Varun Sharma, Vice President, APAC and Japan of Emplifi, explains how artificial intelligence (AI) can pave the way to better social media engagement and social commerce.

Chatbots are powered by artificial intelligence (AI), answering customers’ inquiries online in human-like conversations. In social media, chatbots play an essential role in customer support. Investing in CX tools can help consolidate all interactions across social media platforms, providing more relevant and personalized customer interactions and experiences.

Varun Sharma, the Vice President, APAC and Japan of Emplifi shared his insights on boosting social media engagement with artificial intelligence (AI), specifically the use of chatbots, in this interview with MartechAsia.

Emplifi is a unified CX platform, bringing marketing, care, and commerce together to enable businesses to close the customer experience gap. Over 7,000 brands, such as McDonald’s, Delta Air Lines, and Ford Motor Company rely on Emplifi, providing their customers with excellent experiences at every brand touchpoint.

Varun Sharma, Vice President, APJ, Emplifi

What are your major insights on the results of the report? Why do you think Facebook numbers declined while Instagram and Twitter increased?

According to our Q4 2021 social media data, ad spend on Facebook and Instagram in Asia Pacific (APAC) increased 24% in Q4 2021. In general, Instagram posts earned higher engagement than Facebook posts, where APAC brands earned approximately 17 interactions per 1,000 impressions for a Facebook post, a 26% decrease compared to Q4 2020. Instagram posts received about 65 interactions per 1,000 impressions in Q4 2021, a 35% decline compared to last year. On Facebook and Instagram, E-commerce brands had the highest engagement at 50% and 49% of interactions respectively.

Within the region, brand response rate declined slightly in Q4 2021 compared to Q4 2020 across two platforms – Facebook (-6.45%) and Instagram (-7.48%). On the other hand, Twitter’s response rate grew +3.27% YoY.

In terms of timeliness, APAC brands are taking longer to reply to user questions in comments on Instagram and Twitter, with year-on-year increases of 1.36 hours and 0.7 hours, respectively. On the other hand, brands’ response times on Facebook decreased by just under an hour since Q4 2020. This could be for the following reasons, given the decrease in engagement on Facebook there could be fewer questions on the platform. Brands increasingly recognise that customer experience is pivotal for customer loyalty and want to address queries and concerns in a timely fashion. There are also tools to assist in social media management, such as chatbots, which help improve response rate and timeliness.

How can brands utilise AI and chatbots to enhance customer experience?

Customers want 24/7 support and fast responses to their questions. Chatbots empower customers to help themselves and quickly escalate to a live agent when needed.

Not every question requires a human-led response. Many queries customers have are routine and do not require the attention of a live agent, which can cost a company valuable resources and time. In fact, research from the Harvard Business Review found companies can offload more than 50% of customer support interactions when they use technologies like AI, automation, and chatbots. This frees up human agents to devote adequate time to more sensitive customer issues.

Quick response times, especially with personalization, make customers feel valued. AI-powered automation technology enables customer service agents to engage with customers in a quick, personalized, and effective way. And that, in turn, positively impacts the customer experience.

How is e-Commerce related to social commerce?

Social commerce is an extension of e-commerce, where consumers can fulfill their purchase journey through social media channels. While both provide digital storefronts of retail brands at the fingertips of consumers, the method of discovery and purchase journey is different. In the case of e-commerce, a consumer intentionally turns to a platform to shop, whereas social commerce allows for an ‘always shopping’ mode, where purchasing is more integrated and immersive in the daily lives of consumers through social media platforms.

As the digital native population is on the rise, social commerce is becoming a preferred method of shopping by consumers in Southeast Asia (SEA). A report by Facebook and Bain & Co found that social media is the key channel for discovery (37%), influence (31%) and research (26%) for brand consideration in the region. The key reason behind this growing popularity is that social commerce focuses on providing a seamless customer experience with embedded care and service on social media platforms itself as opposed to the static surf, buy and pay buttons on e-commerce platforms.

In addition to driving brand awareness and engagement, social commerce helps marketers demonstrate a direct link between social media and sales – answering the age-old question of “how to measure media ROI?”. If done right, brand marketing departments can generate returns.

How do you measure social media engagement and brand response rates? What are the acceptable results for each that APAC brands should meet or maintain?

Consumers in APAC are hyper social, with many actively using more than one social media account. Engagement metrics across channels vary but traditionally, social media engagement is measured through the number of likes, comments, shares, retweets, clicks, average engagement rate and account mentions, to name a few. However, with social commerce, the focus is on delivering strong brand experiences, such as through the implementation of live video shopping or augmented reality (AR), while driving sales.

Emplif’s Go Instore found live commerce drives up to 8x higher conversion rates than regular e-commerce, as it enables authentic connections with an audience and for meaningful conversation. The social networks – Facebook, Instagram, Snap and TikTok – are also already investing significant resources in launching new social shopping features. Snap is leading the charge in AR technology to power virtual trying-on, Instagram launched its Shops, which are essentially digital storefronts and TikTok recently rolled out a suite of new shopping tools.

What should brands focus more on between paid and organic user engagement?

It depends on the business, brand, and the overall social media strategy – as with any strategy you need to consider the goals and audience, which means there isn’t a blanket approach and it’s important to know the pros and cons of each. Organic social media allows you to connect with your target audience and nurture the relationship, while paid social media is similar to advertising. I’ve really simplified it, but using both hand-in-hand helps you reach new audiences and promote quality content.

How should brands manage post interaction on social platforms and social media customer care? What are the effective ways brands can show responsiveness on social media?

To ensure that brands are leveraging the full potential of social media for customer support they need to quickly adapt and learn best practices. Firstly, invest in CX tools that can help to consolidate all interactions from various social media platforms while providing more personalised and relevant customer interactions and care. This may include virtual agents who can instantly answer questions, share the latest offers, or recommend additional products with the consumer.

Next, brands should hire community or social media managers who can use these tools to respond quickly and provide engaging content. Lastly, brands should aim at building a community of loyal customers, who act as brand ambassadors when required.

A good example is Tune Talk, the Mobile Virtual Network Operator in Malaysia. Tune Talk recognised the importance of using data to relate to their audience on social media. Employing Emplifi’s Social Marketing Cloud solutions, they created content that resonated widely across the social sphere. Tune Talk also ensured that both negative and positive comments were responded to in a timely fashion. This helped the brand not only to drive conversations with its customers but also humanize its image and build a brand perception that is fun and interactive. This improved their engagement significantly, increasing comments (817%), content shares (703%), and love reactions (341%) while generating revenue and increasing brand loyalty.