Why and How All Businesses Must Become Social Businesses to Survive
The sky rocketing rise of social media has created a digital divide whereby most customers and employees are social, but most businesses are not. The days of sales prospects engaging vendors in order to get the information needed for purchase consideration are behind us. Customers now complete about two-thirds of their purchase cycles online — asking social circles for their recommendations, consuming unsolicited customer opinions of their suppliers and reading independent product reviews and customer complaints — all of which factor into the buyers decision of whether any particular vendor will make their short list. A company’s existing customers are talking with and about the company far more on social networks than on any communication or support channel managed by the company.
Attracting the best talent to the company and retaining those staff requires a culture of communication, collaboration and transparency. Companies that fail this social mandate are simply less appealing to the best and brightest.
Businesses that wish to meet prospects, customers, recruits and employees where they gather, and better engage those constituencies must themselves become more social, and to that end many are becoming social enterprises for strategic reasons and benefits which include measurable financial outcomes.
A social enterprise is simply an enterprise that leverages social media for communication and collaboration. But even with such a simple description, becoming social is often quite hard and prone to error for businesses.
For example, many businesses view social media as just another communication channel to broadcast marketing messages which nobody really wants to receive. Distributing unwanted content is spam, and pretty much the opposite of becoming social. Remember, social media is about evolving from push-based monologue broadcasts to two way dialogues and conversations. If your social strategy isn’t designed to generate engagement, feedback and conversation, it’s not going to work.
Business leaders also have a hard time justifying social strategies, projects and investments with an ROI. Generally the problem here is that they try to calculate an all-encompassing “social media ROI” which is extremely difficult and unwise. Instead, determine the business processes that most benefit from social facilitation and calculate the ROI for these use cases using tight scopes and more defined boundaries. Becoming a social enterprise isn’t a big bang or watershed event, it’s a series of individual use cases driven by people who know how to be social and apply social strategies for mutual benefits.
A Social Enterprise Framework
When you recognize your sales prospects, customers, recruits and employees are taking to social channels, which is excluding you from the conversation, and thereby negatively impacting your business performance, it’s time to become social. Here’s a simple operational framework with some practical steps to become a social enterprise.
First, get social with your recruits and employees. To better engage recruits, consider a blog as your first move if you don’t already have one. A good blog personalizes the company, demonstrates company culture, democratizes participation to anybody that’s willing to share their thoughts and makes the company more transparent to recruits – all factors that collectively impress recruits. From there, meet recruits where they gather online, be it social networks such as Facebook pages, Google+ communities or LinkedIn groups, or follow them on Twitter.
To get social with staff, consider tools that facilitate your existing business processes in a social way. Create an internal (secure) social network to communicate, collaborate, promote cross-departmental business process automation and connect staff with the best information and experts in the company. There are many tools for this purpose including standalone product’s such as Microsoft Yammer, daPulse.com, Hall.com, Jive, Podio and SocialCast as well as business application-integrated products such as Salesforce.com Chatter or the Oracle Social Network. When reviewing these tools, consider the push-based technologies that offer flexible subscription management for participants, inline approval processing to decrease cycle times, APIs for tighter integration with legacy systems, external participants with granular security permissions, simple search capabilities and work across the enterprise in order to prevent creating even more islands of disparate data.
Then get social with prospects and customers. Consider social monitoring tools (aka social listening tools) to discover where your customers congregate online. Listen first, learn each group’s norms and protocols, and then engage in a way that contributes to the conversation. When contributing to social conversations about your company or products, disclose that you work for the company and don’t come across as defensive.
Append your existing CRM, ERP and/or MDM customer records with your customers’ social attributes so that you can leverage their social personas to identify their interests, find their personal motivations and learn what it takes to engage and delight them. Don’t just create links from the customer record to their social persona destinations, but instead integrate the customer record to filter and retrieve select social data in a way that will keep your customer record current with the right data that can be used to facilitate new information analysis or business process automation for specific objectives.
Once engaged with the prior two social constituents, it’s not hard to see how to get social with your vendors and supply chain. This may or may not make sense based on your movement of materials and goods.
Companies who advance their business success with the prior measures may want to consider making their products social. Is there a material benefit if your products deliver operating updates, performance measures, maintenance messages, renewals or other status updates to your customers, suppliers or other parties in a social way or over social networks? Toyota has produced its Cloud Car, also known as the Toyota Friend, which uses the Salesforce.com Chatter internal network to deliver car maintenance and other updates to its owner's dashboard or cell phone. Enterasys delivers a switch which similarly sends maintenance and performance updates to online portals. Coke machines leverage mobile geo data to interact with proximate consumers and their mobile devices over social networks. These are advanced social enterprise examples, but each is delivering competitive differentiation and substantive financial benefits to the company.
When preceded with existing strategy and integrated to stakeholder interests, this social enterprise framework provides an operational perspective that can be backed with measurable objectives and progress based milestones to deliver valuable engagement with both internal and external constituents.
And becoming a social enterprise can achieve strategic benefits for the company, including:
Improved brand recognition — being social allows you to influence how your brand is discussed and perceived among a very large audience, and respond timely for events related to reputation management.
Increased sales — many sales professionals now routinely use social listening tools to discover new sales opportunities as well as unhappy customers of competitors who are ripe for conversion.
Lower marketing costs — social marketing can be extremely cost effective and yield high conversions when properly created for personal, relevant and contextual communications.
Faster time to market – Focus groups are falling by the wayside in favor of crowdsourcing, social ideation methods and other customer polling which can be achieved with near finite customer segmentation specificity and in a fraction of the time.
Improved customer affinity and retention – customers prefer their social channels over your company networks. Delivering customer service on social networks and communicating with them on their turf is proven to improve the Customer Experience (CX), increase customer share and lower customer churn.
Customers are increasingly connected, social, informed and plugged-in 24x7 – a trend that shows no signs of abating. Companies that become social enterprises and meet customers in their preferred channels will clearly increase their customer engagement for both mutual benefits and company objectives. Companies that sit the sidelines and render social media as something for Gen Y will clearly lessen communications with all their customers, and lose market share to the competitors that engage and convert those customers.