Part Five: The Shift from Social Media Marketing to Social Care
This is the last in a five-part series that looks into social media marketing moving into 2021. Part One examined the marketing industry’s ongoing challenge with understanding and processing its data, and how this contributes to poor decision-making related to social media marketing. Part Two took a look at some data demonstrating the ineffectiveness of social media marketing that all too many marketers seem to want to ignore. Part Three made some suggestions on what exactly we should do about it. Part Four takes one of these suggestions and fleshes it out: move social out of marketing and into customer care. This last post articulates the keys to making this shift.
Social media marketing effectiveness data is top-of-mind for me these days. I’m a part of the teaching team for the American Marketing Association’s Digital Marketing Bootcamp (if any of them get back on schedule) and we like to bring the latest industry studies and trends to our presentations. I’m also writing a book (in its final stages!) involving quite a bit of research. The suggestions in this post build on this research, and I hope you’ll check out the previous four posts for more context.
If you’d like to make 2021 the year you move social media away from the sales and marketing team and into customer care, it all starts with shifting your perception of what kind of value is derived from social constructs, and that social media customer care communities are built following a specific set of rules very different from sales-and-marketing frameworks. It isn’t easy work. For far too long marketers have relied on easy, tactical approaches to building value in their online communities. As I touched on at the end of Part Four of this series, this takes more than we like to admit. Social groups are sophisticated, living things.
The following comes from a decade of studying and comparing not just marketing communications best practices and research related to social media, but those from the leadership discipline of building and realizing value from social groups as well. After all, building communities is as much, if not more, a leadership challenge as it is a marketing one, and it’s those tools that will help marketers—far more than marcom ones—navigate the sophisticated waters of social communities. I’ve seen these practices work across client and colleague business settings, and they are validated in my research, including my recent project with Julie.
Building communities on social media with a customer care orientation requires adherence to thirteen principles:
- Figure out what the customer wants, and let them lead. Flatten your relationship with customers, listen to them, and let them drive the kind of value and ultimately the kind of community they wish to see. You aren’t in charge. You’re in collaboration.
- Appreciate online communities as people with various life experiences and levels of expertise all coming together to build value. They aren’t target markets, audiences, or segments. They’re people, putting at risk their time, energy, and to some degree their sense of control in order to participate. They aren’t there for you. They’re there for them. For many marcom professionals this will run against every fiber of your Control the Messaging being.
- Extend this to “newbies” and actively stick up for them. Studies show that attacks or even slights against newcomers to social communities erode trust because it reinforces hierarchical systems that are antithetical to building social capital. Be ready to step in and moderate that stuff, fast.
- If you don’t understand customer care, or don’t care to understand it, learn up or hand off social media to a different team. It’s perfectly possible—and acceptable—to be a kick-ass marketer with no sense of or even desire for customer care skills. Embrace the truth in your team and adjust accordingly. Confronting brutal facts, as Jim Collins taught us, always makes us better professionals and organizations anyway.
- Make adding value to the community the goal and view commercial returns as outcomes. If you’re putting pressure on a social community to drive leads and sales, take a look at how you can create or improve other tactical areas in your digital marketing mix to accomplish that. Social communities sniff that stuff out accurately and quickly.
- Reframe commercial return expectations as bottom of the funnel value, not top or middle. If you’re skilled enough to create a social system of reciprocity the returns will, more times than not, be found in customer lifetime value, brand advocacy, upselling, and repurchasing, not leads, conversions, and movement through a decision-making funnel. So get ready to measure that.
- Create your own Net Easy score. Remember: It’s fast and easy that matters in customer care. Social is a terrific tool to meet customers with Fast and Easy. Shift from assuming that a “satisfied” customer is a loyal one: put less weight on customer satisfaction scores (downstream) and more weight on quick and easy (upstream) metrics to measure the return on social customer care investments. As we saw in Part Four The Harvard Business Review/Customer Contact Council study suggests that organizations put far too much weight on customer satisfaction scores. A full 80% of the organizations in the study said it’s their primary metric in determining customer experience, while 20% percent of the “satisfied customers” in the study said they intended to leave the brand, and 28% of the dissatisfied customers said they’d stay.
- Declare your intentions, gain alignment from your organization, and hold them to it. Inauthenticity breaks trust, especially at the beginning of the building process. Bait-and-switching destroys durable social relations, and puts an end to social community building. If your organization doesn’t have the appetite for something more in line with customer care, find something other than a social media marketing tactic to accomplish what you’re looking to accomplish.
- Get ready for the long haul. Building social capital is not a punctual investment. Communities take time to develop, and they move through stages before actually creating social capital for organizations. Manage this expectation from the jump among your team, agency, client, boss, and stakeholders. If things are too urgent and resources can’t be allocated to longer-term investments, look to another tactic area to funnel your resources.
- Evaluate response rates and be honest about your ability to meet demand. We’ve seen the data and it’s clear: Customers expect prompt responses on social media, and the faster the response, the more value returned. So be prepared to set a non-negotiable standard of fast response times. Even if it’s to say “I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you.”
- See yourself in the value creation and exchange process. Value from social reciprocity may be your goal. But you’re going to have to be a part of it at least as much as you expect to receive it, probably more. Individuals in social communities join them with an understanding of risk: that they will likely give value with little more than a vague sense that value will be repaid at some undefined point down the road. You’re going to have to be comfortable with that arrangement, too.
- Be human. Social communities are not the place for corporate, risk-averse, stuffy-apology talk. Leave that to the crisis communications and legal teams to distribute through their channels, and have a personality that connects with people in your social communities.
- Finally, be ready to make mistakes, own them, and improve. Despite a reputation as preeminent experts in the domain of customer service, Nordstrom famously eschews any such accolades probably because they realize social communities are living, dynamic, and always-changing entities. Karen McKibbin, president of Nordstrom Canada, said “Please don’t think that we think we’re experts (in customer service). It’s something we work really hard at every day.” Staying focused on the goal of adding value to customers to realize social capital returns for your brand means staying humble, listening, and adjusting.