Social is a potent business weapon – it’s time brands got serious

As companies begin to realise customer experience is the next battleground in the social world, social media presents both challenges and opportunities. A social strategy is no longer just a nice to have, and is often seen as the primary driver behind the increased customer focus in many organisations today – CEOs in many instances are the ones paving the way for this social focus.

Facebook is however often the default destination for a brand’s foray into social media. The likes may roll in; fans are accumulated, but despite all the effort and money poured in, it doesn’t provide deep, meaningful or widespread customer engagement. Likes may be the currency of interaction on Facebook, but they don’t mean much when it comes to purchases and brand loyalty. This isn’t surprising when you consider 81% of fans have unliked or removed company posts from their feed and 61% of Facebook users only like a page in order to get access to an offer. But more importantly, less than 2% of Facebook users actually return to a brand page they have liked – less than 2%.

Brands have become too focused on third-party platforms and are not taking advantage of the potential social can provide if they were to properly manage the experience. The data and engagement that can be gained and the business impact this could have on revenue, sales and change is truly revolutionary. Brands need to realise that social can be used as a competitive weapon.

 Get serious about social

Brands need to become more business-like when it comes to social and treat it like any other type of investment. Having a Facebook page, a Twitter handle or a Pinterest board is fine for marketing and general brand building but it does not constitute a proper social strategy. Social should be engrained into the business so it can actually impact operations – saving costs, generating revenue and contributing to broader business objectives. It’s time businesses get serious about social.

A social customer experience can have a profound impact on almost every aspect of a business. But businesses need their own social environment – a deeply engaging place where customers can connect with each other about their shared passions, and where the brand has the greatest influence of the customer experiences it delivers. The two key areas, where businesses are seeing real impact through social customer experience by developing their own platform, are customer service and sales.

Customer service – social support

Customers today are more demanding than ever – 74% now expect a response from a company online in just one hour – and what was once excellent is now average. Refusing to communicate with customers via social channels will be as harmful as ignoring emails or phone calls today.

So keeping customer satisfaction high while maintaining control over costs is difficult, if not impossible, in a traditional call centre environment. Social customer experiences mean businesses can help customers help themselves. It reduces call centre traffic, but also reaches millions instead of just one.

Hewlett-Packard created a social support community where volunteer contributors provide over 20% of solutions. The forum contains nearly 500 million posts in total, and has helped more than 40 million HP customers solve issues since its inception in 2009. HP estimates the forum saves the company $50 million per year in support costs.

Sales – social commerce

Big, flashy advertising campaigns have been the mainstay to boost sales. But developing a commerce strategy through social customer experience is a far more cost-efficient and effective way to drive revenue – especially when you consider only 14% of consumers trust corporate advertising. Customers are more likely to trust product recommendations from their peers than blasts of commercials. And with Forrester predicting 52% of online and offline sales being influenced by internet content, brands need to build positive online sentiment around their products in order to maintain and grow sales.

Cosmetic retailer Sephora created a deeply engaging social customer experience with its online Beauty Talk community. It created a place where customers can come together around a shared interest (makeup and beauty) and encouraged them to share their passion. The minute it went live, it was flooded with zealous customers eager to share. Not only is Sephora guiding the customer experience, facilitating this discussion and putting itself at the heart of the customer community, but it’s making money by doing so.

Beauty Talk community users spend two-and-a-half times more on cosmetics than the average Sephora customer and the most highly engaged and active community users (or ‘superfans’) – spend up to ten times more. Rather than pushing products onto customers, Sephora realise revenue gains by creating a social customer experiences where customers recommend products to each other. This is an example of social commerce in action.

Only the serious social organisation will survive

Social customer experience can solve complex business problems and save and earn money. And while virtually all companies may be using social, only a few are using it seriously and unlocking its full capabilities. It’s obvious that brands need to go where their customers are and with 83% of marketers finding most of their customers on their own websites vs. 4% for their Facebook page, it’s commonsense where investment should be targeted. To realise the potential of social, brands need to own their social experience instead of relying on third-party platforms and develop proper measurement against real business objectives. Only then can they truly integrate social into business operations and drive the returns and competitive advantage social promises.

Prelini Udayan-Chiechi is Director, EMEA Marketing at Lithium. You can follow Lithium on Twitter @LithiumTech