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Socially Empowered Consumers

One brand manager said from our field research:

Consumers increasingly use social media to follow brands and make comments about brand experiences—on the major social platforms: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and others. More than half (53%) liked or followed a brand on social media, according to salesforce.com.23 According to research by Edison Research and Triton Digital of 2,023 American consumers, Instagram is now tied as the second-most popular social network (with LinkedIn), behind Facebook, whereas Pinterest, Tumblr, and Vine have all shown significant growth recently. Their survey asked: “Which one social networking site or service do they use most to connect with brands or products?” Seventy-six percent say Facebook, followed by 10% Twitter, and 4% Instagram. More than one-third of social media users (36%) say they consciously follow brands or companies on social media.24

However, social media has also become an important way for consumers to interact with brands. Fifty-one percent of American consumers say they have written online reviews for businesses, products, or services, according to Goodsnitch, and the majority (82%) of those wrote both negative and positive reviews.25 More than seven in ten (73%) believe it is important to write online reviews for local businesses. And 85% say that knowing a business has received positive feedback makes them more likely to purchase that company’s products or services.26

Consumers are especially influenced by negative reviews—much more so than positive reviews. Research by the Google+ local team of 2,500 Internet users 25 years and older found that “85% of consumers indicated that they would be ‘not likely’ or ‘somewhat unlikely’ to choose a business with negative reviews. This response seemed independent of industry. It was heavily skewed toward the ‘not likely’ with over 62% of all respondents indicating they would not be likely to frequent a business with negative reviews. However when asked the same question about positive reviews, consumers were nowhere near as likely to look upon positive reviews as reason to choose a business. Between 44% and 53% indicated that they were somewhat or very likely to [choose] a business with positive reviews. But the vast majority of those were ‘somewhat likely’ rather than ‘very likely’ indicating a degree of caution even among those that were predisposed to favor the business based on positive reviews. 47% and 56% of respondents indicated that would remain somewhat unlikely or not likely to choose a business based on positive reviews. That is a large degree of skepticism.”27

Consumers increasingly look to social media as a useful customer service touchpoint to resolve problems or offer favorable or unfavorable comments. For example, at a vacation home I set up a “seasonal” Internet/ telephone package with the regional telecommunications company—I want the service to be “on” when I am staying there (usually 2 or 3 months), and “off” the rest of the year. However, I experienced considerable hassle in service response when I called into the company to turn the seasonal services off. Inevitably I went through a long phone tree to get to the correct representative, who would then reroute me to someone else, and to someone else. On one call I told the person in exasperation how nice he was, but I had just wasted 93 minutes trying to turn my seasonal service off for the year. That evening I sent out a tweet broadcasting my poor service experience with this company. The next morning I had a cheery response from a company agent in Denver apologizing for my troubles, asking how he could help. He promptly followed through on my request, sent me a confirmation email, and offered to help further. Now whenever I want to turn my seasonal services on or off I simply email this same representative and he handles my request without a hitch.

I’m not alone—social media is effective because it sends notice publically to the broader brand community—indeed, to anyone happening to encounter the brand’s comment while browsing social media. The number of users turning to social media as a customer service touchpoint to address specific service issues (versus general brand comments) has grown to 11%, according to eDigitalResearch’s survey of 2,000 consumers. Six percent have used social media to send positive feedback about a company’s service response, compared to 2% who said they have used this touchpoint to send a complaint.28 One-third (37%) of those surveyed now expect to be able to contact a brand by live chat. Notice the difference between these numbers and the research cited above that 51% of American consumers say they have written online reviews for businesses, products, or services. What we are seeing is that consumers are much more likely to use social media to broadcast their dissatisfaction or satisfaction with a brand than they are to use social media to send a specific message or complaint directly to the brand. The imperative for brands to monitor consumer conservations in social media about your brand is essential.

However, what is especially revealing is that consumers not only expect brands to be present on social media, but also expect a speedy and personal response to their social posts or messages. For example, The Social Habit research study (from Edison Research and Triton Digital) found that of those consumers who have ever attempted to contact a brand, product, or company through social media for customer support, 32% expect a response within 30 minutes, and 42% expect a response within 60 minutes. Fifty-seven percent expect the same response time at night and on weekends as during normal business hours. And 24% expect a reply within 30 minutes, regardless of when contact was made (see Figure 1.6).

Figure 1.6

Figure 1.6 Expected Response to Social Media Posts to Brands

Source: From a subsample of the Social Habit Research Study, 690 persons from a sample of over 3,000 American social media users. Jay Baer, “42 Percent of Consumers Complaining in Social Media Expect 60 Minute Response Time,” Convince&Convert, http://www.convinceandconvert.com/social-media-research/42-percent-ofconsumers-complaining-in-social-media-expect-60-minute-response-time/.

Digital has changed perceptions of time and social distance between customer and brand, between customer and customer, and between customer and product expert (bloggers, reviewers). Problems now must be resolved instantly or in hours, not days or weeks. Otherwise customers will tweet their dissatisfaction with a hashtag, which gets broadcast to countless potential downstream followers. Blogger Jeff Jacobs describes getting his order filled incorrectly at the drive-in window of Culver’s, a Wisconsin-based burger chain. He quickly tweeted the issue and got a response in 37 minutes; here’s part of the twitter stream:

The final resolution: “BOTH the corporate Culver’s folks AND the local [Greenville, South Carolina] owner sent me a coupon for a ‘make-up’ basket, and I got a call from the owner, as well as an email.”29

Notice what transpired here: A smart digital management team at Culver’s monitored Twitter for conversations about the Culver brand and discovered a less-than-satisfied customer—this customer happened to have 108,000 followers on Twitter. The brand digitally joined in the conversation with the customer one-to-one, apologized for making a mistake, asked for details of the error, and offered compensation (a free meal)—marketing theorists call this service recovery. This brand recognized the power of this customer at this moment in time—and the ease (due to digital) at which this customer assumed a more assertive posture in the customer—brand relationship.

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