With consumers logging into social media sites across the world -- writing on walls, liking, interacting and influencing like never before -- the face of marketing, buying and selling as we knew it has been transformed.
Businesses can connect directly with consumers and create lasting relationships as they inform, entertain and educate consumers about new products and services and also acquire a goldmine of information through social media. Social media marketing is set to grow at an annual rate of 34% -- faster than any other form of online marketing. Forrester estimates that US$ 3.1 billion will be spent on the medium in 2014.
The consumer adoption curve of social media has been far ahead of that of enterprises. According to a survey report, a significant 90% of marketers indicate that social media is important for their business. Even as businesses strive to leverage the opportunity that social media offers, they face varied challenges. The market does not offer enterprise-class, business-ready solutions for businesses to engage with this phenomenon. Moreover, businesses are unsure of where and how they should start with this relatively new social media phenomenon. As a result, they have either been testing the waters with initiatives that not-so-actively engage with consumers or their efforts have failed to garner the expected return on their investment.
Since there really is no one-size-fits-all social media strategy, businesses would greatly benefit by following a few ground rules. These can help them cut through the hype and get to the essence of engaging with customers, while optimizing their social media involvement.
Let us take a look at a few pointers that must be kept in mind while building your company’s social media initiative.
Devise a Strategy of Continuous Consumer Engagement
Social media offers unprecedented insights into understanding consumer sentiments, behavior, motivations and preferences in a cost-effective manner. Unlike traditional routes such as marketing surveys and focus group discussions, social media offers continuous customer engagement while reducing costs, labor and time taken to connect and interact with consumers. While traditional models need not be substituted with social media, the latter does offer a complementary solution that significantly enhances consumer engagement and, hence, the outcome.
With social media, companies get to make a real-time connect with consumers and create a positive cycle of engagement. Social media enables one-on-one, consumer-to-consumer conversations that are likely to capture real insights into consumer motivations. Leveraging this very personal interaction with the consumer, companies can engage with the customer on a continuous basis and go through multiple cycles of product innovations to offer consumers novel products, creating significant brand value.
Choose the Right Social Media Platform
Businesses must select an enterprise-class, business-ready platform that encompasses the entire social media phenomenon. It must offer comprehensive solutions that cover sales, marketing and customer services through consumer engagement. Beyond that, the platform must encourage employees to collaborate among themselves and with partners. An integrated, low-risk, low-upfront-investment and pay-by-value proposition reduces operating costs while enhancing value.
Leverage the Current Competencies
One of the most important things to keep in view when adopting social media into marketing is your organization’s skills and competencies in the real world -- these can be critical in engaging with consumers in the virtual world. Companies must extend their real-world strengths to the social media environment to drive customer engagement and brand presence for products. The nature of communication in social media is one-on-one. Moreover, in social media the conversation is in real time, two-way or multi-way and mostly public. These aspects require a well thought out organizational framework (policies, workflows, systems, enablement, training, etc.) to promote such engagements. Through a robust engagement framework, companies can build and strengthen the brand visibility of products over a period of time through customer engagement via social media.
Strengthen Internal Organizational Capabilities
As geographically dispersed companies look to drive employee productivity and innovation and boost satisfaction levels within the enterprise, the collaborative tools offered by social media can play a vital role in attaining these goals. Your organization must provide employees the right social media tools to foster innovation and nurture a collaborative mindset to take on newer challenges. This can have an immediate and high return on your social media investment. Companies need social media solutions that address work collaboration through knowledge exchanges, context engine to improve effectiveness through recommendations, new employee on-boarding, policy management, etc. More than 90% of the web assets that companies have are not social enabled. The next-generation platform must provide the framework for "socially-activating" other web assets that employees use extensively without being able to collaborate with other employees.
Constantly Measure ROI from Social Media
Measuring return on investment as your company makes a foray into social media is critical. Even as businesses invest in social media, many are unsure about their return. As an industry group survey found, at least half of respondents expressed uncertainty about ROI on using social media networks.
Organizations must choose areas where there can be a material impact when it comes to measuring the ROI of social media. For example: social media can play a vital role in bringing down customer support costs as the number of calls made to contact centers comes down. This can be linked to measuring the business benefits of your social media investment. However, the reduction in the call numbers may not translate into happy customers. Therefore, your organization needs benchmarks on how SLAs are kept up using social media, in gauging customer reaction and response to intervention.
Another area where ROI must be monitored is social media advertising. It’s an exploding phenomenon. Social network ad revenues are projected to reach US$ 10 billion worldwide in 2013, with half of the total coming from the U.S. market. So, a business investing a significant amount of money in social media advertising must closely monitor the ROI, keeping a tab on ad spends and impact on the consumer.
The popularity of social media is undeniable -- the world spends over 110 billion minutes on social networks and blog sites. Social networking sites are visited by three quarters of online consumers. Thus, getting on the social media bandwagon is imperative in today’s Web 2.0-driven global economy. Companies must opt for a purpose-oriented social media adoption that leverages their own strengths, provides continuous consumer engagement and builds lasting brand value, while offering measurable benefits. Companies must endeavor to create a social media strategy that is seamlessly integrated with enterprise processes using a reliable, flexible, enterprise-class platform.
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