Creating a Social Media Strategy

Posted: 1 July 2011

In the July issue of Voice+Data Magazine, we looked at the use of social media as a customer service channel


We learned that more organisations are embracing it; that it’s of value for many types of organisations, but those in consumer-oriented markets will get more immediate returns; and organisations should take care to identify which social networks their customer base is likely to be found on. Today, we take a closer look at how your social media customer support channel should operate, how to encourage community growth and which department inside your organisation should take responsibility for it.


Marketing is antisocial

When looking at using social media as a customer support channel, many organisations make the mistake of treating it like an avenue for marketing. “Too many corporations try to use social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter to take back control of their brand – as a marketing tool. This approach is diametrically opposed to the essence of social media,” says Simon Burke, CEO at ipSCAPE, a company that offers cloud-based contact centre software.


This may sound like an academic distinction, but it’s not – treating customer support as a marketing exercise will give these social media interactions a distinctively marketing-like flavour, one that customers will not appreciate. Social media strategist Laurel Papworth says: “Customers don’t want to talk to marketing – ever. If they did, there would be a helpdesk in the marketing department.”


According to Burke, the best social media strategies stay true to the spirit of social media: “People engaging with people to share ideas, insights and knowledge.”


“It’s important to remember that when customers see a company on Twitter or Facebook, they want to ask them ‘how do I fix this problem’. Not ‘what demographic do you cater to’ or ‘what’s your public relations policy’!” Papworth says.


In fact, Papworth goes beyond decrying customer service in the hands of a marketing department; she says that social customer service is flat out better than social marketing, when it comes to customer engagement.


“Most [marketing] campaigns (competitions, vouchers, etc) are short lived and not geared to longer engagement, so only through customer service will companies ensure that leads become long-term clients,” Papworth says.


Encouraging social network growth

Another crucial distinction is that between public and private customer service. The experts agree that social customer service should be conducted out in the open, where everyone can see, rather than in private discussions between customer and customer service rep.


“Organisations need to shift their traditional CRM model of 1:1 between the customer and the company to the true social CRM model of Many:Many,” ipSCAPE’s Burke says. This is because private, one-on-one conversations serve only to solve that single customer’s problem.


By taking the conversations public – in the form of public messaging or a forum – you solve the customer’s problem, but also share the discussion with others. Over time, you can create a self-sustaining community, full of users that, frankly, can do the work for you, and solve other customers’ problems before your own reps have a chance to find out that a customer is in distress.


“Typically, users come to a social media site to have a question answered. Once there, the user builds bonds with other users. At that point they begin to share best practices. This includes recommendations on the use and purchase of products as well as innovation feedback to the company,” says Greg Joy, VP of Asia Pacific at Lithium Technologies – a CRM solution provider.


There are even more benefits, as Joy explains: “Users that like the company will try to neutralise any negativity placed on social media sites by other users.” Joy says that Lithium focuses on creating bases of “superusers”. “These are individuals (not employees) that are passionate and knowledgeable about the products; and equally important, loyal to the company. The establishment of a superuser base will also benefit the expansion into third-party sites such as Twitter and Facebook. We say – create superusers, then expand,” he explains.


Papworth has a similar strategy, which she terms a “hub-and-spoke” approach. “I train companies on a hub-and-spoke approach – gather a community on your own site, where you can manage it thoroughly. But be interactive on the spoke sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc) so that you are ‘fishing where the fishies are’,” Papworth says.


“After a while, customers learn that they can ask in-depth questions and get in-depth answers on the ‘hub’ forums, all while customer service [reps] are active on the ‘spoke’ networks,” she says.


Where the buck stops

It’s also important to consider which department in your organisation is responsible for your social media customer service strategy. To find the best candidate, we can take a look at organisations that have made an investment in social media. The recent Nielsen-Community Engine 2011 Social Media Business Benchmarking Study found that more of these organisations use their social media investment for marketing (54%) than for customer relationship marketing (30%) or customer service (also 30%).


“It raises an interesting question as to how businesses use social media for customer service versus sales/marketing and who takes control and whose budget it comes from,” says Guy Cranswick, analyst at IBRS.

Cranswick says businesses should consider social media customer service “in and around” their customer service strategies.


“But don’t fall into the trap of being consistent for the sake it,” he says. “It may mean being slightly different, in whatever implementation, to succeed.”