Brands have adjusted to engaging on social media quite well; in fact, social media engagement is incorporated into virtually every marketing plan. It’s important, especially as it is a consumer driven initiative. When social media emerged as a way for consumers to connect with brands, it was typically one way communication. Consumers enjoyed interacting with brand posts, receiving social media driven discounts and promotions, and sharing products and services with friends and family. Once consumers found that they could “talk” to brands and get answers and help with issues, they started using it more and more frequently for a variety of purposes.
In response, brands had to find ways to ensure that they were monitoring their social sites regularly and responding in a timely manner. With some bumps in the road and thanks to the help of emerging software platforms to manage all social communication, brands were successful in acclimating to the new normal.
Fast forward about ten years or so and things look different. While direct communication is vital and procedures have been put in place to monitor, respond to, and analyze this content, indirect communication has evolved at a rapid pace, and brands may be missing a great opportunity for further engagement, listening, and building brand reputation and awareness.
What is indirect communication?
When brands think about customer communication, they first think of the conversations and engagement that are happening on the brand’s social sites, and possibly even through brand generated hashtags. This is considered direct communication.
What brands likely realize, but don’t fully understand the importance of, is indirect communication. This is when customers are talking about your brand, products, and services, but not on your social sites. They may or may not be using hashtags, but many times these are not brand generated or even hashtags a brand would find relevant. This may include a Tweet that says, “Has anyone else had trouble with shipping from ABC retailer?” or a Facebook post sharing a poor customer experience and urging others to be wary of doing business with a particular business.
Consumers are not just on social sites either – they are talking on message boards and forums, on blogs, and even commenting on news articles. This indirect communication can be invaluable, sometimes even more so than direct communication.
Why is indirect communication important to monitor?
Here’s something to consider: while 70% of consumers will use a company’s social site for customer service issues according to a recent report from CoSchedule, the vast majority of those talking about a brand in more general terms are not connected to the company on social sites. From this same article, it is cited that 96% of consumers talking about a brand are not connected to those brands on social. This means there is a lot of indirect content out there that is going largely unnoticed.
While folks may just be sharing content, checking in to their favorite restaurant, or asking their connections for recommendations and advice, it is important to be aware of these conversations. Sometimes the information can identify a potential customer experience issue or signal a potential crisis brewing.
TV show draws out potential product crisis
One such viral conversation to highlight the importance of indirect communication was seen recently by the Crock-Pot brand. Fans of the wildly popular TV show This is Us had been waiting for a season and a half to find out how the beloved main character, Jack Pearson, dies. It was revealed that the fire that may or may not have killed him was due to a faulty crockpot (not even one from the Crock-Pot brand itself). Because of the wide-ranging, extremely passionate following of this show, the Crock-Pot brand faced widespread hatred in the days following that episode. Viewers reported throwing out old crock pots, giving them away, vowing to never purchase a crockpot again. Their stocks plunged 12% in the days following the episode. In the end, both the Crock-Pot company and the producer of This is Us made public statements on the safety of the product.
In this case, it was apparent pretty quickly to the Crock-Pot brand that indirect conversation was happening in a big way, but imagine if this was a lesser known situation that a brand was unaware of? Not being aware of these conversations could have a detrimental impact, even when the premise of the conversation is really irrelevant and based on a fictional character’s death.
A regular meeting place has gone awry
Less dramatic, and perhaps a more relatable situation, can be seen on a public message board geared toward hobby enthusiasts. Their members are active and discuss a wide range of activities. Often times they will schedule meetups to get together locally and discuss their typical meeting place – a casual dining restaurant that is local to most forum members. After several meetups, there was one bad experience at the restaurant, which was discussed at length on the forums. Based on this, they decided to seek out another meeting place. This restaurant lost a group of customers and had no idea. Further, this was a public forum, so anyone interested in reading could easily see this feedback as well. Imagine if the restaurant was aware of this conversation – they may have had the opportunity to save this group from finding another establishment and publicly showing other customers how they handle issues.
Learn to talk like your customers do
Target is a great example of this. Through listening to their customers, the brand learned how their customers talk about the brand. They realized that the phrase “going on a Target run” was pretty standard in their base. From there, they created commercials and marketing messages that included that tagline to essentially “talk the talk” of their customers and further engage with them.
What are brands currently doing with indirect communication?
Interestingly, social listening to indirect communication is not a significant practice as of yet, though it is emerging. And for those brands listening, knowing what to do with that content is still challenging.
Take, for instance, the customer service angle. While 70%are 30% of consumers not connected to a brand but seeking customer service related help. What is happening to that group?
