A couple of years ago, I travelled to New York for a conference on social media and content marketing. We heard from major brands such as Hertz, MasterCard, Mc Donald’s and many more. It was a great experience. I learned a lot and met many amazing people. One of them was Karlijn Vogel-Meijer, Social Media Manager at KLM Airlines in Amsterdam. We chatted over lunch one day and she told me what some of her plans and objectives were for the coming years.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I come across her name in an article claiming KLM attributes €25M of revenue (27.5M USD) directly to social media. “Good for her!” I thought to myself.

Not only is this a tremendous accomplishment for KLM, but it’s also real world evidence that social media can bear fruit, and big ones at that. I’m constantly pitching the benefits of content marketing to companies in various industries and businesses of all different sizes, so you can be sure all my clients have heard about this.

How is it then, that not so long ago marketing juggernaut Coca-Cola famously claimed social media brought them no ROI? (I don’t bring this up with clients as often).

Is this a mistake? Is Coca-Cola doing something wrong? How can this be; the brand has over 90 million Facebook likes! What happened to that slogan we’ve all been repeating for so many years now? Is content really king?

Volume Vs. Engagement

Well, let’s remember first that Coca-Cola is generating social media content and contests for hundreds of brands, which is expensive. KLM really only has a handful by comparison, so there is a difference on the cost side.

For example, here I am posing with the FIFA World Cup™ Trophy Tour in 2014. While this was a great experience, it’s very expensive to put on, especially when you do it in cities all over the world. Furthermore, I don’t recall buying a Coke that day.

posing for fifa coke photo contestWhile KLM, on the other hand, has a much lower investment in social media than Coke does, they also have a much different approach to social media. Yes, they push content to their more than 9 million Facebook fans, but as Karlijn Vogel-Meijer said, it’s all about the online customer interaction. Just take a look at their Facebook page and you’ll see this:

KLM facebook contentThere is content there, including travel tips and glimpses back in time over the airline’s 95 year history. But there is less of it and it’s comparatively simple. But the amount of interaction with customers is sky-high—people asking about what they can and can’t bring on board their flight, finding lost belongings, people who need help checking in online and more. They’ve even developed their own video game. To top it all off, the airline provides detailed, personalized responses – not just links. This has the added effect of boosting engagement and creating a real community online.

That Book Now button on Facebook, in conjunction with many little add-ons like leaving a personalized message on the headrest of loved ones boarding a flight, have made the travel experience on KLM something unique, and people are talking.

This example disproves the theory that social media is, by definition, a cost center.

The Benefits Of Social Media Customer Service

By now most companies have grasped the importance of social media in one way or another. Studies have shown that as many as half of a brand’s social audience is there because they want help with a product or service. Nowadays Hootsuite and JetBlue are all handling a good portion of their customer service through social. This saves them time and money, and generally keeps customers happy, which helps with their retention rates.

Social media metrics company SocialBakers recently published a blog stating that very few brands are taking advantage of this. They recommend brands maintain a minimum threshold of responding to at least 2/3 of all questions they receive through social media. Evan James, Head of North American Marketing at SocialBakers had this to say:

“Brands like KLM have seen huge returns from investing in social customer service. For airlines, social customer care has enabled them to do things like selling tickets to customers that wouldn’t have been sold if not for their social team. That’s straight profit from sales that wouldn’t exist otherwise.

Customer service via social can also be a lot more cost-effective for companies than customer service via other channels, like by phone. It’s often a no-brainer for brands that want to reduce costs while improving the experience for their customers”.

James also notes that a big distinction is having an e-commerce aspect to a business, which enables a company to convert social media customer service interactions and CTAs directly into sales.

Dethroning Content

So are consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies out of luck when it comes to getting more than just brand recognition from social media? Not according to James.

“When it comes to content creation, brands often overdo it. Most brands are focused on posting a high volume of content; instead, they should be focused on posting less content, making it higher quality and supporting it with ad spend.”

As social media continues to grow up, content alone is not enough to cultivate a community and keep them engaged, let alone make money doing it. What’s just as (if not more) important than quality content is frequent engagement around that content.

You can be sure that marketing teams and creatives all over the world are working on new ways to generate revenue growth through social, and the Facebooks and Twitters of this world will continue to evolve so as to enable these brands to make money via their platforms (I’m looking at you Pinterest— but that’s another story for another day).