Originally Published in Forbes
Written by Mark Smith
Customer journey mapping and creating more personalized interactions with your customers requires a systematic approach to both data collection and data management. On the data collection side, this means capturing as much first-party data about your customers as possible. On the data management side, this means unifying all your first-party data — website data, email data, customer support data, sales data and so on — into one single view of the customer.
But what if, like many direct-to-consumer brands, you’ve established your brand presence on a social media platform? The appeal of these platforms — particularly Facebook, Instagram and YouTube — is obvious. It’s where your potential customers already are, so you don’t have to expend energy, at least in the short term, driving them to your owned properties. In this way, they provide a quick path to launch and scale. And thanks to their native, rich media capabilities, brands can serve up content that, as one reporter put it, “looks so at home in their customers’ feeds it feels like they’re engaging with a friend.”
Of course, this approach comes at a significant cost, as many have long realized. “Social media right now owns the relationship with the consumer,” Henry Davis, COO of cosmetics company Glossier, said at Cannes Lions last year. “[Social media] owns the context, the environment and the format in which we talk with our own customer and, actually, if we really believe that having customers as a core part of the company is the way to build brands of the future, you have to start to own that relationship.”
Part of “owning” this relationship, of course, involves owning much of the data generated by interactions with your brand on the platform. The point, however, is not to avoid social platforms altogether. They occupy a central place in the digital landscape and play an outsized role in the lives of the customers you serve. The goal, instead, is to take advantage of the unique ability of these platforms to drive meaningful engagement with branded content, while at the same time using that engagement to invite more direct interaction with your brand.
For example, you don’t need to use Facebook simply to share branded content and grow your followers. Instead, you can actually leverage Facebook as an ecommerce platform. Facebook Shops allow you to sell products — and collect essential transaction data — directly through the platform. Similarly, Facebook is rolling out more and more shopping features on Instagram. While in-app purchasing on that property is currently in closed beta, the ability to create a digital storefront on Instagram can result in a significant increase in traffic to your website.
TYME, a company that sells hair styling tools and accessories, reported a 44% increase in traffic from Instagram after enabling the shopping capabilities. Similarly, fashion brand Lulus reported that, since launching shopping on Instagram, it could attribute over 1,000 orders and 100,000 web sessions to this initiative.
In other words, brands need to see social media platforms as a gateway, and even a front end, to their owned properties. The e-commerce capabilities these platforms have launched greatly facilitate that process.
Second, once you have engaged customers, social media platforms can frequently serve as an important part of your ongoing relationship with them. The role of social media in customer support is a good example of this.
According to a study by J.D. Power (via SEJ), roughly two-thirds of customers have used a brand’s social media site to address a customer support issue. Since customers often believe that they will get a more rapid response on social media than going through a brand’s site, this is a trend that is unlikely to abate. Accordingly, brands need to take measures to ensure that they are not simply leaving customer support up to social media managers. Integrate social channels with your brand’s broader customer support platform to guarantee consistency of customer experience and, even more importantly, capture the rich support data that can inform customer profiles and fuel ongoing personalization efforts.
Finally, you need to create a feedback loop that allows you to use the data generated from interactions with customers, whether initiated on social platforms or maintained and extended through them, to drive your ongoing customer journey strategy. The key here is, first and foremost, pulling in customer data regardless of where interactions may originate. Social media monitoring solutions can help track platform-based interactions, but as indicated, the emphasis should ultimately fall on using the platforms to drive engagements you can own (such as making a purchase on your site).
Having captured this data, it must flow into programs that deepen your relationship with the customer. At the same time, you need to use the data generated to not only understand the needs and preferences of a particular customer but of all customers. What does the data tell you about various steps in the customer journey? How might the data suggest next best steps or experiences to move new customers down the path? What insight can you gather about where customers expect to engage with your brand, and how does each context shape their expectations?
Since you cannot own all these touch points, the challenge rests in determining how best to get what you need from the touch points your customers want to use. Prioritize which touch points matter most to your brand in terms of connecting with your potential customers. You can also look into leveraging relevant platform capabilities to drive more direct interactions with your brand. And, in those cases where the customer would rather interact with you on a third-party site, you can deploy solutions that allow you to translate those interactions into actionable customer insight.
Customer journeys will only get more decentralized and complicated as time goes by and as technology drives changes in customer behavior. To succeed, companies need to keep their eyes on the data, wherever it may come from, and leverage that data intelligently to engage customers wherever they may be.