social media

Five Predictions for Social Media in Customer Service

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When is the last time anything included in your multichannel strategy won a Golden Globe Award? That’s right — never. And although 2010 won’t be remembered as a banner year for much, the accolades given to “The Social Network” at the 68th annual Golden Globe Awards has only reinforced social media’s place in the cultural zeitgeist.

So what do I see happening at the intersection of social media and tech services in 2011? Here are my top five predictions (in no particular order):

Prediction #1: Companies will get serious about integration

The rush to social media has led to some operational pain points for businesses, especially when it comes to integrating both processes and technologies across the enterprise. Expect companies to get more serious about formalizing the integration of social media in 2011.

Cross-functional integration: Although marketing departments have spearheaded most companies’ involvement in social media, recently, service organizations have been taking more ownership responsibility. And while cross-functional groups only accounted for 11 percent of the ownership in 2010 (according to TSIA), I expect to see more cross-functional ownership models—and significantly more cross-functional collaboration—to emerge in 2011. Why? Collaborative efforts are essential not only to the customer experience, but for synchronizing processes, customer information and systems across business units.

Integration with back-end systems: With more and more customer interactions taking place in social media, the “360-degree view” of the customer becomes more and more elusive for companies that fail to integrate social with back-end systems.

Noting the abundance of sophisticated integration technologies available today — and the need to collect meaningful data derived from social interactions — I predict widening adoption of both performance reporting dashboards and technologies that integrate social with incident management/CRM systems in 2011.

Integration with front-end systems: In 2010, we saw yet another increase in companies integrating social media with their corporate websites (nearly 25 percent of companies do so today). I expect this trend to become even more prevalent in 2011.

This not only means enabling content ranking and commenting on traditional websites, but even more importantly, companies will continue the push towards integrating cross-platform search and single-sign on capabilities that will seamlessly link social platforms with corporate websites and knowledgebases. In 2011, hopefully more customers will have an answer to, “where is the best place to go to solve my problem?”

Prediction #2: Ubiquity of social media will create a rush to deal with the ensuing fire hose of information

The explosion of competition among mobile devices, tablets, apps and the seemingly frenzied use of social media across age groups, industry types, and market segments will cause social media and communities to swell exponentially in both size and activity in 2011 and beyond. Consequently, questions like “How does a business juggle 20,000 personal conversations and support requests in social media?” will move from the water-cooler to the boardroom.

Harnessing advocates will become a strategic imperative: In 2010, companies saw plenty of examples of the risks associated with unbridled, run-away communities, missed opportunities associated with impersonal, mismanaged forums as well as the value that can be delivered by co-creating rich communities with advocates.

In 2011 and beyond, you won’t be able to talk about a successful community without talking about a sustainable community—social media success will hinge on a company’s ability to harness advocates. Expect to see more focus on the “social” side of social media, with companies focusing more on personalization, game mechanics and other unique approaches to rewards and recognition that inspire peer-to-peer interaction. Spike Jones and the folks over at Brains on Fire have done some remarkable work in this area.

Push to identify online influencers and experts: Marketing will lead the charge when it comes to understanding how true online influencers are identified. But many service organizations will be watching closely—after all, there is still plenty of talk about whether companies should give customers with more social media influence faster—or better—support than customers with less influence.

But no matter which side of that argument you’re on, 2011 will be the year that true measures of influence are established (social media gurus take heed: using automated, $29 software to get more Twitter followers does not make you influential). In addition, 2011 will bring about new ways to find “hidden influencers”—those who aren’t on Klout’s radar (2010′s bright shiny object for measuring influence), but act as powerful influencers in “real life.”

Even more important for service organizations, however, is building new capabilities for quickly identifying experts on specific topics. As John Ragsdale points out in this blog post, as social media and self-help communities become omnipresent, vast seas of experts will form to help us solve virtually any problem. The trouble is, how do you find them?

While several platforms will focus on helping you find the most relevant content, few platforms so far have focused on developing solutions that help you find experts (John points out that Coveo’s Expertise Finding feature is one exception).

Marketing the value of peer-to-peer support communities will increase: In 2011, we’ll see more companies incorporate marketing efforts that get their online communities and social media channels in front of customers and prospects. These efforts will be driven from the need to get a handle on the growing flood of social media discussions and service requests, the opportunity to utilize social support as a marketing tool, and the ROI inherent to reducing support costs by driving peer-to-peer activity in addition to decreasing the costs of knowledge creation by harvesting community content.

Prediction #3: Social media management formalizes

Even at some of the largest and most venerable technology companies, social media initiatives have been hatched at the grassroots level—most often without funding, policies, standard processes or stakeholder support. In 2011, expect to see the formalization of social media management, as the opportunities—and risks—of social media have been recounted for decision makers throughout 2010.

Evolving social media workforce: In 2009 & 2010, the “Social Strategist” stepped onto the scene to lead social media initiatives inside corporations (for more on this, visit the blog of Jeremiah Owyang.

