The explosion in social media is transforming business-impacting demand and determining how dollars are spent. The voice of the digital consumer has found empowered expression in the new world order, affecting the entire buying cycle from the way products and services are innovated, launched, and marketed to how they are sold, serviced, and supported. This influence on consumer sentiments is causing a cataclysmic shift in the competitive landscape, enabling products and services to permeate many facets of the marketplace and attain all-pervasive exposure and access.
The opportunities inherent in this reshaped marketplace are immense. Social media has enabled companies to crowdsource many vital organizational functions-some of which consumed large resources earlier-directly to the consumers. Companies today can listen and analyze social conversations to attract and influence customers, study demand patterns, and develop products that meet customer expectations, thus enhance their acceptability, launch successful marketing campaigns with a fraction of investment, improve brand reputation, and provide customer support and service on social media itself. The possibilities to generate value for the company and the consumer are limitless.
Today every consumer has a voice that is driving value-businesses are changing processes, technologies, and structures in response. The customer is the center and customer service is the core around which the companies are organizing themselves. The customer service function needs to adapt to this new reality by redefining its mandate and skills and integrating itself in a new way within the business. Some companies have already risen to this fact and are evangelizing the role of Chief Customer Officer and Chief Experience Officer.
With success today being defined by how well and at what all stages companies engage with their customers across mediums, what must a social media strategy address?
Adopt social media, but look before you leap
Building an appropriate and responsive social media strategy does not mean making a sporadic effort at tweeting or setting up a page on Facebook and then forgetting about it. Businesses must invest in and implement a social media strategy that is able to adapt to the changing social landscape. They need to have means of consistently listening to the unstructured social conversation and measure its impact on business parameters such as market share, revenue, margin, customer base, and customer satisfaction, among others. As businesses engage with customers and become active participants in online conversations, they will be able to anticipate consumer trends in real-time and alter their business strategy accordingly. But before taking the plunge, executives need to consider many aspects of social media, including the following:
- Many social participants are unwilling to share their profile and conversations citing privacy, which creates an incomplete picture. These private conversations may offer valuable insights, so how can businesses lure customers to have an open discussion?
- If the relevant social data volume is insignificant, what strategies must businesses adopt to increase awareness and engage customers effectively in every phase of the product life cycle?
- How do businesses measure and translate the impact of social conversations from blogs, forums, tweets, chats, ratings, polls, etc., on structured enterprise data such as sales transactions, revenue, customer satisfaction score, service level, product quality, price, and innovation?
Socially enabling the business value chain
Because of its mass appeal, social media provides a much bigger market to advertise, sell, and provide service to. The increased awareness impacts the entire product and service chain. On the other hand, social media bears upon all aspects of business and can be used at multiple points in the business value chain:
- Innovation-to-launch processes: A combination of public and private blogs, forums, and the like, can be used to drastically enhance innovation and R&D through crowdsourcing. Product launches and promotions can have a wider reach when riding on popular social sites. Product marketing and branding can be done effectively through popular such social media sites as Facebook, Twitter, etc.
- Inquire-to-quote processes: Combine self-care and peer-care through social tools to assist customers, enable them to share opinions and experiences, and even offer comparisons to other products. These online conversations can reduce the number of inbound calls to call centers, as well as reduce cost and improve customer experience.
- Order-to-cash processes: When the consumer places an order and pays for the products or services, social media can play an important role by enabling notifications on order status, tracking orders, or answering billing-related concerns.
- Post-sales support processes: Social media also enables the creation of online communities and encourages consumers to help peers. Patrons can be awarded for generating new product ideas and for helping improve adoption.
Unlocking business value
Even as many companies are embracing social media, not many understand the intricacies a successful social media strategy entails. For a social media strategy that directly connects consumers to the brand and business, enhances customer experience, and senses product demand, executives need to:
- Ask fundamental questions before making an investment: How is this going to increase revenue, reduce cost, reduce working capital requirements, etc., all of which are important value levers
- Identify the operational processes that can potentially unlock the value levers
- Determine appropriate process metrics that can be measured and monitored to achieve the business values
- Identify the technologies and products that enable and enhance these processes
- Define and monitor the technology/engineering metrics to make sure that they are creating rightful business impact
The right social media strategy can help companies feel the pulse of the consumers, create a community for their brand, earn digital relevance, and drive revenue. However, the approach to social media needs to be well thought through. To establish a successful social media presence, executives must align the strategy to value levers and identify the processes that can unlock the value levers, even as they define process metrics and identify the technologies and products that enhance these processes.
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