Currently, there are 3.9 billion social media users worldwide, which means that 49% of the world’s population is using social media. Social media usage cuts across all generations, with eMarketer reporting that 90.4% of millennials, 77.5% of Gen-X, and 48.2% of baby boomers are active social media users, and PewSocialTrends reporting that Gen-Z has the most active social media users, with 97% of Gen-Z using social media regularly.

According to a report from GlobalWebIndex, 37% of social media users have visited a brand’s social media page, 36% have liked or followed a brand on social media, 19% have asked a question to a brand on social media, and 15% have uploaded a picture or video to a brand’s social media page.

Given these statistics, it makes sense that social media provides an amazing opportunity to reach more customers than any other delivery method. Social media can be used to share interesting and relevant content, provide advertisements and discounts, showcase news about a business, engage customers, and as this article will show, enhance the customer experience.

Understand Customers Better Through Social Media

Social media is an open opportunity for leaders to get to know their customers better, to gain an understanding of their pain points as well as the positive ways a business has intersected with their customers’ lives.Mike Orr, CEO and co-founder of Grapevine6, spoke with CMSWire about the benefits of social media for enterprise businesses. Orr is a strong proponent of social media, naturally, since it’s at the core of what his business is about — enterprise social engagement. As such, he’s in a perfect position to understand the intricacies of social media as it relates to customer experience. “Social is a critical platform to build relationships with your customers. In the past, savvy relationship managers could tell a lot about a customer from their offices or their homes and now that personal surrounding is digital,” said Orr. Along with traditional sources of social data, Orr recommends that businesses take advantage of the ability to gain a much deeper understanding of its customers through the customer’s own content.

“While static information like the profile and job history are starting points, advanced users are monitoring the content their customers publish and engage with to discover insights into their shifting interests and opportunities for conversation. It’s important to remember that customers are also trying to gain a better understanding of you, so sharing relevant content is key to your personal and company brand,” Orr explained.

Orr said that social media provides businesses with two key opportunities to create value. “One is to recognize that social media is part of the larger digital customer experience and engagement in social should inform the company’s understanding of their customers interests over time to personalize the customer journey. The second is to recognize that the social presence of their leaders, sales, and service employees are part of the business’ social presence which represents a huge opportunity to forge authentic, trusted relationships at the human level.”

Social media is rife with opinions and topical discussion, and people feel free to say exactly what they are feeling, even if their opinion is unpopular. It’s no different for customers who leave comments and feedback on a business’ social media page. Given that it’s often difficult to obtain honest — and at times negative — feedback from customers, social media provides opportunities that other feedback mechanisms do not.

Negative feedback or reviews are challenging — but they allow a business to gain a better understanding of the pain points a customer has experienced, as well as respond to that customer to let them know that a business is listening to them, that what they say is important, and that whenever possible, their insights are being used to improve or correct the pain points they experienced.

Dennis Bell, founder and CEO of Byblos Coffee, said he uses feedback as a way to strengthen his brand’s reputation while improving the customer experience. “Listening to your customers makes a difference. It can protect your business's reputation. When you receive feedback, be it negative or positive, use this as an opportunity to understand your customers. Try to solve their issues and do your best to deliver the best service you can. It makes social media a successful tool for improving customer experience.”

Negative feedback provides leadership with the opportunity to consider changing their methodology, rethink a strategy that is not working, or solve any problems or bottlenecks that are impacting customers in a negative way. It’s one of the best platforms to determine how customers feel about a business and what they expect from that business. “Delivering a great customer experience is all about being conscious and mindful of the customer's needs. And social media made it even easier to communicate with them,” reflected Bell.

Humanize Your Brand With Informality and Casual Discussion

Orr told CMSWire that brands should focus on creating authentic human connections with their customers. “Leading companies have gone beyond simply engaging customers through the corporate brand presence in social media,” Orr explained. “They are enabling their leaders and front line employees to engage authentically in social media by providing education, content, and technology. The employees are able to humanize the company culture, mission and values through their actions in social media.”

