Social Media Is a Channel Not a Strategy

May 6, 2013

Fads. Trends. Bubbles.

Management is almost as susceptible to “what’s hot” as fashion and entertainment.

In 1982 we were all in search of excellence. In 1998, we were all wondering who moved our cheese. And in 2001, we were all trying to go from good to great.

It is easy to get carried away with the hot thing of the moment, even easier to lose focus on basic principles.

Of course, in customer service (like in many other disciplines), the hot thing for the past few years has been social media.

Social Customer Service Comes Online

Social customer service is the most significant development in customer service since computerized CRM systems, providing unparalleled opportunities to connect with customers more frequently, more rapidly, and, in some cases, more substantively.

Social media is a seismic shift in the customer service landscape; however, it is not a game changer.

Dramatic pronouncements notwithstanding, social media has not completely upended the basics of customer service. We still need people skills, truthful marketing, and products that perform as expected.

We might get less phone calls, but we still get phone calls. Fewer people might shop in our stores, but many still do. And television advertising still works, even if it requires more skill to get the same return as a decade ago.

Social media is just another channel, a revolutionary and important one, but a channel nonetheless.

Service Fundamentals Still Rule

Generally, technology is only completely disruptive when it replaces another technology — think automobiles and horse-drawn carriages. More typically, when something comes along and pundits begin exclaiming the end of business as we know it, it almost never is.

Social Media is a Channel Not a Strategy | Building Blocks

Business fundamentals are rarely made extinct.

“The rules are different this time” is the rallying cry of everyone who stands to profit from a new economic environment. How many stock brokers in 1998 and real estate agents in 2005 repeated this very mantra.

Of course, the rules weren’t different; they were just temporarily ignored to the detriment of millions of individuals and of society at large.

The importance of remembering the value of fundamentals, of viewing social media not as your customer service strategy but as simply another channel to interact with customers, is to avoid losing focus on the totality of your customer experience.

When social media is viewed as a channel, it can be evaluated for what its proper role is in the strategic plan of a customer centric organization.

Properly understand social media’s relevance to your customers and your interactions with them, and you can wisely decide what amount and types of resources to allocate to it. Run headlong into social with a half-blind “we have to be there” approach, and you’ll be online in six months reading articles about the ROI of social media.

My advice: View social media as a new and exciting opportunity but also as just another channel in a mix of mediums through which you communicate with your customers.

And if you think I’m underselling social media, I understand — I also have some stock in I would like to sell you.

16 thoughts on “Social Media Is a Channel Not a Strategy”

  1. Yeah, who did move my cheese…..sumbich….

    Since I am a grizzled veteran now in the insurance industry, specifically on the sales side, I have seen a lot. I’ve been in this long enough to see the fax machine come and go. One thing you can count on is change. However, the core principles of relationship building and bring value to the relationship has never gone out of style.

    I try to always be learning so I don’t get left behind, but I also know some of the tried and true things that have made me successful will always be in play.

    1. You’re not grizzled… just well seasoned. 🙂

      You bring up a great point, which is finding the balance. You have to stay current, but the basics are eternal. Customer service, at its core, will always be about people, and that hasn’t changed in a long time.

  2. It’s so funny; we see people calling themselves guru, expert and thinking they are a social media professional. They are not; they are marketing people first and social media users/teachers second. Maybe like me, they are PR people first and marketing people second and social media user, abuser, educator, etc. etc. third.

    What it boils down to is a description; what it really boils down to is how well you do your job. Right?

    1. You know, I don’t mind if someone specializes in social media — it’s a big enough field that specializing can be appropriate. The problem is when they lose focus on social’s role in the greater picture, whether it be for marketing, customer service or sales. As you say, they are not social media people, they are marketers, custserv, etc. people who understand social.

  3. I’m gonna have to dissect your headline. “Channel” is not only a ‘wrong’ word, it’s dangerous. I know I’ve caught myself making the same mistake, then have to quickly correct it. I type that as there’s the first few chapters of a long abandoned master’s thesis on ‘conduit metaphors in communications’ sitting in my closet. Much like the ‘sales funnels’ and everything else, communications do not ‘travel’ a straight line. Look at all the bad FB posts, the questionable tweets, off putting TV ads – I don’t mean blatant mistakes, I’m talking merely suspect to a variety interpretation. Well that’s everything!

