The social media phenomenon is widely regarded as a complete business revolution; representing a fundamental cultural change in the way that we communicate. However, due to this culture shift, businesses are increasingly being forced to question where social media activity actually sits within their firm.

It offers a way to interact directly with customers and potential customers, so is it a Customer Services issue? Or does the fact that it’s a unique way to communicate your message make it a Marketing tool? Or is it something for the IT department to get involved with and manage? The answer to this question often forms the basis of how a company handles its social media.

The reality, of course, is that social media should permeate the entire organisation. According to recent research from Frost and Sullivan, “Social Media is an enterprise-wide movement that impacts sales, marketing, customer service, product development, corporate communications, and employee communication and collaboration”.

As the evolution of social media continues to change the company-customer relationship however, it is the customer engagement capabilities of social media that present the most interesting business opportunities, both in terms of customer retention and raising a brand’s profile and customer service credentials.

Recent reports suggest that customers are increasingly relying on each other to inform their purchase decisions. According to research by Erik Qualman, 90% of customers trust peer recommendations via social media whereas only 14% trust advertisements. Yet, staggeringly, over half of companies do not have a framework for analysing customer journeys that cross both online and offline.

It is only now that businesses are starting to realise the importance of tapping into these customer-to-customer conversations, as fewer consumers are actually relying on the manufacturers and suppliers of goods and services to provide any necessary information.

For businesses, it is now key to learn from, participate in, support and leverage these conversations, as the revenue that could be generated from direct interaction with these customers at “ground level” is potentially huge. The old adage that “people buy from people” still holds true, only now they are buying from people online.

All of these elements, coupled with the need to drive efficiency in a turbulent economy, have resulted in the emergence of the sophisticated multimedia contact centre. Because of the potential business impact of these interactions, it is important for companies to ensure consistency across all customer communication channels – especially as customers now expect to receive outstanding service regardless of which channel they elect to use. And with social media now bringing customer service into ‘real-time’, the question is now whether your organisation can afford not to engage.

Another important aspect of interaction with customers via social media is ensuring measurability. There are a vast array of both free and paid-for listening and monitoring tools that can deliver real insight into your social media activity. For instance, do you know where your customers are talking about you? What are they saying? Are you missing sales opportunities via social media?

The data that can be gathered from these listening and monitoring tools can help to inform future marketing strategies, analyse the success of past campaigns or advertisements and identify any product/service development needs.

Changing consumer habits are a matter of fact; and each organisation must determine how their customer contact capabilities need to be adapted to facilitate the necessary monitoring and engagement via these social channels.