Invest in Social Like You Believe It’s Real

With savvy marketers continuing to push into traditional operations areas – including taking ownership of the experiences delivered in customer care, or more generally through use of a product or service along with other customer touch points typically outside the purview of traditional marketing – it’s worthwhile to consider the relative investment levels in advertising, customer service, and similar disciplines across the organization. Essentially, to ask, “Does our investment level match the activity level around social media?”

Sadly, generally speaking business investment levels don’t match the customers’ activity levels: in repeated surveys of marketers it’s reported that “the vast majority are using social media…” as a part of their marketing program. On closer inspection, however, the story charges: most of this activity is directed toward the maintenance of a Facebook page or similar marketing presence, or the purchase of (for all practical purposes) “traditional” interruptive ads on these same social properties. In other words, “yes, social is being used,” however it’s limited to being used to do exactly (and only) what’s always been done. When you consider that only a small percentage of all “fans” ever actually mention the brands they “like” on their own Facebook activity streams, the cited use of these media channels looks a lot more traditional (interruptive and declarative) and a lot less social (participative).

Even more to the point, according to an SAP study, 56 percent of those who reported “using social media” in marketing also acknowledged that “they did not have an actual process” for this. I don’t know about where you work, but where I work if there is not at least a basic, understood process in place the activity is likely not happening. So again, it’s lots of talk, and little action.

Finally, consider actual investment levels: Across large brands, globally there is a combined $60 billion spent on market research, $300 billion spent on call centers, and $500 billion spent on advertising. Against that, a typical organization spends less than $50,000 on its entire social monitoring, response, and engagement program. Seventy-four percent of brands report having a digital strategy, yet on deeper questioning only 33 percent believe that their strategy is correct. It’s time to invest like we believe social technology and its applicability to business is real.

Need an example of the exposure to brands created by an out-of-alignment, traditional approach to marketing given the new digital reality? British Airways (BA) invested ₤20 million (almost $35 million) in a campaign touting the quality of its services, only to watch a good chunk of that campaign get wiped away within 72 hours when a single BA customer spent $1,000 to promote a single (adverse) tweet. The tweet, seen by BA’s 300,000 followers, generated 73,000 unique impressions and an engagement rate of just more than 18 percent. You can see the complete stats in the figure below.

ba-tweet-stats

So the question is, what are you doing to bridge the gap between your customers’ extreme expectations for service and your organization’s capability and willingness to meet customers on their terms? Sure, some organizations are really good at this, or really good on at least some aspects. And others have barley started, or are still in outright denial. But for most, there are areas of strength and opportunities for improvement: For example, taking a strong social media monitoring program and extending that to include customer-care based engagement. Or building on a social care program to take the engagement program to sales, or to innovation.

Where do you begin? Start by taking stock of your social media presence: do you have your primary publishing and outreach points covered? For most brands this means some combination of local and global social networks around which is built a systematic publishing and promotional program. Most studies indicate that most brands have this application of social technology pretty well in hand.

Next up is customer engagement: responding to customer posts in a timely manner – 15 or 30 minutes is common – and setting and tracking SLAs (internal engagement metrics), holding teams responsible for average time to respond to a customer’s post or number of customer issues satisfactorily resolved. In other words, running (and investing in) your social engagement team the way you run (and invest in) your call center.

Finally, bring customer ideas straight into the core of your business, connecting a customer with ideas to the people inside your company who can act on those ideas. This is where advocates are born, and this is the way that savvy brand marketers are driving improvement in conversion: it’s all about getting recommended, and recommendations are most likely to driven by superior customer experiences. Create those experiences, or create the places and processes through which they are likely to happen, and watch your recommendation rate climb.

Of course, to do this requires a strategy you believe in, and a commitment to the planned, reasoned adoption of social technology tied to your business objectives. What’s the easiest way to do this? Start by building a strong, cross-functional internal team: take the time to explain to HR why hiring the right people for social engagement matters. Work with your legal team and HR on the development and inculcation of sensible social media policies. At the top of the list? Reach across from marketing to operations and document your customer journey, noting the experiences created and opportunities and costs for improving these experiences at each customer touch point, something I talked about in my last article.

Simply put, invest like you believe in your own digital future.

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