SAN FRANCISCO: Social business teams are shifting their focus away from brand health and towards customer experience, according to a new study, which also highlights how they are becoming a vital connector between existing centres of excellence in e-commerce, advertising, and content.

The 2016 State of Social Business report from Altimeter, the Prophet-owned research and strategy consulting firm, based on input from 18 brands, vendors and thought leaders and 523 survey respondents, observed a continuing trend towards customer-centricity.

This was exemplified in the finding that customer experience (82%) had overtaken brand health (79%) as the top social business objective for strategists for the first time.

Linked to that development, the study identified branded customer communities (+37%), social customer service (+37%), and social identity/CRM (+34%) as top areas for investment.

A focus on customer centricity also means that social data is being mined more than ever in the search for innovation. Just 14% of respondents saw collaborating with customers on new products and services as a top five priority objective in 2014, but this had risen to 25% in 2015 and to 50% this year.

In order to meet customer experience objectives, the report added, "the social business team's role is shifting from an innovator to a multi-business practice integrator".

Fully 79% of strategists said that the role of the social team was becoming more operational and a platform for other innovation teams to test new approaches, such as chatbots, payment/tracking activity or customer service messaging.

Altimeter saw this as an inflection point for social teams, and argued that if they are to "balance their inevitable operational role and their historic role as innovators … the team needs to delegate responsibilities that belong elsewhere in the organisation and pick the right opportunities to collaborate with partners".

And that becomes ever more important when one considers that social platforms are evolving faster than social business teams can possibly keep up with.

Readers can download a summary of Warc's 2015 Seriously Social report, which outlines how social strategy can drive business results.

Data sourced from Altimeter; additional content by Warc staff