Recently, I had to help my boyfriend find airline tickets for an emergency trip. To find the cheapest airfare, we did what any logical person would do today: search online. We looked at price comparison sites. We read blog posts for tips on how to get cheap flights for urgent trips. And we scoured review sites to make sure that we were dealing with a decent airline.
After doing extensive research, we contacted a few airlines. But the problem was it was a Saturday evening: most airline call centers had shorter hours. All travel agencies that we called were also already closed. After being informed by Air Canada that it would take an hour for them to call me back, I decided to send them a tweet.
Guess how much time it took for them to tweet me back? Less than 15 minutes.
This experience of mine not only demonstrates why social media is a great tool for businesses today - it also highlights the fact that we're now at a time when customers like myself have more information, more choices and more opportunities to say what's on my mind.
Think about it: Just a decade ago, I wouldn't have had the choice of tweeting the company. The technology that would allow me do research before contacting an airline wouldn't be as robust. And checking reviews from other customers online would have been considered weird.
We are now living in the age of the empowered customer.
Social media marketers are always on the look out for what's new. We're tech geeks, and we do have the tendency to chase shiny, new things. But while social media professionals should keep their eyes on new websites, apps and networks, sometimes it helps to take a step back and assess - on a macro level - what's going on in the customer landscape. The customer revolution is one of those macro trends that social media marketers should watch.
The customer revolution not only shapes the way companies do business - it also affects how social media marketers do their job. For the most part, the customer revolution is a boon for our careers. Here are four reasons why.
- The customer revolution will keep social media professionals employed.
Social media has empowered people to candidly praise - or, in many cases - complain about companies.
A single tweet or a single blog post can start a PR disaster that can negatively affect the company's bottom line. The annual cost of unhappy customers is at a staggering $537,030,000,000, according to one estimate.
So what does this mean for social media marketers? Simple: There will be a need for your skills - at least for the foreseeable future. Social media is changing - the emergence of anonymous social networks is a sign of that fact - but as long as people are able to express themselves online, there will always be a need for professionals who know how to tune in to what people say and to use that information for business value.
- There's a need for people who understand customer engagement.
Social media's role in empowering customers is just scratching the surface. Many disparate but related technological trends are giving the power to customers. Mobile technology lets people price-check anywhere they happen to be. It lets them use and access social networks and reviews. The sharing economy empowers the crowd to get what they need from each other instead of buying from an established company. Wearables and the entire Internet of Things movement give customers more information - and therefore, more control - than ever before about their own activities and their consumption.
Innovation moves at a dizzying pace, but the new apps, websites and business models that emerge collectively let people connect with each other and broadcast their opinions. Companies need professionals who understand customer engagement deeply because these new technologies give more power the customer.
- Content marketing will continue to thrive in the customer revolution.
According to a CEB study, 57% of a typical B2B purchase decision is already made before a customer even talks to a supplier. On the B2C side, GE Capital Retail Bank has found that 81% of people look at products online before making a purchase in store. Both B2B and B2C customers are doing a lot of research before they even contact a company.
So what does this have to do with social media marketers? For one, it reiterates the importance of having a solid social media presence. When people go online to research a product or a service, social media is naturally part of the mix.
These stats also highlight the need for a content-marketing strategy that provides true value to customers. When people search online for answers to their questions, is your content one of the things they see in the results page? Is your content really addressing people's problems, or are you simply broadcasting about your product's features?
Social channels play a critical role in content marketing. That's why at a time when customers look online first before making a purchasing decision, social media marketers are in a unique position to help drive the content strategy.
4. Companies need innovative strategies.
The companies that win in the customer revolution are those that truly engage their customers. That means using social media technologies to actually be social. That means enabling your company to talk to customers and to treat them as partners.
Several established brands have launched campaigns that demonstrate how social technologies can support and amplify engagement. As the following Slideshare shows, Mountain Dew, McDonald's, and Coca-Cola have done a great job of building communities, involving their customers, and satisfying people's needs.
My favourite of these 3 examples is McDonald's: the food chain's Our Food, Your Questions campaign takes on misconceptions about its food head on. Instead of using traditional advertising to talk about their food, the company invited people on social to ask their questions and then answered those questions through YouTube, a microsite and other social networks. A two-way conversation between the company and its customers powered Our Food, Your Questions. The campaign not only won awards, it has also been been celebrated as one of the greatest examples of content marketing efforts ever. Most importantly, the campaign is helping the company connect with the always-on empowered customer.
Companies need to follow the lead of innovative companies. It takes creativity and some guts, but the companies that use social technologies beyond broadcasting are much more likely to resonate with customers. Companies will look to social media marketers for ideas - and given our curiosity, this is a task that we can excel at.
The age of the empowered customer is good news for social media marketers. More than ever, companies need us to listen and to help drive customer engagement. Customers need us too since we're often their bridge to the company's marketing, customer service, and R&D departments. Let's embrace the customer revolution and help our companies win in this era.
Note: A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn.