Social media, in all of its forms, impacts our lives as consumers from the things we buy, to where we go, to what we like, and overall how we share this information with one another. Today, this influence is moving from the consumer realm into the workplace where almost 90 percent of B2B organizations are either maintaining or increasing their social media spending, according to HubSpot's 2010 "The State of Inbound Marketing." That's an indication that more and more businesses are making their social media efforts a priority. So what is the key to success in social media? The answer lies in how social media is implemented and strategically integrated into the business.
For organizations large and small, the choice to engage in social media is not a casual activity. Innovation and the ability to master social media technologies to be proactive are the keys to success in today's business landscape. A 2009 McKinsey survey found that 69 percent of surveyed companies gained measurable business benefits – including product innovation, more effective marketing spend, better access to knowledge, lower cost, and higher revenues - from social media initiatives. Furthermore, B2B companies that spend half or more of their marketing and communications budget on social media activities experience a 60 percent lower cost-per-lead than those that focus on traditional activities, according to HubSpot's report.
Social media is about creating a sense of intimacy, satisfaction, and loyalty among employees and customers. It's a tool linked to the growth, perception, and the overall health of a business, but takes a conscious effort and knowledge of key social media fundamentals for business leaders to implement most effectively. The choice to engage in social media is now a business decision and is being recognized as such by more and more business leaders. In fact, among the world's 100 largest companies, two-thirds are using Twitter, 54 percent have a Facebook page, 50 percent manage at least one corporate YouTube channel, and 33 percent have created company blogs. In addition, 79 percent of Fortune 100 companies are using at least one social media channel, with the highest use in European (88 percent) and U.S.-based (86 percent) companies, according to the 2010 Social Media Marketing Industry Report.
There are significant things we have learned at Dell from starting in the social media trenches and making real-time decisions through trial and error that are worth sharing with companies so that they can maximize social media efforts.
1. Start with your goal: it will define your strategy.
As you define a social media strategy, start with your business goals. Ask yourself, "What do I want to drive from these social media initiatives?" Is the goal to drive awareness? Consideration? Conversion? Innovation? ROI? Customer satisfaction? Brand perception? Cost savings? This initial line of thinking is essential to establishing the appropriate direction and scope of a campaign.
2. Identify and listen to existing conversations.
Listening is a crucial foundation for any relationship. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other technologies allow anyone to make information and opinions publically available at any time. Therefore, the ability to monitor and respond to these conversations becomes paramount to affecting appropriate changes and tweaks needed by your business and helping your customers succeed in solving their business problems.
As it stands now, only 50 percent of B2B companies formally analyze metrics to judge ROI, but those that do find online communications strategies more effective than traditional marketing and communications, alone, according to AMR International's 2010 report on B2B marketing in the U.S. At Dell, we have a Social Media Ground Control Center – a global operational hub that monitors some 22,000 online mentions – both posts and tweets – about Dell every day. This information is based on topics, sentiment, share of voice, geography, and trends. The goal is to track and understand the largest possible number of conversations, good and bad, across the web. Using this information, we are able to quickly answer customer questions, address their concerns, build better products, and improve the overall customer experience.
3. Empower and encourage your internal organizations to participate.
Having a strong internal foundation is important to the stability of any structure. It is important to encourage internal organizations to participate in social media through training and policy implementation/changes. Empowerment is key! With the right organizational design, employees can feel empowered, leading to increased contribution to social media efforts. For example, through a robust training program, Dell has made an investment in turning Dell employees at every level into frontline social marketers who engage in Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, and more on the company's behalf.
4. Create and cultivate conversations and communities where your customers (and employees!) are.
When looking at where to start in social media, consider creating and cultivating conversations and communities where your customers and employees already are. Customers are already communicating about your products with each other and with online experts who aren't your employees. In fact, on the social web, 66 percent of the brand touchpoints are generated by customers, with 34 percent of bloggers posting opinions about products. You can encourage increased participation and content creation by setting up a ratings and review system on your site. In addition, brands can reward customers and influencers who provide valuable content through reputation management systems and badging. Lastly, through content sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, SlideShare, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, and bookmarking sites, you can amplify your content through linkbacks, tagging, and republications. When you identify the most influential amplifiers, remember to nurture and recognize them.
5. Measure your success and adjust your strategy.
The whole point of your social media efforts, of course, is to address pragmatically fundamental business goals. You need quantifiable insight into how online engagement with customers can improve the key value drivers of your business. You should look at the links between customer behavior in social media and revenue both off and online. Critical factors like revenue, costs, loyalty, product innovation, and brand reputation are also important to measure. Soft factors matter as well, such as customer feedback and comments on your social media interactions. As you analyze your metrics, it will become clear as to whether your social media campaign is effectively helping your business. If it is not, your strategy may require some adjustments, which is ok. Trial and error is part of the process.
6. Engage IT as an enabler of social media.
The CIO's role in facilitating a successful social media program starts with engaging IT. It is crucial to include the IT department as they are paramount in the success of enabling social media innovation. There is no point in IT enacting overly restrictive policies around devices, website access, and content, as it hinders growth rather than create an environment that supports and fuels innovative thinking. Try taking a pragmatic approach for supporting and securing your organization's flow of information.
Conversations on the social web affect every aspect of a business, offering new opportunities to gain invaluable insight into your customers' needs, perceptions, and wants. B2B companies that spend half or more of their marketing and communications budget on social media activities experience a 60 percent lower cost-per-lead than those that focus on traditional activities. However, the proper tools must be in place to maximize the impact that this flood of information can have on a business. The business impact of social media is real and tangible, and translates into a positive impact on a company's bottom line.
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Rishi is executive director of online marketing for Dell's Public and Large Enterprise Business Unit. In this role, Rishi has global responsibility for implementing marketing strategies for Dell.com, social media, communities, and Dell's Premier portal. Previous to this role, Rishi drove Dell's global web analytics strategy and worked on Dell's CEO level strategy as part of Dell's Corporate Strategy group.
Rishi has spent his career in the technology industry with marketing, business development, and consulting roles in startups to large corporations including Bain & Company and eBay.
Rishi holds degrees in Chemical Engineering and Economics with Honors from Stanford University and an MBA in Marketing from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
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