Using social media to map the consumer journey to the customer experience

3rd May 2013

Social media should not be just about listening and engaging with customers, but instead, should be about driving business through key performance indicators (KPIs) that map, measure and manage the customer journey from initial awareness to total engagement. In turn the customer journey can be optimised, the customer experience enhanced, and the outcomes predicted in lock-step with corporate, sales and marketing goals. These are the outcomes that matter to executives, and in turn, denote the overall relevancy of your marketing content and campaigns.

Companies have mainly used social media to listen and track customer sentiment, brand loyalty, measure campaigns, or to prevent a bad event from going viral on the web. But how can companies go from merely “listening”, to truly leveraging social data into a source of actionable intelligence that ultimately creates customers and advocates? How can marketers make the leap from unstructured conversations to identifying customer behaviours, to fully leverage the customer journey?

The core principle of customer relationship management (CRM) is the more you engage with your customers, the more you know about them. Understanding your customers is critical in anticipating their needs and making predictions about their motivations and behaviours relative to your brand and product strategies. This can be accomplished by harnessing the online and social dataset, model, manage and move it from the generic aggregate to a map of individual and social experiences.

The customer journey

The customer journey represents different touchpoints that characterise a person’s interaction with a brand, product or service of interest. Customer journeys can be "cradle to grave," looking at the entire arc of engagement from one brand or product to the next.  At other times, journey maps are used to look at very specific experience in the customer-company interactions such as the “out-of-the box” or customer support experience. 

All too often, these journey and experience maps are developed from an organisation-centric point of view that assumes customer journeys are linear, and fail to take into account that customers and potential customers enact their own versions of the journey.

Another thing organisation’s tend to overlook is that in the digital world the customer journey is no long influenced only by the messaging, promotion and advertising brands create but is influenced heavily by social media conversations. Customers take in to account and rely on conversations surrounding the brands they are evaluating to help make their decisions. These conversations influence the touchpoints along the journey and are rarely manifested into a single touchpoint or experience. Instead the customer accumulates a rich mixture of impressions that inform their conscious and sub-conscious decisions to purchase or build brand affinity.

Customer journey and experience stages

  • Brand/product awareness. The journey stage when the potential customer develops awareness of a brand or product. These are impressions that can be built up over time, and encompass both individual and social impressions. Inputs can be formal advertising, buzz, trends, influence of friends/acquaintances, social media, etc. In a nutshell, it's when they become aware of a solution that meets a need or desire they already have, or discover that they have once their interest is piqued.
  • Brand/product connection. This is the stage when they connect their need/desire with specific options available to them, and understand the mechanisms for learning more about specific products/brands. They also learn the path for procurement: in stores, online, streaming, downloads, pre-orders, etc. They begin listening to the opinions of others and observe their experiences over time.
  • Brand/product evaluation. This is the stage when they begin to systematically review their options, and weed out undesirable or irrelevant options. They might seek out opinions, read reviews, download demos, view trailers, try on/sample items in store, etc.
  • Shopping experience. This is the stage when they actually initiate a purchase. This can be in store or online, and can be self-service, with friends or family, or aided by salespeople, etc. Whether the process is simple or difficult will have an impact on their overall impression of the product/brand. These impressions, especially those most intense ones, are very likely to be shared with others.
  • Out-of-box experience/deployment. Once they get a product home, this is the out-of-box experience, including setup/configuration, etc. It's the equivalent for retail items, as well.  Is the item ready to use, and easy to use, and is it what I expect? At this point they might include others in the experience, to help with setup or to give feedback. Again they are likely to share their experiences and impressions with others.
  • In-life product experience. How does the product perform for them over the longer term? Are they satisfied with the item relative to the promise? Do they develop an affinity for the product/brand, or do they discontinue use? In the social arena, how do they communicate their experiences to others?
  • Service & support. If they require service or support for their item, is the experience productive and pleasant? Whether or not they can resolve their issue and continue use of the product is a big part of their continued commitment to the product and brand, as well as how they influence others to engage.
  • Long-term commitment. Long-term and repeat customers, likely to upgrade, try new products offered by the brand, and will promote and evangelise products and brands in offline and online contexts.
  • Analysing the “social” customer journey. Traditional web analytics can be illuminating, but can also prevent organisations from deeply understanding individual customer experiences, especially those that are deeply rooted in a social context.

Social data, mined from countless online conversations across newsgroups, forums and social media sites, uncover the nuances of these interactions, and help organisations support their communities at any stage in the journey

Measuring the “social” customer journey

Understanding where the aggregate market is on the customer journey, then extrapolating that knowledge to the individual journey means companies can ultimately predict how people will behave at specific points in the journey. If prediction is unlikely (sometimes the case with surprise viral movements) then companies can at least learn how to respond quickly and effectively

These social markers can be illuminated through both quantitative and qualitative efforts. Quantitative data, like that which resides in web analytics or social listening metrics, act as sign-posts for movements and behaviours of interest. 

For instance, a spike in website traffic or social media metrics can be correlated with specific PR, launch or marketing activities.  However to truly understand the rich complexities of social behaviour it’s imperative to also track a representative sample of conversations from a qualitative point of view. Diving into this goldmine of data gives an organisation an unparalleled bird’s eye view into the individual and social minds of existing or target customers.


By creating an environment to explore the customer experience and map responses to the customer journey, you can accelerate the customer to buy your products or services and become an advocate for your brands.  Using social media as a marketing channel, or engaging in conversation is a great first step, but becoming truly relevant to your communities is the way to foster long-term engagement.

Social media networks are a brand’s front line into its most wired communities. Getting to know those people via comprehensive observation can help you find opportunities to engage and enchant, in ways you’ve probably never thought of.

These people can also be your biggest advocates and informants, even the overly critical ones. Listening and converting (by responding to questions, requests and concerns) are incredibly powerful tools in building a community that is enthusiastic about you.

But there are also many practical benefits, like the ability to provide quicker and better support, illuminate and educate potential customers, and, promote causes and efforts that are meaningful to you.

David Clark, vice president of marketing of SDL

Replies (1)

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By cust_faithful
23rd May 2013 14:30

Really like this article, David - it demonstrates so clearly that social media is now an essential input into the customer insight mix.

And your point that social media has moved beyond listening/monitoring into interaction is a key one - even if the interaction itself can be a little unstructured and so a bit scary for some!

I'd like to add a couple more points here:

1) the journey stages you describe are geared towards brand and product - both valuable of course, but I would also include a more customer-centric view. Simply by exploring peoples' lives, one can pick up the context of how a brand or product is being recognised, even if sub-consciously. As an example, my work in healthcare has helped me understand how patients often reveal their attitudes and beliefs about health in general on a bulletin board, which in turn can offer clues to more specific attitude and behaviour about drug regimes, treatment and social care.

2) Aligned to the above, I find social media offers insight into those journey steps that are loosely "pre-consumer" i.e. before any purchasing intent has been developed. For example, the stories of peoples' visits to the Olympic and Paralympic Games last summer showed how their trip inspired many to participation. This was more than simply 'awareness' - it's was a level of engagement that only came alive in the 'seeing' and 'doing'.

Brands can learn so much about their customers' lives from social media, not just their buying habits or product preferences. This approach has been a feature of ethnographic study for many years, and I feel that its application in social media is underrepresented to date.

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