The beginning of the end for social, or high time that organisations face into it?

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

Our Consultant Madeleine Ito looks at consumers’ tumultuous relationship with social media, and why it’s high time organisations stop shying away from it

I’ve been there, at the edge. Hovering my finger over that tantalising miniature ‘x’ that would rid my phone of Facebook, or almost pushing the delete account detonator on Twitter. But I just couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. Those mortifying photos documenting awkward teenage years that would be lost forever, the reunions I might miss, the fear of falling prey to a slow onset cluelessness…so the wobbling cubes on my phone screen settle back into their places, safe for another day.

With growing concerns about screen time and privacy fears fuelling the ‘hate’ part of a love-hate relationship, I’m far from being the only one that’s teetered on the edge of jumping the social ship. And if we as consumers are feeling confused, many organisations remain well and truly baffled by what they should be doing when it comes to social. But look hard at why customers can’t commit themselves to social silence, and we find a surprisingly strong case for why companies should stop running from social if they’re serious about giving customers brilliant and fit-for-future service.

Considering Facebook was founded back in 2004, it’s a wonder that companies haven’t got a firmer grip on this whole ‘social’ thing yet – but having worked on a marketing team, I’m all too familiar with the particular mix of reputational fear and cross-department loggerheads it creates. The advice out there doesn’t help much either: lots of talk of ‘driving engagement’, ‘generating reach’ and ‘creating efficiency’ - all brilliant examples of thoroughly inside-out thinking, starting by asking how social can serve your organisation, not what value it can create for customers. The most common result is churning out some click-bait laden content and giving a couple of customer service agents Facebook Messenger, then hanging on and hoping...

For a clearer view, we turned the question on its head and started by asking what value social creates for customers. What is it that manages, through thick and very thin, to keep 3.5 billion of us globally glued to our screens, and compels UK users to spend an average of nearly two entire hours scrolling social networks every day? We uncovered three things that people truly value about social, and what they mean for brands and organisations.

Convenient conversations

Right now, many of us have dozens of chats on the go. We dip in and out when it suits, we get instant replies when we need them and respond later if it can wait. And the conversation never ends. Essentially, we’re doing the same thing as we did by carrier pigeon, then letter and so on - it just works a lot better without the time lag or the need to physically hold a phone to your ear until you get arm ache. As these expectations change, brands will have no choice but to upgrade their service game, giving customers instant responses via messaging and letting them seamlessly pick up the same conversation later down the line.

Social shortcutting

People use social as a shortcut to something. Get the news in 280 characters rather than a 1,000-word article. Let the answer come to you by popping a question on Quora. Cut the chat and find out what your friends are doing on their Instagram Stories. Part of our conflicted addiction to social is down to the fact that it’s a close companion for our lazier tendencies. Companies should harness it to reduce the effort they’re demanding of customers – whether it’s having a complaint escalated and responded to easily or receiving brilliant triage to exactly the information they’re after, use social to give customers shortcuts to the outcomes they’re trying to achieve.

Vocal venting

A big part of the attraction of social is that anyone can put in their tuppence worth. From clicking ‘like’, to weighing into a debate on Twitter, to publishing a thoughtful opinion on Medium, social media provides an expressive, even emotional outlet. Organisations cower at the thought of customers’ public remonstrations, but being blinkered by fear they risk missing a real opportunity: it’s an absolute goldmine of information about what matters to customers and where to improve things for them. Rather than ‘managing’ it or trying to make it less visible, organisations should be bold - act on it to uplift the entire customer experience; demonstrate doing so to earn the respect of customers who so often feel that feedback falls on deaf ears.

So despite consumers’ tumultuous relationship with social media, it’s high time organisations stop shying away from it. Start with customers - find out what exactly it is that stops them pressing ‘Delete Account’ and keeps them scrolling – then figure out how to create or replicate that value for them in your customer service.

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