Are brands over-investing in social media?

Major marketing investment in social media channels is delivering great customer experiences, but is it sustainable?

Social media is firmly established as a channel for customer interaction. Savvy consumers have discovered the power of discussing their problems in public and they won’t be returning to the call centre queues.

As a practical response to this customer migration, savvy businesses are investing in social media capability. But is this investment justified, and more importantly, scaleable? Or are brands raising customer expectations to unsustainable levels? Are they at risk of being overwhelmed as the majority joins the early adopters in using social media as their primary channel for interaction with a brand?

We monitor the interaction between brands and consumers on social media. We see all the same gripes that marketers are used to watching flow into their CRM via traditional channels. But we also see a lot of surprise and delight, as consumers get fantastic service over social media. Things like:


@natstop3 @aami You’ve got some pull Donny. Case manager called back in 35mins promising to send SoW, quotes & timelines. Thanks #twitter

— Nat Musson (@NatsTop3) November 9, 2012


@medibank thanks for SUPER prompt follow up guys. Got a call back & all is taken care of. FANTASTIC SERVICE! Thanks so much! 🙂

— Polly Maeve (@PollyMaeve) October 23, 2012


@bankwest Lol thanks Lynds. I’m a happy BankWest banker already. Just wish the teller I spoke to knew this info though.

— Amanda Phu (@bunny_phuphu) January 2, 2013

These great social media experiences evidence nothing more than the efficient execution of customer care. The customer gets through to a rep quickly. He or she takes the time to understand the problem and has the skill and authority to follow it through to a successful conclusion. The surprise and delight is because the customer’s expectations were exceeded.

These happy results must surely be related to the level of investment in social media, rather than any magic inherent in the channel itself. Based on the feedback from customers we see, it seems that social media teams are often able to exceed the customer expectations established by their hard-pressed colleagues in the traditional channels because they have the resources to offer a personalised and responsive service.

As customers take to social media to broadcast their experiences – good or bad – and comparison sites like ours leverage the public nature of social media to aggregate and amplify the feedback to a wider audience, it makes sense to invest in ensuring that these influential customers are advocates rather than critics, right?

But are brands considering how this scenario is likely to play out? By delivering a better experience via social media, brands are incentivising consumers to shift their interaction from traditional channels to social media. The early adopting consumers don’t care what’s driving their good experience – resources or the nature of the channel – they just know it works better than the phone. And they are going to tell their friends about it – because that’s the whole point of social media.

We are soon likely see a migration away from traditional channels to social media as consumers seek out the best service. Are brands going to be ready? Over-investing in social media works if it’s 5% of customer enquires, the additional cost can be absorbed, but what if it’s 25% or 50%?

In this scenario, social media will become the mainstream, and thus it is hard to see how this customer experience is going to be able to continue to be any different from the mainstream experience coming out of today’s traditional contact centres. This could be when brands must face the real challenge of social media – elevated expectations, resource constraints and a powerful consumer voice.


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Matt Travers
BY Matt Travers ON 22 February 2013
Matt Travers is the founder of service quality comparison site ServiceRage, which uses social media feedback to rank Australian companies. He has more than 15 years experience on both the client and agency sides of digital marketing in Australia and the Europe.