Social Media Strategy Needed

The great thing about social media is that it lets everyone communicate with everyone. That’s also the bad thing about social media. It sounds like a joke, but it’s actually a major dilemma for businesses as they build their social media networks.

Yes, companies want to communicate with their customers, and they want those customers to send back their ideas, comments and suggestions. And, of course, businesses want customers to say wonderful things about their company to all their Facebook friends. But if customers have problems with products or services, those businesses definitely don’t want their customers tweeting about those problems to the world.

What’s a company to do? Social media is not a one-way or even a two-way street: It’s more like a diagram in which every point can connect to every other point, and there are hundreds of millions of points. It takes word-of-mouth to a whole new level—one that would have been unfathomable a decade ago.

Social media is revolutionary and chaotic, and there’s no way to control it. There is, however, a way to harness it to strengthen customer relationships, acquire new business and drive revenue. The challenge is to accomplish that while avoiding potential pitfalls, such as an irate customer’s tweet or YouTube rant.

That’s what writer Sam Greengard helps you do in this issue’s cover story, “How to Win With Social Media”. He points out that “Converting clicks into bucks means confronting a tangle of strategic and tactical considerations.”

Sam spoke with four companies—Adagio Teas, Rosetta Stone, Getty Images and Mota-Engil—that have confronted those challenges and dealt with them successfully. These businesses are satisfied with the ROI on their social media investments. Here are a few sentiments expressed by the technology and business managers at these firms:

• “Our goal is to get people passionate enough to visit the Website regularly and talk about us with their friends.”—Ilya Kreymerman, CTO, Adagio Teas
• “Social media is a perfect way to interact with customers and extend the brand.”—Jay Topper, Rosetta Stone’s senior vice president of customer success
• “People must be connected and able to exchange ideas and knowledge.”—António Meireles, innovation manager
• “A misconception about social networking is that it’s distracting and takes the focus away from work, but the reality is that it builds relationships and creates a higher level of efficiency and engagement.”—Jennifer Fox, director of learning and development

Rosetta Stone’s Jay Topper also wrote this issue’s Perspectives column on social media: “What’s Next for Customer Service?”. Jay is an advocate for social media, writing that “social media sites are indispensable to defining an innovative customer support organization and creating the sustaining processes that strengthen and build relationships to drive revenue and keep customers coming back.”

Of course, there are some serious challenges with social media: critical comments from angry customers that go viral; intellectual property thoughtlessly revealed on Facebook; deliberately confrontational or offensive remarks and blogs from employees that create public relations or legal nightmares; and time wasted by employees who have become addicted to social media.

None of these problems can be avoided completely, but creating a social media strategy can limit the number—or, at least, the consequences—of these unfortunate events. Just as you wouldn’t implement any technology solution—whether it be ERP, CRM, mobility or cloud computing—without a solid business plan, don’t jump blindly into social media.

An enterprise’s IT organization must work closely with the business units to develop a social media strategy that covers all the bases: technology, sales, marketing, legal and human resources. Policies must include enforcement clauses: What will happen to employees who post offensive comments or reveal confidential company information? What about workers who spend hours online instead of doing their work?

The plans and policies created must cover the entire enterprise—and any business partners involved. To be successful, social media strategy must be supported by top management.

Keep in mind that social media is not an IT project or a marketing project. It’s a team project—a team that includes all the relevant players, including the CEO.