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Spotlight: The History of Social Media

Mike Schneider
By Mike Schneider on May 26, 2016 10:29:37 AM


In the past decade we've seen social media grow, grow up and fundamentally transform how brands and customers engage with one another. In our latest Spotlight, Conversocial CMO Paul Johns and Chris Bolman, Director of Integrated Marketing at Percolate, sat down to discuss the history of social media, the rise of mobile and the power of the social customer.

Read on for the transcript or watch the video below.


Chris: It's funny, as I was kind of thinking about talking about the history of social, I was just thinking where Facebook is now versus where they were back almost twelve years ago.

I remember I was actually in college in Boston and I was one the first maybe couple hundred users on Facebook and going from kind of a niche platform when it was TheFacebook.com to this global sort of network for how people communicate and share what matters with each other.

I think it's really gone through a couple of phases. Obviously, there was the initial getting to scale and the platform starting to mature and understanding what it was as a product. Then you have this remarkable introduction of the mobile phase of social in 2007 when Apple releases the iPhone. If you look, it's kind of right after that and into 2008 when the growth trajectory of Facebook goes from this to this. Twitter follows suit and you have Instagram and what's happened on all these other platforms.

Thinking about that from a brand standpoint, it's like brands first saw social as just a place where a lot of people were. And they were like, "oh, people are spending their time here. How do we aggregate all this attention and disseminate a message to it?" Obviously, of course, that had the unforeseen and maybe unexpected consequences that when you start talking to people, people talk back when they have a platform that allows them to do that.

As we've seen the introduction of the mobile messaging platform corresponded in some regards with a decline in organic reach, which in some ways I think is largely a function of the fact that a lot of brands rushed into social thinking that it was just an audience aggregation platform. As they started producing more and more content, obviously the social platforms themselves wanted to build business models, they wanted brands to advertise, but they also wanted their users to actually have a good experience and not be deluged with coupons and offers. I think that's kind of brought us to the interesting point now where in response to the growth of mobile and the way this has become a two-way dialogue, brands are building more customer service and building social more into their DNA of how the brand operates and how the marketing department shares messages.

On top of that, brands are thinking more and more about "how do we reach customers on mobile? How do we have person to person interactions? What's the future of messaging apps? How do introduce things like bots for customer service?" I think we've entered this really interesting phase where social has grown up, it's clear the future of social is in messaging and person to person interaction and social advertising and now it's sort of on the brand's to really take that opportunity and run with it.


Paul: I think the inflection point of mobile is one that a lot of people miss. Suddenly, we've gone from this notion of, at least from the service point of view, of social being something being very static to something that was very dynamic and mobile and kind of what we think of as 'in the moment'. This is a big plus for brands.

I think the other point you made, which kind of intriguing for me, is this idea that when brands started reaching out to customers, they weren't necessarily inviting them to have a conversation. As you said, it was one of the unforeseen outputs was that the customer suddenly said, "hey, you're speaking to me, I have something I want to say back to you." I like that natural sense that they conversation came to them rather than it was designed.

I suppose what's really going to be interesting now is how brands adapting to this idea that they've gone from a monophonic to a polyphonic debate and discussion. That I think is the opportunity and the challenge.


Chris: I think it's interesting because the way [social media] evolved is that once customers started speaking with brands, brands realized that they needed an infrastructure. They needed a way to understand the inbound inquiries, understand what they were about, route them to the necessary department, track things like service level agreements and response times and understand what the impact on the brand was having.

"If somebody says or has a very high profile dispute or disagreement or voices unhappiness with a brand on social in a very public spotlight, is that marketing's responsibility as the steward of the brand, or is it the service teams responsibility and how do you differentiate?"

 The interesting thing is, and obviously I think we'll speak more about this in general, is this intersection of marketing and service. Because the original folks, business people on social from a brand side, were marketers and they were just saying "this is a distribution channel, this is a way that I can broadcast the message." But, once they started fielding this type of inbound social inquiry, marketers now found themselves dealing with customer service inquiries.

If somebody says or has a very high profile dispute or disagreement or voices unhappiness with a brand on social in a very public spotlight, is that marketing's responsibility as the steward of the brand, or is it the service teams responsibility and how do you differentiate? Mostly, how can you make sure that there's a clean data and customer experience hand off between the two so that marketing might feel the response but then pass it to the team that's going to ultimately actually give the customer message and make sure that they have a great experience.


