Guest Blogger John Bastone: No Time to Fritter on Twitter? Think again.

Customer Engagement
Customer Experience
Here are six reasons why you should pay attention to social media, learn from it, and incorporate it into your business.

I couldn't agree more with Denis Pombriant. No, really. The guy talks a lot of sense. In a recent post, "Engagement is a Contact Sport," he expresses frustration at the "old think" that prevents companies from recognizing social media as a valid marketing and sales tool. Denis writes, "It's a new world, so stop treating it like the old world." I want to stand up and give someone a fist-bump.

My boss, SAS CMO Jim Davis, says that one of the most important things businesses need to be doing right now is getting ready for a very different future. What was once core to business may be obsolete today. Companies have to innovate and adopt new ways of thinking.

So, here are six reasons why you should pay attention to social media, learn from it, and incorporate it into your business.
1. People are increasingly active in social media. It's not just the numbers. The degree of engagement on social networking sites is skyrocketing. In 2007, 44 percent of social media users were "Inactives" - they didn't blog, post reviews, comment, or participate in online forums. Today, roughly 82 percent of adults online actively participate. (Source: North American Technographics Interactive Marketing Online Survey, 2007, 2008, and 2009).

2. Social media can deliver intelligence. Social media conversations are a rich source of competitive information. Companies should be thrilled to discover what the competition is up to, their strengths and weaknesses, and how to use this information to advantage.

3. The conversations are gaining credibility. As social media becomes mainstream, it is siphoning mindshare from traditional editorial channels. Traditional media's clout relative to specific industries and topics, is shrinking as respected bloggers and experts become more influential. Knowing who those people are will shape your engagement strategy, so you can magnify the effect of advocacy in the conversations.
4. Social media is a serious sales channel. Dell did $6 million in Twitter direct sales last year. A national animal protection society raised $650,000 from an online contest that only cost $1,000 to set up on Flickr. A major food service company improved personnel recruitment so much using Twitter that it eliminated its entire $300,000 ad budget. An independent New York hotel doubled its event business using Facebook and Twitter, thanks to a staffer who took a personal interest in social media.

Have I made my point?

5. Social media impacts the entire organization. Some examples:

  • Online media analysis. Where are consumers talking about you? How is volume trending? Who are the most influential sources? Which sites are more positive? Negative?
  • Brand and market tracking. What do consumers say about your brand, your products, and your competition? What is the impact of these discussions? Who are the influencers?
  • Public relations and reputation tracking. What are online journalists and bloggers saying about your organization? What is the threat to your reputation? Where are the opportunities to build advocacy?
  • Customer feedback management. How does the market perception, as reflected in social media, compare to direct customer feedback from chat logs, call center logs, email transcripts, and so on? Are there issues that require response, correction, or resolution?

The key is to create business processes whereby information from social media is translated into action. Funnel customer complaints to a customer care center. Route an identified need to sales. Refer an influential blogger to the public relations department as a potential new media contact.

6. You can prove the value. There are technology solutions that sift through huge volumes of online conversations, parse textual data to discern sentiment and share of conversation, map sentiment to business issues, and track click-through paths to your Web site. These tools are enabling progressive companies to do a very good job demonstrating the ROI.

This isn't really new thinking. It's shaking off the stereotypes of social media as a self-centered time-suck to redefine it as a critical new channel for time-tested marketing and customer service functions. We used to pay millions to find out what our customers think about us. Social media is the golden opportunity to both listen in real time and actively influence their opinions.

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About the Author: John Bastone is global product marketing manager at SAS