A recent study conducted by Ann Michaels & Associates shows that indirect communication for customer service is sorely lacking. In the third leg of a three-year study, the company looked at response rates and times on social to customer service questions. While the main component of the study revolved around direct communication (contacting brands directly on their social site), the indirect component was also incorporated. This is when questions would be posted on individual’s social sites without directly contacting the company to determine if this was noticed and responded to.
In the study’s initial run in 2013, there was no indirect communication noted. Two years later, in 2015, there was a slight indication that indirect communication was being monitored, as a very small percentage of indirect communication was responded to (less than 5%). The most recent leg of the study, conducted in 2017 showed an improvement, with a 14% response rate to indirect communication. What’s interesting to note is that the increase was significantly attributed to the use of a hashtag, which was not necessarily company driven. This indicates a move toward brands attempting to identify and listen to indirect communication by looking at related hashtags, but the sad fact is that untagged or undirected communication still went largely unnoticed.
The content is out there. Why, then, is it not yet being used to its fullest potential?
What are the challenges with indirect communication?
In theory, it’s great to be able to identify, collect, engage with, and analyze all communication for your brand, especially this indirect communication. However, it may be easier said than done.
Why is this?
ROI is still a struggle
In talking with social media professionals, it’s clear that one component that hinders indirect communication monitoring is simply manpower – there are not enough staff to handle the load. I recently talked with a colleague in the industry who shared that, in his case, there is so much content available and not enough staff to the point that they have to ‘draw the line’ somewhere with regard to what content they monitor and engage with. Part of the issue is that marketing professionals have to wear so many hats, and the budget isn’t where it needs to be in order to effectively handle every aspect of social marketing.According to a recent Cision report, 52% survey respondents cited difficulty proving ROI as one of the top three challenges in marketing. With social media marketing and research still being a fairly new concept, ROI can be difficult to prove – it’s no longer just showing an increase in likes, shares, and comments like it was ten years ago. Unfortunately, when ROI cannot be proven, budget dollars are not allotted.
Time & money
Still tying into proving ROI, marketing and customer experience departments are stretched thin. In addition to creating marketing content, they are also responsible for a million other tasks; sometimes, the indirect conversations may be seen as the low man on the totem pole and not given the attention it deserves. In that same vein, software platforms come with a cost, and, depending on what has been used to this point, additional platform purchases may be needed, and budgets don’t allow for this.
There are so many listening/social media marketing platforms available, and some are limited with regard to the type of content they can collect. Some focus on content publishing while others focus solely on listening. For the former, there are sometimes limitations on the content that can be pulled into the platform. Some of the simpler platforms only allow brands to pull in and monitor direct contact from the brand’s social sites and possibly a few keywords from Twitter. Others will offer more robust listening features, while those focused on listening do not always allow content publishing and/or scheduling.
What Can A Brand Do?
If your company is currently only monitoring direct communication, it’s time to up the game. Before this happens though, be sure that current procedures are rock solid and you’re managing this part well first. It’s important to have a handle on the direct component before raising the bar, especially since indirect communication is more voluminous and difficult to maintain.
Here are some ideas to keep in mind when deciding how to move forward with social media listening and engagement.
Revise strategies and divide and develop a plan
At the onset, simply listening to indirect communication is overwhelming. Start there and simply take it all in for a bit. It’s also important to flesh out a solid plan specific to this type of content. What will be done with it? Is it simply listening to gain knowledge? What happens when comments, questions, or complaints are found – does the company respond? Publicly or privately? Who will be responsible for this task? Create a plan of attack and revise as the program evolves. Consistency is key here, so make sure the team is knowledgeable on this type of communication, what it will be used for, and how the brand will engage with it.
Make sure the software fits the task at hand
As mentioned earlier, there are so many software platforms out there, each with a different objective. Take a close look at what your software provider offers; if it is limited, you may need to seek additional platforms or change to meet your needs. Adding platforms may be more confusing and provide a less streamlined process, so ask your provider what options you have before seeking out new technology. If you’ve worked with the same platform for several years, it may be a good time to see what else is out there – like social media, the platforms change often and enhancements come quickly.
Look beyond words
Consumers are not only using words anymore. Most social listening platforms have the capability to identify trends in hashtags, emojis, and images too. Image recognition is taking off, with platforms being able to collect relevant images even when there is no accompanying text. See what’s trending and it may give insight into how to better communicate with your customers.
Let’s face it – social moves fast, and changes almost daily. Keeping up with the speed at which social moves can be a significant challenge. Brands have come a long way in this arena over the last ten years or so. While indirect communication listening and engagement is only starting to creep up on the radar, I anticipate it will be in the coming years. Brands have acclimated to consumers driving online marketing and even customer service, and this is just the next step in the process. It will come, though slowly.