"What struck me recently is that social isn't a channel at all. It's this white light. It's this signal, it's this noise, it's unstructured, it's chaotic, all the things that make social beautiful and very dangerous at the same time."

Paul: It occurred to me recently that we talk about social channels in the way that we talked about other legacy channels like email and chat. But, of course, in that sense, it was much more structured and bidirectional. What struck me recently is that social isn't a channel at all. It's this white light. It's this signal, it's this noise, it's unstructured, it's chaotic, all the things that make social beautiful and very dangerous at the same time.

I suppose one of the questions is, when you push something out as a marketer and you have the promotion, that campaign, what comes back almost certainly is for someone else. For example, If an end customer comes back and says, "hey, I saw a promotion about this new thing but, actually, I already own one and it doesn't work properly."

I suppose the heart of this discussion is, if that this white light is kind of all knowing, all seeing and super pervasive, how do you put a prism in front of it and break out that spectrum and say, these are marked inquiries, these are crisis management queries, these are customer service, how does an enterprise begin break that signal down and route it to the right people?


Chris: It's an excellent question. I think one of the things that obviously is important to think about is, obviously the brand has its objectives and obviously the customer just really wants to have as frictionless and as positive an experience with the brand as possible.

It's also interesting to think about what the social platform wants because obviously they're brokering or driving a lot of the interaction. If you look at a lot of the recent moves that Facebook and Twitter are making, what they're trying to do is they're trying to take customer service or customer inquiries or customer complaints out of the public spotlight and route them more toward, again, messaging apps or even the direct messaging channel. Twitter increased the limit on DMs and I think largely that was to help brands respond to customer complaints and inquiries on social.

In terms of thinking about that, obviously I think the social platforms are trying to help advertisers and they're trying to help brands create a better, more seamless back office communications channel or link between the brand and the customer.

In terms of how I think the best brands are approaching this, I think they are just treating social not so much as, to your point, a channel, but really more just like how people spend their time and what people naturally want to do, sort of logical consumer behavior. In doing so, they're trying just to make sure that they have a really great listening set up in general. They're listening for customers. They're trying to introduce as much automation or intelligence into discovering the sentiment, what's being talked about, where it is and what it's about. Even introducing things like translation or natural language processing and then based on that front line intelligence, they're deploying work flow rules and using governing standards to say, okay, if we get this type of inquiry, we should, again as intelligently as possible, route it to this department so that they can resolve it and then make sure that we have closed loop tracking on what happens.


Paul: When I think about twelve months ago, what I was worried about wasn't if social was going to continue to grow. I think that's an inevitability and you mentioned the inflection point of mobile. I think that's absolutely spot on. But, I think it wasn't enough that social just grew. It had to grow up. The channel providers themselves had to contribute to the phenomenon.

I think if you look at what Twitter in particular and Facebook have done, I think you're right. This notion of living out loud, these public displays of dissatisfaction have now almost been replaced with this idea that what social has become to a point, is a mobility, valuable, convenient way to engage more privately to seek a real resolution, that's a more mature channel. The thing, of course, that happens, because let's be honest, social has given customers a voice they never had before, is that there is this panic button they can hit. There is this, "hey, I came to you privately, I observed your rules, I didn't come out and publicly demonstrate just how unhappy I am, but I'm not getting the response, or more importantly, I'm not getting the resolution." Suddenly, you can amplify that.

I love that the customer is maturing. But, there's also a footnote here for brands which is, if you're not engaging, if you're not taking those channels seriously. If you're not resolving issues, just remember at any point the customer can push that externally, amplify their dissatisfaction. That's where really they've given you an opportunity to say, we're going to get ahead of this conversation and really participate, but ignore it at your peril. In that sense, I think social has matured, but the social customer still understands they have that when they need it.


"I know a lot of CMOs are like, 'I want to focus on this campaign, I want to focus on driving sales. I don't want to focus on the grenade that might show up on Instagram or Twitter.'"

Chris: It's interesting to think about that as either a risk or an opportunity as a brand. Because, on the other hand, you can really surprise and delight with exceptional public displays of service and I think you can set the standard in terms of being responsive to customers, just getting in touch with people and getting back to them at the same time.

