Like it or not, social media is here to stay. It has changed the way we communicate, the way we shop and the way we share these experiences. Consumers would rather buy from someone they know. Absent this type of referral, a product or service review by an independent third party is deemed as nearly as valuable and certainly more credible that what a company says about itself.
According to a recent McKinsey research survey, “Social technologies as a group have reached critical scale at the organizations represented in our survey. Seventy-two percent of the respondents report that their companies are deploying at least one technology, and more than 40 percent say that social networking and blogs are now in use.” The below charts published in the McKinsey report demonstrate the consistent growth social media has experienced within the business world.
There are two ways you can leverage social media as a business tool: As an internal means to improve productivity and efficiency, and as an external means to further engage with your customers.
As an Internal Tool
Social media can be used as a collaborative platform to better share ideas and solve customer issues faster. Here social media is being used as a shared IT application, no different than the use of browsers for web surfing or applications for word processing. As a collaboration tool, it should be centrally managed with a set of agreed upon usage guidelines to encourage appropriate behavior that isn’t offensive and makes good business sense.
As an External Tool
Here is where inflated expectations sometimes lead to unrealistic lead generation, branding or awareness assumptions. The likelihood of acquiring a million users that want to use your product after reading your twitter feed is probably unrealistic, unless there is a highly compelling event that can give you the exposure for such traffic volumes. A more likely scenario is one where your customers reference and, ideally, praise your product or service within their existing social media sites and usage patterns.
The critical question to ask consider is “How easy are you to work with?” How difficult is it for one of your customers to extract data from your service and upload it into their social media sites? If it is easy, then social media might indeed have a role in your future growth. Also, what content are you providing? Is this information that will be helpful for them as part of their purchase decision and evaluation? What is of primary importance, however, is that you think about it now, and that you realize that the way we use social media will likely change over time. Today we are in the middle of a communications transformation. This means you have to be ready to make the time, effort and financial investment to stay current and learn with the rest of the other companies.
Just in the same way that every marketing and business plan should have a competitive review and a strong positioning, companies today writing a business plan or marketing plan must now have a Social Media component. Businesses must now recognize that this is not a trend that will quietly go away. Social media is an important communications vehicle that should ideally be used both internally and externally as part of your marketing and communications plan.
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.