Today’s blog has been written by Marketwire and Sysomos’ COO, Jim Delaney
If you were to believe the recent blog headline “Social Media is a Waste of Time for B-to-B,” then your company may miss an a significant opportunity to create communication that leads to valuable business outcomes. Given the nascent nature of the Social Media revolution, there is no shortage of headlines like these based on an incomplete understanding of end-to-end business process. Most posts, like this one, address the value of social media in the context of infrastructure only, detailing the components of the infrastructure that must be in place. Rather than focusing on the infrastructure only, businesses need to think about how social media can support the infrastructure, while also providing high-level business value.
The first question you should always ask is, ”How will social media support my company’s higher level goals, and why do we want to engage in social media?” As an executive and marketer, it’s not that I don’t care about the number of friends, followers, views and retweets. But, I’m much more interested in seeing a clearer picture of how social media affects my company on a business level. Does social media help us to manage our company’s reputation, augment our customer service program, gain market share, and/or increase employee productivity?
Too often, the focus on social media is tactical communications, with marketing, branding and PR departments rushing to have conversations and share content, without understanding how participation connects to higher-level goals. Simply pumping content through different channels clearly is not enough. Social media success, of course, is based on several basic best practices including: a good functional website where you can drive social media traffic, a customer service program capable of answering questions at numerous touch points, a strong industry presence and the resources to support relationship building with your stakeholders.
However, moving beyond the initial infrastructure, you must also look more closely at using social media to create opportunities that result in better:
Social media allows a company to proactively set up a customer “listening” program with data and insights to determine how your stakeholders think and feel about your brand. Armed with an enormous amount of analytics, you are able to keep a pulse on the market. You are also constantly monitoring customer sentiment and preventing the smallest negative conversations from escalating into what could be a mountain of crisis, by simply being responsive. Addressing issues as they arise is the best way to preserve a thought leadership position and maintain a positive image in an age of public conversations.
Customer Service Satisfaction
Facebook has become a customer service portal, with employee representatives answering questions, offering useful advice and solving problems on your pages. Whether it’s a simple inquiry about your product or a verified complaint, a social network can serve as a helpful forum, opening up a new avenue for stakeholders to praise your service or vent their dissatisfaction. Companies have learned quickly that using Facebook to answer questions cuts down on the call center inquiries, which, in turn, also cuts costs. Customer satisfaction is at the heart of every business. If your stakeholders are participating in social media, then you need to be listening carefully with the right tools to help and solve their issues.
Lead Generation and Sales
The social media million-dollar question is how does community engagement create leads, which convert to product sales? Where social media analytics end, website analytics begin. You must track how your social media program drives traffic to your website, and then monitor your stakeholder behavior from there. Using unique landing pages as a part of a Facebook contest or a Twitter promotion allows you to capture leads on the page, and then use the information to further engage with interested parties. However, if you are not set up properly to capture the social media analytics and track from click to conversation on your website, then you will not be able to see a direct connection between social media participation and potential sales for your company.
As much as we rush to communicate through social networks, tremendous value comes from the education and subsequent internal collaboration of your employees. Training employees to understand, embrace and use social media collectively in their departments and even cross functionally opens up your organization to innovation and idea generation. Collaborative technology can be used from brainstorming new product ideas to strategic planning initiatives. Cutting back on email, and streamlining your process by editing documents in real time, is a great way to increase productivity, and also to assure consistent communications messaging, from champion to champion across the organization.
Of course, if you don’t have the basics down, then there is no way your organization can even begin to think about how social media is tied to increased market share, reputation management, better customer service, enhanced lead generation and greater employee productivity. Get the basics or infrastructure in place, know what you’re trying to achieve and create a social media plan with strategies that lead to greater outcomes.
If you can think about the higher-level goals first, then you will find social media is not a waste of time. In fact, you will realize it leads to valuable business outcomes.