It's a ubiquitous tool to communicate with, acquire and maintain customers, but the true strategic insights come from delving into the unstructured data to deeply understand customer needs, and to make structured and insights-led decisions for success.
Social media has long been harnessed by private and government organisations to communicate to and engage with their customers, and many are doing this very effectively. However Lisa Bora, Partner, Customer Brand & Marketing Advisory, KPMG, says to be truly competitive in today’s customer-led world, it’s vital to harness the deep insights hidden in social’s unstructured data.
“More and more organisations are seeing that the value of social media is not just about servicing community relationships,” Bora explains. “It can be the basis for acquiring, engaging and retaining customers.”
With around 1.71 billion monthly active users on Facebook1, for example, the information offered is diverse, rich, and ripe to be mined to deeply understand customer needs and expectations.
“That raw unstructured data forms part of the larger suite of information being used to drive your marketing, sales effectiveness and testing and learnings frameworks for going to market,” she says.
Bora says the growth and importance of social media is now holding organisations accountable for being agile and responsive to customers’ continually changing expectations and community activism.
“We’re no longer in a product and price economy, we’re in an experience and service era, and the way you engage customers both in proactive and reactive forms is a key litmus test,” she says.
For organisations to truly harness the power of social media, Bora says it requires much more than a company Facebook page that is often not updated or where the consumer conversation is located.
“Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest are becoming increasingly influential with customers. Some are incorporating ecommerce facets that can directly lead to transactions,” she says.
When developing new products and services, Bora says social media is an effective place to find a market and test the ideas, and is often cost effective with real-time feedback. It can also help alleviate traffic and pain points in other areas of a business that offer customer help.
Gregory Daniel, Co-lead of Social Media Advisory, KPMG, adds that these continually evolving advantages mean social is now being taken more seriously.
“It’s no longer the concern of certain sections of an organisation such as marketing alone – there needs to be a holistic use of social media and an all-encompassing strategy,” he says.
Interacting with customers on social media must happen where the customers are, not just on an organisation’s own channels, Bora says.
“It’s important to engage customers in different ways, and not just thinking about them as ‘users’ and you as a ‘producer’. It’s an important way to also showcase and live your brand values.”
This requires organisations to lessen the control they have over how their organisation is discussed online, so that conversations can happen organically, Bora explains. This way, it’s possible to learn what customers really think and want. This rarely happens on a company’s social pages, but in the ecosystem of social.
However, Daniel says the risks of this ‘freedom’ have made some organisations scared to invest in social adequately. For example, the risks could be customers writing negative reviews, activists campaigning, information leakage, employees behaving inappropriately, or an account being hacked.
The key is to have the right governance structures to mitigate the risks, he explains.
“When the correct architecture structures are in place, you can manage the things that have held organisations back from investing,” he says.
Organisations are getting accustomed to ‘big data’ analysis, drawing on their transaction information, customer touch points and customer relationship management systems for insights. However, they are less comfortable with gathering and analysing that data when it is ‘unstructured’, such as the way information is shared on social media.
Bora says the unstructured data on social media contains countless insights that can help an organisation to understand its customers. However, to engage with this information in a tangible way, it is essential to have the right methodology, technology, and expert assistance to provide the structure and insight.
“Just because the online chatter is loud, doesn’t mean that it represents the whole of your audience base. To counteract that, you need to ensure the relevancy and context of the data is balancing out the noise and considers the whole of market view,” she says.
Daniel offers an example: “When online activists were applying pressure on superfunds to divest from certain areas, some funds were caught unaware and didn’t know who the groups were or how much power they held.
“We were able to create a matrix that could show the superfunds which ones were really well connected, which ones had strong points of view, and which ones were developing support among their core demographics. That put them on the front foot, and allowed them to engage with the groups and help satisfy their concerns.”
Engaging in social media is not only important to communicate with, acquire and maintain customers, but also to understand customers and stay a step ahead of their needs, Daniel says.
“Social is the most important communication medium in the world. It has proven its ability to change governments and brands. Organisations that are not utilising the full resources and capability of social media are not going to compete,” he says.
Five important questions about your social media strategy:
It is one thing to aspire to be customer centric, another for organisations to align their operations behind that vision and to deliver on it. Find out more in Operationalising the customer experience.