“Social business” as a field is super broad, and it changes very quickly. Which means that figuring out where things are at a given time (as well as where they’re going) can feel like trying to nail down eels.
Staying on top of social media trends is not always easy—new advice comes in every day, and it’s hard to tell whether it’s the buzzword of the month, or if it’s something that will shape the way your business works (or should work) that you should probably pay attention to.
My colleagues and I at Falcon Social do what we can to stay on top of things. There are a lot of things to stay on top of! Beyond attending conferences, like SXSW and the recent Social Shake-up, we talk to a lot of brands about their challenges on social media.
So, here’s a look at some of the most important trends for businesses that are serious about social.
#1 – Social customer service is getting better, and more important
Customer service on social media has become more or less inevitable for most companies. Some brands may have initially resisted, either because of inertia, or discomfort with the idea of having customer complaints in the open for all to see but customers left them little choice. If companies want to have a presence on social media for marketing or other purposes, people are going to use it as a customer service channel.
While people have been using social for customer service for years now, it hasn’t rivaled other channels for a lot of companies. Now, a giant company like Whole Foods that handles customer service in-store as well as over the phone will still handle over 40 percent of its customer service inquiries via social media as their director of social, consumer relationship management and customer care, Natanya Anderson, revealed at The Social Shake-Up Conference.
And as more companies are handling a higher volume of their customer service via social, many are getting better. Response times are getting better, although there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
And more and more companies are realizing that customer service on social networks can’t be isolated from other channels. Agents should talk to customers in the same way on social and off, and should be as empowered to resolve issues in both spaces. And if they do have to ask a customer to change channels, say because of sensitive information, they should be able to handle that change seamlessly (no repeating, no lag time).
#2 – Content channels/distribution: It’s complicated
Content is everywhere, and continues to be one of the major areas of concern and investment for brands across sectors. There are plenty of sub-trends going on within content—the rise of video, mobile, the fear of content overload—which all bring their own set of challenges. But one of the thorniest issues at the moment is distribution. How do companies decide what content they distribute where, and how do they optimize distribution on individual networks and in general?
For starters, big brands have accepted that social networks are pay-to-play. Even on networks where they are seeing good organic engagement, like Instagram, things probably won’t stay the same forever. The ideal situation for optimizing distribution is having a great strategy and a lot of money, but more of one can make up for less of the other (a principle which applies to more or less anything).
Money is money, but for strategy, what can brands do? They can be smart about the channels they choose. If a channel fits into their overall marketing strategy and objectives, if they’ll have existing fans there, and be able to grow an engaged audience, they should go for it. If they’re doing it because they heard it was the next hot thing, maybe hold off.
As BuzzFeed has pointed out, content gets shared across and between networks, so sometimes it makes more sense to create content that works on multiple channels.
At the same time, some networks, and the audiences on them, are particular enough that content and campaigns that are tailored specifically for them can have a big payoff in terms of reach, engagement and audience acquisition.
Brands that want to improve distribution should be frequently trying new things, measuring, evaluating and adjusting based on what works and what doesn’t (all the while keeping their customers’ content habits and their own business goals in mind).