The first wave of social media provided tremendous benefits to consumers. Suddenly, corporate communications became more than one-way messaging for companies who wanted to deliver their canned content to their customers. Social sharing sites—including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram—grew rapidly as users generated their own multimedia content and required brands to come up with more interactive and engaging ways to attract and retain them as customers. Large parts of the web became customer-centric rather than company-centric, as users distrusted the blatant self-interest of brands in favor of information derived from friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances. Even the opinions of strangers became more influential than corporate ads, direct marketing, and promotions.
As consumers, we gained control over the companies we chose to conduct business with. But what about our work lives? How is the millennial, who grew up with social media and is joining the workforce, supposed to react to a typical SharePoint site as a way to learn what’s going on? And how can businesses benefit from social media as much, if not more than, consumers? Social business leverages social listening, collaboration, analytics and other “industrialized” versions of Web 2.0 technologies to improve business effectiveness and ROI. The following applications of social business demonstrate some of its power.
Social Intranets provide a more dynamic and personal way to consume and share corporate knowledge. They work very much like the social networks we use as consumers, but in a highly secure manner that is limited to a company’s employees. Similar to LinkedIn, all users have a personal profile that describes their role in the company, areas of interest and expertise, as well as they type of content they publish. This enables individual employees to follow people who can help them perform their jobs more effectively. Every time some you follow publishes new content, you receive a notification via a mobile application or through your email. Just click on the link and the information is available for your use. Social intranets fosters knowledge exchange and collaboration within project teams, departments, and entire enterprises.
Social Listening provides an excellent way to understand what customers think of a particular brand, competitor, product or service provided by a company. Marketers simply set-up the keywords that determine the content that is mined across social networks, blogs and the web at-large. The highly unstructured information is given quantitative structure through the development of customized dictionaries and natural language processing to parse the information into a structured framework that can be analyzed and acted on. The resulting market research data—collected unobtrusively without the bias inherent in questionnaires–provides tremendous feedback as to how the company can improve its products, services and reputation. Social listening tools often come with an engagement console that enables customer service representatives and product managers to respond to specific posts. This enables companies to mitigate the viral spread of negative information that could damage the brand and to amplify the viral spread of positive information to enhance the brand image.
Branded Community Sites are developed for entire industries but also serve the interests of a sponsoring brand. By providing content that is relevant to the entire community and enabling members to share their own insights, experts across the entire industry are motivated to join the community. Once they join, they will experience the thought leadership provided by the sponsoring company and are likely to click on links that will enable you to market more directly to prospects who may currently be a customer of one of your competitors. Branded community sites drive customer acquisition and retention efforts.
Social Customer Service solutions range from a presence on such open social networks as Facebook and Twitter to branded sites that are restricted to customers. Many companies have been successful providing proactive customer service on Facebook and Twitter. In addition to responding to posts about service issues, customer service representatives can post resolutions to known issues generated from other sources. When companies establish their own social sites for customers, they can provide an enhanced version of the experience. Gamification is often used to reward customers who answer questions raised by other customers. For instance, every time a customer provides the correct answer to a question, they can be given rewards points. It isn’t even necessary for rewards points to have monetary value. As social beings, we are often satisfied with being recognized as a community leader as our screen names climb the leader board. Social Customer Service solutions not only increase customer engagement levels, but also reduce servicing costs by deflecting questions that would otherwise be answered by phone conversations with customer service agents. The fact that the answers are seen by whole groups of people further improves operational efficiencies.
Social CRM shares some of the capabilities of social customer service, but serves as an extension of a company’s existing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution. This enables businesses to market their products and services to prospects on social networks through both social and traditional communications channels. It also enables companies to provide better service to existing customers via the social channels where so many people spend their time.
Crowdsourcing solutions foster corporate innovation as product managers and engineers collaborate with customers and suppliers. They can be used to develop new products and services, as well as ways to market and distribute them to customers. This is another area where gamification is helpful. Because real profits are made by the new products and services, however, participants are given lump sums or percentages of profits commensurate with their contributions, rather than token rewards points.
Social Commerce applications leverage the recommendations of friends, family and others to stimulate e-commerce revenues. This can be accomplished through marketplaces (remember e-Bay) and great e-commerce sites such as Amazon, where recommendations are made to the buyer based upon other customers with a similar purchasing behavior. The large numbers of reviews on Amazon, moreover, have a far greater impact on purchase decisions than do the reviews of so-called experts. A company can also integrate e-commerce with their Facebook page or with their branded community sites. There are also numerous applications that help friends view the same merchandise (at least virtually) to help one another on purchase decisions. One class of such applications enables one of the friends to be in a store, while the other friend is on a PC or mobile device. Videos, texting and voice communications can support the making of yay or nay recommendations. Another class pertains to situations where both friends are online. The combination of co-browsing, multimedia and texting becomes the next best thing to shopping together.
So we have come a long way from the early days of social media, when businesses seemed to lose their ability to control the messages received by prospects and customers. Even if benefits were to be gained, there was no way to understand the ROI associated with their social media initiatives. This made it difficult, at best, to figure out how much to invest in their labor-intensive social media efforts or the specific areas that merited investment. Today, companies have a broad range of social business applications that can be tailored to achieve a large array of business objectives.