Following her presentation at The Tech Expo 2016, Georgina Goode, group head of engagement and social media at Government Digital Service gives her advice on the use of social media as a direct tool for contextual interaction.

The virtues of social media for marketing and customer service have been long espoused. But how can brands and organisations maximise their use of such a complex and flexible tool?

Social media is of course an enormously valuable tool for communication, but brands have to deliver the right message, at the right time and in the right location. Context is key.

Making the most of social media

Most companies use social media for marketing purposes or basic customer service support, but fewer understand the value of using social media as an extension of great service delivery in itself.

Social media is a forum for people to ask questions and express their dissatisfaction or annoyances. Users therefore presume that service providers have a presence on these channels and are learning more about their experiences and addressing their needs. Brands and organisations should not ignore this expectation.

An important role of social media is providing support, directing users to the right information at the right time, and also in providing data and insight to wider teams – be it, research and development, product design and of course, marketing/comms. The use of social media is all about context: what you learn from your users on social can be fed back into wider programs of work within your business, with the primary aim of making service delivery even better. It’s about putting users first.

Just ‘being’ on social media is not enough. The key here is remembering that social media is not going to fix services that are broken or poorly designed. Indeed, it’s likely to only make things worse. That’s why service brands should focus on using social media as a tool to provide data and insight, to help understand user needs, with the aim of constantly improving what they do. The focus should be on continuous improvement. It’s all very well shouting from the rooftops about how ‘digital’ your business is or how great your digital service is, but ultimately it’s the services (and user experiences) that will speak for themselves.

Improving the quality of your social media

Whatever sector you’re in, the quality of a company’s social media ultimately comes down to its ambition and willingness to integrate social media as a core part of the organisation. If that ambition isn’t there, it’s not going to work.

It’s a question of whether your business is ready to embed digital across the organization. It cannot work in silo. In many cases, that’s a cultural change and this can be difficult. It may mean reconfiguring how your whole business works, such as reconsidering internal structures, upskilling employees or hiring new digital talent.

The challenge of keeping up with the dynamic social media environment

The social media landscape is constantly changing. That much is evident, but it’s important to note that user behaviours are also changing, and your content should be steered by this. Stay away from the temptation to push out content for its own sake or jump on the next platform that everyone’s talking about. That’s why data, and the role social media has in delivering this, is so important.

Best practices for service brands and organisations on social media

There are five broad areas to pay attention to when aiming to use social media in the right context:

  1. It’s key to start with a clear strategy. Make sure you define not just your plan of action, but your objectives and targets to measure your progress. This is essential in order to continuously improve and to compare yourself with others.
  2. Understand your users through data. Make use of extensive user research and get to grips with digital and social monitoring tools to understand your market, as well as the channels and strategies you could employ.
  3. Start small: focus on a particular service to test your methods and user interaction, rather than rolling out a social media plan for the whole business.
  4. Stay away from operating in silos, to make sure you have all the stakeholder input and support you need.
  5. Finally, make sure you build a great content team. Social media wholly revolves around the quality of its content, so your team may include planning specialists, writers and designers. Remember to put in place clear guidelines and principles on your digital design.