Social Isn't Special

During SXSW, I was lucky enough to connect with a ton of great people to talk about what's next in 2016. Aside from hilarious filters being the catalyst for so many of my over-40 colleagues joining Snapchat, one of the biggest trends that came up in many of my conversations was the new customer journey -- and how social has truly broken the mold.

We recently released a study about how much branded social content is created with the entire audience in mind, and how much is intended for one-on-one conversation. A look at Twitter activity for 20 top brands across four verticals for all of 2015 showed some pretty surprising numbers. It turns out 1:1 marketing is a much greater part of social than most people might assume. Over 93% of all content generated by brands was 1:1 (vs.1:many), as brands work hard to reply to questions, address concerns, and welcome hand raisers. In other words, the 1:many conversations from brands are just the tip of the social iceberg.

This is exciting for several reasons.

Social Broke the Mold

Marketers have more data at their fingertips than ever before, but making sense out of that data can be a challenge, to say the least. And how do you make it personal? You can't treat social like retargeting, where advertisers don't really know who you are, but they know you clicked on something so they serve you an ad somewhere else. Social can't be that cold. With social, you actually know who the human -- your potential customer -- is. You know who they are, especially when you drop to the 1:1 level. These individuals aren't an audience or a cookie, an email or an IP address: they're you or me. They have opinions and preferences, and through social they can talk back, making those preferences known. And they do. Social is the only bi-directional marketing channel. It's where people actually want to engage with you.

When marketers started putting out great content on social, audiences responded by talking back. Marketing people weren't used to that two-way conversation. It broke the mold. Finally, they could micro-target segments and send specific messages to those segments. And, on top of that, they could immediately enter into a dialogue.

So, now they are a part of a two-way conversation -- but what do they do with it?

Social: The Always-On Focus Group

I've seen a big difference in the learning curve for various verticals when it comes to this new opportunity for two-way dialogue, and ultimately, transparency. Companies that are CRM-centric (e.g. hotels, airlines, retailers) that already get to know their customers as people are pretty comfortable with the 1:1 interaction on social. Target, British Airways -- they are really excited about talking to customers 1:1. However, if you're an indirect marketer, like General Mills, and you're selling Cheerios through the grocery store, -- you're not used to people talking back to you. In reach or brand marketing, customers don't talk back to a billboard, or a TV commercial. The message is one-way.

It's really exciting, watching companies figure this out. There's huge value, even as an indirect marketer, to have those 1:1 conversations. Otherwise, you don't get to hear what consumers have to say--unless you're bringing people in for a focus group. Social is like an always-on focus group. You get to talk to whoever you want, face to internet face.

Social Isn't Special

However, that 1:1 interaction should influence a broader business strategy as well. We should all be asking ourselves, "Are we connecting the dots that will make the customer journey integrated and seamless?" That's real innovation.

2016 will be the year when social conversations and non-social CRM really connect. Let's say you run a targeted campaign on Twitter and one thousand people engage with that piece of content. Your first question is, "Are any of those one thousand people already in my loyalty program?" Second, for those who already are: "How can I instantly serve them an email offer, as a reward for them engaging with this content?"

We've talked about "the customer journey" for years, but connecting the data from all of the digital and physical touchpoints offers an incredible new frontier for marketers. If last year was all about big data, then this year will be all about creating real change with that connected data.

I'm excited to see what's ahead, and I'm determined to help drive it forward. I firmly believe that this open philosophy of integrated data will continue to underscore the power and value of social in game-changing ways. From my conversations during SX, to the recent moves of other big players, like IBM and Adobe, the future looks very bright for this new type of customer journey.