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Social tools in business are moving beyond consumer and brand management, and turning organizations into social businesses. That’s one of the key findings of a new study about the use of social media by businesses. 

The Social Media Benchmarking Study, presented jointly by FedEx and PR agency Ketchum, updates similar research undertaken two years ago. The previous study focused on the social media tools and practices used by organizations at that time, while the current study concentrates more on the transformation that is now taking place.

Social Business Generates Co-Created Value

Social businesses, in the report’s view, are ones that create communities with employees and with external stakeholders, including customers, clients and vendors, thus generating “co-created value.” These kinds of businesses are also characterized by a changing organizational structure that is more adaptive and responsive.

The report defines social business tools as including social networking, blogging, RSS feeds, podcasts, and photo or video sharing. About 44 percent of respondents were using social media among their own employees to strengthen relationships, share and tap into expertise, and foster collaboration, dialogue and discussion.

This internal use is impacting interactions, culture and structure inside organizations, and is helping businesses becoming more adaptive in how they use the tools and how they respond to their audiences, the report found.

About half -- 51 percent -- of companies said they are effectively using social media to strengthen relationships with their clients. The use of social media to enhance brand awareness among clients and general public remains the most popular use, being undertaken by nearly 70 percent of the companies surveyed.

And It Builds Relationships

But, increasingly, companies are also using social media for relationship management. The study found 51 percent of those surveyed were doing so with clients, 52 percent with the general public, and 40 percent with partners and suppliers.

Another key conclusion of the report is that communication, marketing and human resources teams are changing as a result of social business. Thirty-eight percent of the companies surveyed still maintain centralized ownership of social business, while 48 percent are sharing social media responsibilities among leaders, employees and external stakeholders.

For businesses, the report said, implications of this transformation to social business include the need to understand that relationship building via social media is “a critical element to remaining competitive.” Companies will also need to remain flexible, and, as metrics become increasingly sophisticated, “the focus is shifting from measuring impressions to measuring the quality of social relationships.”

The report is based on quantitative surveys with 55 communications and marketing executives at companies in the U.S. and internationally, in addition to 30 interviews conducted with communication and thought leaders. Interviewed companies included Southwest Airlines, P&G, Discovery Communications, Time Warner Cable, Cisco, IBM, Alcoa and Bank of America.