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German companies struggle to connect with customers online

German corporations are turning to social media to get their message out, but customers are disappointed by what companies have to say. They want a dialogue with businesses, not a steady stream of ads.

A network cable sticking up in the air

Companies what to plug into social media but are having a hard time getting it right

Nearly two thirds of Germans are disappointed by the way they are engaged by companies in Germany who use online social media like Facebook and Twitter, according to a study released this week by the Brand Science Institute.

"Higher-ups have not realized that their company's communication via Facebook and Twitter needs to be moderated and watched over," said Nils Andres, head of the organization, in an interview with Deutsche Welle. "They're using Facebook and Twitter to be part of the social media ecosystem, but they nearly never have a real clear strategy."

And customers have taken notice. Overall, 75 percent of the 1,000 people surveyed said they were disappointed by the lack of real dialogue between companies and their customers, and 83 percent said businesses generally used social media channels for marketing purposes.

"From the perspective of the consumer it's more or less advertising," Andres said. "From the perspective of researchers it's not clear what they are doing."

Socially inept

Toy models of men shaking hands with the facebook logo in the background

Companies that communicate well offline are often successful online, too

Just over half (51 percent) of the 1,000 people surveyed said they used social media to reach businesses, and of them 61 percent said they felt the company did not address their concerns, and 47 percent thought the answer they received was insufficient, the study showed. In many cases consumers said they were simply provided with the company's hotline number.

Still, 26 percent agreed that their experience was a positive one, and they had been dealt with in a professional manner.

"Companies that practice successful customer management in the real world typically do so in social networks as well," Andres said. "Conversely, companies with low customer satisfaction levels tend to confirm their negative image on the social web."

Andres pointed to Lufthansa and Opel's social media teams, which he said act quickly and provide online followers with helpful information. At the other end of the spectrum, he said Vodafone failed to address the many negative comments and complaints that it received via social media networks.

Overwhelmed by options

Logos from social media networks

Companies face a lot of social media choices

With the glut of social media options, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs to name a few, business need to have a plan before engaging in social media, according to Christine Perkett, head of the public relations firm PerkettPR.

"It's overwhelming to business to think about 'what are we going to do,'" she told Deutsche Welle. "They really need to think about what their business goals are and what their marketing communications goals are and then fit social media into that rather than trying to fit their goals into the use of social media."

Companies also stumble over how to fit their new social media activity into traditional corporate structures, Andres said.

"It's still that German companies are in the early stages," he said. "It's a little frustrating to see because social media are not a very new phenomenon. The biggest challenge in the companies is that nobody really knows who is going to handle social media."

Author: Sam Edmonds / Sean Sinico

Editor: Cyrus Farivar

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