How Service Providers Can Leverage Social Media to Improve Customer Engagement
This article originally appeared in Volume 2, Issue 1 of <theScript> Quarterly digital magazine.
As we transition to a mobile-first world, cyber engagement is on the rise, along with social media use. According to a survey by eMarketer, the number of worldwide social media users is expected to reach 2.95 billion by 2020 — around a third of Earth’s entire population. How can businesses — and service providers, in particular — capitalize on this trend?
Figure 1 shows that in 2016, 78% of the U.S. population had a social networking profile, a 150% increase over 2008, according to Edison Research. A Pew Research Center survey between March 7 and April 4, 2016, found that 76% of internet users were active on Facebook daily, while 51% were on Instagram, 42% on Twitter, 25% on Pinterest and 18% on LinkedIn.
If those users are your customers and you aren’t engaging them with social media, you may be missing some key clientele.
Advantages of social media
Social platforms present opportunities for businesses to connect with current followers, as well as to reach potential customers. Companies can leverage social media to execute timely and relevant promotions in response to the likes, follows and positive responses of their target audience.
The power of social networking is immense and growing. With almost 90% of U.S. businesses having a social presence, according to eMarketer, it seems almost mandatory for companies to incorporate social media into their marketing. Consumers are looking for businesses that have a strong, favorable brand presence they can easily connect with online. Hopping on the social media bandwagon enables companies to:
- Gain valuable customer insights.
- Increase brand awareness and loyalty.
- Generate higher converting leads.
- Provider rich customer experiences.
- Increase website traffic and search ranking.
- Discover what competitors are doing.
- Share content faster and easier.
- Create flexible business models.
- Build stronger relationships.
While all of the above advantages of social media are noteworthy, the focal point of these efforts is to create relationships that lead to long-lasting loyalty between the brand and its key audience.
Social media meets customer engagement.
When you move a prospect down the marketing funnel, your objective is to cultivate a customer relationship. In order to achieve this rewarding end goal, businesses must enact a robust Customer Relationship Management (CRM) plan that embraces social platforms to deliver new and impactful promotions. Social CRM is more than just a buzzword; it’s the backbone of customer relationship success.
As Figure 2 shows, social media marketing expenses in the U.S. are expected to increase from $7.52 billion in 2014 to $17.34 billion in 2019 to accommodate the growing demand.
Customer engagement with social platforms ideally leads to profitability, but it doesn’t magically happen overnight. Businesses must participate in ongoing relationship management with customers across all channels, listen to inquiries and deliver rich, personalized messaging in near-real time. If that experience is a negative one, whether it happens over the phone, in person or through a chat, it can be enough to squash all possibilities of a future sale with that client.
A LiveWorld survey found that 66% of customers have stopped doing business with a company due to bad customer service experiences. And it’s not uncommon for unsatisfied clients to immediately voice their concerns on company social sites. Not to fear, though, because social media is also the quickest and easiest way for businesses to resolve issues and reinstate brand trust. Customers who feel the brands they follow are genuinely invested in their interests and well-being are more likely to further interact with the company, make purchases and recommend the company to their friends.
Landmark conglomerates such as Old Spice, TEDx, Starbucks, Denny’s and GoPro are just a few examples of business social media success stories.
Service providers step up their social media game.
We can see the effect social CRM has on customer engagement for businesses, but can it help service providers?
“Service providers are a handful of different types of businesses from cloud providers to traditional ISVs [Independent Software Vendors],” explains Alex Valenzuela, director of service providers at Insight. “What we’ve learned over the past nine months is that the majority of these businesses do not have the departments necessary to execute proper marketing functions that drive demand generation. Or, they have other priorities to invest resources in.”
Although social media is affordable, it’s complicated — just like a Facebook relationship status — and time-consuming. In order to effectively generate more opportunities, service providers must create the right content on the right platform based on client needs.
As Figure 3 depicts, in a survey of mostly Business to Business (B2B) small businesses, 63% of respondents named Facebook as an effective social media channel, closely followed by 60% who favored LinkedIn. While Facebook may hold value for most B2B companies, LinkedIn is the core social site managed service providers should focus on for optimal client interactions, Valenzuela says. And Twitter should be second.
LinkedIn allows users to blog directly on the platform, making it a great medium for service providers to talk about leading industry solutions and case studies. And Twitter has historically been one of the best platforms for professional networking.
“We’re currently in the process of helping service providers boost their marketing tactics. As we continue to spin up the capabilities of our Cloud Management Platform and the ability to do white-label storefronts for our clients, I think that these practices could very quickly become the core of their social media efforts,” says Valenzuela.
Social media can also help service providers streamline their solution offerings for a more effective business strategy. Today, service providers primarily deliver solutions based on client requests. However, if they’re able to better survey consumers across social media platforms, they’ll become more intuitive to client needs and be able to easily develop packaged offerings based on trends in the marketplace.
Larger service providers such as Rackspace have already mastered the art of social media, syndicating blog posts that are more technical in nature, targeted at high-level IT experts. It’s notable the company has subject matter experts on staff who can write relevant articles and forums.
While company-owned content is a great asset to the website, it’s perfectly acceptable and, in fact, encouraged to post trending content from other sources on your social site.
It’s a matter of time before midsize organizations are able to establish the right teams to pilot the development of their marketable content. While smaller service provider businesses understand how social media works, they still need to develop the practice of sharing content in order to influence potential buyers.
“One of the things driving service provider growth today is word of mouth,” acknowledges Bruce Sherman, senior manager of product management at Insight. “They aren’t doing a lot of on-purpose marketing because they have customer success stories that are being shared verbally. Case studies are one of the most credible ways to achieve lead generation; leveraging them online would amplify the impact.”
In other words, service providers could better extend their reach by developing case studies based on their most successful business transactions and sharing those on social platforms.
Fledgling companies that don’t yet have success stories to share may be able to leverage a hands-on approach to create a market presence.
“One of the things we tell service providers is that they need to get better entrenched with their customers,” Sherman says. “Your connection is not about monitoring their servers remotely; you need to develop a deeper relationship so that you can’t be replaced. When valued against the technical aspect, it’s the relationship that becomes the sticky point for clients.”
Social media, the final frontier
Investing time and energy into social media may not be realistic for everyone, but it has undoubtedly proven to be a useful tool when it comes to customer engagement.
Whether a business is focused on increasing brand recognition, achieving higher conversion rates or gaining greater marketplace knowledge, social platforms offer affordable and accessible exposure. Where else can you interact with prospective and existing clients across the globe simultaneously, in near-real time? And, by monitoring the activity on your profile, you gain an invaluable perspective on your customers’ needs and wants.
Midsize service provider businesses may not presently own a complete social CRM strategy, but the opportunity to leverage one still exists. Social platforms enable service providers to take digital case studies and share them with the masses in a matter of minutes and develop long-term, ongoing connections across the web.
With the right team and resources in place to create or share aggregated relevant content, service providers can scale their businesses more effectively, provide better visibility and build stronger relationships through social media.