Robert Strohmeyer is a veteran business technology journalist and the founder of Startzilla, a social toolset for entrepreneurs. More by Robert Strohmeyer
Making the leap into social business isn't easy for any organization. So we like to ask our colleagues in the field for their insights from time to time. This week, we pose five tough questions to Dion Hinchcliffe and Peter Kim, co-authors of Social Business By Design.
1. Concepts in social media are constantly evolving, and it's often difficult for business leaders to get their heads around social tools in the workplace. What do you mean when you use the phrase "Social Business"?
Social business is the intentional use of social media to drive meaningful, strategic business outcomes. Social media isn't a technology fad or a means to free online marketing impressions -- it can be used for significant, sustainable, transformative value creation. By intentionally designing new social business models with customers, employees, and value chain partners, any forward-thinking organization can direct and guide social business efforts to drive high value, high scale, cost effective business outcomes.
As giant retailers such as Gamestop, JC Penney, and Nordstrom opened--and quickly shuttered--Facebook storefronts over the past six months, many analysts declared Facebook’s e-commerce effort to be a failure. People come to Facebook to catch up with family and friends, they reasoned, not to shop for goods and services.
But recently published statistics from e-commerce software developer Ecwid indicate that either those analysts’ conclusions were premature, or Facebook commerce is merely better suited to smaller businesses right now. Among its more than 35,000 clients that run both stand-alone online stores and Facebook storefronts, Ecwid reports that nearly 18 percent of those clients’ Q1 2012 revenues were generated by their Facebook stores. Meanwhile, Wishpond, another company focused on helping retailers build Facebook storefronts, recently reported an uptick in interest in its products following the debut of the Facebook Timeline profile earlier this year. If Gamestop, JC Penney, and Nordstrom had held on for just a few more months, would they also have seen an increase in their Facebook store sales?
Building a Facebook storefront is relatively inexpensive--or even free, if you already have a fan page and a PayPal account--so small businesses with the patience to stick it out for a few months might wish to give it a shot. Here’s a look at some of the related products and services on the market, most of which promise seamless integration between your online store, your inventory-management software, and your Facebook page.
Marketing gurus pushed email newsletters hard back in the days before social networking. If you believe everything you read online these days, you'd think that Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other Web 2.0 services have left such vehicles in the virtual dust. Not so. Nor has the scourge of spam destroyed newsletters' effectiveness. Email marketing still achieves huge results--and pairing an effective email newsletter with a social media campaign can snag many more customers for your business than relying on social media alone.
Perhaps the best time to evaluate consumer behavior is during the holiday shopping season, when everyone is looking for the best bargains. In an opinion survey following the most recent season, conducted by the market-research firm Crowd Science, print and email newsletters smacked down Facebook and Twitter when it came to wooing online shoppers.
Survey respondents named email newsletters and notifications as their third-favorite means of discovering what a merchant had to offer, behind a direct visit to a company’s website (in which case you’ve likely already earned the consumer’s loyalty) and print materials (which are considerably more expensive to produce and send). By contrast, Facebook was the favorite of just 3 percent of holiday shoppers surveyed; Twitter, a measly 1 percent.
As one of the web’s “big three” social networks, along with Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn has grabbed its slice of the limelight as the space where professionals strategize their next career move. But that’s an unnecessarily limiting way to view this powerhouse network. Over the last few years, LinkedIn has introduced myriad tools – some free, some paid – to help small businesses drive word of mouth about their brand. Here are just a few ways you can get started.
Increase your visibility with a company page
If you look at LinkedIn’s users as potential customers, employees and business partners, it becomes clear the networking site is a grand stage on which to tell your brand story. There’s no easier way to start than to create a company page. This profile offers you a central hub to provide an overview of your business, showcase products and services and attract new talent. Facebook like features allow you to build a following and engage with customers directly through status updates and content sharing. There’s even an analytics feature that gives insight into your audience and your page’s effectiveness.
You and I may be fully participating in popular social media like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, but I’ll bet your company isn’t -- at least as well as it could be. While these networks have exploded over the last few years for personal use (Facebook with 800 million users, Twitter with 175 million, and LinkedIn with 115 million), most businesses are at a loss for effective ways to engage with customers in this brave new world. And social media growth is showing no signs of slowing; newer networks such as Google+, Pinterest and Instagram have seen incredible growth in a matter of weeks.
Social media has transformed the way we connect with each other. We all have a voice, and we make ourselves heard, sharing wisdom and gossip, connecting with new friends, and documenting our lives. This new communication channel has empowered us and changed our expectations of the world, including the companies with which we interact.
Today, we are more influenced by comments from friends and anonymous reviews than we are from traditional online or TV ads that we easily ignore. That means the game is changing for businesses of all sizes and types. It’s no longer about telling your customers what to think and do. It’s about listening and engaging, guiding and supporting. Creating a Facebook page is a start, but let’s be clear: Having a presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter isn’t enough. People, not sites, are the fabric of the new Web.
Whether your company is a small shop of just a few intensely hard-working pros or a large venture with hundreds or thousands of workers, good communication is critical to your success. And by "good communication," I mean communication that works. With the right collaboration tools and a little operational discipline, you can overcome any communications challenge and get your teams in sync.
When I started my career back in the olden days of the 20th Century, the workplace was largely synchronous. For the most part, everyone showed up at more or less the same time, worked in the same office together, went to the same meetings, ate lunch at 12:30, and gathered around the same water cooler when they felt like taking a break. Communication wasn't always of the highest quality, but there was plenty of it and if you missed something, somebody was always right there to fill you in.
By contrast, today's workplace (mine and, probably, yours too) is fairly asynchronous. Many of us work remotely or from the road a good deal of the time. Everyone's juggling multiple complex projects, making it difficult to sync up schedules enough for live, real-time meetings. And when we do manage to line up a meeting, many of us have no choice but to attend by phone, introducing additional communications challenges that can reduce the clarity of the message. (I take a hefty portion of my meetings by phone, and far too many of them while driving a car, walking through an airport, or in an otherwise distracted state.) In this asynchronous workplace, where it's increasingly difficult to get all of our key players focused on the same task at the same time, social collaboration tools are essential to good communication.
Even as social media presents unprecedented business opportunities for marketing, customer service, brand building and consumer relationships, many organizations are still struggling to embrace it for fear that it negatively effects worker productivity or puts the company at risk. A 2011 survey by Society for Human Resource Management reveals that 43% of businesses block access to social media on company-owned computers or handheld devices.
Rather than policing employees, these organizations would be better served by a social media governance model -- a collection of policies, procedures and educational resources that allow you to manage social media internally. A sound social media governance model empowers your employees while keeping them accountable. It allows you to quickly recover from a blow to your brand, or even sidestep it completely. It helps you keep your social initiatives on track and aligned with your business’ strategic goals.
While many of the elements of a social media governance model will vary across industries and organizations, here are five fundamental components that should be part of any plan.