There was an interesting article in The Wall St Journal last week about the value of social media. In a piece called “Entrepreneurs Question Value of Social Media”, Sarah E. Needleman quotes Pace University's Lubin School of Business marketing professorLarry Chiagouris regarding the challenge eBusiness executives face in assessing social media: “The hype right now exceeds the reality”. 

I agree that the reality has not always lived up to the hype.  But was the hype too good or the reality not good enough? 

The WSJ quotes a survey of US small business owners saying that only 22% made a profit from promoting their firms on social media, 53% broke even, and 19% lost money after promoting their business on social media. 

But profit doesn’t equal social media success. Social media can have many objectives and customer service is a growing goal. 

eBusiness executives are increasingly looking to social media as part of a larger customer service strategy; currently,  in our recent survey of retail executives (Q4 2009 US Retail Executive Online Survey), 54% offer customer ratings or reviews, 23% have an online community or forum, and 16% do customer support through Twitter.  These numbers are poised to grow in the next twelve months with a further 30% planning to implement customer ratings or reviews, 27% planning an online community or forum, and 21% planning to provide customer support through Twitter. 

eBusiness professionals must ask the following questions before they launch social customer service (or any social strategy) to ensure their implementation and subsequent assessment reflect the real potential:

  1. Do we have clearly articulated objectives?
  2. Do we have a solid cross-functional implementation plan?
  3. Are our metrics aligned with our goals?

In Forrester’s US Retail Executive Online Survey (Q4 2009), only 41% of the retail eBusiness executives that we surveyed said they had clearly articulated customer service objectives and only 23% had the best metrics in place to measure their customer service success. 

Launching social initiatives without clear objectives and aligned metrics will likely lead to the same observation as the WSJ article – that social media’s hype exceeds its reality. But getting it right may lead to some compelling success. In my report “Retailers Plan To Expand Online Customer Service Channels In 2010”, I have provided several tactics that I hope will be useful to retail and other eBusiness professionals to strengthen before they launch social and other customer service channels. I'd love to hear from you regarding your successes and challenges in expanding your online customer service.