Digital channels are growing but there is a trend amongst young people for 'private' social media. And what does that mean? Especially for customer services?
We’re told that what we thought of as social is going private. Or, if you prefer, we’re being social in private. Sharing one message with a lot of people isn’t the done thing anymore, especially among the younger set.
In my corner of the local government sector (transport) 16-24 year olds are a key audience to be engaged. Public consultations have been – perhaps subconsciously – aimed at the ‘grey’ sector, assumed to be the biggest public transport users; certainly they are one of the most vocal and passionate.
But go on Twitter and Facebook and many young people are just as reliant on buses and trains as their elders (and use much riper language). Except they haven’t got the time to visit roadshows because they’re at college or work and find it much easier to use their smartphone at the stop or station to ask where their vehicle of choice has got to.
Most conversations are visible to all and offer huge wins for the customer relations officer at the other end. A person who starts angry can quickly be calmed by an offer of help which initiates a conversation resolved with a ‘thank you’ that brings a new member of your online community into your trust.
Young people, or so we’re told, are fast shunning public communities for one-to-one online interaction. Partly this is to avoid parents snooping on them. There’s also less scope for bullying or trolling.
The customer relations officer can take open conversations offline. This is when calming tactics fail to work, personal contact data needs to be exchanged, or a discussion is going on too long. It’s impossible to believe customer relations would only be carried out on Snapchat or Facebook Messenger (especially once that goes to app-only status) before being out in the open first.
Will closed social networks become dominant? Whilst undoubtedly growing in number and use, they seek not to make connections, but solidify existing ones and place them in boxes. The pitfall for the CRO is their guard could fall and their confidentiality breached - how soon could a ‘#fail’ be rebroadcast on an open network? And then the whole idea of a trust-based online community collapses.
The CRO still needs to maintain protocol, be in control of their environment, and maintain content standards. That’s why Twitter direct messages are effective; you can switch to them when necessary, but easily switch back if the tone changes.
And when core functions of social media are sharing content and creating communities, then what do you achieve? You end up back in the world of text messaging. And is that the right way forward?
Peter Sharples is communications officer at Centro.
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