SocialSocial MediaSocial Media: Share the Love

Social Media: Share the Love

Why you should expand your view of social media to include your customers, employees, and business partners.

You’ve got your social act together: social computing policies conveyed through your organization, a well-supported social presence, cross-functional teams, and a strategically-sound collaborative platform through which your customers accelerate your innovation cycle. What’s next? And by the way, if your organization doesn’t look like this, keep reading because what follows just may be the path you’ve been looking for to jumpstart your own efforts.

Take a step back, to the cliché “social media is all about kids on Facebook” objection that you’ve no doubt encountered. Assume for a minute that social media really is kids on Facebook and then ask “What is it that they find so compelling about that experience?” It’s a great question to start with, because the answer is “the same things your employees, customers, partners, and suppliers find compelling.”

People using Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube for personal activities are, at the root, using these tools to share information about what is happening around them; about what they like, dislike, find useful, are attracted by, etc. As a result, they are creating a shared body of knowledge about their interests and are using this shared knowledge to make decisions about what to do next. Roll this into ratings and reviews, and “next” includes decisions about your product or service. This kind of activity – and the understanding of how it impacts business – is table stakes now, common knowledge that is, to put it bluntly, obvious.

What’s less obvious is that your entire business network – supply chain, employees, and customers – could be (and very likely are) doing the same thing. But instead of talking about “standing in line at Starbucks” they’re talking about better ways to work together (like following each others’ work-related activities using a platform like Socialtext), or about ideas for better products (like Starbucks’ no-splash stirring stick), or about process innovation that lowers costs (as is done through Ford’s supplier network using the Covisint collaborative platform).

So, back to the opening thought: if your organization has its social act together and is looking for the next evolution, or if your organization is looking to get started with real business applications built on social technology, share the love. Consider expanding your view of social media to include your customers, employees, and business partners. Following are some cases where exactly this is happening, and some simple steps to help you implement similar programs.

Case Study: Dell

Dell, arguably one of the most documented examples of how social media and collaborative technology can be put to work, has learned a lot since Jeff Jarvis came down on the company’s customer support challenges back in 2005. Dell has learned so much about social media since then that it created a business page – on Facebook – just to share what it learned with its small business customers. Dell’s “Social Media for Small Business” is a resource center for one of its important customer segments: the business page was designed and built to help those customers become more successful by stepping past the pitfalls of social media implementations, to more quickly understand and implement best practices and tested ideas in their own social media programs.

So, why make this investment? By making your own customers more successful, you are more successful. Check in with your customers: What are they doing with social media? Can what you have learned be of use to them? Could you learn together? Great questions to start with in planning your next steps on the social Web.

Case Study: American Express

American Express created “Open Forum” so its customers could learn from each other by discussing common issues in an online community. The results speak for themselves: year-over-year gains in community membership and increased use of Open Forum, and a customer base that recognizes a reason beyond financial transactions to remain with American Express and to refer and recommend American Express to other small business owners. For the price of a community, American Express has created a lead-generation and customer retention asset.

Case Study: Ford

Dell and American Express are examples of customer-facing business extensions of social and collaborative technology. Looking the other way – at your supply chain – is equally fruitful. Ford created a secure, collaborative platform that links its suppliers with Ford and with each other so that they share best practices, work together more productively, and collectively drive Ford’s quality and innovation programs through the manufacturing and design processes at the heart of Ford. Built on the Covisint platform, Ford has more deeply connected its entire supply chain. Social technology – and the basic synergistic benefits of people working as teams – across divisions, across companies, or across continents – is now an internal norm at Ford, built on social technology.

Case Study: Premiere Global

Premiere Global, which offers virtual meeting solutions, launched PGiConnect, a developers’ community built on Jive’s collaborative platform by FG Squared in Austin. (Disclosure: I have worked with both FG Squared and Premiere Global.) The PGiConnect community links developers using PGi’s communications API and related development tools to create applications that leverage PGi’s core products, advancing its business.

The result is developers learning from each other, building better applications more quickly. That helps the developers (who monetize the applications) as well as PGi. Look at the similar developer communities offered by Google or Cisco or other leading software and services providers for similar success stories based on the use of social and collaborative technology, pushed further outside, beyond their own corporate IT or marketing programs. You can do this too.

Look Inward for Inspiration

What about internal applications? Customers have ideation and ratings tools while suppliers have collaborative tools that link them together. Can the same technologies be used inside your organization to accelerate innovation?

Look at the insights from Gautam Ghosh, a colleague of mine in India who focuses on enterprise tools that support distributed organizations. As an accomplished HR professional, the issues that Gautam tackles are applicable in a variety of business settings: improving the flow of information inside organizations using platforms like Socialtext and connecting and managing thought-leaders across divisions in physically decentralized firms. Most organizations are now decentralized – whether within the business units themselves or when the larger “business + supply chain” network is considered.

Just as important, for organizations that are not decentralized, internal departments and “silos” can be thought of (and too often act as) independent, disconnected entities. The use of internal collaborative software, combined with employee training, social computing policies, and strategy for collective responsibility for the actual customer and vendor experiences that drive the business is worth taking a hard look at. Check out Susan Scrupski’s thinking in her work with Austin’s Dachis Group. She’s spot-on.

The next time you find yourself wondering “what can I do next with social media?” or “where do I get started?” consider sharing what you’ve learned with the larger business network around you, or starting your own initiatives based not just on the marketing applications of social media but on the potential benefits of an organization that collaborates more readily and more easily shares information inside and outside, across its entire ecosystem. That’s what all the kids are doing, and that’s what you can be doing too.

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