Generally, both a website and brick-and-mortar storefront are places wherebusinesses formally interact with customers. Neither location typically lends itself to informal, casual interactions. A social media presence is the perfect place for customers to informally and casually interact with a business. Conversations can flow naturally in an informal setting, allowing a free-flowing current of discussion. It’s a place where a brand can show that it cares about its customers, and that its employees are regular human beings that like to joke, laugh, and talk with others.

This doesn’t mean that the brand’s social media page should always be focused on humor or personal interest stories, but the occasional meme, funny joke, or personal story adds a human touch to a business that customers otherwise might not get to experience. Just as leaders want to be able to relate to and empathize with their customers, customers want to be able to know that the brands they do business with are made up of people much like themselves.

Imaginaire Digital’s digital marketing executive, Charlie Worrall, spoke with CMSWire about the informal nature of social media. He explained that “social media is the platform in which you can be a little more informal. After all, nobody wants to be dealing with a big faceless entity all the time. So, if you can humanise your brand and add a bit of character to it, you're much more likely to see an increase in customer satisfaction.”

Often, brands will use humor directed at themselves, or even at other brands, to lighten the mood. “A perfect example is the way in which McDonald’s, Wendy’s and other fast-food chains interact with each other. They all use humour, often aimed at each other, to provide a memorable interaction even if a consumer or customer isn't involved,” Worrall said.

Post Relevant Content Regularly, But Don’t Overdo It

Regardless of our professional title, we are all customers. As customers, we understand that it’s great to be shown relevant content that appeals to us as individuals, whether it is an article, picture, video, advertisement, contest or announcement. When we are shown irrelevant content, however, we are likely to, at best, ignore it, or at worst, unlike, unfollow, unsubscribe, delete or cease doing business with a brand.

Orr told CMSWire that a lack of relevancy is one of the biggest causes of failure to engage customers through a brand’s social media presence. “Many large scale social selling and engagement programs have failed and the primary reason is a lack of relevant content. Employees and advisors don’t want to become a bullhorn for the corporate brand.”

The content that is posted on a brand’s social media page should be highly relevant to its customers, and it must not be posted so often it becomes a nuisance, imposition, or obstacle. Customers want to see relevant posts from businesses on social media regularly, but that does not mean 10 times a day unless there is something unique happening that calls for such a posting schedule, such as a contest or important crisis update.

CMSWire spoke with Riddhi Khatri, Senior SEO Executive at Builtvisible. Khatri suggested that before a posting strategy is decided upon, businesses need to understand the type of content their customers would prefer to see. “You need to analyze your customer before marketing your product or service on social media. When creating a content calendar, you need to consider what your social media followers likely expect from you. They would like a new product launch, some interesting news, occasional sales messages, showcasing culture, creating a conversational environment where customers feel welcome to provide feedback,” he explained.

While there is no hard-and-fast rule for how often to post, most experts agree that posting once a day, or at the most, twice a day, is optimum. For the best results, businesses should post at least three times per week to their brand’s social media page.

Learning Opportunities

Social Media Is a 24/7/365 Affair

Unlike a storefront or customer service on a website, social media is an ongoing affair that is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Customers may post feedback or initiate a live chat at any time of the day or night, and the nature of social media creates a feeling of immediacy. Customers expect to be responded to in real-time, or at least within hours of posting on a business’ social presence. Khatri understands that timeliness is crucial on social media and said that “Time plays an important role in this and it will be the main reason behind negative feedback so always look forward to completing all inquiries as soon as possible. Be responsive to your every feedback.”

To enhance the customer experience and gain the most benefits from a social presence, businesses should have someone that is available to respond to customers at all times, but the selection of an employee with the right personality and skills is vital. “You need to be very careful in choosing the right representative. Someone with the right skill set will enhance the customer experience,” Khatri related.

Most social networks offer the ability to send notifications to mobile devices whenever a new post or chat request occurs. An employee does not have to sit around waiting for such an event, rather, they are able to fulfill their normal duties until they get a notification from the social media network, at which point they can respond to the query, comment or feedback. There is no better way of creating a positive reaction from a customer than to take an immediate interest in their concerns.

