Marketers are waging fierce battles over customer experience, because they know it’s a key company differentiator. Providing a satisfying customer experience is complex and involves more channels than ever before. A key and still growing channel for marketers continues to be social media, and its biggest value to companies is how it’s aligned to the entire business, including the marketing department, sales and customer service.

Today, Salesforce released new data that double-clicks into social media trends from this year’s Salesforce Fourth Annual State of Marketing Report, which finds that social media marketing is no longer a nice to have, it’s a must, and that in order for social media to truly be successful in delivering a seamless customer journey, it needs to be integrated with other channels—especially customer service.

Let’s take a deeper look at data driving social marketing today.

Social media marketing is a must-have investment

A social marketing strategy is no longer simply nice to have — it’s required for all brands in order for them to be successful in engaging with customers along their buyer journey. According to our State of the Connected Customer report, over half of all consumers agree or strongly agree that social media has given them more power as a consumer.

Marketers have responded to the need to engage on social:

  • 77 percent of all marketers (including 89 percent of high performers) say their companies use social media marketing.
  • Half of all high-performing marketers expect to increase their budget on social media marketing substantially (by 10 percent or more) within the next 12 months.
  • Driving this increase in investment is not just one social tool or platform. Data shows that 61 percent of high performers use social publishing tools extensively, and 54 percent say they use social listening tools extensively—4.4 times and 4.1 times higher than underperformers, respectively.

Social media marketing must coordinate with other channels

In this report, 64 percent of marketers say they have become more focused on providing customers with a consistent experience across every channel, including in-store, online, email, mobile, social, sales and service, as a result of customer expectations over the past 12–18 months. Because marketing leaders need to figure out how to unify their view of the customer, it’s not enough to implement social marketing on its own. Marketers are starting to integrate social media tools with other channels—such as marketing communications, cross-channel journeys and customer service. Top brands do this by listening to what people say on social channels and then pass customer service-related content to their support team for resolution.

The good news is, most marketers are beginning to do this. Specifically:

  • Eighteen percent of all marketers say there is no coordination between their social media marketing and other channels. While that number is a relief, this is still an evolving space, and the level of sophistication in coordinating those channels has plenty of room for improvement.
  • Sixty-four percent of all marketing leaders say that service collaborates with marketing to manage and respond to social inquiries and issues.
  • However, this is another area with a large gap between high performers and underperformers; 84 percent of high performers say that service collaborates with marketing to manage and respond to social inquiries and issues, while just 37 percent of underperformers say the same.

An inconsistent customer service experience between social and phone or email support can directly result in loss of customers. In fact, 73 percent of customers say they are likely to switch brands if a company provides inconsistent levels of service.

In short, it’s critical for companies to invest in their social marketing initiatives, while at the same time, integrating social media strategies into all of their customer touchpoints to provide a cohesive, 1-to-1 customer experience.

This post first appeared on the Salesforce blog.