Social media has become a force to be reckoned with throughout the world, as can be seen from the latest protests in the Middle East, where thousands of protesters use Facebook and Twitter to organize their protests. It is also a force to be reckoned with in business. While social media may be seen as the purview of marketing and advertising, it offers benefits across an organization including customer service and operations.
Social media has scaled to the point that businesses should establish both a budget and resources to oversee this important function. It should not be thought of as a poor step-child that receives whatever is left over after other marketing dollars are allocated. Remember, if social media is used to drive product development, research, and customer service, as well as add value to other areas of the business, then it would be wise for several departments to contribute budget and resources to social media strategy and execution.
The marketing department will usually drive social media strategy, and marketers should take an active role in guiding others in the organization to learn and contribute. Ongoing learning helps everyone become better marketers and in turn, the company builds a stronger brand. The marketing department can provide education and training, share best practices, provide guidelines for use, and establish systems for closed-loop communication internally and externally, as well as create the systems for reporting and measurement.
Even the CEO should have a role in social media. CEOs of companies that were early adopters to this media have been very successful in shaping and growing their brands. Comments on a blog or Twitter are much more authentic than comments made through a press release. Content generation is another area that needs to be built into the marketing operations plan. It requires planning and development to create a library of content so it is not an afterthought after a program is launched. Who will be responsible for writing content? Will you post original content or will you pull from other sources? What types of media such as video, podcasts, webinars, and photos can be used? Use pre-established branding guidelines to guide development of the content and format.
Sales and marketing departments should use social networking to listen to the voice of the customer, as well as monitor what is being said about competitor’s products and services. It’s a valuable research tool that should be used collaboratively by sales and marketing teams to keep their pulse on the market. Several online tools for monitoring customer feedback such as YackTrack, Yelp, and Get Satisfaction are excellent services to monitor what is being said about your company, as well as competitors.
If your goal is to collect customer feedback dynamically tools like WuFoo, PollDaddy, and TwtPoll are good real-time research tools. SuggestionBox.com is another tool that facilitates the collection of ideas from customers. It encourages customers to rate their favorite ideas (externally on the site) and employees to rate ideas and suggestions internally. Employees can respond to customer ideas privately, and there is a mechanism to notify customers when their idea has been implemented. Download a widget and the service is featured on your company website.
If you have an online store, consider using RatePoint, a service with several customer service and feedback tools. Like some of the other services, customers can post a review, and if the review is negative, you can reach out to the customer to resolve the issue before a comment is made public. RatePoint verifies reviews to make sure they are legit, and in the process verifies contact information that you can use for ongoing customer communication. Communicating with and learning from your customers has never been easier—so no more excuses!
Make it easy for your customers to find you and your company in lots of different places. Place buttons for tools so it’s easy to share content on your Web site, blog, articles, and other areas where you post online content (Digg, Twitter, Delicious, RSS feeds). This will help others share and amplify your content. Include your social network profile link in your email signature and on business cards so people can easily find you.
With such tools available, businesses are now getting on the bandwagon to harness social media. Indeed, according to a study conducted by the American Marketing Association and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, social media spending will increase to 10% within the year, and to 16% by 2016.