Also, using social as a medium or sort of a canvas for creativity. Personalizing response content or delivering great experiences that go above and beyond what a customer would traditionally expect from a brand. There's a lot of great customer service examples that I think can really elevate the brand in the public spotlight. You're right, I know a lot of CMOs are like, "I want to focus on this campaign, I want to focus on driving sales. I don't want to focus on the grenade that might show up on Instagram or Twitter."


Paul: I think that's why what becomes really important is that if you think about best in class, the one thing I would maybe insert into the middle is this notion of personality and humanity. One of the things that marketers and, I think customer service professionals, are equally trying to figure out is how to differentiate their business from their competitors. What social offers that no other channel offers, and I think you're spot on, is if you think about this as an opportunity, if you think about how to surprise and delight, and if you think about how insert your personality into that conversation, how to have a more porous enterprise, how to kind of think about those relationship with customers that for the last ten years have been, if you think about traditional channels, they've been really neglected. There's a lot of apathy and indifference with some of those legacy channels. But, with social, you can reignite relationships in a way that I don't think brands have been able to do for a decade.

You talked about being on Facebook in 2004, when it was TheFacebook. The fact is that I was in customer service a number of years ago. I came out, I came back in recently and the one thing that had changed is that there was a brand new conversation through social that was now possible. Some brands are ignoring it. Some brands are doing it right—the ones that lean right into it, surprise and delight, inject their personality and humanity. That's one way between marketing and customer service—you can really change the perception of your brand and differentiate it from the competitors.


Chris: I think another thing that's really interesting is also the brands that are thinking proactively about how to reach a customer when they're happy.

Shinola is a great example. They're a Detroit manufacturer of really nice leather goods, bicycles and watches. They're a client of ours. One of the great things that they do is they actively monitor social. They look for examples of when people post snapshots of their product and other things and they'll actually go out and say, "hey, thank you so much for posting this. We really appreciate it. We love your image. We'd love to feature it elsewhere." They've gone through this process of really setting up a very streamlined workflow to aggregate customer content and customer generated imagery, redeploy it on other social channels and even feature it on places like their product page. It's sort of an obviously an efficient workflow for them because rather than commission a costly photo shoot there, they're getting this free content.

I think even more than that, it sets the standard for like, hey, as a brand we really appreciate your business and really appreciate you as an individual. I think the companies that are doing that more proactively also have this great opportunity to shine through rather than just waiting for the fire drill to come to them.


Paul: Detroit as a brand has been really intriguing to me. I think the M&M commercial in the Superbowl a number of years ago, imported from Detroit, almost reinvented the brand of Detroit.


Chris: It's a challenger brand, yes.


Paul: Exactly. It's a disruptor. I think Detroit itself has become a disruptive brand and I love how Shinola has become part of that narrative. I think it almost leads me to an observation, maybe a question, which is this: there are disruptive brands that have really figured out how to leverage social as part of their core go to market strategy. Then there are these really big brands that have been in markets, very mature, I would say maybe legacy brands. What's been intriguing to me is how the social teams almost have to fight some of the legacy dollars, some of the legacy departments. I'm wondering from Percolate's point of view, how are you helping some of the really big companies take that Shinola almost social first, socially aware approach in a company that might have some old thinking in the business?


Chris: If you're a Warby Parker, a Spotify or one of these companies, social's in your DNA. You grew up around it. All of your employees are on social.

Even if you think about some of the largest organizations with a lot of organizational complexity, the fact of the matter is all of your employees are on social to begin with. If you think about your sales team's social selling, your HR team is recruiting on LinkedIn, there's already all of this social activity happening that I think you can kind of find and really just organize a little bit better and point it in the right direction and give it a little more purpose and structure. But when you're thinking about your own channels themselves, I think the key thing is to really, again, just kind of approach it from both a business centric and a customer centric perspective.

I think one great example of this is GE. Hundred year old company, very iconic brand, huge organization, but what GE has found is that one, it's important to be on social just to position the brand in a way that people want to work at GE because GE is competing for talent with the Google's and the Facebook's and the Tesla's and some of these more modern companies. I think if you think about just the business needs and why you need to be on social and why it's important to be transparent to talk about your values, talk about what you bring to the world and your cultural contributions, I think that's really, really important in general.

