Social Utility: A New Imperative For Social Content

Understand how social-media content aligns with key points along the customer journey.

Social Utility: A New Imperative For Social Content


Social media is fundamentally different from other marketing channels. Everyone recognizes that it is a conversation, a dialogue with current and future customers. Perhaps what is less recognized is that the process to create effective social content is also fundamentally different from other channels. For broadcast, print, and even we typically use the following process to create content:

1.    Understand – what motivates potential customers and how a brand is perceived

2.    Create – develop engaging content

3.    Push – deliver the content through the appropriate channel

The creation of effective social content, however, tends to follow a different process:

1.    Listen and Observe – how consumers are interacting with the category and specific products


2.    Connect – with customers through dialogue, content and experiences

3.    Amplify – expand and grow this connection

While this approach is effective for creating content within a single social media campaign, there are other, higher level, strategic imperatives for creating a successful end-to-end social media offering. One of these imperatives is that because “social” is an “always-on” channel, marketers need to have social content always available when and where consumers require it. Not surprisingly, we are seeing much of the growth within social networks being fueled by the use of mobile devices. This trend will significantly increase the need for always-on social content. Most marketers realize this and are designing social media programs that are not constrained by the time frames typical of traditional campaigns.

But there is an even larger consideration, different but related to the concept of always-on. Namely, that an effective end-to-end social media offering needs to have content that is aligned to the customer journey. Much has been written of late arguing that the customer journey, or purchase funnel, is no longer relevant because consumers do not migrate through this process in a clean linear fashion. While it is true that consumers bounce around from “familiarity” to “consideration” to “shopping” in seemingly random ways, it is also true that marketers still need to provide the appropriate content and experiences at each of these stages. 

The concept of a customer journey is still very relevant when thinking of the type of content that would be appropriate for improving product opinion versus providing price-comparison shopping for multiple retailers. The journey still remains a helpful construct when thinking about an overall digital content strategy for a product or service. We should be less concerned with the specific path a consumer takes and more concerned that we are always there with the right experience, at the right time, at the right place.

What this means for social media is that we need to understand how the content and tools we provide align with key points along the customer journey. As consumers spend more and more time within social media channels and use these channels to learn and evaluate potential products, we don’t want to have any content gaps. It isn’t hard to imagine consumers conducting all their research and evaluation for a specific product within social media channels including purchase and customer support. Given this, we want a social media content strategy that provides robust and engaging content and experiences that cover the entire journey, end to end. We refer to this process as creating Social Utility. 


To bring this concept to life let’s look at a straightforward five-stage customer journey and what types of social media content/tools would be appropriate at each stage.

1. Creating Awareness and Familiarity

Awareness can be achieved with multiple approaches. Entertainment and humor are obvious choices. Think of the sharing and viral aspects of “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” Old Spice content. Improving familiarity, however, typically involves a more engaged experience. One way to achieve this is to provide useful information to inquisitive intenders. An example of this might be a first-time expectant mother who engages with a community expert on Gerber’s Facebook pages with questions about infant nutrition.

2. Driving Opinion and Consideration

This can be done by providing tools and content that make life easier or more interesting. For example, if I check into a restaurant with Foursquare (and I am also following the History Channel) then I instantly receive lots of interesting historical facts about the building and the neighborhood. I can then share this information with my friends during dinner or tweet about it later. This activity reinforces my image of the History Channel as an authoritative source for things that are relevant to me, such as historical architecture.

3. Closing the Deal


Social e-commerce is about either being able to transact within the social media space or taking social media tools and embedding them into an e-commerce environment. P&G has created the ability to purchase products directly within Facebook pages for several brands, including a nicely integrated “shop now” function on the Gillette Facebook page. Levi’s has taken the Facebook social graph function and integrated it into so that I can see what my friends are buying and get help with my shopping.

Consumers take a very different e-commerce approach within social channels compared to Rather than attempting to drive consumers to purchase, social commerce needs to present an air of providing a service by immediately providing the ability to purchase rather than having to go to a new environment. In the social space it’s not about trying to “make” the consumer purchase, it’s about giving them the tools to do what they already want.

4. Real-Time Support

Post-purchase customer support can be delivered in several ways. Let’s say I buy a PC and I am having trouble configuring it to use my TV as a second screen. I could send a tweet to the PC company’s help desk and get real-time answers to help me troubleshoot this problem.  

5. Advocacy and Loyalty

Recognizing and rewarding your best customers with special offers, content, and access is a powerful way to amplify the impact of your brand advocates. Many of these activities overlap with eCRM efforts. Sephora and Gilt both have programs to connect with “super fans” and provide them with special offers and experiences on a regular basis.  


Organizing your social media content in this fashion allows you to quickly assess if you have any big gaps in respect to your customer journey. This mapping experience should be a key driver for your social content strategy and prioritization of tactical elements. Also, recognize that you will need a social media measurement plan that also maps to the customer journey. Social content designed to drive familiarity should have a different set of KPI’s from social content designed to improve loyalty. As your content strategy differs throughout the journey so must your measurement plan.

The opportunities to engage your consumers within social media are vast and growing every day. Few marketers have the resources to populate this entire landscape with their content and tools. The processes of mapping your content to the customer journey and ensuring some content at each phase can significantly boost the performance of our social media ecosystem. This process can be a powerful tool to help prioritize what must get done today and what can wait until tomorrow.  Don’t leave any big content gaps in the customer journey, because they will likely be filled by content from your competitors.

[Image: Flickr user Library of Congress]

About the author

Steve has over 24 years of agency and client side experience leading CRM, interactive marketing, sales and media practices for brands including Nissan, Bank of America, Visa and Procter & Gamble, to name a few. In 2011, he was named an Adweek Media-All Star for his innovative work measuring earned and owned media content and developing predictive analytics models to optimize digital ecosystems