In an aftermath of one of the biggest technological and social revolutions we’re ever likely to experience, I still hear colleagues and clients ask me:  ‘when do you think social media will die out?’

The fact that over one third of the world’s population – approximately two billion people – have active social media accounts, suggests it’s not a short lived phenomenon.

The very individuals who think like this and don’t take social media seriously most likely have their own social profiles and actively participate or contribute to the evolving social landscape.

Source: We are Social 2015

When we understand the scale of global social media, it’s hard to comprehend that people still see it as a farce, but it’s so frustrating when organisations don’t see or believe in the value of it. It’s common for organisations to have a fear of exploring the social media universe and worry that they’ll create an easy way for customers to start negative discussions, damaging the brand. Additionally, many organisations lack a focus and strategy to gain and use social insights; this is one of the main drivers of platform inactivity and customer participation.

Acknowledge the shift

These sceptics see social media primarily as a way for customers to produce and spread bad news, blowing some issues out of proportion, and setting in motion downward spirals of negative buzz. As an organisation, having a conversation on Twitter can be like sitting in a room with a door, not knowing who is going to pop their head around and shout at you, or who is listening behind the door. Doing nothing is not an option.

The key to understanding the value and power of social for organisations is firstly to acknowledge the shift in the way we communicate. The increase in the use of digital and online technologies means that traditional communication loses relevancy and value from a business perspective.

Listen up

The true power of social media means that whether your organisation has a social presence or not, lots of social conversations about brands and organisations will still take place. This is known as social listening.

If brands are serious about their reputation, it’s important that they listen to the conversations going on around them and identify opportunities to manage the reputation of the brand. The way in which brands manage their relationship with consumers is seen as an essential part of a strategy to maintain trust and loyalty as a preferred product or service provider.

Dimension Data’s 2015 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report, © Dimension Data 2009-2015.

Customers see right through you

Social media has the power to use rich and valuable data about customers and the way they think, which fundamentally changes the way we communicate. The conversation is no longer one-to-one, between a customer and a brand. It has become ‘one-to-many’.

Organisations are becoming more focused on ensuring the customer comes first and have started to genuinely listen to them, and put them at the heart of everything they do. CRM strategies have never been more customer focused and investment in customer insight teams within organisations are significant.

The good, the bad and the ugly

The relationship between customer centricity and social media is about listening to the good, the bad and the ugly. This rich insight can be daunting for an organisation to face but it gives them an opportunity to uncover real customer emotion and feelings which should be leveraged to change and support all areas of the business.

It can inform real time service development and customer groupings as well as providing opportunities for personalised customer support servicing. Some key measures include volume, topic and sentiment. When analysed together and combined with other data sources, it provides a powerful, overall customer profile, on total (segmented) and individual levels.

Measuring up to the challenge

Having a clear rationale and purpose on social media is fundamental to the success of the strategy. Establishing social media objectives is a great place to start to help organisations understand what they want to achieve from particular platforms and content. These might include customer engagement and community management to build brand advocacy. Some platforms act as Customer Service channels for complaint resolutions.

Once these are clear, take time to develop great content and brand tone of voice to match the products/services and brand values. Measuring the success of content can be achieved by outlining some key measures like reach, amplification and share of conversation but it’s challenging for organisations to drive or measure consideration, penetration, trial or sales to any significant level.

Brands typically aren’t sustainable on social media alone, and it’s difficult for organisations to identify correlation between likes, shares and sales/ROI. The business case for social media strategy tends to come from cost transference or measurable cost reduction. For example; saving money on customer care by reducing the number of contacts on high cost channels or improve crisis management through a more real-time strategic approach.

Time sensitivity and relevancy are also challenges. Customers have high expectations when it comes to social and digital, particularly when it comes to the speed of an organisation’s reaction. If something is wrong, they expect fast, almost instant resolutions. They’re no longer prepared to wait days, weeks or months for organisations to acknowledge issues or for solutions to be delayed by lengthy change and governance procedures.

Surprise and delight

Social media doesn’t always have to be problematic. It’s a fantastic opportunity for brands to delight customers and build brand awareness and loyalty. Identifying these windows of opportunity and getting it right means social does all the hard work for you. Here are a couple of examples:

Nandos delighted celebrity customer, Stormzy by adding his suggestion as a new dish on their menu. This received a lot of attention and sparked masses of customer engagement with the brand:

Microsoft cleverly replied to a local’s observation of their Cortana ad:

The bus stop poster read: ‘Cortana, can you remind me to see if James is up for the cricket this weekend’. A local man spotted the ad in the east end of Glasgow where the sport far from popular, slating Microsoft’s cultural mishap. Microsoft responded with an updated poster ad saying: ‘Cortana, next time I speak with Chris, remind me not to mention the cricket’.

Source: The Drum

Trends in 2016

Social media has experienced huge innovation in the past five years and it’s been quite overwhelming, especially for organisations. New platforms and tools appeared all over the place and it’s been a challenge to keep up.

2016 is set to be a year of embedding these new tools and platforms and an opportunity for organisations to include Social seriously, in their CRM/Customer Engagement strategies if they are right for the organisation. It’s not about having a presence on everything; it’s about optimising a presence on the right things and using listening and analytics to understand which platforms work best for the organisation and the brand.

Remember – social media isn’t just Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Social at Work, Augmented Reality and Live Video are just a few of the trends we’re likely to see in 2016 but it’s important to get the basics right first, for customers. Social media is essentially transparent communication and whichever form that takes, the principle is here to stay.