How MUST Social Media Evolve To Be Effective As a Customer Service Tool? (Part 1)

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I’m starting from the end of the progression, since this is clearly the question that you would find at the end of a book (bear with me and imagine this as a book in progress).

What, you say: It’s already effective?

No. It’s not. Or to clarify, it’s effective in isolated contexts. We know some businesses succeed sometimes with social media, but we don’t know how many do not. My estimates based on the numbers I have regarding the number of businesses who have tried, failed and abandoned their Twitter accounts, leads me to believe that about 95%+ of businesses trying Twitter as a basis for improving business have failed, and continue to fail. (We’ll cover that in the future). What we have is ANECDOTAL evidence that has NO relevance to making decisions about whether a business should jump onto Twitter or any other social media platform. All the numbers I see suggest that not only does it not work, but it can’t work due to the nature of the existing social media technologies used for customer service.

In particular, we’ll look at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and similar platforms, and NOT blogs, YouTube and platforms that are a bit more “permanent” (ie. NOT based on a “stream).

So, in my opinion, what must change?

1) The “stream” issue is a major problem because of its short electronic shelf life. I send a Tweet or status update. I have 5000 followers/friends. How many people see the update, and read it? Because it “goes by in the stream’, most of the people who see it will see it when I send it. If they don’t see it in the stream, it will quickly be replaced by other tweets/updates, and although it may be found in search, the chances are very low.

For a streaming based system to work, there needs to be more permanence than exists now. Just to compare, a basic html based web page is about as permanent as things get, and it lasts literally forever, and if it’s good, well linked, etc, it will last a long time. We have pages close to 13 years old that are heavily trafficked. Blogs are less permanent because of the way they evolved and how search engines treat them, with the newest stuff featured, and the older stuff archived. Tweets and updates have virtually zero staying power. They are simply the public equivalent of an instant message. Facebook is more permanent because it has more features, but it’s less so than websites.

For businesses, this means a number of things but above all it means that a business must offer continuous tweets every day. In a sense every day you start from scratch. It is true that 140 characters isn’t exactly War & Peace but it still talks effort, as does responding to customer queries, complaints, incorrect information, and so on.

So, the issue of evergreen content operates here, and that each day starts anew.

2) The second thing that must change is the process by which a business becomes available and known to its customers and potential customers. It is very difficult to generate sufficient live active followers to communicate with who are interested in your commercial messages. Companies with other promotional resources have a leg up on this issue because they can plaster their social media contacts on their products, walls, everything really. Even with that leg up though you can see how difficult it is. For example HP has a number of Twitter accounts that are clearly intended to be used for customer service and support. If you look at the number of followers (and hence the “reach) of some of these accounts, you will see numbers like 800 followers, or 400 followers. That’s is minuscule, making these accounts useless to HP.

The process of building followers, or friends or fans is a huge impediment, not only to customer service but to marketing, or even basic communication. Given the attrition/churn rates on social media, only a fraction of your followers are active, particularly if you don’t clean the old ones out, so the messages you send will often get no response. You need many many thousands of followers/friends/fans to justify the effort it takes to support via social media.

Statistics reflect that most fan pages on Facebook have less than 100 fans. This is not fertile soul on which to base a customer service strategy.

So, bottom line, there must be new systems that emerge to help businesses develop the followings they need to justify the investment of time, WITHOUT degrading the user experience of people who do not want to see Twitter or Facebook, et al be destroyed by commercialism and spam.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Robert Bacal
Robert began his career as an educator and trainer at the age of twenty (which is over 30 years ago!), as a teaching assistant at Concordia University. Since then he as trained teachers for the college and high school level, taught at several universities and trained thousands of employees and managers in customer service, conflict management and performance appraisal and performance management skills.

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