Understanding customers and their context is crucial for developing a successful online strategy, Gartner has said.
A key tool to enable this understanding is social media, which is why it is important for businesses to be open to the idea, a Gartner analyst told the Day Software Ignite 2010 conference in Berlin today.
"People are different depending on their context. That is why it is so important for you right now to engage - engage with the idea of tapping into social networks, to push out information, but also to listen and respond.
"Even if you do not know exactly how you are going to exploit the information, entertain the idea of social media as part of your online strategy going forward, and the ideas will come," said Mick MacComascaigh, research director at Gartner.
MacComascaigh said that to in order to have a successful online strategy, businesses need to "get over the hesitancy" they might have about social media, and then work out how social media can help to deliver business objectives.
"An excellent, and successful online strategy, is one that considers - where do you want to take your organisation and with whom will you be interacting?" he told Computerworld UK.
Not looking at the wider business objective first is a common problem for companies, MacComascaigh said.
"The number one pitfall is that they [businesses] are focusing on the technical too soon. The technologies are very important - but further downstream. They are burned from their first attempts and playing it safe.
"However, if the same companies focus on the business context up-front, things like customer retention, loyalty, conversion in the business to business, if they look at those kinds of questions first, they will have a much more successful online strategy," he said.
In order to understand their customers, MacComascaigh believes that companies should not aim for just their target audiences, but also the individual. Companies therefore have to have a online framework that is agile and adaptable to allow them to respond to customer trends or demands more finely.
"Realise the scope is broader than you originally think. Depending on the behaviour on the website, it is not just classic categories. It is more granular. This means that what you deliver over the online channels, which comprises mobiles, kiosks or whatever, has to be more granular and more in tune," MacComascaigh said.
He added: "The framework has to be flexible. You have to be able to try different things out, and loosely operate with other technologies. It's about interoperability, rather than integration - which is too fixed.
"The big change [for businesses] is to become more incremental, iterative and experimental in their approach."
This story, "Gartner: Social Media Is Vital to Online Business Strategies" was originally published by Computerworld UK.