Then, I think a lot of it just comes down to building the internal case for social. Change in some of these large organizations doesn't necessarily happen overnight, but if you can take a small unit or a channel or maybe one region or one brand and develop a great process and workflow for social, gather some metrics, show how its driving the business and lifting the brand, but also driving the bottom line, then effectively run for office internally with things like case studies, public speaking appearances and things like that. We've seen great examples of brands, whether it's GE or Marriott really build social from a niche area or a channel into something that's really a driver of, not just the business and the brand, but really the company culture and how people think about them in the market.


Paul: I love the idea of taking a part of the business, whether it's in geography or a sub brand, you know you've got so many sub brands that have so many interesting businesses underneath them.

Now, I'm thinking about the topic here today is "who owns social?" Hearing you speak, you remind me of one of the very first conversations I was part of as I got into this market, which was, are the social channels owned by marketing, are they owned by customer service, are they owned by someone else? Someone stood up and said, "it's not owned by any of us, it's owned by the customer." Which is really what we've been talking about. We've given them a voice. We didn't mean to give them a voice, but we gave them a voice and now brands can stand up and be counted and be part of a very active, vibrant, authentic conversation.

Sometimes it's difficult to hear, but I certainly think the brands that we work with, I'm sure the ones Percolate works with, welcome that honesty and that kind of authenticity. Turning that channel into something that was somewhat threatening and looming into something that creates the most incredible opportunity to re-engage, for us at least, that's the thing that distinguishes the brands that are really adopting social in the right way and being proactive, to your point.

I love this idea that we've moved past is social owned by marketing or is it owned by customer service. This idea of no, we've empowered our customers, we've given them a voice and now we want to engage in a conversation that we probably haven't really been able to have and scale in this very authentic way, ever.


Chris: One of the great things about technologies like Percolate and social for that matter, is that it's brought the intelligence and some of the automation to social in a way that if people are having issues, if they need to connect with the brand one on one, there's pretty relatively quick ways for the brand to identify the problem, route it to the necessary party, and deliver a great resolution.

Again, kind of automating away the administrative aspects of maybe social media management, but also a lot of the risks that then, again, frees up the brand and the marketing team or even the service teams to focus on what matters. It's automate away or accelerate or figure out technology solutions for the things that are hard to scale but really deliver a lot of value and allow you to have those one on one conversations, whether it's traditional social or via DM or a messaging app and then give everyone the freedom to focus on what they really want to do.


Paul: Social as a form of engagement with customers is scaling. There is an inevitability that social will begin to eat more and more into some of these other channels. I read an interesting Ovum report that even the people calling in to a contact center, 70 percent of them are likely calling from a mobile phone.

This notion of ‘in the moment’, is much bigger than with social channels today. The question is this, for all of the technology, whether its the bots that have been recently introduced, whether it's this idea of driving down your average handling time, what social cannot do in my view, and I'd be real interested as opposing thoughts from you, Chris on this is, how do you make sure you don't lose that humanity? How do you make sure that in the pursuit of greater efficiency and greater scale that you don't lose the essence of what social really was? Which is about being sociable with your customers. What are your thoughts on that scale and humanity?


Chris: I think it's really interesting. In some regards a lot of what we're seeing play out in social here in the United States and in Europe is actually following what's happening in Asia. If you look at an app now, we chat, you can buy products in your social app or in your messaging app. You can order taxis, you can order food, you can redeem coupons, you can join loyalty programs. Social is actually just encapsulating almost the entire brand interaction, I think we're seeing it on Facebook now too, with Facebook rolling out commerce effectively into the platform. It becomes this system where it's really just a convenience engine for how you can interact with a brand easier and faster whether you want to buy something or whether you want to talk to the brand in general.

If you're approaching it as a marketer, I think the main thing is knowing what you stand for and who you are and what the brand personality is. Making sure that that's documented internally, it's well understood. You have brand guidelines around voice and tone and look and feel. Again, I do think it's thinking about, as a corporation or as a business or as a brand, what do you stand for? What's your mission? What are you doing to help the consumers? And, just figuring out how you can elevate that in your social feed rather than just saying, hey, we made this image or we released this product.

To learn more about the Conversocial and Percolate partnership head here

Topics: Customer Service

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