The Automation of Social

Moving from Passive to Active Social Service on Facebook

Companies have to leverage and manage more customer interactions, via a growing number of channels, than ever before. The accelerating pace of change requires companies to rethink the way they communicate and engage with their customers.

In the past, if a consumer had a complaint, they would email or call customer service, and the conversation stayed private. With the rapidly emerging influence of Facebook and other social media, one complaint can instantly go viral, especially if it is not addressed quickly.

On the flip side, a positive customer experience can create a brand advocate who shares the experience with their network of family and friends. And it's not just the network effect; studies show that customers who engage with companies over social media spend 20 to 40 percent more money with those companies than other customers.

While consumers are increasingly turning to social media outlets for engaging with companies and brands they do business with, most businesses are ill-equipped to respond and engage with customers on a large scale; so much so that on average, less than 5 percent of questions asked on corporate Facebook pages are answered. As customers increasingly treat their online social networks as a trusted resource for both researching products and obtaining customer service, companies must find a way to successfully engage with customers on this critical channel.

The Expanding Role of Social Networks for Businesses

Originally considered marketing's domain, social media is becoming an important customer engagement channel across all functions, including sales and support. In fact, a recent study conducted by Zendesk found that 62 percent of consumers have used social media for customer support, with the most active users in the retail, telecommunications and travel/hospitality industries. Today, most companies deploy technologies to listen and to monitor consumer sentiment through social media, but they lack the ability to respond in a quick, accurate and personalized way.

The Automation of Social

So the million dollar social media question becomes: how does a company deflect costs and save time, yet provide a personalized, automated channel that engages customers and resolves their issues?

According to Altimeter analyst Jeremiah Owyang, the answer will be the automation of social. In a recent post, Owyang highlights four types of social media automation technologies:

Content Publishing on a Timer: At a basic level, we already see dozens of social media management system providers enable brands to publish scheduled content - like Hootsuite, Expion, Awareness, Argyle Social and Shoutlet.

Social Content Optimization: Several companies are emerging that optimize content by starting with analysis and developing intelligence around that. Vendors, such as SocialFlow, CrowdBooster, Prosodic and Adobe Social, match what's being said and time content to publish at the right time to the right people.

Proactive Response: Soon, we'll see vendors who will apply technology like from virtual agent software solution, VirtuOz, which plans to launch automated tools beyond chat agents, to deploy in Facebook and Twitter streams, in order to support brand interactions.

Human-Like Relationships: While on the distant horizon, artificial intelligence agents will reproduce human behavior and be a guiding agent, conversationalist, and act like a real world concierge, host, and for some, even a friend. Assume Wolfram Alpha, IBM and others working on AI will seek to pioneer this front.

While the automation of social is still an emerging market, a few progressive companies are already doing the "unthinkable." Certainly a controversial violation of the very essence of the social network, for businesses, the automation of social is an attractive alternative to hiring an army of contractors to answer tweets and Facebook posts. Only time will tell whether or not the automation of social will be the solution to this new business conundrum produced by the social Web. Based on the automation technologies already being tested in the market today, social media automation certainly seems like a viable option.

About the Author: Pam Kostka is the Chief Marketing Officer of VirtuOz, the digital customer relationship experts.