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How do we get past social silos to a better customer experience?

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher August 13, 2017
Social can have brand impact, and make a customer experience better. So why are companies struggling with social silos? Barb talks to Gordon White in search of answers.

Social has changed the way consumers interact with brands. Not just with marketing, but with sales, service, and support. There is an expectation of alignment across the organization - that there is a 360-degree view of the customer. Organizations understand this alignment is critical, but it simply isn’t happening.

It’s similar story told time and again; challenges with people, process, and tools. That organizations don’t have a mature and well thought out strategy for how to exist in social is a head scratcher for many, including Gordon White, General Manager, The Social Client, Acticall Sitel Group. White has many years experience working in the digital space, first with Sapient and now with The Social Client. He understands the importance social can play in improving customer experience.

You only have to look at what’s happened with airlines, Starbucks, and others to know that social media can have a huge impact on a brand. In instances of crisis management, brands must have a clear, well-rehearsed plan for what to do and it not only needs buy-in from the C-suite, it also needs to be transparent.

But social plays a much bigger role than dealing with a crisis. Maybe that’s where we should start.

White said brands still have a lot of work to do to incorporate social measurement and data into overall brand health trackers. It’s not enough to measure things like clicks and growth of the community; White said brands need to do more to understand if social is moving sentiment and brand perception. And not just on their own social properties, but in general across the social space.

Social is not another cost center

One issue for brands is they are looking at social like it’s another cost center (in social care) and dealing with it like all the other support channels it manages. This is a mistake. You can’t approach social with the support agent model and get the true benefit.

White said there is much value for a brand to engage. He said it’s perilous not to engage. Unless you establish a connection with your customers, you’ll always be in a call and respond crisis mode. “You need to do the work to understand that sometimes little efforts can make big impacts.”

Modern brands understand this better because they’ve grown up with social, while older traditional brands have taken the cost center perspective.

Any company that can leverage social to add value to a consumer should do it. The model is not unique to a certain industry White explained, but there are industries where social engagement plays a bigger role. Travel is one industry White said can benefit greatly. People find themselves highly stressed when planning for vacations and other types of travel and they don’t want things to go wrong. In an industry like this, social media strategy is very different from say a bank or some other financial service. Quick resolution is critical in travel.

“The universal truth is that brands need to inject content and conversation that has value to the community.”

The right social tools for the job

White has also seen a lot of brands rush to adopt the latest and greatest tools - like chat bots and AI, but haven’t put the work in to understand these things fit into the overall measurement of customer experience.

Many brands see social as “sandboxy,” he explained, with commitment waxing and waning over the years. If a brand doesn’t see tangible benefits quickly, they tend to move on to the next big trend. Success requires sustained commitment, but that doesn’t mean to do one thing and never change. You will constantly have to realign your social strategy to match your overall customer experience strategy.

B2B, B2C similarities and differences

Is there a difference in how a B2B brand defines their social media strategy, compared to a B2C brand? White said the imperatives are a bit different. For B2C, the brand needs to align and measure on an “always on” strategy. You have to be where your customers are and constantly have your finger on the pulse of the community.

An authentic voice is always important, as is consistent engagement across marketing, customer care and the C-suite. You also need to understand that the conversation and the community aren't always happening on your properties. It’s important to plan content and understand how you manifest your campaigns and brand online, White said. But it’s equally important to have the right people training and tools to respond authentically when something happens.

B2B has a slightly different imperative. Establishing authority is important. For B2B, LinkedIn is a key social channel. It’s necessary to do a meaningful job around content planning, and content marketing, said White. He also said B2B is in a unique place to connect experts and influencers, even peers.

Both need to effectively measure and understand where impact and influence exist and where they can leverage them.

Then there are the tools and processes

White said there’s still a lot of organizational alignment that needs to happen, including figuring out who “owns” social. At the same time though, White thinks it’s perplexing to talk about ownership. If you asked an organization “Who owns the brand?” he said everyone would say they all do. “Social media is a manifestation of the brand online, and the reality is that everyone owns social and everyone has a responsibility there.”

Which leads us to tools and processes - equally critical to get right. White said there are many good tools out there that help understand and measure sentiment (analysis tools). They aren’t always the best tools to engage, he said, but there is a range of different solutions that can support you for different aspects of managing and measuring social.

“How you socialize those across the organization and the actual insights that are derived from those, and how those turn into actual strategies that should inform all parts of the organization, even product development, is important.”

Another key process is understanding how to connect social media measurement with the larger data set for customer experience. In some cases, White said companies abdicate measurement to outsourced partners. But that only leads to siloed measurement. It’s hard to connect the data to sales data and business revenue metrics.

“That work is really hard because it involves stitching together data. You’ve got IT in there, who typically owns the internal business data, and is often loathed to expose that data to outside partners. That’s a really hard conversation. To me, connecting social media measurement to business goals is the single biggest opportunity for brands today.”

The idea of creating an overall dashboard that connects everything isn’t impossible though. White sees the willingness to share data (e.g., trends, data-interchanges). The key is to hold each other accountable - partners need to understand the core data that influences the strategy. And agencies shouldn’t hoard data either. Holistic measurement furthers everyone’s end goals.

And the team and training

You may have an in-house team or a hybrid of in-house and outsourced models. The social care teams are often disconnected from the social media agency that manages publishing and social media buying. You have to figure out the workflow between the two and ensure that everyone understands what’s happening across social by every team.

Social is always on, so constantly measuring and optimizing is critical, as is having a budget for testing new (and familiar) channels and strategies. Commit to agility and putting the right team in place, allowing them to ladder up in a way that enables them to respond in real time, White said.

Let’s not forget influencer strategy either. It does seem like an easier model for some B2C markets - particularly those that can afford to bring on celebrity influencers. But even for those who don’t see their brand using that model, influencer marketing can work. “You have to change your definition of influencer and dig hard to find the right ones,” White said.

My take

We have to stop thinking of social as another channel we need promote our content and products or support customers. It’s a completely different ball game from what most brands have played in the past, and the recognition that there is great opportunity to build community, authenticity, and authority is critical.

White’s views hit home on many levels, but perhaps the most important is that social isn’t a silo to be managed and measured alone. It has a role to play in customer experience strategy. Until brands accept that and build it into their overall plans and metrics, they’ll probably keep striking out.

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