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Six social media lessons from 2012

10th Dec 2012
Share this content looks back at six of the major developments in business use of social media over the past 12 months and outlines what we have learned.

If the past two years have seen businesses step cautiously around social media, 2012 was the year that not only saw brands become more confident with their customer-facing social activities, but also begin rolling it out internally to their workforce.

Additionally, 2012 was the year that proved social is here to stay. Rapidly emerging new networks Pinterest and, as well as Microsoft’s own network launch, have helped cement the role of online networks in customer experience.

With this in mind, takes a look back at some of the news and stories that we've covered in the past 12 months, and considers what we've learned about engaging with customers and employees across social channels this year.

1. Brands become more confident with social media

Since its widespread emergence, social media has been a scary and daunting task for even the most sophisticated brands, with many choosing to focus on damage-control than marketing gain. Again this year we witnessed the typical demonstrations of social media #fail from major brands, including Chick-fil-A’s allegedly fake Twitter account to dodge a reputational crisis, and the more recent example of Femfresh, which temporarily closed its Facebook account after facing heavy criticism for inappropriate tone.

Of course there will always be businesses falling foul of social media best practice, but overall 2012 was the year we saw brands become more sophisticated with social media and begin to take a more creative and risqué approach. In July, O2 found itself facing a barrage of abuse over Facebook and Twitter after a 24-hour service outage. However, rather than the usual corporate straightjacketed response, the mobile provider took a more unorthodox approach by injecting some rather humorous responses. Whilst the strategy generated a huge amount of controversy from its customers and the media, many, including Twitter’s Bruce Daisley, applauded the brand for its approach.

Bodyform was another brand that demonstrated its social media maturity. After a Facebook user posted a sarcastic comment about the brand’s long-running video ad campaign, the sanpro brand teamed up with Rubber Republic to create a tongue-in-cheek video response which received mass positive reaction before going viral.

2. Forget calling, customer service is going social!

If this was the year that brands became more confident with social media, it was because this was the year they had to. 2012 saw consumers approach brands across multiple channels, simultaneously, and expect a unified response from their channel of choice – be that social, web chat, mobile apps, forums or the more traditional phone and email channels.

Sitel’s revealed at the very start of the year that more than half of customers turn to the internet to resolve problems themselves before contacting a company, whilst a later study showed 65% of consumers see social media as a better way to communicate with companiesthan call centres. And the same was true across the pond with nearly one in three social media users (30%) preferring to contact a brand for service through a social channel compared to the phone. 

As a result, brands had no choice than to begin integrating social into their service operations. ContactBabel’s annual survey of call centres and their interactions with customers saw social appear as a channel for the very first time, taking 0.7% of total interactions.

However, whilst Plusnet, Blackberry, Zappos, Asos, Dell and Virgin Media were some of the brands that successfully integrated social into their service desk this year, research from A.T. Kearney revealed that many marketers are still failing to leverage social as a service tool. According to the figures, 70% of customer complaints are going un-answered because social media is not connected to the customer contact centre whilst Coversocial founder Josh March admitted that total integration of social is still some time away.

3. The rise and rise of social business

Following on from last year’s predictions, businesses soon realised that customer-facing social activities were a farce if they didn’t adopt an internal social strategy, too. Whilst research revealed social adoption in the enterprise is still in the very early stages with just a third of companies setting aside budget to make business processes more social, brands such as IBM led the way for others to follow. The firm’s social computing evangelist Luis Suarez told about the models and challenges of how the enterprise social software firm transformed itself into a social business whilst IBM’s Ofer Guetta also provided some practical advice.

However, Altimeter Group analyst Jeremiah Owyang claimed that whilst advanced companies such as IBM are operating holistically, many companies are still not integrating across business units, products and customer databases, and the social business space is “just heating up.” Ray Wang added that people are often the heat of the problem, and included poorly defined incentives and indifference to change as some of the most common hurdles to internal social adoption.

