Gorkana Insight & Analysis Team
Abigail Tye, senior consultant at Fishburn Hedges, asks whether social media is changing the relationship between brands and consumers, how PRs should be advising brands and offers some top tips for engaging...
We all know that social media is changing the way we interact, but is it also fundamentally re-defining the relationships between consumers and brands?
Are people getting the VIP experience on social media simply because they are brazen enough to air their customer service gripes?
As PR practitioners, what advice should we be giving to brands who are tentatively dipping their toes into this vast and relatively unchartered space?
We recently partnered with Echo Research to conduct some research to answer these questions and the results were staggering.
18 million customers are flooding social networks to speak to brands - that's almost double the proportion that it was just eight months ago (19% to 36%).
Two thirds of people who have engaged with brands on social media (68%) believe that it has allowed them to find their voice.
Most of them (65%) believe social media is a better way to communicate with companies than through call centres, some nine times more than those who felt worse off using social media (7%).
Two-fifths of us (40%), even those who haven't used social media, believe it improves customer service. This is some six times more than the 7% of naysayers who fear social media will harm service.
2,000 consumers took part in the research, alongside digitally pioneering brands including BT, Sainsbury's, PepsiCo, O2, HSBC, Oasis, and Barclaycard. Echo Research conducted in-depth interviews with senior executives in customer services, marketing and PR.
Using these interviews and our own experience, we have identified some common themes in best practice:
1. Don't be paralysed by uncertainty: where call centres arguably erect barriers between brands and customers, social media can remove them and bring proximity. It shouldn't be a psychological straitjacket, so dive in – but clearly define your strategy first.
2. Don't let social media define you: your brand must define it. It must be a continuation of a brand using the appropriate channels and not a knee-jerk reaction to following how others are using it.
3. Make more of the emotional insight you have: customer data offers insight into behaviour, but social media takes that to a different level, enabling brands to tap into emotions.
4. Pick your battles – but enter them fast: speed is critical in the real-time world of social media, but brands should not feel the pressure to answer every query put to them.
5. Address structural barriers in the business, not headcount: there are many ways to resource social, and new hires are not always necessary. Try sharing expertise and removing structural barriers first.
6. Fear not the #fail: No one is perfect and sometimes, just sometimes, it is simply a flash in the pan.
To read the full research report which includes detailed sections on these common themes, please visit www.fishburn-hedges.co.uk/social-media-customer
Abigail Tye, senior consultant at Fishburn Hedges. Follow her @abigailtye