We’re at the customer support stage of social business

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At yesterday’s Social Media Week I sat in two sessions. The first was an interview by Emily Steel (of the Financial Times) with Jeff Dachis, the founder and CEO of the Dachis Group. Yes, we heard several times that Jeff had been the originator (or one of the originators) of the banner ad at Razorfish, back in the 90’s. And it is fairly interesting that he now thinks that ads like that won’t pay off in the new mobile era. And I heard one idea cast and recast over the course of the softball interview: earned media — the tweets, posts, and pins of the people out there — is a proxy for the value of paid media, like Superbowl ads.

Jeff didn’t say much about owned media, like brands’ websites. Although he talked about big data a lot.

I believe that brands will try to look and feel as much like people as possible, online. For example, brands have their own Facebook pages and Tumblr accounts. A winning strategy of the near future might be to get Tumblrers to follow your brand’s Tumblr blog, and to make the posts look and feel as much as possible the way your prospective customers’ posts do. This is what is going to replace ads: following.

As I said the other day, in a different context (The Social Productivity Paradox is that personal productivity comes first), iI wrote about the difference between push- and pull-based communication models in business:

[….] creating a work context when critical information finds its way to people naturally, through follower-to-followed connections, has profound cultural and behavioral consequences.

This can be thought of as the transition from push to pull.

In a social follow model, the person who wants information registers that interest by following: they pull the information. They choose what is important based on their own perspective.

The pre-social model was predominantly push, like old school advertising, or interoffice memos. The classic contemporary example is a company in which corporate communication is channeled through email with long cc lists. Others — the producers of information — decide who should receive it, and the recipients are left with new tasks to do: to read and assimilate these emails, and perhaps take some action, as well.

So the ‘answer’ to the issue of the future of advertising is already starting. Stop trying to advertise on mobile, and instead participate in the streams that people want to use on mobile, and people will follow your brands if you contribute to whatever it is the people are up to. I think this will have profound societal impact. And maybe less billboards.

The second session I attended had the ungainly title of The Social Engagement Hub: Re-Imagining The Contact Center As A Critical Marketing Tool. It was a great panel with people up to their neck in today’s social customer support: Joshua March (CEO and Co-Founder of Conversocial), Evan Shumeyko (CRM Engagement Practice, Ogilvy), Michael Brito (Social Business Strategy at Edelman Digital), Sean Valderas (Social Media Manager, Nokia) and Alon Waisman, Social Media Operations Manager at GoDaddy). I recommend that people interested in the down in the trenches insights from these pioneers listen to the recording of the session, here.

The big take away for me was that social customer support is happening, and it is growing fast. More importantly, tools that people use for social media marketing are likely to be a mismatch with the needs of customer support staff. However, in a lot of companies, marketing ‘owned’ the social channel to the business. They were the first out there, using Twitter and Facebook, analyzing sentiment about the company’s products and services, and trying to influence influencers to advocate.

Then, as people online saw that GoDaddy was on Twitter, they naturally assumed they could use that medium for customer support issues: How do I do this? Why doesn’t that work? Why did I get charged for a domain registration? And, at first, those messages were received by marketing folks. Marketing folks who are not necessarily trained in technical issues. So they were being passed along to customer support, and so, we enter a new stage of social business: the customer support stage.

And even though social media has only been with us — in the corporate setting, at least — for a few years, the structures of power have been built. As some of the panelists related, there is often a tug-of-war period when social customer support is getting off the ground when marketing continues to want to ‘own’ and dominate the social channels that they created.

A company has moved into that second stage when the customer support people can say ‘this is a support issue, not a marketing issues, so we are responsible for figuring out what to say, to whom, and when’. As one example, I believe it was Alon Waisman who related a story where he had to tell marketing people that sending out some marketing campaign while GoDaddy was dealing with some significant service problem was not just bad marketing, but confusing in the circumstances. And he told them they couldn’t do it.

This is the social equivalent of letting anyone on the assembly line pull the cord that stops the line. It is disruptive, but in some cases, significantly less disruptive than letting the line continue.

So, what about in your company? Have you created a dedicated team of social customer support? Are they the most trained, or a bunch of recent grads that know how Twitter works, but not much else? Better to get really smart customer support people — with the deep knowledge needed for the job — and train them to use the new tools.