How Social Media Evolved into a Service Channel

customers like service in social

The battle lines between traditional marketing and social media were drawn in 1999 when The Cluetrain Manifesto was created. The promise of the world without advertisement and outbound marketing appealed to many, myself included. Generating revenue without expensive advertising would be a game changer for my clients. The bandwagon started traveling through marketing circles everywhere. By 2008, the slow locomotive had turned into a super train fueled by growth of Twitter and Facebook. The changes in marketing were coming so fast it was almost impossible to keep up with them all.

I read The Cluetrain Manifesto book with interest when it was posted online chapter by chapter. Our clients would benefit greatly if we could make this work for them. I monitored (some would say lurked) chat rooms, MySpace, Friendster, and other platforms searching for opportunities. In early 2007, the monitoring shifted to active testing on Facebook. Twitter testing began the next year.

The new territory called “social media” had no rules, best practices, or leaders. People started competing for leadership roles by declaring rules of engagement that loosely followed the manifesto. Testing, the backbone of direct marketing, was minimal. Business experience and acumen was not required. The ones who shouted “do as I say,” the loudest often rose to the top.

Rules Made Without Testing

No promotional content was the cardinal rule established by these people with little or no cause and effect experience. This included sales, call to actions, and anything that could be remotely considered as promotional. Coming from a direct marketing environment where everything was tested, monitored and measured, the new style of marketing seemed cavalier. Even so, hanging on to traditional marketing without testing social media would be irresponsible. If it worked as described, the cost savings would be huge.

I applied the tenets of direct marketing to test the no promotions rule for over a year by providing quality content with zero promotional information. The theory that people would read the information and gravitate into the buying cycle proved false. I wasn’t surprised but I was disappointed. Years of marketing experience had taught me that people need motivation and guidance to enter the purchase process.

When following the rules doesn’t work, the only thing left to do is break the rules. Promotional content was added to the test and things got interesting. People started finding their way into the buying cycle. It quickly became clear that the right mix of promotional and informational content could drive sales. The testing results started validating social media as a marketing channel. But then, things started to change.

Access to followers’ email address disappeared. Algorithms were modified. The ratio between resources required and results became so high, active participation in social media solely as a marketing channel is cost prohibitive for most multichannel companies. Third-party platforms control user access and manipulate content visibility making it virtually impossible to effectively plan results. Every multichannel marketer with budgetary responsibilities needs to ask, “Is participation in social media as a marketing channel fiscally responsible?” When the calculations are done, the answer is “no.”

But Wait, There’s More!

In true direct marketing form, this is where we add, “but wait, there’s more!” While social media is losing the battle for marketing dominance to traditional marketing, it remains a strong service channel. Customers and prospects are actively participating on social platforms. Maintaining a corporate presence is mandatory. Failing to manage the presence well is shortsighted and cavalier. A strong brand appearance includes the following:

  1. Informational content that shows customers and prospects how your products and services benefit them. Parts suppliers are doing this really well with how-to videos, schematics, and support staff when needed. This video from shows people how to troubleshoot dryer noises:

    The step-by-step details are followed with a clear call to action to visit to order the parts. The company offers a variety of videos for solving appliance problems on their YouTube channel. offers manuals, repair help, and the opportunity to ask an expert:

    Sears Parts Direct screenshot

  2. Quick answers to questions asked. Responses to requests via social platforms need to be fast and accurate. There are two reasons for this. First, there is a distinct path that most people follow when they need answers. The first stop is a search on your website because they like the do-it-yourself option. Next stop is email or call to the customer service department. The data we monitor has an almost equal split between calls and emails depending on company and customer demographics. Social platforms tend to be the last stop for specific questions or issue resolution. If a person has tried two other options without receiving an acceptable answer, a fast response is necessary. Second, the visibility of your company’s responsiveness can influence other customers and prospects. Who wants to do business with a company that waits for days before responding?
  3. A presence on the same platforms customers and prospects use daily. There are always new platforms appearing with the promise of unseating the big boys. Trying to have a presence on every platform reduces effectiveness because resources are stretched so thin. None of the platforms is covered well. Choose three or four platforms where your customers and prospects are very active to create an active presence. Monitor customer and prospect activity to insure that they are not migrating to other platforms.
  4. Optimized activity on every active platform. Every social platform has unique characteristics and benefits. Optimize your activity so it generates maximum results in sales and/or cost savings. Focusing on a few platforms allows you to invest the resources needed to do it well. Start with a plan that includes repurposing content to get the most for your money.
  5. Measured results. Social media activity is a cost center. The resources required to maintain an active presence are rarely offset by increased sales for multichannel companies. Measuring the results helps identify best practices for your company’s activities. Doing it well provides the path for future activities.

When asked where to place social media responsibility, my answer is always the same, it should be in the marketing service department. Marketing is needed to create the promotional posts and measure the results. Service is needed to create informational posts and respond to customers. The best part of social media is that it serves to unite the two departments with one objective: creating the best experience for the customer. How well are your marketing and service departments working together?

For information on how to merge marketing and service, email Debra at

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