Primarily due to a lack of support, this role has been fraught challenges, and ultimately, few Social Strategists have been able to form long-term strategies or solid cross-functional linkages. That will change in 2011. We will begin to see a shift to how the Social Strategist is perceived—and how they operate—within organizations. Stakeholders are the key to making this role successful, and will do so by hiring the right people, clearing roadblocks and giving them access to resources.

Another role that will find its way into the spotlight this year is the community manager. Not only will they increasingly be recognized as the “oil” that helps the most successful online communities run, but stories of social media firestorms stemming from inexperienced community management are no longer relegated to the Twittersphere (example: Nestle’s Facebook fiasco).

More measures and control over experience: The most frequent questions I received from TSIA members in 2010 were around measuring social media. The questions came in two different flavors—getting a handle on the quantitative data (metrics) and the qualitative data (sentiment, buzz). This substantial interest will translate into more formalized measures in 2011.

  • Qualitative measures: Organizations interested in keeping track of what’s going in social media (qualitatively) will leverage technology—from platforms that consolidate multiple accounts/streams/searches into one dashboard (think Tweet Deck, Hootsuite, Co-Tweet), to robust social analytics platforms like Radian 6, Buzz Metrics and Awareness Networks. As people and companies experience social media overload, there will be a significant push to manage (and even cope with) the abundance of social content.
  • Quantitative measures: In 2011, organizations will formalize the process of tracking and reporting on the right metrics for social media and online communities. Gone are the days of counting Twitter followers as a measure of success. Top-notch metrics programs will take a holistic approach by incorporating website metrics (like page views and visits) with traditional service & support metrics (like CSAT and issue resolution), and community metrics (like adoption and participation).

An air of mutual understanding: Customers want to know what to expect from their questions, comments and requests placed in social media. And companies want to know where — and how — their customers prefer to interact.

In 2011, companies will focus on helping customers understand what to expect when it comes to getting answers online—whether it’s communicating specific hours for Twitter support, or indicating that incidents can only be created in support communities (for example) — companies will communicate their social media policies  — whatever they may be  — just like they do with other channels.

Companies will also become more sophisticated when it comes to understanding their customers’ social aptitudes and interaction preferences. In addition to traditional customer surveys, they will do this by leveraging tools for customer segmentation and demographics like Gist, Flowtown, Rapleaf and Fliptop, to name a few.

Prediction #4: Business value emerges as the key driver for technology innovations

Expect 2011 to deliver a steady stream of social media technology innovations. One key difference from recent years is that we’ll see much more emphasis placed on delivering true business value — from integration technologies and consolidated dashboards to game-changing new platforms.

Rapidly evolving landscape forces flexibility: Because of the break-neck speed in the evolution of social technologies, companies will shift their focus to infusing their operations with flexibility. As a result, many companies will re-prioritize their investments from channel infrastructure to integrating nimble dashboards, efficient content management systems, data collection capabilities and building sustainable communities (regardless of platform).

The “search apocalypse” is coming: In the good old days, search worked better than it does today. Search algorithms combine a bunch of variables that, together, are meant to convey the coveted advice of: “this is the page you are looking for.” But with the ever-increasing flood of SEM-tweaked sites and user-generated content available online these days, people want to find sources that have been intelligently vetted. In 2011, the “search apocalypse” will arrive, and with it, search based on trust, credibility, and community will be ushered in.

The Googleplex will join this game in a more meaningful way. Although and the jury is still out on whether Google will be able to compete head-to-head in the social media space, they will strike back in 2011 and do what they do best — index social media to pieces, and continue to refine the way information is presented to users through personalization and customization.

But despite the advances to traditional search, and significant transformations to the way users access information — from the “friend factor” to apps and mobile — will increasingly position social media as the “first stop” for users on the web. Case in point — you want to know where to find the best food truck in L.A., not the food truck with the best SEO, right?

As the flood of user-generated information continues, we will see new and better ways to make sense of the social web — from more exclusive networks like and Path (which limits your network to only 50 people), to more sophisticated monitoring dashboards and search, to new value-focused niche players like and Quora who strive to “have each page become the best possible resource for someone who wants to know about the question.”

Prediction #5: You will continue to shape the social media landscape!

No report, article or blog post on social media trends is complete without input from users. Therefore, I’ve left “prediction #5” open for interpretation by the community. Where do you see social media going in 2011? What impacts will it have on tech services and other organizations?

Please join the conversation” by adding your comments below.

As TSIA’s director of programs and community and social media research lead, Shawn Santos focuses on social media strategies for technology companies, program portfolio management, building meaningful communities, and producing insightful research for the technology services industry. Previously, Shawn worked as global marketing manager for the test and measurement division at Agilent Technologies and has held several management roles in the wine industry, including product manager for leading wine consultancy Enologix and general manager for Global Vintage Research. Contact Shawn via e-mail at shawn@shawnsantos.com, or find him on Twitter @ShawnSantos.

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