Time to #GrowUp: How a mature social media function can change your entire business

Key takeaways

  • Social media is at a particularly immature point in time when it comes to its use by business.
  • Seen as frivolous or non-essential, social media teams are not always used to their full benefit.
  • Mature, integrated social media can have a whole-of-business impact, increasing revenue and brand and bringing efficiency and decision-making data to an organisation.

Is your business doing corporate social media well? Really well? If your judgement is based on the amount of likes you have, the truth might actually be no.

Social media, while seen as being ‘everyday’ for personal use (or even passé to some), is still in an immature stage of development when it comes to corporate use – both in Australia, and in large part, the rest of the world.

If considered in a business sense at all, it is often only within the context of marketing efforts. Yet at an advanced level – that is, staffed, planned and integrated – social media has the ability to deliver cost savings, internal efficiencies, revenue and brand loyalty. In short, it can have an impact on and across the entire business.

Utilising the social function for cost savings

When done well, customer service via social media can lead to significant savings. Consumers can get queries answered 24/7, in a public place where others can see answers too, greatly decreasing the volume of repetitive queries ending up in call centres. This means less frustrated customers waiting on phone lines and staff who can be rerouted into higher-value work. More complex questions coming in by phone – if well tracked – can be used as a guide to inform broader communications and product/service improvement.

A mature social media team can also help to save significant costs in the event of a crisis. An experienced and equipped team can monitor and stop crises from happening before they occur, saving on PR and legal costs, as well as mitigating share market losses for listed companies.1 If trouble does occur – whether originating online or offline – the manner in which they react can reduce the damage and, when done maturely, even build trust and brand reputation.

Dutch airline KLM is a good example of this. During the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud that grounded airlines in 2010, it used its social media not to simply say sorry to customers or give informational updates, but by rerouting reservations staff to their social teams to actively help customers rebook tickets.2 Four years later and a strategy to use Twitter for real customer service and they were making €25 million a year from their social media alone.3

The opportunity for profit

The potential for cost-savings by using social media to reduce the load on call centres or through crisis-management can be enough to justify its existence to most, but what is less visible is the additional profits that can be unlocked.

A recent study revealed the monetary importance of companies replying to tweets.4 Research on customer service tweets by major American airlines and wireless carriers found a direct link between response and profit. Regardless of whether a tweet was positive or negative, a reply tweet from the business increased customers’ willingness to pay more. If a query was resolved, customers were willing to pay even further, and if replied to in less than five minutes they paid an average of US$20 more on their future ticket purchase for airlines, and for wireless plans, up to US$17 more – per month.

This brings a whole new meaning to the idea of cost per click. But importantly, the amount of those additional dollars dropped by 85% after just 20 minutes – the median time it took airlines to reply. Meaning a lot of profit disappeared with each passing minute the brand didn’t reply to a tweet.

Optimising social content for brand relevance

With the ability to target the right content to the right people, social media can resonate with consumers in a way few other mediums can. A sophisticated content strategy will get the mix of information, content and unobtrusive sales right in a way that informs and delights customers without boring or insulting them – something that can immediately drive them away not just from your social, but from your brand.5

Customers expect that brands will personalise their offerings and communications, and do this in a contextually relevant way. This means knowing what’s trending, what’s on the nose, what socio-political forces might be at play and ensuring that messaging doesn’t unwittingly step on any toes.

As an example, Snapchat recently came afoul of public sentiment when it posted an online ad for a game which seemed to promote violence in relation to the musician and previous victim of domestic violence, Rihanna. Her public admonishment of the brand, during the #metoo movement no less, led to their stock falling 5% – a loss US1$ billion.6

When content is optimised, however, brands have an unprecedented opportunity to engage with customers and build reputation – as a ‘person’, not a faceless conglomerate. Customer experience leads to customer loyalty, and that leads to premiums being paid and customers who are more likely to forgive you when you slip up.

And given there is no option of being vague online (customers will eat alive any kind of uncertainty with ruthless glee) messages must be consistent across every channel. When they align with business goals, social media will push a business’s vision, and help crystalise messaging – both inside and outside the business.

A mature corporate social media team needs a mature business

For any positive result, the social team and its functions must be integrated into internal and senior parts of a business. The only way that a social team can be transparent – a non-negotiable to today’s customers – is if they understand and are able to head off potential issues. This means being trusted to know overarching strategy and political sensitivities, including embargoed ones, in order to navigate around them when customers push.

On the flip side, however, this information flow is not one way. In return for knowing what is happening in every part of the business the mature social team brings back information that is critical to the business. For instance, that the payment gateway just stopped working or a marketing campaign missing the mark. Customer insights can be truly integrated into business operations, not assessed post campaign.

All of this operational information should flow through the social media team gateway. And only by implementing the right feedback channels and data recording will each side benefit from the other. Most businesses currently are doing this in an ad hoc manner, failing to maximise potential benefit.

Analytics from social data is not about the amount of Facebook likes or Twitter followers a business’ social channels have. Such vanity metrics rarely tell an organisation anything much more than what algorithms are prioritising one week over another.  Instead, advanced and predictive analytics can help brands to understand the behaviour and buying patterns of customers to make informed decisions. This data, particularly when combined with other business insights – can provide actionable value.

A steep learning curve

For most companies in Australia, corporate social media is not at this level of maturation, but the tide is turning when it comes to how business views the function.

When given the proper resourcing and respect, social media can impact positively on every aspect of business in surprising ways. Moreover, given the lack of sophistication in social media in Australia, those that do master its use early will stand to grow a strong competitive edge.

That is, it’s time to #GrowUp.


Dr Amy Gibbs

Amy is the Editor in Chief for Digital Pulse, PwC Australia



  1. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/04/11/pr-nightmare-catches-up-with-united-investors-as-shares-slide.html
  2. https://econsultancy.com/blog/69153-how-big-brands-coped-with-social-media-crises
  3. https://econsultancy.com/blog/65752-klm-we-make-25m-per-year-from-social-media
  4. https://hbr.org/2018/01/how-customer-service-can-turn-angry-customers-into-loyal-ones
  5. https://sproutsocial.com/insights/data/q2-2017
  6. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/mar/15/rihanna-snapchat-ad-domestic-violence-chris-brown