Just a few short years ago, social media was only for young people and hip businesses with fun products. Today, with new applications, increased tools for businesses, and an ever-growing customer base, the utility of social media for business is expanding at a rate that is nearly impossible to keep up with.
“Social is by and large affecting the way companies run their businesses,” says Jason Breed co-founder of the weekly Twitter discussion on the business of social media #socialmedia and social media practice lead for management consulting company Accenture. “All around, businesses are affectively changing the way they communicate with employees and consumers.”
From internal business communication, monitoring, and hiring practices, to external marketing, branding, and advertising, to the direct contact of customer service, businesses are finding innumerable ways to utilize the power of social media. But finding the most effective way to utilize and organize operations is still proving to be a challenge for even the savviest companies.
Breed says that a common pitfall for businesses is the tendency to go down a checklist of platforms, making sure they have all of the newest media, before they figure out why they want them, and the strategy behind using them effectively.
Whether it’s Google+ Pages, Twitter’s Enhanced Profiles, or Facebook’s Featured Stories, there are plenty of new ways to connect, but what ways are best for what businesses?
“Right now there is a lot of experimentation marketing,” Breed says.
And with this experimentation comes reflective looks at what’s been done; not everything works for everyone.
“Now [businesses] are going back and saying ‘so what,’” Breed says.
SOCIAL MEDIA FOR BUSINESS AND THE DISCONNECT
As businesses become more and more entwined with social media, it’s not going to be about what companies are using what platforms, it’s going to be about what companies are using them effectively, and as a part of a strategic business plan, not just an effective communication plan.
“Effectively you have a lot of people skilled in social media,” Breed says. “[But] you’re going to see people transitioning from social media to social business.”
But until that transition happens, businesses without a stout business strategy are going to miss out on all of the potential benefits of social media.
“All those companies are disconnected from an operational stand point,” Breed says.
In other words, a business that is successfully using Twitter to propagate a marketing message may not be coordinating an effective customer service protocol, hurting their Customer Relationship Management (CRM).
“There are very few companies using it as an integrated touch point,” Breed says. “There’s not cross training.”
To coordinate social operations so that when a customer calls a help line in the morning, and Tweets a complaint in the afternoon, the Tweet is treated as the second contact, it will take a new level of business structure.
“It takes governance,” Breed says. “New organizational structures; training; a new way to look at the value of employees; and a new way to look at customers.”
SOCIAL MEDIA FOR BUSINESS: CONTENT AND DATA MINING
Although this overarching business approach has not yet been adopted by the majority of business, many companies are effectively working to perfect the advertising and marketing content that is best suited for customers.
“Part of the aim in social is to create content that will get a foothold,” says William Moner, instructor of Web Design & Interactive Media at The Art Institute of Austin, a branch of The Art Institute of Houston.
“Fundamentally you want engaging content that people are talking about, but now, with social, you are seeing people sharing it,” Moner adds.
With this level of engagement comes the ability for businesses to learn about their customers and put that information to use.
“If you are able to get the audience to engage, you are able to track metrics, and you can start to target and tailor your message,” Moner says.
“On Facebook, people voluntarily give up info, so for advertisers, this is a perfect way to tie their brand to opinion leaders,” Moner adds.
And because of this information, and the ability of customers to engage and react instantly, ownership of brand image goes to the peoples.
“Today, customers have more say in what the image is that the brand does,” Breed says.
With more effective business models on the horizon, comes the potential for real quality marketing, advertising, and customer service, as well as push back from customers who realize businesses are becoming as savvy as users.
“[The future holds] more visual content, and more engaging content,” Moner, says. “More video. More images.”
“I think the future is going to be quite interesting,” Moner adds. “We are seeing a privacy push back and people know what is being done with their data. That is going to be tempered by being able to control the experience.”
But the benefit of the data mining is a user experience tailored to the customer, which could prove more appealing than privacy.
“All in all, what it appears to be about is personalization,” Moner says.
SOCIAL MEDIA FOR THE BUSINESS OF TOMORROW
Social media is going to continue to be a major player in today’s, and tomorrow’s, business community, but it’s going to be about a lot more than just status updates. Social media for business is going to be about building internal operations that integrate the message, the communication, and an understanding of customer and employee.
“The companies that start to understand that, and take advantage of it, are going to be the leaders of tomorrow,” Breed says.
“[Social media]’s having a profound effect internally in companies that are not just trying to swim to keep up, but to get ahead,” Breed adds.
All that being said, social media totally shakes up the way that business has been done, leaving the potential for opportunity, innovation, and because it’s social media, a bit of entertainment.
“It’s a fun time if you embrace change,” Breed says.