Staying on top of strategic trends is not always easy—new advice comes in every day, and it’s hard to tell whether it’s the buzzword of the month, or if it’s something that will shape the way your business works that you should probably pay attention to.
Here’s a look at some of the most important trends for businesses that are serious about social.
1. Social customer service getting better, and more important
While people have been using social for customer service for years now, it hasn’t rivaled other channels for a lot of companies. Now, a giant company like Whole Foods that handles customer service in-store as well as over the phone will still handle over 40 percent of its customer service inquiries via social media as their director of social, consumer relationship management and customer care Natanya Anderson, revealed at The Social Shake-Up Conference.
And more and more companies are realizing that customer service on social networks can’t be isolated from other channels. Agents should talk to customers in the same way on social and off, and should be as empowered to resolve issues in both spaces. And if they do have to ask a customer to change channels, say because of sensitive information, they should be able to handle that change seamlessly (no repeating, no lag time).
2. Content channels/distribution: It’s complicated
For starters, big brands have accepted that social networks are pay-to-play. Even on networks where they are seeing good organic engagement, like Instagram, things probably won’t stay the same forever. The ideal situation for optimizing distribution is having a great strategy and a lot of money, but more of one can make up for less of the other (a principle which applies to more or less anything).
Money is money, but for strategy, what can brands do? They can be smart about the channels they choose. If a channel fits into their overall marketing strategy and objectives, if they’ll have existing fans there, and be able to grow an engaged audience, they should go for it. If they’re doing it because they heard it was the next hot thing, maybe hold off.
Brands that want to improve distribution should be frequently trying new things, measuring, evaluating and adjusting based on what works and what doesn’t (all the while keeping their customers’ content habits and their own business goals in mind).
3. Data and analytics are a boon and a challenge
Data is big and getting bigger (sorry!). It has a big impact on brands, their ability to understand their customers, and ultimately their ability to reach them better. We’re seeing some great examples of brands using listening data to develop products or craft content. GM used listening data to figure out that metal steering wheels were getting too hot to handle, and removed them from a truck.
But at the same time, more brands find it challenging to take that data and contextualize it in a way that yields usable insights. There’s a flood of information out there, but sometimes less is more: Brands whose data use is clearly scoped out and defined, even more limited, can have better luck getting real results from it.
4. Social businesses are looking beyond social
People in the social media world have been alluding to this idea for a little while now, but we’ve begun to see more businesses start to put it into practice in meaningful ways.
These companies are focusing on integrating social across their business functions in a way that helps them reach broader business goals. They’re looking at overall marketing and content marketing strategies, PR, customer service, sales, and other departments and incorporating social into and across those teams, rather than running it in support of them.
The distinction can seem a bit fuzzy, but in reality, there’s a big difference between the two approaches.
When change is a constant, it’s easy to focus on short-term strategy goals. Even if trends don’t generally last, these challenges and shifts are likely to be around for a while, particularly the last. The brands that are able to integrate social across their business, in a way that maximizes its impact, are the ones that will be poised to lead in the coming years.