Evidence that customers use social media strategically to get firms’ attention

With social media users routinely posting online about their consumption experiences – good and bad – there is much scope for conversations between firms and their customers. Unfortunately, this includes much room for disastrous interactions that damage customer goodwill, can generate into public relations nightmares and produce costly damage for the firms.

As part of a larger study on the role of social media in customers service, I have been looking at social media users’ preferences, when it comes to interacting with organisations online. The preliminary findings were presented at the Academy of Marketing conference, which took place in Southampton at the beginning of July – slide set below. As usual, your feedback and suggestions are most welcome.

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/acanhoto/am-2012-presentation-canhoto-and-clark&#8221; title=”Social Media and Customer Service” target=”_blank”>Social Media and Customer Service</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/acanhoto&#8221; target=”_blank”>Ana Canhoto</a></strong> </div>

These are some of our findings thus far:

–      While some analysts proposed that social media users see social networks as private spaces, we found the opposite. Customers expect organisations to monitor social media platforms for brand-related conversations and to respond quickly (sometimes as little as 15 minutes).

–      They also expect firms to use the platforms effectively, working around the limitations of each platform and using multiple channels of communication as needed.

–      There is evidence of strategic use of social media by customers to achieve particular ends – mostly when it comes to getting a problem solved. Users actively ‘pull’ firms into the conversation by tagging them in status updates.

–      Social media is seen as more effective than other channels – problems get solved faster via Twitter than on the phone, for instance. This creates a perverse incentive, encouraging customers to voice their problems more and more publicly.

–      Users appreciate consistency in interaction – be it in terms of the time it usually takes to respond or the style and tone of voice employed.

Does this sound familiar? Do you use social media to get a firm’s attention?

14 thoughts on “Evidence that customers use social media strategically to get firms’ attention

  1. Very good. I like this – and we could have a very long conversation. Some brands are taking advantage of social media to service customers better and to get real insights into how their brand is perceived – both positive and negative. I tend to use social media for positive interactions – praise where it is due, a little banter etc. Some interesting examples: BA – I have the impression that the person who handles twitter (if one) has changed. Could be wrong, but all of a sudden the twitter personality changed – and I am not particularly happy. John Lewis – a great organisation who gets a lot of my disposable income. A frustrating experience with their fitted wardrobes department (and a big ticket item on our new house project) was disastrously handled offline. For the first time ever, I went to twitter and vented my frustration – and got an almost immediate response and solution to my problem. A company that always has a really bad rep is BT, but I have dealt with them over twitter to organise house move and to sort a little problem and they were absolutely wonderful. There seems to be a guy (Graham by the way) who always handles my problems, is genuinely interested to help me, calls when he has to and I am delighted. One thing that I do? Once companies follow me, I always take it in private – no need to wash dirty laundry in front of the world…

    Seriously, we could have a very long conversation. And for the record, the above are all twitter experiences. I do not see Facebook as a platform for this type of interaction (just a personal view).

    Lastly (this response is long, sorry, I am getting carried away), how about the expectation of 24/7 responses, especially on weekends? It irritiates me that companies only bother to schedule commmercial tweets. An exception to this is Vodafone, who always mans their account from 8am to 8pm and always gives a name of their tweeters.


    1. No need to apologise for the long reply – on the contrary, thank you. Thank you because you took the time to do it, and thank you because you gave me inspiration for a couple more posts.

      We found evidence that people use different platforms for different purposes. So, while Twitter seems to be a great way to get the firms’ attention, Facebook seems better to learn about the product – for instance, by seeing what questions / problems other customers had, or to exchange tips with other users. We also found some interesting use of other platforms – e.g. blogs, flicker – to get the message across to the organisations. I will have to write about it 🙂

      As for the weekend, evenings, etc – it seems that the key is consistency or, I suppose, managing expectations. Your comment about the person who handles twitter changing and how it makes you feel is really interesting, and it echoes other comments we got.

      Thanks, again.


      1. I think indeed that managing expectations is key. I’ve seen from some brands (KLM for example) that they post a ‘sign-off’ note, saying they’re closed, when they open and what to do if a problem or question arises in the mean time. But I have to say, when recently an issue I had got discussed and solved by 2 companies on a Saturday evening, knowing that their social media teams likely do not have more than 2 people, I was delighted as a customer.


  2. The perverse incentive of publicly voicing problems is indeed an interesting one. Like Ana (Mrs. O.), I try to take the conversation private as quickly as possible. But, on the other hand, playing it out in public also gives the company/brand an opportunity to show off how great their service is and how they are different than their competitors. If I have a public conversation about a problem or question (indeed, mostly on Twitter), I always follow up great service by tweeting about that as well.
    By the way, I think it will be interesting to see how quickly social media powered customer service gets ‘call-centered’. Now it’s a new field, and social media teams of brands that excel at it probably have quite some power. I’m afraid that at one point, this will change into the over-procedured and scripted call-center responses. Although the ‘in public’ factor probably plays a role there.


    1. Hum… that is a really interesting point: standardisation of responses on social media.

      Thinking about what you wrote it seems that one additional challenge for customer service teams on social media is perceived fairness: that is, one the one hand, we all like to be treated as unique individuals, but on the other hand, we don’t like to think that others got more than we did. When companies interact with individual customers, they can target their response (e.g., refunds for some, upgrades for others, a simple apology to yet others). However, as these interactions move over to more and more public spaces, there is less scope for such individualised responses (and, at the same time, there are increased expectations of personalisation).

      A difficult one…


  3. I think both – firms and customers – follow their interest in this relationship. They use Social Media for some certain reasons. Even though could be hidden reasons especially from the customer’s point of view these are translated in expectations. Firms have expectations, as well. That is why managing expectations is a key. The greater expectations are the bigger disappointment is.


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