SOCAP International

The Evolving Role of Social Media in the Customer Journey

Creating the perfect plan isn't the key. Instead, use these guidelines to enhance customers' experiences and drive brand loyalty.

Social media is a prominent channel in most any consumer journey today. In fact, the way social-media channels are used throughout the buying process is exploding in new and exciting ways.Food For Thought

As social media continues to transform the customer service industry, there is no doubt it can be hard for companies to keep up. New channels are constantly emerging, which means even more data to collect and analyze. On the other side of this hurdle is a huge payoff for brands in terms of getting closer to their customers.

Therefore, it’s never been more important for companies to embrace social media as a core part of the customer journey. In fact, getting ahead of trends can prove to be game-changing.

Before, During and After the Sale

Consumers are turning to their social networks in every phase of their journey from pre-sales through the sale and into post-sale support. Each of these phases presents an opportunity for companies to engage consumers and drive brand loyalty. And the more friction-free it is, the happier consumers will be.

An obvious example of social media being used in the pre-sales phase is targeted advertising. If a consumer has been shopping around online for cars, they will likely be presented with advertisements from a variety of car manufacturers on their social-media platforms. Clicking on an ad in a social-media platform can be the first step (or third or fifth) in a customer’s journey.Instagram

Alternatively, consumers often start on Facebook or Twitter when still in the product research phase by asking for recommendations. “Ugh, car broke down again. What is the most reliable mid-size car?” They are looking for real-time reviews from people they know or trust so they can start to narrow their search: 80% of people report trusting opinions of friends and family over company marketing.

The smartest brands will be listening and can engage at just the right moment. For example, a car manufacturer could listen for anyone saying that they need a car, and offer to pick them up and drop them off at the nearest dealer. How is that for personalized customer service?

During the sale, if a customer has already been on the website, they are likely to see a special offer or coupon on social media. In fact, many will go there to look for one, before finalizing a purchase. “Anyone know if Macy’s has a sale coming up?” If they have abandoned a cart, this may be the perfect time to incent them to convert with a free shipping or a percentage-off coupon.

TwitterImmediately after the sale, consumers often announce their purchase to friends and family. At this time, they may also even give a preliminary review or seek validation. Brands are making this touch-point even more seamless by providing an easy one-click way for consumers to announce their purchase on social networks directly from the e-commerce confirmation page.

The journey doesn’t stop there. If a customer is happy with the product or service they bought from you, they may give you free advertising by bragging about it. “Loving my new KitchenAid mixer … how did I ever live without this thing?” And while you can’t and shouldn’t try to respond to every comment, reaching out just might win you a customer for life. “Thanks Jane, we’re so glad the KitchenAid mixer is making life in your kitchen amazing. Here are some free recipes you can try.”

Of course, it can work if they have had a less than ideal experience with your product as well. Consider this scenario:

Jane: Big reunion in two weeks and this new moisturizer totally broke out my face! #thanksalotolay

Olay: Jane, we are so sorry that happened. Do you have any allergies?

Jane: I do, I’m allergic to XYZ.

Olay: That is the problem, this product contains that allergen. Here are some recommended products that do not contain that along with a 20% off coupon.


Responding to the customer on the social-media platform that they posted on provides an opportunity not only to change that single consumer’s overall experience with your brand, but also drive brand loyalty with other consumers that witness the exchange.


Benefits of the Social Journey

If you are doing this right, you are able to advertise to a targeted market and evaluate the effectiveness of that marketing. You are also gathering immense amounts of rich consumer data that can be analyzed to understand consumer views and behaviors. On top of that, you are growing a loyal following because consumers want to have a relationship with your brand.The Future Is Here

But why are we as consumers so drawn to social media? Generally speaking, humans like to communicate with other humans. We have also become a society that appreciates things that are easy and immediate. Posting to a social network and getting instant research and feedback is great. Consider the alternative of needing to go site to site, searching and comparing. All those web forms, all that sorting through results, reading and typing … it’s exhausting! With social media, they can just post a question or statement in plain language, and their network responds in a way that is easily understood and conveniently in one place.

What’s happened with social media over the past few years is truly remarkable. So, with all of this social journey goodness, have we maxed out on the benefits for both consumers and the brands they love regarding communication on social-media? Definitely not. In fact, we are just getting started.


Ongoing Conversations With Messenger

If we can agree that humans want to communicate with humans, can we also agree that this is probably because it’s more natural for them? Often when they are communicating with software or machines, they are forced to figure out how to interface in predetermined structured ways. That means asking for information in a way that suits the software, rather than allowing consumers to give the information in a way that makes sense to them.Hoop Jumping

Research shows that more people prefer to start in chat than any other form of communication. What if customers could communicate with brands the same way they communicate with their friends on social media?

With Facebook’s announcements regarding opening the messenger APIs to brands and its chatbot platform, the future is here. Social networks will continue to be used for consumers to talk to other consumers. But those 900 million Facebook Messenger users can now stay right there to communicate directly with their favorite brands.

Consumers will soon be able to ask in plain language what they want to know. Not only can they do research at the beginning of their journey, but they can actually purchase their item there. And the brand can proactively reach out to them to let them know the item has shipped right in this same channel.

Time for maintenance? The brand knows exactly where to reach the consumer. And now there is a place for this consumer and this brand to have an ongoing, continuous relationship that eliminates the hoop-jumping of figuring out the proper number or email address to reach different departments such as customer service versus sales.


Putting It Into Practice

Here’s an example of a mother who has a child with severe allergies. She wants to go out to dinner, but needs to find restaurants that can accommodate the allergies. She starts on Facebook and asks her network for some suggestions. She then has to jump out of Facebook and go to each restaurants website, searching for the information on their website self-service. Frustrated, she tries to guess the right keywords for FAQ to get the answers she needs. Now, imagine she is able to jump right from asking her Facebook friends for recommendations, clicks over to Facebook Messenger, and has the following conversation with the restaurant:


Mom: Can you accommodate peanut allergies?

Restaurant: Yes.

Mom: Do you have any options on the kids’ menu that can work for someone with a severe allergy to all tree nuts?

Restaurant: Yes, our macaroni and cheese and our cheese pizza are both excellent options and are tree-nut free. 

Mom: What about gluten free desserts?

Restaurant: The only gluten free dessert is vanilla ice cream.


How is this all possible? Natural language processing (NLP) will be used to understand the intent of what is being asked and the best way to assist. Options to assist may include using a bot or escalating to a human depending on the task that is required.

Chatbots are artificial narrow intelligence that are created to perform single repeatable tasks with high efficiency. Checking an allergen list on a menu would be a good example of this. When a series of these chatbots exists, NLP can determine which bot is best for the job and call it into action.

If a more complex issue was at hand (for example, the child actually had an allergic reaction to something eaten at the restaurant), escalating it to a consumer relations professional is the right call. Whether the answers are provided by a bot or a human should be completely seamless to the consumer.

The bottom line is consumers can communicate in a way that is natural for them and receive responses in a similar unstructured way. There is an added benefit for companies who have struggled to get adoption of their branded apps. Leveraging Facebook Messenger allows instant access to the 900M loyal users.

Shellie Vornhagen headshot
Shellie Vornhagen is the VP of Marketing for Astute Solutions, a leading provider of smart consumer engagement solutions. A veteran in the software industry, she is passionate about using technology to improve people’s day to day lives.