In the social business space, 2012 also saw analyst Jeff Ashcroft coining the phrase ‘smorganisation’ to describe the effect of social media on organisations and Microsoft’s highly anticipated purchase of social enterprise tool Yamnmer for a whopping $1.2bn.

This was the year that also created a PR blunder by attempting to trademark the term ‘social business’. The Cloud software giant was forced to climb down from its bid following a militant social campaign from the non-profit sector that the term defines businesses committed to bringing social change. As well as ditching the bid, the Cloud giant also overhauled its marketing strategy and decided no longer to use the term itself.  

4. Social media monitoring enters the mainstream

As with the case of’s social enterprise campaign, it’s vital for brands to be aware of what is being said about them on social media, by whom, and to react accordingly. Social media monitoring became much more accepted this year with only the Daily Mail expressing concern over consumer privacy; and the explosion of Big Data made it even more essential for businesses to analyse the information they collected.

Cue a huge growth in vendors offering analytics solutions, as well as the growth of influencer marketing tools such as Kred, Klout and PeerIndex. Ovum analyst Aphrodite Brinsmead recently warned vendors that if they choose not to add new analytics solutions, as well as multichannel metrics and collaboration tools next year, they run the risk of losing business from always-connected customers. 

The trend was also extended to social networks with Tumblr and Facebook both making concerted efforts to roll out more sophisticated analytics platforms for social media marketing ROI. Monitoring of internal communities also increased and we saw Yammer roll out new capabilities to help organisations monitor employee’s attitudes based on their posts.

5. The jury is out on social commerce

2012 hasn’t exactly been a great year for Facebook, what with the Virtual Bagel experiment and admission of 83m fake likes (and we’re not even mentioning the IPO). Furthermore, efforts to monetise the platform with Facebook commerce (f-commerce) also appeared to be hitting the skids.

Earlier this year Bloomberg wrote a damning report on the state of f-commerce, detailing how a growing number of large retailers were shutting their Facebook storefronts, with the likes of GameStop, Gap Inc., J.C. Penney and Nordstrom all having closed their Facebook stores in the past year.
There are certainly those that believe that ecommerce via Facebook is the archetypal round peg and square hole - Forrester Research’s Sucharita Mulpuru has highlighted that while Facebook is the most visited site on the web, its users go there to socialise rather than shop, equating it to “trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.”
Nonetheless, there are still many that see the potential of f-commerce. Reuters recently interviewed a host of start-ups, such as and BeachMint, that remain confident that Facebook will be the next great ecommerce platform, and that despite slow uptake, the infrastructure and sheer volume of users will be enough to ensure that it will take off.
And in a bid to restore markers’ confidence and give social commerce a boost, the network announced the launch of the ‘want’ button. Shortly afterwards, Facebook also unveiled Gifts, a new ecommerce platform enabling users to buy real gifts to the value of hundreds of dollars from big name retailers.

While the jury is still out, predictions still seem optimistic for the future of social commerce - eBay predicted that the value of social shopping will reach £3.3bn by 2014, whilst Ecwid and TNS predicted that Facebook in particular will deliver £3.1bn revenue opportunity for UK businesses over the next three years.

6. New flavours of social network emerge

For a long time it felt as though no social networks could challenge the popularity of Twitter and Facebook but 2012 was the year new platform Pinterest threatened to knock the network giants off their perch. Early figures showed the platform had reached 7.21m users by December 2011, and less than year later became the fourth largest traffic source in the world, beating Google referral traffic, Bing StumbleUpon and Twitter.  Pinterest responded to the insatiable demand with the launch of business pages for brands but despite its popularity, research in September revealed a staggering 44% of marketers had no interest in using the social network for business purposes.

2012 was also the year that ad-free paid-for social network made a name for itself whilst Google+ was still nowhere to be seen, despite research claiming retailers were flocking to the site.


What do you think were the major trends of 2012?

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