Every day, hundreds of millions of people log into Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a mind-bending array of other services, posting comments about their lives, their experiences and their interactions with companies. At the same time, businesses have discovered that social media offers a powerful way to connect with customers and strengthen relationships, hopefully benefitting the bottom line.
However, somewhere between opportunity and challenge lies the harsh reality that using these tools well—and deriving maximum business value and ROI—is no small feat. In many instances, social media redefines interactions and relationships in profound ways. For businesses, it’s not enough to simply set up shop on various social media sites and expect success. Converting clicks into bucks means confronting a tangle of strategic and tactical considerations.
“Social networking is about the authentic exchange of valuable content between people,” observes Barry Libert, author of Social Nation: How to Harness the Power of Social Media to Attract Customers, Motivate Employees and Grow Your Business. “It’s about the quality of the community, the authenticity of the content and the depth of the conversations among people.” When it is used effectively, he says, social media “has a transformational impact on marketing, sales, support, collaboration and other facets of the enterprise.”
Unfortunately, there’s no simple way to tap into social media. Some companies have turned to Web 2.0 features on Web pages, allowing customers to submit and discuss ideas, vote on products and services, and rate them online. Others have extended Web functionality, including sales and customer support, to Facebook, or have turned to Twitter to microblog, monitor discussions and address issues promptly.
Some companies rely on social media tools—including blogs, wikis and discussions—to share information and ramp up a knowledge exchange. Still others are adding analytics applications to spot patterns and trends.
To be sure, social media is changing the face of business—and IT. “Social networking channels have matured to the point where they offer compelling business value,” observes Kelly Dempski, director of multichannel interactions at consulting firm Accenture, adding that social media is following the same trajectory as the Web.
“In 1996, companies knew they needed a Web page, but they couldn’t figure out exactly what the value was,” Dempski says. “By 2006, they got it. They weren’t asking the question any longer.” The goal, he added, is for “organizations to blend social media into the mainstream of business.”