We are constantly reminded that we live in a networked world with the twenty-first century being hailed as the Networked Age. However, in The Square and the Tower Niall Ferguson argues that social networks are nothing new. He characterises the network outsider as suspicious of a world controlled by powerful and exclusive networks, while the insider willingly accepts invitations to like, join or follow for the sake of networking.

Interestingly the Edelman Trust Barometer 2019 uses primary market research to prove that the Technology sector is the most trusted industry vertical having included Financial Services, Consumer packaged goods, Energy, Fashion, Healthcare, Telecommunications, Entertainment, Food and Beverage, Professional Services, Transportation, Retail, Automotive, Education and Manufacturing in its market research process. Indeed the Edelman Trust Barometer illustrates the relevance and practical importance of market research by further analysing the Technology sector and considering the uses of social media via topical market research questions regarding customers’ trust levels.

Social media, less trusted for general news

Social media usage is one of the most popular online activities. In 2019, an estimated 2.82 billion people used social media worldwide, a number projected to increase to almost 3.1 billion in 2021. The Edelman Trust Barometer specifically explores the trust in various general news sources when it asked, “When looking for general news and information, how much would you trust each type of source for general news and information?” The results showed traditional media and search engines were the most trusted sources with social media lagging behind.
Traditional media 65%
Search engines 65%
Online-only media 55%
Owned media 49%
Social media 43%

Market research shows social networks are a slow growing CX channel

Social networks vary in reach from exclusive secret societies to open groups. Some of us clearly favour the spontaneous, self-organising networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. We regularly use these social media channels to read other people’s comments about brands, products and services. However, for customer service purposes we shy away from social media, opting for more direct, systematic and structured channels such as phone, email and messaging.

On behalf of BT and Cisco, Davies Hickman has been tracking consumer market research trends over a 10 year period. In the latest report, The Autonomous Customer 2020, the usage of customer channels within large organisations in 12 different countries is tracked.

Market research shows customers’ expectations of customer service channels include fast and easy solutions and in the past social media for customer service may have appeared suitable however, consumers’ use of social media currently shows they have been cautious to adopt this channel for customer service. In 2019, 38% of customers agreed, “If I have an urgent issue, the best way to get customer service is to use Twitter or Facebook”, dropping from 41% when the same question was asked in 2017. An explanation could be found in the increased incidence of fake news and its impact on consumers’ trust given that customers demand customer service channels that are trustworthy and reliable.

Social networks have a relatively decentralised structure and because they combine clusters and evolve they are more creative than strategic. Therefore they cannot be directed reliably towards an organisation’s goal. Combine this non-strategic element of social networks with the finding that social media as a source of news and information commands low trust, and it becomes easy to understand why consumers are cautious in using social networks as a CX channel.

In the foreseeable future, contact centre managers should not have high expectations for the growth of social networks within their operation. Technology popular in consumers’ personal lives does not always transfer well in to business communications; recent market research shows social media will not always be successful in a business sphere.

By Jo Davies Market Research and CX Strategy