Is Social Media a Channel?

by Ian Fergusson May 15, 2014   Insights

Social Laptop

A decade ago, the types of channels that brought customers to the final stage of the sales process were very straightforward. Depending on the type of business you have, customers would get to the final stage in person, on the phone, and on the internet. It was simple and business owners were able to develop products and processes around these channels.

Once smart phones and social media entered the market, businesses became confused. How do we incorporate Twitter into the sales funnel? We get plenty of clients from Facebook – surely it’s a channel?

In short, no. Social media is not a channel. Channels are static and they have a specific starting and ending point for the customer. However, customers do expect to be able to start a transaction in one place and easily move to another in order to complete it.

That’s why Alex Bray, Retail Channels Director at Misys Banking Systems, recommends looking at channels in a different way. A customer may start a transaction in store, ask a question over social media, and then go home to order online.

Social media and customer interaction are fluid, so Bray provides a framework that tells us to stop thinking about channels. “The old way of looking at channels has become a hindrance and not a help,” says Bray.

He proposes an “interaction matrix” with four variables. Since all interactions with customers are either person to person or person to machine, there are 4 things that can change:

  • Customer Type – you may want to offer a high value customer a different type of service by phone or branch – or give them more functionality on e-channels
  • Customer Interaction – a customer looking to complete a quick transaction will want a different experience than those looking for advice.
  • Customer Location – a customer using an iPhone walking down the street will use it differently to one sitting on a sofa. A customer using social media will want a different experience to a customer using internet banking
  • Customer Device – an iPad will be used differently to a Smartphone.

The person involved in the interaction and what they are looking for is much more important than the specific channel they are using. We need to think beyond the channel because sales don’t actually occur on social media and in the multichannel market, it’s difficult to track.

When starting a business, we are often tempted to focus on unique channels in order to analyse effectiveness and performance. This, in most cases than not, can help influence where we can invest extra budget based on a return model. However is this siloed approach, which many businesses still adhere to, becoming more of a hindrance then an insight?

Imagine if you were looking purely at sales from a channel perspective, and notice social media is not returning on sales compared to investment. You might be tempted to pull investment from this channel to invest in something like telemarketing which may be performing well and driving sales. However you start to notice that from pulling investment out of social media, sales via other channels start decreasing, performance slows and your ROI is not longer as large. Is this a sign that a business has underestimated a channels (or platforms) influence on a sales journey?

Alex’s matrix allows for business starting out, to truly understand a consumers journey to purchase and how a brand should intercept a consumers process with the correct type of messaging for that stage. For example if Social Media does not convert into direct sales, then there is no need for direct call to actions on that platform. More informative thought pieces or branding pieces can be influential to spark a consumer journey to purchase who may convert on another channel.

The result of this is an integrated approach to the customer experience where the human element is still as important as the technological. These processes need to be seamlessly integrated and conceptualised as a matrix rather than a series of independent elements. Understanding the customer’s needs within the matrix is the key to providing top service experiences and adapting products accordingly.

 

Ian Fergusson is a copywriter expert in financial technology and innovation in affiliation with Misys

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