According to a new eMarketer report, “Worldwide Social Network Users: 2013 Forecast and Comparative Estimates,” nearly one in four people worldwide will use social networks in 2013. The number of social network users around the world will rise from 1.47 billion in 2012 to 1.73 billion this year, an 18% increase. By 2017, the global social network audience will total 2.55 billion.
More than a third (36%) of UK consumers were using social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to interact with brands in April 2012, according to a study conducted by Fishburn Hedges and Echo Research. And, 59.9% of internet users in the UK will use social media by 2014, according to eMarketer.
When it comes to dealing with customer service on social media platforms the figures are gruesome. According to Luke Brynley-Jones who wrote on Econsultancy.com in May 2013. ”Fewer than 50% of companies are actively responding to these enquiries and many of those are using cost-cutting copy and paste tactics, which is exactly what call centres were criticised for.” Tesco take note.
What you and I have is a customer that is increasingly becoming social, a social customer. That means things will have to change including your company culture, your infrastructure, how you develop new products and services and your response to problems. A few people have written about it, my take is below:
1. The social customer is in charge of their own experience. They see the brand as a peer to peer experience not a hierarchical structure. Mutual respect and value are imperative and if you breach these unwritten psychological contracts you are in real trouble, because the social customer has the power with one click to turn your brand inside out in a good or bad way depending on how you both cultivate that experience.
2. You can’t fool a social customer. They will find out that you have created a facade or charade. Transparency and openness are the basic requirements of any messaging and interactions. This needs emotional intelligence, maturity and people able to converse at an intellectual level in your organisation. The social customer will not suffer fools gladly.
3. Social customers are active not passive. They are making stuff and breaking stuff all the time. When my company does social listening audits for clients they are always, without exception, amazed at the conversations that are being had about their product, market place, brand and employees on the web. They just hadn’t realised how active and passionate existing and potential customers were.
4. They are advertising immune. You no longer have a marketing department but a media one. Instead of advertising the shift is towards publishing. People want to be able to search and share not be blasted at with messages that are irrelevant and inappropriate. Social customers want content, great content that’s original, open to being shared in multi channels. Not an advert with a benign brand controlled message.
5. They will buy by using collaborative techniques and tactics. I believe we will see this in retail first. With collaborative shopping, online retailers have the opportunity to create deeper brand engagement for consumers. They can increase conversion rates by
enabling collaborative idea sharing and conversation on their websites to move shoppers from consideration to purchase using social networks like Facebook and Instagram.
6. The social customer knows just as much as you if not more. They will want to take joint responsibility for shaping the products and services they are passionate about. If you sell lego this is far easier than if you are selling washing powder. Huge quantum leaps in imagination are required that will engage an already bombarded social customer who is having hundreds of conversations a day.
7. Your social customer is a publisher. Whether its in 140 characters or posting an image on Pinterest or writing a blog post on Tumblr, customers are sharing their opinions several times a day. Writing, taking images, making short videos. Aggregating and syndicating these conversations is crucial to generating buzz around your brand.
8. The social customer lives and breathes in a networked economy not an industrialised nor information one. The social customer has enormous social capital to leverage. Are you using those connections and degrees of influence? Plus are you recognising that the shift is to one of buying social experiences not consuming products?
9. A social customer operates in real time, not several days down the road. If you don’t deal with a problem within minutes of it surfacing you will be punished and the outcome is never pretty.
10. The social customer will be better serviced by the social employee. An employee that understands the brand is not in control anymore. You need an employee that is empowered to discuss the brand in public. You cannot expect to engage with customers if you don’t have fully engaged employees. More on that in a later blog post.
I’m not one for scaremongering, but many companies don’t have a choice anymore. One of the rules of business, is being in the same place and space as your customers. If you’re not part of the conversation, you then are just interfering and interrupting which we know never ends positively. Yes it does mean huge change but then thats what business is all about isn’t it?