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I wrote this article for Human Capital Review where it originally appeared

2011 was a breakthrough year for social media in business.  Word spread swiftly about its rapid growth, fantastic size and global domination. This created a wave of businesses that rushed out to start up Facebook pages and open Twitter accounts.  A tally of the number of South Africans on Linkedin that have “social media” in their job title increased by 5 times over the past year.

There have been notable successes for certain businesses on social media from large to small.  Woolworths, Vodacom did well but so did a local plumber and iRide, a biking brand, however, in the main businesses were left asking the question “Well, now what?” as they found themselves struggling to engage beyond their close circle that connected to their Facebook or Twitter profiles.

And indeed “now what?” is the question.  I will endeavour to answer that question.

Perhaps some perspective may help.  We should understand that we are in the midst of a revolution, a communication revolution.  A revolution is defined as “a radical and pervasive change to society and the social structure.  Especially one made suddenly”.  Since the beginning of this century, just 12 years ago, we have seen a pervasive and radical change in the business/consumer relationship.  It has changed everything.

For the better part of the 21st century business owned the media through advertising spend on radio, television, newspapers, magazines and every other platform available for broad communication.  Due to this ownership by business, it was business that controlled the message –  what was said and how it was said.

With the arrival of social media this has changed remarkably quickly.  It is now possible for an individual who has no connection to traditional media to build up a following and become a person of influence within an industry – any industry.  Social media platforms have been the catalyst for this.

Business was wholly  unprepared for this change.  Being rooted in the past where long deliberations could take place about how your brand was to be perceived and communicated, how do you prepare for a million or more online conversations that discuss your brand, your industry, your competitors with or without your participation?

We, the people, now own the media and we are directing the course of the conversation.  We expect your participation but we expect it where we are and more and more we are on the social web.  In fact frustration is growing with brands that are not on the social web.

Strong parallels can be drawn with website development 12-14  years ago.  It used to be that a website was a new, stand out thing to do but a number of corporates pooh-poohed the web and saw no need for their participation.  Then came a time where a brand was considered odd, possibly even a bit dodgy if they didn’t have a website. Eventually it was a given, of course you must have a website.  And so it is now with social presence.

By the end of 2011 there were 4 billion connected devices in the world – smart phones, tablet computer, laptops.  By 2013 there will be 15 billion and by the close of this decade over 50 billion.  We see from this that being connected will become more and more important.  In truth it is already getting harder NOT to be connected.  You find yourself being cut off more and more by not being on the social web.

This brings us back to the question: “Social media and business:  Now what?”

In 2012 and beyond smart business will focus on “Social Intelligence”, tapping in to the vast intelligence (information) that exists on the social web.  Being socially intelligent breaks down as follows:

  • A new mindset.  Social media is not something additional to your business.  It is not just marketing. A successful venture in becoming social must, by necessity, include your whole business.
  • Monitoring social conversations to determine your place on the social web.  What platforms should you be active on?  What are the opportunities that exist for you to participate on the social web?
  • Social training. A thorough understanding of social mediums and how it relates to your business throughout your workforce.
  • Social employees.  Tapping into the vast reservoir of shared knowledge within in your business by providing platforms for all employees to share, collaborate and communicate with each other.

New Mindset

Up to now Social media has mostly been considered a marketing tool.  This is not wrong but it is only part of the story.  As we all know service trumps marketing every time.  The biggest social media disasters have centered around terrible service.  This undermines any marketing effort.  The classic example is accounts.  If a business can’t issue a correct invoice or double debits or cuts off service unfairly, you can be assured you’re customers will take to social media to let everyone know.  So much for that massive marketing campaign.

It is a revolution.  Revolutionise your business, rethink it for the modern communication revolution. The opportunities to innovate will become a lot clearer when you tap into the vast amount of intelligence available to you, which is covered below.

Monitoring

Moment by moment there are thousands, hundreds of thousands of conversations taking place on the social web about every brand and industry.  What are they saying about you? Your industry? Your competitors?

This is vital knowledge for any business.  Through answering these questions you will determine what place your business should be occupying on the social web.  You will start to understand your audience.  Most importantly you will know what they respond to, what engages them, what moves them.

Armed with this information in your rapidly evolving new mindset you will be able to formulate a strategy and plan that has far greater potential for success.  This strategy must include:

  • What platforms you will use and how you will use them
  • Policy guidelines for use of social media throughout your organization.
  • Defined goals.  What will determine the success of your programme and how will this be measured?
  • Content plan.  Know what content (video, stories, pictures, information) you will be putting out there.  Don’t get caught scrambling for something to say when it hasn’t been planned.
  • Who will champion your social programme?  Someone who cares for social media that will ensure your programme will always move forward.  Depending on the size of your business this may be one part time person or a full time team.  Remember to include representation of your whole business as well as your employees.

Social Training

Whether or not every employee will be engaging on social media they must understand what it is and how your business will be using it.

Through this process you will tap into the natural flair of employees who want to communicate on the social web.  If you encourage this flair you enhance the engagement your business will have with its community.

This also goes a long way to eliminating the “left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing” syndrome that often appears in businesses.

Provide training.

Social Employees

One of the more controversial points of social and business is allowing opening access to social platforms in the work place.

Refusing to do so increasingly creates more problems than it solves.  With smart-phones rapidly becoming the norm employees will have access anyway.  Allowing access during lunch time creates massive strain on servers and creates headaches for IT.

Instead allow the access and provide clear policy guidelines on how social media is to be used.  Encourage it’s use for work and provide training and guidelines on how they can use it to do their jobs better.

There are also social platforms such as Podio that are restricted to your organization.  Employees can use these platforms in much the same way as they use Facebook in their personal lives.  This is the perfect way for employees across your organization to interact and share with each other as well as to collaborate on projects.  In short, it removes many of the barriers to effective communication in your business.

Conclusion

There was a saying coined not too long ago when it comes to social business.  Be Smart. Be Engaged. Be Human.

Studies continue to show conclusively that customers will be loyal to and buy from brands that they follow and engage with on social media.  Your business must be there.

By realizing that we are in a communication revolution you will understand that social media provides an opportunity for what you have always wanted.  Better, faster and more effective communication with the people most important to you in business – your customers!

Now is the most exciting time in our history to be in business.  I wish you all the very best success with yours.

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