Socialize, and Then Keep up With the Data

Many social media networks provide businesses with a page that allows them to analyze the demographics of its followers, views and likes for each of its posts, and other details relating to the brand’s social media page. For example, Facebook provides what it calls Facebook Insights, which includes sections on views, likes, ad results, posts, and more. In the Posts section of Insights, you can see the days of the week and the hours of the day that followers are most active. This provides businesses with great insights into the optimum time to post on its social media page.

Andrew Ruditser, co-founder and lead technology coordinator at maxburst, emphasized that to effectively use social media, businesses must use analytical data to verify the efficacy of their social media campaign. Ruditser said that brands should “make sure that you are tracking your data and its progress over time. Did your site gain more followers after your latest Instagram post? Was your ROI negative on your Facebook ad? If you don’t track your data, then you won’t know what you need to fix. This is a common mistake many companies make because they don’t know if their marketing strategies are helping or hurting them.”

Target Social Media for a Narrow Audience

Research from Adobe on Gen-Z and millennials’ use of social media shows that Gen-Z doesn’t even include Facebook in their top 3 social networks. In fact, 73% of Gen-Z adults (18-23 years old) actively use Instagram, 63% use Snapchat, and 62% use YouTube. Gen-Z uses social media mostly for hanging out and chatting with friends, and only one-third of Gen-Z uses social networks to share updates and pictures.

For other generational groups, Facebook remains the most actively used social platform, with 74% of millennials, 68% of Gen-X, and 61% of baby boomers actively using the social network. Unlike Gen-Z, 57% of baby boomers and 50% of Gen-X use social networks for sharing updates and pictures.

None of these statistics are indicative that a business should not have a presence on all the major social networks. It does, however, indicate that if your target demographic is Gen-Z, your efforts are going to be appreciated more on Instagram and Snapchat then they will on Facebook, and if you are going to spend money on promotions, contests and advertising, it would be better spent on those platforms.

Ruditser suggested that businesses should not try to engage the masses, but rather focus on the narrow segment that makes up the majority of its customers. “It is very important that you focus on a specific target audience. If your audience is too broad, you might waste time and money marketing to people who have no interest in what you are promoting. Having great content won’t matter if it is not reaching your audience. Pay attention to who follows you on social media sites. What time of the day do they engage, how old are they, where are they located, are they men or women, etc. This can help you see what kind of audience is interested in your product, making it easier to target a smaller group and resulting in a higher engagement from your audience with those that are interested and will become a loyal customer.”

Your Social Presence and Corporate Social Responsibility

We no longer live in a time when brands can sit on the sidelines about social issues. Customers are more likely to patronize a business that has a clear purpose that aligns with their own values. Businesses that take a stand and make decisions that are aligned with the values and principles of the business are showing that their stated mission, values and character are authentic. Social media is a very appropriate place for businesses to do just that.

Trevor Kaminski, media content creator at Toybox Records, spoke with CMSWire about the importance of culture to consumers today. Kaminski reflected on the ever-changing nature of the social landscape, and said that “Consumers are smarter and more vocal than ever. As a result, consistency, authenticity, and interaction are key; as a brand, entrepreneur, or business owner, the question becomes: can you consistently deliver high quality content that not only speaks to your consumer targets' needs, but their cultural worldview?”

Culture and social values are especially important for millennials and Gen-Z customers, as they place a higher value on culture than they do on economics. Kaminski said that these customers are looking for affirmations that the businesses they support are aligned with their own culture and values. “This is especially significant to younger demographics in the current political and social climate. It is no longer enough for a brand to post product photos on their Instagram account and call it a day. Companies need to take an authentic stand to demonstrate to their consumers that their brand encompasses more than their product suite.”

Social media can be used to show customers that a brand is genuine and that its mission and values align with those of its customers. “By furthering authentic social interaction, you can create a community that enables positive brand perception and brand-centric lifestyle choices,” explained Kaminski.

Final Thoughts

The nature of social media encourages self-expression and discussion, and is used by almost half the people in the world. It’s difficult to find a better place for businesses to get to know their customers, create brand loyalty, obtain honest, actionable feedback, and showcase the human side of a business. By providing relevant content, being responsive to feedback, and showing customers that they are not a faceless entity, the customer journey is improved, and customers become loyal supporters and friends.