    There’s NO guarantee that what is “sent” or ‘received’ via – much less ‘thru’ – a ‘channel’ will 1) be delivered, on target, on time as ‘planned’; 2) be understood exactly as intended sans edits or filters, external factors; or 3) generate the kind of action, engagement desired. Period. /End Rant

    Social is ‘new’ media, it’s a new tool, an asset, a platform for communications. Part is brand owned, like blogs; part 2nd party and very public facing, the Big Networks. And yes a very important part of the marketing mix, as well as powerful for customer relations and business development. Can’t run into it blind, nor expect it to save a failing business w/ bad products and lousy service. Social won’t make or break you, but use it right, do it well, social (communications!) can make you better. FWIW.

    1. I think I understand your point Davina, but I have to say I’m not completely sold. Perhaps I have misunderstood the concept of a channel — but I have never believed describing a type of a media as a channel created expectations of it being delivered as expected, understood, or generating action. These are the things we hope happen in any form of media, or any channel. #1 is usually accomplished fairly well — but #2 and #3 are crap shoots and have always been so.

      I think we agree on the macro concept, which is that social is only a part of a larger fabric of media. I think we might just be differing on the semantics.

      Thanks for the thought-provoking comment!

      1. Oh we do, we agree!! Though once in a while I think the semantics matter. It’s hard to explain my hair-brained, quasi-academic ideas.. but here’s a shot.

        It’s not you making these assumptions, it’s the ‘general’ consumer, the ‘average’ business person who adopts a “buy 45 ads, get 12 sales, done” linear, straight-line expectations. When we use metaphors like ‘links in a chain’ or ‘down the pipeline’ .. it frames our thinking.

        When companies use very mechanical terms to describe themselves, their workflows; employees see, hear, read about themselves described as ‘cogs in the wheel’, it matters. It’s not a company of people – living, human, organic; but a ‘machine’ something cold, hard – something where ‘communications’ is a non-issue, assumed to be automatic. Ex. would be the call center that doesn’t allow employees to listen, engage, act like people; they must robotically ‘stick to the script’ b/c the ‘formula’ says it works. And then everyone hates them b/c they’re terrible at service.

        IDK I think at some level – words can change things. But then, I’m a ‘writer’ and therefore, totally biased. THANK YOU for letting me ramble. 🙂

        1. Agreed. Semantics can matter; it can also be given too much importance. I like your point about how things are framed and how that manifests itself to employees, customers and the like. I’m not sure use of the word channel in this context has that kind of power — but if it does, your point is taken.

          So, my questions is this; how would you fill in the blank in the title? Social Media Is a _______ Not a Strategy

          PS. Comments will be turned off until Friday while I migrate to a new host, but I hope you will come back for the answer! Enjoyed the discussion Davina!

          1. It’s fun to discuss, and yes we can give words too much power certainly. I could ramble on machine metaphors, sports metaphors, all kinds of terms we use in business. But I’ll spare you the boredom.

            To answer your question, it is context, juxtaposition. SM is a Tool/Tactic not a Strategy. I’d write FB is a platform, a network.. not a strategy. If this were SATs and the comparison (at which I was terrible!) was to Marketing, it’d be ‘component, part of the overall program’ – though I’d quickly argue Marketing part of the overall Communications program. Or would in some organizations that aim to ‘be’ rather than ‘do’ social, SM be a lateral dept. next to Marketing, that works together? And then where do you put Customer Service? Is that a tool, is that a tactic under Sales? It’s an afterthought (sometimes framed by language? is my theory) when like SM, it should be more integrated and not limited to a tactic or even part of a strategy. And what do you know.. I rambled anyway. 🙂 FWIW.

  4. Hi Adam – as a new reader of your blog I though I’d just hop on and leave a quick comment here to say I’ve been enjoying it very much. Cheers! Shaun

  5. At this point in time, I think the best thing to do with social media is to apply the basics. It is classic – be real, don’t overdo it, etc. Once the basics have been applied, then that’s the time one can tweak a social media strategy.

    Outsourcing Insider recently published an article in related to this topic as well; you can view them in the link I’ve used with my name above. I hope you find it useful as well. 🙂

    Thanks, Adam, for the nice article – as always. 🙂

    1. Thank you Alleli! I think if we look at social media as just one part of the overall marketing framework, it can be more useful. And focusing on the basics, as you recommend, is a great place to start.

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