Social media is coming into it’s own as a practice these days. More people are getting on board, making plans, executing them and (hopefully) measuring their impact on the organization. We have witnessed the rise of a new role, the community manager. Typically this role is being taken under the wing of the marketing department. Community managers today are most likely marketing professionals with a passion for social. But, at the end of the day, they are still marketers.
To a large degree this makes a lot of sense. Social media is media after all, and media lives with marketing. But, I see a rather large issue with this and in many cases why social is not getting the engagement many brands are hoping to garner.
The case for marketing
We marketers are awesome at talking about ourselves. Like, really awesome. We are accustomed to promoting products and features sets. We are comfortable selling and telling people why our product or service is ideal for them and the wonderful benefits and unique differentiators of our brand’s products and services. In fact, our penchant for this may be the single most compelling reason that marketing should not own the social channels. We are TOO good at promoting and selling and social is not for direct selling, really. At least it isn’t supposed to be!
It feels as if we, as a profession are having a hard time adjusting to the media because we are supposed to earn the right to talk about ourselves. And right now, too many brands are not actively earning that right. We are not effectively adjusting to what the medium is asking from us because it requires us to take a break from talking about our brands, products and services. Which is really, really hard for marketers. In addition, most marketers are pretty removed from actual customers (outside of a focus group). On the flip side, we are elegant communicators and really know the product, so when we do earn the right to talk about ourselves, marketers are ideal, but that is only 20% of the time.
The case for customer service
Enter the people who have the most direct experience with customers: Your customer service team. Many brands are already leveraging social for customer service (with varying degrees of success). When I think about the skillset that customer service has, it is very focused on delivering value to the customer. The job of the customer service agent is to listen to the customer and then work to solve the problem while advancing the relationship. Kinda sounds like what we all are saying we need to do in social. In social, it is much the same, listen to the customer, solve the problem if there is one and advance the relationship.
Customer service agents have their ear to the ground with people who have bought your product. Good customer service agents are fantastic at communicating with customers. The best agents can take a bad situation and turn it 180 degrees. These professionals are front line. They are already engaging with customers in other media. Unfortunately, they have the ear to the ground of the unhappiest of customers, but, then again, if you can take an unhappy customer and make them a happy customer, imagine what you would do for a happy customer! However, despite their knowledge of the customer and the predefined goals of listening and advancing relationships, customer service does not have the marketer’s skill set.
Because we have a distinct two-sided gap in skills, abilities and needs, there will need to be a rise of a hybrid role. This role will be one that has the communications savvy of a marketer and a service-oriented attitude. But, the bigger question is where should this live? Will social continue to be an additional marketing and advertising channel because it is where we are most comfortable? Or will we allow customer service to manage social media because it is aligned with their behaviors?
Lately I have been thinking that the (hold onto your seats) customer service department might be the best place in the long run. I can see a day where there is an active partnership with marketing to learn and grow the social interactions where we earn the right to talk about ourselves. But, I do think that the customer service department is not ready for this in its current state. In the meantime, more brands should be leveraging their customer service team to learn about their customer base and most importantly how they are managing customer relationships. And the customer service team needs to learn more about how we market products and services.
At the end of the day, we need to start filling that skillset of “customarketing services”.