By Guy Mitchell aka sweetg1

Many of us laughed or turned a blind eye when social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace first came onto the scene. When I first saw sites like Twitter, my initial reaction was, “Why in the world do I want to know that Joe is just leaving for the store?” I, for one, have very little time to know what it is that I’m doing, let alone my closest friends. I just felt like the whole experience was sort of stalker-ish.

Then I quickly realized that it is important to understand that companies do need to know what the consumer is doing and what they like as it is happening. I realized that these companies needed more interaction with their consumers.

There are two different sides where the influence of social networking can have a positive impact. One is the employee side and the other is the consumer side. The employee side could be very important because some companies require their employees to be participants. Doing so allows them to continue to build their network and their brand. This type of networking also provides the company some access to determine things to make their employees happy. I will not address the employee side and attempt to address the aspects of the consumer side.

The consumer side is where companies often fail. The research firm Yankee Group, commissioned by Siemens Enterprise Communications found that companies are doing a poor job of using social networks to engage their customers and employees. They found that 70% of consumers want interaction with businesses via social media but only 30% of companies are equipped to handle it. Just opening up a site and getting people to LIKE you isn’t “getting into the game”. To illustrate this point, I’ll point to BP Oil. As of June 21, 2010, the Support BP Facebook site had 1,100 fans. The government also set up support sites and BP had their site. However, others created a Boycott BP Facebook site, which had 250,000 fans. Which Facebook site received more feedback in the court of public opinion and which side created more of a storm? It wouldn’t take an MIT graduate to determine this and we all know the fate of BP. The point of this isn’t to condemn BP, but to illustrate how many companies are failing in social networking. If you’re going to get into the game of social networking you need to do it right, as poet and philosopher George Santayana stated, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Today’s companies need to beef up their marketing and consumer relations staffs. These individuals could then address particular issues and appropriately interact with the consumer.

This includes Topps and Upper Deck. Their sites have the traditional places where people post what they pulled (I have still yet to pull something as sick as some of these kids, but that’s a different article). People do want to know about products and see what others magically pulled from a $1.99 pack and these sites allow for that. They also offer discussion sites, where some interesting conversations take place. In some instances, it may take over a week to reply to someone’s discussion point. I think staff should be more beefed up to answer questions within days, if not hours. Where I think both companies also fail is that there should be more interaction to discuss likes and dislikes (although to be fair, I think most companies could benefit from having more interaction). As a statistician, I live with having more and more relevant data, as much information can be obtained from some simple surveys and it would allow for a different type of interaction. This interaction could determine who is answering the polls, where they live, what they like and dislike, and other useful information vital to the hobby. These types of discussions may even determine that collectors in San Francisco might like something completely different than collectors in Denver or New York and the hobby could cater to this. While social networking in general is important, these sites miss this type of interaction. Topps has over 3,100 fans and Upper Deck has nearly 9,000 fans, but I’d venture to say that both companies know little about their collecting habits or about these collector’s lives. Once these companies beef up their staff and begin to learn more about the consumers, they will begin maximizing the capabilities of these networking sites.

I’d also like to see the sites have more contests. These contests could be outside of the current ones that are inserted inside of packs. These contests can be designed to invoke the many fans and ask them what they like and what it is that they need. Upper Deck claimed in one of their discussions that they didn’t get much interest from their loyalty program, so they abandoned it. However, the few that participated loved it because they were able to get a lot of free memorabilia. A few even commented that they didn’t even know about the program. To me, this is a marketing problem and a process problem. However, if they held writing contests or random contests through their site, then the people would come because everyone likes winning something, especially with little effort and everyone likes to be heard. The more people who came to the site, the more information about the consumer could be obtained. The contest could solve the problem for the companies because they would learn what more and more consumers like and the consumers could have a chance to get something for free while voicing their opinions. But you have to get the people to come for it to work.

The last thing that I will discuss is access to the sites. InsideFacebook.com stated that 70% of the users of Facebook are under 45 (as of 1/1/2010). That implies that many collectors either aren’t getting into the game, are afraid to try, or just have no interest in it. It’s missing a bunch of collectors. I think Topps and Upper Deck need to reach out to these collectors. Topps and Upper Deck currently send representatives across the country to go to the different card shops. They should also offer some classes and some training to attract more users to these sites. While 3,100 and 8,900 fans respectively are okay, there is no reason why each company shouldn’t have more than 10,000+ each. What are they doing to attract more people? What are they doing to attract those older than 45? If they want their fans to use it, they are going to have to teach people how to use it (or teach how they want people to use it). If they build it (and offer some cool stuff), people will come.

That’s just my two cents.

Happy trading everyone!