For anyone involved in managing social media platforms, the unstoppable march of progress can sometimes seem overwhelming as each social giant continues to refine and develop their offering with new features to enhance and integrate the consumer, business and mobile experience.
Last week I attended a workshop in advanced social media, which delved into some of the more recent updates from the big five (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter) as well as looking forwards to the future possibilities for users and businesses. As PRs, we now take for granted trends like the power of visual and video, the incorporation of paid-for activity as part of the overall strategy and the rise of highly targeted campaigns to reach the consumer groups our clients know and love amongst the hundreds of millions of users.
The more recent updates from the big five show how they are moulding their sites to help business users communicate more effectively and efficiently with their customers in an increasingly integrated world. Even at a basic level, enabling multiple accounts on Instagram and the new business manager on Facebook highlight their business-friendly ambitions.
Streamlining customer service
Let’s take the increasing expectation by consumers to have an integrated user service across all of a company’s communication channels, including social media messaging. If they make a complaint or enquiry on Twitter and get a response from the company, they expect the customer service representative they call to know what they are talking about. However (for large brands especially) the reality is a 24/7 barrage of questions, complaints and comments across their social media channels, which lead to an underperforming response rate alongside little or no integration with traditional customer service channels.
One clever new feature from Facebook – which has been jumped on most notably by Domino’s and Skyscanner.net – makes a step towards this, with their conversational chat bots in Messenger. The site has already realised the importance of its instant messaging service, dividing this into a separate app in 2014. These bots allow companies to provide an automated response when triggered by relevant words or word combinations from customers. Domino’s, for example, has integrated this with their options for customers to save a favourite pizza, to enable them to simply type ‘pizza’ into messenger to place their order. Similarly, Skyscanner.net are using this effectively by recognising destinations typed into a chat to trigger an automated process to ask for flying out and return dates, performing a search for relevant flights with the data, and providing these options as a response linking to the website. This could easily be extended to provide a customer service function.
Making buying easier
While this is an exciting development, it still needs fine tuning, particularly in relation to streamlining the buying process for the consumer. This still involves several extra steps for the consumer to go through (transferring through to the website, inputting payment etc) before they have booked their flights. The ‘shop now’ buttons which Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram have created for ads also only go half the distance on behalf of the customer. However, the ‘buy now’ buttons promised for the near future will hopefully cut out this extra step, and make the process easier for both business and consumer.
Importantly, part of refining the experience is ensuring that the app is offering updates unique to mobile use. Developing video features is a crucial part of this, and we see Instagram develop a ‘story’ feature similar to Snapchat’s, Facebook promote Live streaming and Twitter link with Periscope. As well as being a new and fun experience for the user, the video capabilities are heading towards the realms of more integrated virtual reality-style features.
This provides the opportunity for brands to create fully immersive promotional experiences for consumers. For example, UKTV’s crime drama channel Alibi has just launched ‘Framed’, a world-first Facebook Live interactive story to promote their new drama. A Facebook live stream of a murder mystery game set in a locked-room where the main character is fitted with a camera allows viewers to gain a real-time, first person view of the challenges and choices to help solve the case. Arbitrators will direct the event, using comments and reaction buttons to carry out snap polls to decide what the character should do next.
Enhancing user experience
What I like about all of these new advances is that the user is put at the heart of the experience. Brands have to work harder to gain access to their target market after the introduction of newsfeed algorithms, cutting out irrelevant content and in turn requiring brands to be more creative and targeted in their approach.
As it should be, we need to keep at the forefront of all developments across the social media channels. I’m a great believer in cherry picking only most relevant aspects of each to tailor and refine the offering to our clients’ target audiences; as such, jumping on the virtual reality bandwagon might have to wait.