More and more organizations give social media a prominent place in their communication and marketing strategies. Ignoring Facebook and Twitter is not an option anymore.

Text: Erik Bouwer

“Social media” is the generic term for Internet applications where you can post and share information and interaction and dialogue that may arise between users. Social media are used for sharing knowledge sharing, photos, videos, experiences, opinions, ideas, software, games and online collaboration. Organizations can use social media to create presence at places where consumers are. Social media can enforce dialogue with customers – e.g. on a company owned platform, in order to receive feedback or as an extension of regular voice based customer service. Companies can also use social media to stimulate interaction with and amongst their employees.

Social media can provide companies with a better insight of what is going on in the heads of their customers. Social media might lead to more direct interaction with consumers. However, companies can use different strategies in the use of social media: such as monitoring, brand activation, keep track of influencers. Companies can also create their own platforms for employees such as blogs and fora.

Consumers are increasingly using various social networks and companies try to adapt. Research by the Social Embassy over the last year shows that the number of top 100 brands active in social media has almost doubled from 35 to 67. Companies rely on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube and use these channels for marketing and PR, service and webcare. The number of company profiles on LinkedIn has raised from 4 to 40 per cent. Twitter is now used by nearly 40 per cent of the top 100 companies. Facebook is facing an increase too, compared to last year: twice as many brands have official presence.

Social media is a subject about which is widely spoken and written. Meanwhile a growing number of companies acknowledges that social media play an important role in customer contact. Another group is more cautious and considers that ignoring social media might induce risks. The impact of ignoring the impact may be greater than embracing social media.
Robert Dijkhuis, Consumer Contact Manager at Wegener Media, a Dutch publishing company, argues that only a small proportion of the population is known as active user of Twitter. But he underlines that just one user, who has many followers, might be sufficient  for damaging the company reputation. Having many followers increases the risk of a large number of retweets and a snowball effect might occur.
The power of Twitter was illustrated by a recent complaint, posted by the Dutch comedian Youp van ‘t Hek (who has over 40,000 followers and who writes a weekly column in one of the leading national newspapers in The Netherlands). He posted a single tweet on his experience with poor customer service of telecom provider T-Mobile. The tweet resulted in coverage by the national press and by  different television channels.

Publishing company Wegener follows Twitter by making use of a Google application. One person within Wegener is dedicated for monitoring twitter messages on customer service, editorial issues, marketing or logistic issues.

The costs of putting social media at work for a company include staffing and software. The ROI of social software is much harder to prove. Monitoring is important, but further costs are involved with taking care of problems or negative sentiments. With accurate handling of social media posts, major problems can be avoided. With social media, information exchange is becoming more dynamic and faster: you are able to reach more people in a shorter time span. By actively participating in forums, a company might manage customer expectations: e.g. by explaining why the company is solving certain problems in a certain way. This type of interaction might result in reduced call volumes, which can be expressed financially in cost savings. However, the exact volumes of calls that can be avoided, is hard to determine in advance.

Social media can also ensure that more departments within the organization get involved with the customer: customer awareness will increase. Working with and reporting on a webcare team is one option, but you also have to establish guidelines for how employees should deal with social media.

The rise of social media does not mean that the importance of traditional channels such as telephone and e-mail is diminishing. Consumers perceive these channels still as the most important ways to get in touch with a company. On the other hand social media are changing quickly. A few years ago, Twitter played no role at all. The question is whether Twitter will be replaced by another application in the upcoming years. This makes it difficult to determine how to invest, but ignoring social media it is not an option. To put it simply: the potential impact of Twitter is too big.

Erik Bouwer is editor of Customer Contact Magazine