Back in the 1980s, the city of Muncie, Indiana was trying to decide whether to spend money on wheelchair-accessible buses for the first time in the city's history. One city councilman opposed to the idea said, "People in wheelchairs don't ride the bus," completely missing the point that the disabled couldn't easily ride the bus-because they couldn't get up the steps. He had never seen people in wheelchairs riding the bus; therefore, as far as he was concerned, those people didn't need the bus.
I'm reminded of this story whenever a business exec says to me, "Our customers don't use social media." They've never seen a customer using social media, because they themselves are not using social media. And if they haven't seen customers on social media, then those customers must not use social media.
There are a couple of easy ways to see whether your customers actually use social media, and these methods don't require you to join any social networks. All you need is your customer email list and Gmail.
Check Your List with Rapportive
Rapportive is a Gmail plug-in that checks other social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter for the email addresses in the messages in your inbox. As you send or receive email, Rapportive looks at these and various other networks to see whether the person who sends or receives the message is listed on any of those networks. You see the results on the right side of the Gmail window.
To check your list with Rapportive, follow these steps:
- Set up a Gmail account.
- Export your company email contact list into a format that Gmail can recognize-Outlook, CSV, or TXT file-and import it into your Gmail account. Gmail should create a group called Imported followed by the import date (for example, Imported 9/23/11).
- Find/merge any duplicate addresses, and delete any addresses that are unnecessary.
- Switch back to the inbox and create a new message. Open the BCC field and click the BCC link. In the My Contacts menu, select the Imported group. This action will import every contact in the Imported group and add all of those contacts to the BCC field. You're not actually going to send a message to these people; you just need the contact information there in the BCC field.
- Start clicking the individual names in the BCC field, and see what shows up in the Rapportive sidebar. If you're right, and none of your customers are using social media, you won't see anything. But if I'm right, your customers are using social media, so you'll see entries pop up for LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. And if those people are Rapportive users themselves, and they've "pimped out" their profile, you'll see even more networks, such as YouTube, Picasa, Flickr, and Google+ in the Rapportive window (see Figure 1).
Figure 1 See those colorful icons at the bottom of the window? Those are the networks I'm using.
You don't have to look through your whole customer list, but you should at least look at 20% of the names, even if that means spending an hour. After all, you've been saying that none of your customers use social media, so you should spend more than two minutes proving or disproving that claim.