Social Media and the Bottom Line: Why You Can’t Afford Not to Tweet
Just a few years ago, the blogging revolution swept through the business community like wildfire. Corporate executives across a variety of industries joined in, participating in one of the first convergences of digital social media and business.
As one example, Former Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz—dubbed “Blogger in Chief” in 2006 by Fortune Magazine—noted the importance of transparency among corporate staff, even considering it “an outright competitive weapon.” Describing why he was so big on blogging, he told Fortune:
My No. 1 priority isn’t spending time communicating; it’s ensuring that my communications are broadly received. Blogging to me has become the most efficient form of communication. When I blog I’m talking to the world. I can write a blog in an hour and a half and share something substantive with everyone. But for me to get to São Paulo for a meeting with Brazilian customers is easily a two-day operation.
Tearing Down Corporate Walls
One of the most important and positive aspects that arose from the proliferation of blogs is the progress made in dismantling corporate bureaucracy. Suddenly, customers and consumers had access to the mind of the CEO (filtered, as it may or may not be, by the PR team) and felt a connection with an individual who until then was shrouded in mystery behind layers of subordinates.
That trend has continued with the introduction of newer technologies—the backbone of our modern “social media” world. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare, Groupon, and other services have further revolutionized the way companies do business. While the benefits are clear from an individual standpoint, many companies—especially larger ones with tradition, structure, and lethargic innovation—have struggled along the way to adapt.
It’s a good question: how can I use all this social media stuff to increase my company’s bottom line? Will I be wasting time by using Facebook and blogging about a product we’re working on, or will this translate somehow into increased revenue? In short, is it worth my time and energy?
|Answering that question requires understanding just what the social media landscape looks like. One can quickly drown in all of the related statistics, so here’s just a few:
Other major players such as Foursquare, MySpace and Groupon boast similar impressive statistics. Taken as a whole, it’s clear that social media can’t be ignored. The question is: how can it help your business?
Wading into the Social Media Pool
A recent survey of 1,100 small business owners found that some of the biggest benefits of social networking amongst the respondents were the abilities to generate leads, keep up with industry trends, and monitor what others were saying about their business.
That same survey showed that 25% of small business owners are spending more money on social networking this year than the last; whether their efforts are experimental or intentionally profitable, the perceived benefit is clear: social media is a must.
Going from small businesses to larger corporations finds similar results. In a recent study of high-level marketing executives, 70% plan new social media initiatives in 2010. 92% said they personally use LinkedIn, versus 56% on Facebook. While 28% planned to use internal resources to launch new initiatives, 25% rely on social media consultants.
While the trend started with blogging, it has become much more diverse. And yet, despite the many avenues for social media that now exist, blogging is still wildly popular; many other services are intended for short, quick messages, whereas blogging is for longer, more detailed content. If somebody wants to find out what new product a company is working on, they might find that on their blog. If he wants to get a question answered or submit an idea, he’ll likely do that on Twitter.
Determining which social networks to engage your customers with first requires knowing who your customers are and which networks they use. There’s no point in spending time advertising your services through an outlet that has no audience.
How to Get Started
Once you’ve determined which networks are worth joining (Facebook and Twitter will usually always be on the list, and at the top), there are a few tips to keep in mind:
Migrating to a new advertising platform can be unsettling for an executive looking to wisely budget market dollars. As you consider how best to harness social media for your business’ needs, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- Permeation. Social media isn’t just for the boss. Employees can (and likely already do) use Facebook, Twitter, and other networks. As your company determines how best to become involved, keep in mind that social media can touch every aspect of your business: marketing (the first area most think of), customer service (ostensibly the most important use of corporate social media), public relations, lead gen, human relations, etc. As you begin to peel layers of bureaucracy away from your corporate structure by allowing social network participants to get a “behind the scenes” or more direct glimpse into your business, be prepared to assess how that process will affect every aspect of your organization.
- Transparency. The natural effect of social media is transparency, as Schwartz mentioned, but your company will need to determine how “open” you’re willing to be. This will ultimately be a reflection of your corporate culture; companies like Appleare very secretive and structured, whereas companies like MailChimp freely use social media for all sorts of situations. How comfortable is your company in sharing details about business processes, new product development, and even mistakes and glitches you’ve learned from and commit to improve upon?
- Legal. It’s not uncommon to hear of employees being terminated for something having to do with social media. For example, a new employee hired by Google in 2005 was let go less than a month later. The reason? The individual was blogging about his experience through the hiring process and integrating into the new company. Google’s culture did not tolerate such transparency, so he was fired. Heather Armstrong, a popular blogger, was let go from her job in 2002 for blogging about her co-workers. Numerous other examples exist. How will your company handle employees talking about your business to friends and the world at large? What rules of engagement will you establish and require of them? Will they be a virtual arm of your customer service department, or will you ask them not to speak on the company’s behalf whatsoever?
- Measurement. Social media activity can quickly become a black hole of both time and money if not leveraged wisely. If your company plans to spend money on online advertising, exclusive incentives for social networking users, etc., it’s imperative that you track how well the campaign performs so you quickly learn how and where you should (and should not) be investing your dollars.
Social media isn’t a difficult concept to grasp; as with other new technologies, one can “learn by doing”. Observe how others use it, and how successful individuals and businesses have harnessed its positive features for increasing their bottom line. Jump in, have fun, and explore new opportunities to engage with existing customers—and attract new ones!