The final Hubday of 2018, hosted by leading European business think tank the Hub Institute, was an event dedicated to understanding the changing role social networks are playing in the commercial sphere and the opportunities and challenges facing brands that want to leverage these platforms to get closer to their customers.
According to Emmanuel Vivier, Founder of the Hub Institute, all of the biggest business trends for 2019 will revolve around trust.
“We have to respond to the crisis of trust,” said Vivier . “We have a big responsibility.”
Facebook has spent much of 2018 making headlines for the wrong reasons and it’s led to its users asking more and more questions about the platform – how it uses data, how it shares information and how it combats “fake news.” But as Vivier was quick to highlight, Facebook is not the only company under scrutiny.
Big data is revolutionizing how we understand and target customers but its use is raising ethical concerns. Therefore, how it’s used and how well it’s protected is a subject for all companies to grapple with over the coming year.
“Cyber security is an issue for all companies,” warned Vivier .
And if the big players can’t rebuild trust with consumers, a space might open up for alternative new players.
“Look at Tik Tok,” said Vivier by way of example. “It hit 45.8 million downloads on the Apple Store this year, higher than Youtube.”
But it’s not just the lip synching app, other companies may begin taking market share if the big players don’t move fast enough. Still, as new players appear, existing platforms are evolving. One of the biggest disruptions in 2019 will be social’s metamorphosis into a real commerce platform.
“It’s no longer just engagement, but transaction,” explained Vivier . “Instagram alone has already launched three new ways for users to buy products. This is social commerce.”
This is also why Instagram (more than 1 billion users now), Twitter and YouTube are cracking down on artificially inflated influencers.
“We’ve reached the point where established influencers are publicly criticizing other influencers that buy fans or have fake fans,” said Vivier.
This highlights the growing importance of influencers in the marketing mix and also means we’ve arrived in what Vivier describes as “the age of reason for influencers.”
For L’Oréal, working with influencers that customers can trust and leveraging social media for commerce are already a reality.
“Social as a platform for ecommerce is going to be major for us,” explained L’Oréal Social Media Performance Director Marc Duquesnoy. “We are well integrated in Asia and we’re going to accelerate the roll out in the west. It’s an opportunity for doing business directly with customers.”
This means the company can start a campaign on social; integrate influencers and then drive the momentum through to the point of transaction.
“We have to move swiftly because social media moves and changes quickly,” said Duquesnoy. “But it has to be done in a coherent, all-encompassing manner.”
Any other approach would damage the company’s brand.
Branding was top of the agenda for TSC’s presentation. Sitel Group’s dedicated digital CX agency focused on the importance of using social media to give business leaders a platform for personal branding.
“The more business leaders post to Twitter and LinkedIn, the more it impacts the reputation of their organization’s brand,” explained TSC EMEA General Manager Geoffrey Boulakia. “Studies show that the more Twitter users engage with business leaders on the platform, the more they trust and respect that person’s business.”
This means social networks could give brands a marketing edge over their competition.
“[Social media] enables you to increase your proximity with the public. Increase your credibility with the public,” explained TSC Consulting Director Alexis Christoforou. “Personal branding on these platforms can win you market share.”
Building a leader’s personal brand gives his or her company a stronger more trusted personality. However, to capitalize, business leaders need to develop an authentic brand and authentic tone of voice and have a clear strategy as to how to move forward.
“It’s a co-creation,” said TSC EMEA Head of Social Media, Jean-Baptiste Ong. “We help you find the way to reflect your company’s brand and values and make sure the content is authentic. You can’t talk like a robot on social media.”
The latest data from social media management platform Hootsuite also highlights the growing use of social channels for reputation management.
“Today, 91 percent of businesses are on social channels to protect their brand and their eReputation,” said Yann Dirheimer Senior Marketing Manager Southern Europe, Hootsuite of the findings. “Fifty percent are also using networks for generating leads and prospects and it’s increasingly being used by other departments, most notably, customer service.”
In addition to new opportunities, the sites also present challenges.
“According to businesses, the biggest challenges are managing data and trying to track the return on investment,” continued Dirheimer.
There is no debating the richness inherent in social media data, but, as Roman Ptaszynski Manager Social and Search Projects at Kantar points out, gaining valuable insights from it is a problem.
“Social data is authentic and rich,” he said. “But it’s in a silo, it’s unstructured and it is without context.”
To handle the volumes of data that are being created, in a timely manner and to integrate it with other data to add real value needs the combination of man and machine.
“We have to rethink the role of humans and machines in order to strengthen the creation of insights,” he explained.
This means leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning and using algorithms but in order to help people work more quickly.
“It’s people that drive the projects, that know where to look,” said Ptaszynski. “It’s people who ultimately understand where the value is and how to add it.”
Another problem with having so many options is that it’s possible to lose sight of customers.
“Are brands becoming disconnected with their customers?” asked Johanna Bar, COO of community developer Howtank. “Yes and no. Because they have an enormous amount of information, they often use it to develop personas and they end up creating caricatures of customers who don’t really exist.”
Instead, businesses need to get proactive and start using these channels to engage in horizontal communication with their customers. This builds a sense of community and, crucially, trust and makes them feel comfortable sharing information and insights.
“You need to create an emotional connection and the conditions where your customers are satisfied,” Bar said and pointed to branded online communities as a perfect example of this philosophy in action. “A community is a way of saying who you are to your customers and of building the necessary trust.”
Communities could also be the antidote to influencer overkill. Businesses that work with influencers too often borrow that person’s community rather than building their own.
“Working with influencers is an effective form of publicity but it doesn’t build long-term relationships with your customers,” she warned. “Your biggest influencers are your satisfied customers. You should be looking to turn them into ambassadors.”
If brands understand how to leverage the various networks and if they communicate a clear data policy, social media has never offered so many opportunities to build trust, create stronger connections, gain insights, facilitate commerce, communicate authenticity and ultimately get closer to their customers.