The concept of mapping ‘user journeys’ when developing websites and online destinations has become commonplace for digital projects. Yet, with the nebulous nature of social media, one has to question if this often-linear approach is still relevant.
There is no dismissing the power of information architecture and
persona development when creating websites and traditional customer journeys. Yet, with a virtual landscape so dominated by the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest we hit a barrier.
Just like real life – the online world has become increasingly random. Referrals to products, articles, videos, and so on are now provided far more readily in real time via hashtag trends, posts, mentions, RT’s, the list goes on. Meaning that no one can predict what will pop onto their screen or what the next big discussion topic will be.
This creates a challenge. Unlike a referral from an advert or an optimised Google search result, the context provided by a link via a Facebook post, tweet or message can be vastly different from the brands original intention. This is because real people will add their own perspective; an often biased point of view. Add to this the proliferation of shortened URL’s such as bit.ly and we can no longer assume the web address will even provide any insight into the post-click destination.
A great early example of this was the Rickroll phenomenon. The referrer had all the control. Setting others expectations of what they were linking to, only to falsely lead them to Rick Astley’s cherub face singing ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’.
In the vastly different social media landscape, not only is context incredibly important but the power often lies solely with the referrer – not the brand. For instance, tweets tend not to include a description of a link, instead they provide the tweeters own narrative; a joke, praise, critique, complaint or simply a ‘this is interesting’ comment.
Couple this with the rise of mobile where engagement rarely happens via a browser; instead via Apps, interfaces and shareable assets. Then the traditional online journey is completely fractured, compared to plans of the past.
Even more so, customer information via their devices from geolocation through to near field technology, should be factored in to provide trend insights that have a huge part to play in the overall customer journey from the start. Helping identify the decisions brands make about prioritising their focus and budgets.
Yet, despite this shift appearing over several years, there still does not seem to be a common methodology which fully takes both the context (in terms of both message and medium) and the end users expectation fully into account.
Google also highlighted this shift in consumer purchasing behavior too in their ‘Zero Moment of Truth’ ebook, highlighting the importance of research, and therein referrals to the customer’s purchasing decision. Whilst Google provided some really interesting insights, it still did not solve the complexity of the challenge around planning a modern customer journey in full.
With all this taken into account I would argue a new non-linear approach is needed. A methodology, which considers the contextual impact of the referrer, coupled with the emotional expectation of the user and maps this to the overall online experience.
In essence; a ‘customer expectation architecture’.
I would argue this requires a re-evaluation of the core principles behind traditional customer journeys, and an alignment of these with the philosophies of community management.
This latter point is the most important. Online communities have huge influence. Which makes the power of robust community management a powerful tool for any brand. Yet, so often, their impact on the overall customer journey can be lost beyond the basic measure of ‘how many downloads, views, RT’s or likes’ they might create.
The journey and the community are inextricably linked. Which means any brand campaign, engagement or asset e.g. website, must be created with all of these dots connected. With plans and thinking developed around why, when and how people arrive at a destination site, decision or purchase.
The digital industry is still in its early years. Yet some approaches are already getting old. The social media landscape both requires and forces a shift in thinking. The customer journeys of old focused too much on the content and not enough of context or expectation management. A new approach is needed which looks at brand engagement from the point of view of individuals engaging with the brand, not vice versa. This isn’t going to be a simple shift, but it is one that will be necessary as the world becomes increasingly fragmented and personal. The question is whether the industry that changed so much, is ready to accept change itself.
Do you agree? Or feel there is no need for change. Let me know your thoughts below…