Linus Gregoriadis
Linus Gregoriadis 30 October 2018

Four key trends defining the future of social

Social media management platform Hootsuite hosted the London edition of its Future of Social conference series last week where the company’s chief marketing officer Penny Wilson outlined four important trends that are shaping the evolution of social customer engagement.

Credit: Hootsuite

An important theme of her talk was how companies should be embracing technology developments as they strive to deepen their relationships with customers and prospects. Read on to learn about the four key trends highlighted in her presentation. 

#1. We are moving from the age of customer experience to the age of the individual

The first section of the presentation looked at how consumer behaviour is changing as a result of developments such as the growth of voice search and the continued migration of social conversations from social networks to more private messaging apps.

With the customer experience shifting ‘from being brand-led to customer-led’, a key insight was the need for brands to adapt to these trends by making sure they are interacting with consumers in a way that is most appropriate for an individual at any given moment in time.

Wilson stressed the importance of brands being able to manage their customers seamlessly across different touchpoints ‘without skipping a beat’, whether the interaction is with a company’s marketing function, its customer support team or another department.

The Social Customer Experience report, produced by Digital Doughnut sister company London Research in partnership with Hootsuite earlier this year, illustrates the range of different functions within the business that are utilising social media to engage with customers and prospects.

Based on a survey of more than 300 organisations, the research found that the social media channel is being harnessed not just by marketing departments (83% of companies), but also by customer service and support (48%), sales (43%) and PR (also 43%).  

Hootsuite - Future of Social

The recommendation for brands is to understand the customer journey in as much detail as possible, so that any friction points can be removed or managed.

In an age where chatbots and other types of AI-driven technology are likely to become increasingly widespread, another tip for businesses was to define an approach to artificial intelligence, to ensure that the right kind of actions are being automated in a way that frees up employees to engage with customers when it really adds value.  

#2. The quest to produce authentic and timely content

A more personalised customer experience puts the onus on brands to produce enough content to satisfy an array of different circumstances. The problem for brands is making sure they are providing the right content at the right time when there is so much information out there, and the potential for individuals to feel overwhelmed by content that isn't relevant to their particular needs.

Wilson used Netflix as an example of a brand putting content at the heart of its strategy, with the company making hundreds of new programmes every year, and recently announcing plans to enable viewers to choose their own endings.

She also used the example of car brand Lexus which created more than 1,000 unique video ads to promote its NX model, so that they could be as relevant as possible to the specific tastes and interests of consumers targeted through Facebook.

A growing requirement for brands, she explained, is the ability to ‘component-ise’ content so that it can be made as relevant as possible to different audiences. Companies must cultivate the ability to create content elements that can be automatically assembled and delivered in a personalised way across a host of platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

Brands were urged to experiment as much as possible and ‘to start small to build momentum’.

#3 The future of advertising will be value-driven

The key takeaway in this section was the need for brands to find appropriate ways to add value for consumers, for example through augmented reality and artificial intelligence.

While social channels continue to deliver for advertisers, the trend towards private messaging and voice search presents challenges for brands seeking to be relevant and personalised in what are still only nascent channels.

She gave the example of a chatbot released by Estée Lauder that uses augmented reality to invite customers to try on the company’s Pure Colour lipsticks, encouraging engagement in a way that is innovative and tailored to the medium.

As Wilson rightly pointed out, brands will need to focus more than ever on adding value for consumers, while at the same time empowering consumers to manage their data and change their consent options as they see fit.

The audience heard that blockchain technology will play an increasingly important role in helping brands to be transparent in their relationships with consumers, helping companies to build trust by virtue of the permanent and verifiable nature of an open and distributed ledger.   

‘As consumers we will use Blockchain to define what information we are willing to share,’ she explained.

#4. The shift from social data to social intelligence

Another theme of the Social Customer Experience report was the need for brands to be able to access data and insights to improve engagement with customers and prospects, helping them to facilitate personalisation at scale.  

According to the research, only 28% of companies surveyed strongly agreed that they were able to harness social data for insights that will help us improve the customer experience.

With emotions rather than logic known to drive the majority of the decisions we make as individuals, Wilson stressed the need for companies to move ‘from social data to social intelligence’, with a focus on emotional intelligence (EQ) as well as IQ.  

She said that brands should take advantage of the ability to tap into facial recognition and voice data to understand emotions, citing Cogito as a good example of a company that uses AI and behavioural science to understand the emotional experience of the customer in real time.

As well as the need to invest in innovation and experimentation, Wilson also stressed the importance of a social centre of excellence within the business, and the need to find an executive sponsor to secure the necessary budget and internal co-operation.

An on-demand recording of Hootsuite's Future of Social event in London is available here.

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