Social Media Helps Build Bridges to Customers

By Samuel Greengard

Over the past few years, social media has revolutionized the business world by changing the way organizations interact with customers, deal with problems and promote their brand. “Social media is at the center of corporate marketing and communications,” says Kelly Dempski, managing director at Accenture Technology Labs. “It is integral to how an enterprise spawns its influence.”

But social media has evolved far beyond random posts on Facebook and Twitter and YouTube videos spotlighting a new product or service. Increasingly, organizations are looking to build bridges to their customers by using social media tools in far more strategic ways. More often than not, this means thinking in different terms and framing business issues in entirely different ways by using analytics and other tools.

For organizations that get it right, social media has the potential to “fundamentally change customer relationships,” states Erich Joachimsthaler, founder and CEO of Vivaldi Partners Group, a global strategy, innovation and marketing firm. “It is highly disruptive because it completely redefines the way consumers engage with brands and how organizations interact with consumers.”

Unfortunately, he adds, many organizations can’t escape the idea of using social media as nothing more than a way to “amplify their message and create owned media and content.” Joachimsthaler describes this is a “highly ineffective” approach.

How is the social media space changing? How can organizations develop an effective strategy and use information technology to take a social media initiative to the next level?

Ted Rubin, an independent consultant and co-author of Return on Relationship (Tate Publishing & Enterprises, 2013) says that many organizations don’t fully grasp social media. “They view it as a way to market to customers rather than an overarching tool that wraps around the business in a comprehensive way,” he points out.

One of the biggest problems organizations face in the social media arena, Accenture’s Dempski says, is the lack of a clearly defined enterprise strategy. Although a marketing executive might use social media to respond to customer complaints and promote news and events, it’s too often viewed as little more than a channel for communication and is not within the scope of building a digital enterprise.

“The most successful organizations weave together different social media channels and connect them to enterprise systems,” he says. Among other things, this includes mobile apps, CRM, email, big data and analytics.

Consultant Rubin argues that social media 2.0 requires fundamentally different thinking. “The old way of doing things was to develop a marketing or business plan with clearly stated methods and campaigns,” he explains. “But, today, business conditions change constantly. There’s so much data, information and changing consumer sentiment that a business must react on the fly. They must look consumers right in the eye digitally and communicate in a way that doesn’t always seem comfortable.”

While some organizations eschew social media because they don’t feel they have control over what is being said about them, Rubin notes that “what they don’t understand is that the conversation takes place whether they’re present or not.”

Vivaldi Partners’ Joachimsthaler adds that business and IT executives shouldn’t underestimate the disruptive nature of social media, which redefines and rewires connection points and entire relationships. “The technology is changing the fundamental way businesses interact with consumers,” he says.

Nevertheless, social media is more than a numbers game. A huge number of YouTube hits or retweets doesn’t necessarily translate into any long-term gain. “There’s a need to create a more sustained and overarching strategy that engages people over time and invites them into an ongoing relationship,” Joachimsthaler advises.