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Three ways to use social media other than as a megaphone

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher November 8, 2016
The social media bullhorn has not delivered for most brands. Barb Mosher Zinchk explains why brands struggle with social media marketing, but she doesn't advise abandoning social altogether. The alternative? A savvier approach that includes social for service, insights, and competitive analysis.

You can’t ignore social media. It is the defacto location for people across the world to find and share information, and express their thoughts and ideas. And that includes what they think about the brands and the products and services they offer.

The problem is, it’s hard to figure out how to use wisely and most of the time brands spend the majority of the budget for social on only marketing their wares. Social is a megaphone, but not for brands. Yes, you do need to use it as a distribution channel for content marketing and product marketing, but that’s not the best use of your social network or your social marketing buckets.

There are better uses.

Social for customer care

This one is key, but can be hard to implement. Using social as a key channel for customer support is smart, but you need to plan and apply it very carefully.

According to a recent survey by Sprout Social, social is the top choice for customer care (34.5%), followed by web/chat and then email. However, 89% of social messages to brands go ignored and the average brand response time on social is ten hours.

Now consider this: the same survey found that most people will wait a maximum of four hours and one in three will go to a competitor if they are ignored.

If your customer is unhappy with you, social is the most obvious outlet to share that anger or frustration. How many unhappy customer tweets or Facebook posts have you seen? How many shame a brand for poor customer service.

So what if you could flip that around and use social to provide better customer care and support? It requires you to think about a few things:

  • Do you want separate social profiles for customer support? Maybe, but what if your customers don’t realize there’s a different support twitter handle? You’ll need to ensure that marketing (who typically handles your social channels) knows what to look for and can flip the message over to support quickly.
  • What kind of service times will you put around social? It’s a twenty-four-hour chat line in many customer’s minds. How will you deal with that? How do you separate customers who might have longer support times (like 24/7) versus those that don’t?
  • How will you integrate social into your service and support systems? Is there a way to easily connect your social channels so that you aren’t forcing your CSRs to duplicate effort or search across multiple systems?
  • What types of customer care will you do on your social channels? Paul Johns, CMO of Conversocial provided a few ideas in a post on He suggests alerting customers to product updates, offering deals and coupons as well as other loyalty perks. These are all great ways to show your customers you care about them and want to ensure they are happy with your products and services.
  • Listen carefully, respond quickly. You can’t automate customer care on social. It’s a really bad idea. Customers expect a human at the other end of the network, and they want to know you are paying attention to their needs. Johns suggests to train your CSRs on how to use social, but you should also educate anyone else who listens to your social channels. Customer care isn’t solely the domain of the service and support team; social has made it everyone’s job.

If you decide that social customer care isn’t right for your company, you still need to have some process in place that deals with the customers who don’t know or care and continue to connect with you across social. It will happen, and you can’t ignore it unless you want to give your business to your competitors.

Social for insights

Eric Berridge from Bluewolf Consulting says that brands have to look at social with restraint. In his book, Customer Obsessed, he says that social is more valuable in terms of the data than as a megaphone. Just think about the information spread across social every day and insights it provides. Mine social media, not just your feeds, but the entire social firehose:

  • Measure sentiment. How happy are people with your products and services? Now take it further. How do they feel about the problems or challenges they face that your products or services can resolve?
  • Watch for trends. Trends can tell you if your products need updates or improvements, or if there’s a market for a new product or service you could provide. They can tell how your market is changing, enabling you to respond quickly.
  • Beef up your content marketing. For content marketers, social insights can help you create better content marketing plans. They help you understand what content is working, what isn’t and what is missing from your content inventory. Insights can help you find the right story to tell, one that resonates with the audiences you are trying to reach. The same idea works for other marketing, like email and, of course, social.

Social for competitive analysis

Doing competitive analysis on social goes hand in hand with using social insights above. Social is a great way to find out what your competitors are doing, what audiences they are reaching out to, what kind of content and advertising they distribute and whether it’s all working or not.

If you see a competitor is getting negative attention, how can you leverage that to bring focus to your better solution? Twist the complaints into stories with happy endings or find opportunities to improve your products and services based on problems competitors are having.

You can even look at the content your competitors are distributing and figure out how to twist or spin it differently, or better. The options for how you can mine social media to understand the competition and how you can get ahead of it are endless.

Social as a distribution channel

So I know I said there are better ways to use social than as a distribution channel. But, you still need to use this way, you just need to be smarter about it. One of my favorite points came from CopyBlogger when it stopped using Facebook a couple of years ago.

“It’s not our job to tell our audience where we live. It’s to grow communities where they live.”

Too many brands think they need to be on every social channel, but they don’t. The key is know where the majority of the people hang out that you want as customers. This is where you focus your social efforts.

Also, while you want to distribute your content so that your audiences know it’s there, it’s not enough to set up a bunch of automated tweets or posts that link back to the content. You need to think about what your message is. What’s unique about your content that people should drop by and read/download it?

If people are liking, favoriting or retweeting your messages, what does that really mean? Does it translate into conversions? Page views? Increased followers? It won’t necessarily. You need to measure and know when it does so you can replicate that success ongoing.

But even if it doesn’t, what does that tell you? What insights can you take away from a thousand likes, but no downloads? Look at the characteristics of the audience that liked it; if it’s your target audience, then you know your message resonated. Keep telling the stories that message told. Sometimes you have to work hard at getting those conversions. Maybe it doesn’t happen in the first message or the second, but if you are hitting the mark, it will happen.

My take

I’ve worked with enough brands to know that everyone struggles with social. It almost seems like a necessary evil more than an opportunity to build an audience and loyal customer base.

There’s too much tweeting simple messages once or twice, trying to follow key people to get noticed, and in general, not thinking through how to build a presence that provides real value to the brand and the customer.

And that’s because it’s not simple. It’s time-consuming; it requires creative thinking on the fly, it requires actively, constantly listening and proactively responding.

Doing all that doesn’t guarantee success. But doing it half-heartedly is a waste of time and money, and doing nothing is just really not smart.


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