3 case studies that highlight social media’s maturity

16 October 2019

I had the pleasure of a trip to Berlin last month, to talk at an internal gathering of lawyers from Clifford Chance’s Tech Group on the topic of social media.

I shared three case studies that I think highlight the maturity of social media as a marketing and communications channel. These examples help to explain how – and why – social has become core to the way many large brands go to market.

1. British Airways using social media to improve customer service

I recently booked flights through British Airways to introduce our 5-week-old son to my wife’s family in Ireland. Having bought the tickets, I had a moment of panic when I remembered our boy had no passport. Would he be able to fly?

Ten years ago, I would have phoned British Airways customer support – waiting on the line and paying for the privilege. Instead, I sent a direct message to British Airways on Twitter and within five minutes I had written confirmation that no, he did not need a passport. Panic over.

Most consumer brands now offer customer service through social media, and there are clear benefits for both business and consumer – with the former able to cut costs and the latter happy to avoid the frustration of telephone support.

This was a trend documented in a 2015 report by management consultancy McKinsey & Company.

“It costs as little as $1 to solve a customer issue on social media, which is nearly one-sixth that of many call-center interactions… [while] best-in-class social care companies improved customer satisfaction by 19 percent, versus 5 percent for all others.”

McKinsey attributes much of the cost saving to 95% of issues being resolved in channel. One such example is the British telco BT, which – according to eConsultancy – uses social media to deflect 600,000 queries a year away from phone support, resulting in £2m annual savings.

2. BT using social media to improve its products

Talking of BT… a few years ago, when the company started analyzing social media conversations around its brand it spotted a serious issue: complaints around deliveries of its broadband router.

When a new customer subscribes to its broadband internet service, BT sends a router out in the mail. The package was large, however, and with most deliveries attempted during working hours many failed.

For the customer, this often meant a scramble to rearrange delivery or retrieve the package from a courier’s distribution center.

Not the best way to begin a relationship.

Having identified the issue, BT designed a slimmer router that would fit the standard British letter box – a narrow slot in the front door of houses that is typically less than two inches thick.

Problem solved, as deliveries could be completed with no-one at home.

BT was by no means the first company to use social media as an input to product development. Both Unilever and Lego were doing this before 2010 – with Lego rewarding crowdsourced contributions with a share of royalties.

3. Even naysayers like Apple are now invested in social media

Around the same time Twitter and Facebook were founded, Apple was growing rapidly – with revenues increasing from a ‘modest’ $8bn in 2004 to $65bn in 2010.

Apple’s brand was built on Steve Jobs’ vision of minimalism and simplicity, and social media was deemed an unnecessary distraction. Apple didn’t need any help captivating its audience.

Fast forward to 2019. The market has changed, growth has slowed, and Apple is having to work far harder to keep the competition at bay.

While it stubbornly holds out on its corporate channels (the official Apple handle on Twitter has 3.5m followers without ever tweeting) it has well established social channels for customer support and for its core services – including Apple Music, Apple TV, and the Appstore.

Apple also makes a significant investment in digital advertising, with Pathmatics reporting the company spending $60m in Q2 of 2018 – with 86% of impressions served through YouTube. It has also invested significantly in Twitter advertising.

Perhaps the most telling shift is how Apple promotes its product launch events. Prior to 2015, these events could only be viewed through the Safari browser on an Apple device. In 2018 it added a live stream to Twitter and this year streamed it through YouTube for the first time – with 10m reported views.

Social, all grown up

Fifteen years after entering the public consciousness, social media is a default communication channel for many of us. Facebook reports 2.4bn monthly active users. That’s nearly a third of the world’s population – if you trust its data.

While the pace and scale of adoption have been unprecedented, human behavior is remarkably persistent. At its most basic level, social media has only accelerated the interactions we humans have had for hundreds and thousands of years.

For many brands, success arrived when they cut through the initial hype and recognized this point – embedding social within the fabric of the business, then getting on with the job of making money.