Getting Social in San Francisco

21 Sep 2014

Last week I was in the city for meetings and stumbled across a conference, the Corporate Social Media Summit. I had never heard of it, it did not show up on any of the feeds or social calendars I follow. It was an event focused on social media in enterprise (obviously), and as I had a couple of hours between meetings, I decided to crash the party.

It was a small event hosted at the Hyatt Fisherman's Wharf, with about 250 attendees. There were only about 10 companies showing their wares, so I decided to talk to them and find out a bit more about what was going on and sit in on a couple of sessions. Of particular interest was the NASA social communications manager talking about how NASA uses social. The following are a few observations that should be of value to UCStrategies readers about how the social world looks at the traditional telecom world.

First, all of the companies at the event were focused on how companies interact with the public "social" world. It is clear that Social Media implies the management of social presence and response, not the use of social software with the business. Of the companies I talked to, the majority are focused on enabling a company to manage all of the social feeds/streams where it or a competitor is mentioned. Whether this is referred to as Social Business or Social Marketing, the focus is the same, enabling a team to manage all of the social media traffic and noise. I talked to socialbakers, sproutsocial, Sparkcentral, and conversocial, all of whom have specific platforms to enable monitoring and responding to social traffic. One thing that was clear is that having caps in your company name in this new world is a faux pas. However, I will capitalize them for clarity from here on. Each of the platforms has a slightly different view of how to manage social traffic. Some have multi-channel views as a value, others have a single channel integrated view. Sparkcentral is more pure customer support oriented, while Socialbakers and Sproutsocial are more general purpose social management. What is interesting is that all of them have a client list that looks like a Fortune 500 list. It is clear that companies are adopting social tools and are adopting them through these smaller companies rather than the traditional contact center vendors. The graphic shows a few of the speakers and the brands they represent. And, of course, none of the current contact center vendors was at the event.

I talked to all of the companies about their plans and directions relative to the more traditional contact center. In general, I got the same answer, that the social team is a smaller group, potentially drawn from the agent pool, but generally operates separately from the contact center. The reasons given for this are that the response time and open social exposure requires additional training and sensitivity. Also, it appears that these are generally not under the contact center management, but a separate part of marketing, even if the focus is customer support. All of the companies said they were "working" on contact center integration, but none had any specific dates or plans. However, Sparkcentral says they are revolutionizing customer service, and are managing agents outside of the traditional contact center.

All of this leads me to an interesting question. When WebRTC emerges in social (Facebook is moving in this direction), and a social engagement can lead to a real-time discussion, will those interactions be an extension of these new platforms or be integrated back into the current contact center? Will these new products/platforms, based on the cloud and the latest software development methodologies, be able to rapidly accelerate in value versus the traditional contact center platforms with their telephony roots? While it is not clear how this market will proceed, it is clear that there are changes underway.

Finally, in addition to the social solutions for managing interactions, there were some other innovative products for managing social presence. Socialchorus focuses on managing and creating advocates by managing messages and content for use. Cafyne is focused on social compliance, assuring that employees are not using social media for problematic issues (like the teacher in the Bay Area who tweeted about killing her students...). And TrackMaven is focused in tracking content distributed across a variety of channels for both a company and its competitors.

As I left this event to go to the Genband Kandy launch, I thought about how this new world will collide with the traditional contact center. The focus in this new world is time. Almost all of the companies I talked to indicated that the time to respond to a tweet or Facebook message is measured in minutes. In fact, 2.5 minutes was quoted multiple times as a response goal for many companies using these social tools. The critical point is that social messages are visible. A call or an email or text to a contact center is private. If the response takes 8 hours and is good in the end, the exposure outside of the private interaction is minimal. However, a tweet about a problem with a vendor may be seen by thousands or even millions of followers. Getting a response in place that can be seen by that group before the tweet fades off into the hash of social media is critical. In the end, I think this is what will drive the two worlds to converge. As more and more of our customer interactions move to social and as customers see that social delivers better responses reinforced by the rapid results companies are encouraged to do, the contact center staff needs to be ready to move into this space. If customers see that things move more quickly and are resolved on social media better, social will begin to be more and more of the traffic volume. For both contact center teams and the contact center vendors, figuring out how to manage this coming transition will be critical going forward. Perhaps next year one of the current contact center vendors will be at a social event like this.


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