response.

It may seem counter-intuitive to go public (an @reply on Twitter instead of an offline email, for example), but when a mistake is made by one of your team members (or more), apologizing is the first important step and demonstrating a whatever-it-takes attitude speaks volumes about the character of your staff and the integrity of your brand. Your marketing team and leadership needs a point PR person to provide direction, rally the team towards a positive response and show your commitment towards customer service.

The key is not to try and “spin” the situation, but honestly own up to poor customer service or an employee who missed the mark. Don’t make excuses; make it right.

Making the Most of a Recovery

When your team exceeds the client’s expectations and turns a situation from a mistake to a win for the client, celebrate the win publicly. Then, once things have been fully resolved and a success story has been completed, talk to the client about an endorsement. Chances are, if you’ve done a great job, they’ll be happy to share how you made things right and placed a high value on the relationship with the church.

What churches have come to expect is a less-than-ideal sales process. Surprise them! Delight them with great relationship building skills and make customer service — before, during and after the sale — a high priority for your entire team. The wins here are actually more powerful as case studies, as you’re painting a more important picture of what your brand stands for than what your marketing alone can promise. It’s one thing for you to say you’re a do-whatever-it-takes firm; it’s quite another when a client says it for you.

Proactive Social Media

I know many manufacturers have terrific D.O.A. (dead on arrival) policies for equipment: If it’s broken when you get it, you get a new one, no questions asked. Other manufacturers will send you a loaner unit until the broken one is repaired. The former companies have a distinct marketing advantage by admitting that even the best technology can fail. By acknowledging this reality and promoting a rock-solid D.O.A. policy, you’re removing potential barrier to entry on your product.

The point is that with social media, speaking with your audience has supplanted talking at your audience. It’s personal. It’s relational. And it’s potentially very good — or very bad — for business.

A former staff member at three mega churches and church technology consultant, Anthony Coppedge has developed a respected reputation as a leader in technical and communications circles within the church marketplace. Reach him at or on Twitter.