Enterprises Move from Passive to Active Social Media Strategies

Article Featured Image


Increasingly, social media is becoming a marketing tool, a channel to advertise various campaigns and products, but this approach works only if following up on the action item (buy my product, download our coupon) is easy. In some cases, a social media message will send the customer to the company's Web site. Moving from a tweet to the Web for action is often not easy or intuitive.

For instance, KLM wanted to use social media to help consumers book flights. While the idea was sound, the conversion got stuck at the payment part of the process because the airline could not easily and safely transmit credit card details through social platforms. Illustrating the fledgling nature of these tools, the company searched for a payment solution to fix the problem but could not find one. Consequently, the airline had to work with one of its payment service providers and build the platform itself.

The sheer quantity of data presents additional challenges. The volume of information that social tools generate is enormous and growing daily: More than 330 million tweets are now sent every day; in October 2013, that number was 100 million. Corporations need to buy or upgrade server, storage, and network hardware to collect this mountain of data.

Businesses must then consolidate the information and ensure that it's accurate and consistent. For instance, items such as the customer identifying information must be uniform. One application might ask for a home and work telephone number, and a second system might add a mobile number to the list. A consistent set of categories has to be developed before data from different systems can be consolidated.

Once consistency is achieved, the information needs to be filtered and pertinent data gleaned. "'I drove past McDonald's on the way to work' does not interest the company as much as 'I wish McDonald's sold onion rings,'" says DMG Consulting's Fluss. Humans pick up on the nuance, but machines often do not. There's often some trial and error before a business hones its data analytics reporting so that actionable data percolates up from the social chatter.

Corporations face management challenges as well. In most large companies, business units operate largely in an autonomous manner, and firms typically have clear delimiters among departments. A question about a refund may start in the customer service department but be pushed out because the agent cannot authorize the repayment.


With social media, cohesion is a must. Customers don't care if the company representative works in marketing, accounts payable, public relations, or customer care; they only want the person to understand who they are and solve their problem. For social strategies to sprout, barriers between departments need to fall and different groups must work in a cooperative and cohesive manner. "For social to succeed, no one has to care about who gets the credit," says Virgin Airline's Amrich. "It is all about serving the guest." Such thinking is hard to nurture in organizations where historically performance was measured strictly in dollars and cents and departments were often pitted against one another.

The process also requires that companies make significant investments in these tools. At General Motors, 500 employees engage with customers across 400 social media channels, from Twitter and Facebook to specialist forums for motoring enthusiasts. In the U.S. alone, GM operates 20 different Facebook pages.

Corporate investments require an ROI. In select instances, the payback can be easily translated. The KLM booking system, which cost €3,500 to develop, allows its social media reps to offer a quick payment link and stay with the customer from booking to ticket issue. The social media booking application is generating more than €100,000 each business day and the number has been rising every week. In 2014, the system contributed €25 million to the company's year-end revenue.


Unfortunately, most paybacks are much more nebulous. The line from improved customer service to the quarterly profit-and-loss statement is more difficult to draw than traditional manufacturing-based ROI models. Businesses are not measuring how many widgets are sold or the cost of a plastic case. They are building relationships with customers. Rather than the cost of goods sold or the number of sales, businesses are trying to measure the quality of interactions and track customer emotions, new areas that are hard to quantify, and volatile.

But progress is being made. Adobe is using natural-language artificial intelligence to monitor how customers feel about their interactions. The system can differentiate between sad, which means disappointment in how the company responded, and frustrated, which may lead to anger, according to Adobe's Sutter.

KLM has put satisfaction measurements in place for its social contact center. The agent enters the measurement at the start and end of each contact center conversation to measure how customer sentiment changed during the interaction.


But where exactly is the payoff? As noted, the customer is not a widget. It seems clear that happy consumers will buy from a company again. But when they will buy is often quite murky; the payback may not come for months or even years, and linking the eventual purchase back to a couple of positive social interactions seems impossible.

Social systems are nevertheless changing the ways companies interact with customers. To switch from reactive to proactive, businesses must not only revamp themselves but change how they measure success and failure. Those willing to change have seen successes, and as others follow, we'll likely see a social media gold rush.

Paul Korzeniowski is a freelance writer based in Sudbury, MA, who specializes in technology issues. He can be reached at paulkorzen@aol.com.

CRM Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues