Why do brands pay lip service to social media?

I recently stumbled upon a study by Sprout Social, which explored how responsive brands are on social media channels.

The short answer is that they’re not very responsive at all, with retailers among the worst offenders. 

Let’s jump to the kicker: “82% of social media messages to retailers go unanswered in within 72 hours.” 

retailers-average-response

The average wait time across all companies is 12 hours according to the study, but retailers were singled out as being particularly lousy at social. 

Absolute madness, if you ask me, given that most retailers face stiff competition and surely everybody knows about the benefits of a positive customer experience by now?

Yet it’s not as if they aren’t trying. Retailers are actually sending way more messages these days. In fact, the amount of messages sent has doubled since the start of 2015. 

retailers-sent-message-volume

As such, there is an obvious conclusion to make: the amount of incoming questions is outpacing the ability to reply to them. 

Sprout Social estimated that the average retailer would attract 1,500 inbound messages over the holiday season (aka Q4 2015). 

average-inbound-messages

It sounds a lot, until you break it down: it’s actually less than 17 messages per day.

Many social media teams are largely understaffed, but nobody can tell me that it’s impossible to answer 17 messages a day in a timely manner. If you can’t do this, you probably don’t have a social media team, but surely you have somebody that cares enough to want to reply?

It gets worse. It turns out that retailers have been busy distributing promotional messages across their social media channels. The average retailer sends three times more ‘brand’ messages than replies. That’s the stuff they really care about…

messages-recieved-vs-messages-sent

It seems that the ridiculous obsession with customer acquisition is literally driving people insane. Smart brands know that customer experience is what really makes a business tick: customer satisfaction leads to retention and referrals, and that in turn leads to profit. 

But why bother satisfying a customer when you can just ignore them?

Ignorance is not bliss…

So what’s the problem? And how can brands improve what they’re doing in this area? 

There are typically a few key things to look at, when trying to fix social. As with everything, it’s rather more nuanced than this, but tackle these problem areas and I’ll wager that you will win.

Fix your legacy issues 

“Our company isn’t set-up to do this properly.”

This is all too common, but it’s fixable. You just need to change your company structure, and probably your company culture too. 

I say “just”. These are some of the hardest things a business can do, but if you don’t do it now, when are you ever going to do it? 

In order to facilitate real change you’re going to need a lot of commitment. It’s going to take time and effort. It will probably be disruptive. And the effects of all of this work may not be immediate.

You need to make sure that your boss – and other key stakeholders – don’t perceive social as a free channel for sales and marketing teams to exploit. That gets old real fast. When was the last time you turned on the TV to watch the ads?

Operationally, the main challenge is usually where to position social within the business. Marketing has often led the way, but there’s a really strong argument for service teams to help manage public-facing platforms like Facebook and Twitter. 

Ideally, social will be cross-functional and managed by someone who isn’t obsessed with short-term sales and marketing ‘wins’. Otherwise you end up sending lots of promotional tweets and not bothering to reply to people for days…

You’re also going to need a cheerleader. Woop!

Find a social champion

“Who is in charge of Twitter around here?”

The intern? It’s 2016 and most businesses should be all over social. Just like any other strategic channel, it requires ownership.

In my opinion, the customer experience officer (or similar customer-centric bod) is best placed to set a strategy, demand some budget, and shake things up. If your business doesn’t yet have a CXO then it might be worth thinking about why you need one before spending too much time worrying about social.

In any event, if you haven’t got a cheerleader for social it’s going to be difficult to make things happen. 

This person needs the right level of seniority in order to influence the powers that be, in order to bring about real change.

Formulate the business case

“We know it’s popular but we’re not convinced that it’s right for our brand.”

Once you have a social champion, you’re halfway there. Now it’s time to get the right level of buy-in. That means putting together a business case to influence strategic direction.

Pretty much every type of company can use social platforms to improve business performance. Sales, service and satisfaction will all benefit if you do the right things. In addition, the key brand metrics should improve. All of these things have a tendency to multiply and snowball if you really stomp on the gas.

There are also less tangible benefits, such as competitor benchmarking. You can directly measure engagement (which is a real thing, rather than a conceptual buzzword) and compare your performance with the competition. 

It’s important that you measure the results properly. Perhaps it’s time to put last-touch attribution into retirement?

Figure out value

“But social doesn’t generate sales!”

Classic. Anybody who says this is borderline nuts. Your response should be, “Prove it.” 

They won’t be able to, because they’re measuring things incorrectly and don’t understand the role social plays. There’s much more to life than last-touch attribution, otherwise brands wouldn’t spend a single dollar on TV advertising. Right? 

Their response to your response might also be, “Prove it.” 

This is also tricky. Social, like TV advertising, demands a heavy hand of salt, though there are plenty of case studies that you can use to demonstrate how other companies achieve a return on investment.

Case studies and proof aside, just take a logic break and forget the term ‘social media’ for a moment. Instead, think about audiences, and what it takes to make an impression on them. 

Social media channels are ostensibly ‘free’ platforms for you to make use of. Yes, you’ll need some content and some people to manage social, but – unlike TV and other forms of advertising – you don’t need to pay for reach. 

What you do need is a clear understanding of what makes your audience tick. Once you know what people like to tune into, and where they like to hang out, you can start your charm offensive. People respond to the personal touch and to anything that elicits strong emotions. That means good service and great content.

Besides, if charm doesn’t work, you can do the old school thing and buy reach via social ads. Paid social is likely to be a big area of growth in 2016, with the more mature teams hiring dedicated staff in this area.

Hire the right person

Speaking of hiring, once you’ve got the thumbs up, you need to appoint someone to look after social. It takes time and benefits from undivided attention. 

In my last two roles I hired Matt Owen as a dedicated social media manager to oversee social (he now works for Contentive as Head of Social across many brands including Search Engine Watch). Matt worked really well with marketing, content and service teams, and had a foot in all camps, but he was an island in his own right. 

I think it’s important to position social teams in this way. They operate best as a kind of umbrella across the business, working with other departments as necessary. Sales, marketing, service, research… there are plenty of avenues to explore.

Growing pains

The study I referenced is one of many that show how immature brands are when it comes to social. Others may tell a different story, though my personal experience is that service and attention levels on social platforms leaves a lot to be desired. 

It will be Twitter’s 10th birthday this year, and Facebook is now a teenager. How long will it be before companies make the most of these channels, in a way that doesn’t entirely suck? 

We have awesome tools, dedicated agencies and people with plenty of experience in this area. So why aren’t we further ahead?

What do you think? 

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