Make Social Media Work for You, Identify the Alpha Males in Your Community

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  December 01, 2010

Customer data is the most valuable resource businesses have at their disposal, yet many have failed to effectively leverage it to increase revenues, mainly because they haven’t yet discovered how to consolidate all the information – which they have already collected – into a coherent set of actionable intelligence.

As Miguel Carrero, director of Worldwide Actionable Customer Intelligence, HP Enterprise Services, notes, “All the subscriber information you have is meaningless if you don’t do anything about it.”

Carrero specifically addressed the telco space, but the theory that businesses can extract and refine more information from the data they have collected hold for most businesses, which is what actionable customer intelligence is all about.

The obvious place to start is looking at products and services already being purchased and used by customers, but that is only the beginning. The greater opportunity – and the one that is more difficult to effectively define – is the impact of social media.

While social media is by now a globally recognized and accepted communications medium (there’s a reason Time magazine named Mark Zuckerberg (News - Alert) is person of the year), it has also become another valuable information source for collecting customer data, but one that is uncontrollable and often difficult to manage by businesses, simply because of it very nature.

For instance, unsatisfied customers are very likely to tweet or post Facebook (News - Alert) updates describing their negative experiences and, depending on their connections (i.e., friends, followers, etc.), those comments can quickly turn viral. In fact, even before calling on customer care resources, today’s social customers are more likely to post their comments online.

Social media has created an environment for such comments to be potentially damaging but, the flip side is the same comments are often also available to businesses as action items and to define customer sentiment and response to their products and services. It means they are able to react appropriately, I they are able to collect the data in a meaningful way.

“There are way s to look at all the unstructured data in the world of social media as a very realistic source of information customer opinion – and it can be brutal at times,” notes Carrera. “But, the good news is they can see what customers are thinking, information to which they previously did not have access.”

What businesses must learn is that social media, for all its value as a source of information, can very effectively be leveraged as a bidirectional medium. They should not only learn to use social media to monitor customer perception, but to also use it to influence customer opinion. Certainly, reacting to social media commentary can be an effective means of letting customers know their needs are being recognized and addressed. Smart businesses, though, will also deploy the tools and staff to proactively leverage social media to inform their customers and to induce higher satisfaction rates.

One approach is to inundate the world with information, but the simple fact is it’s hard for businesses to influence everyone. Rather, it can be much easier and more effective to focus on the alpha males, if you will – the influencers within a customer base – and allow them to do the rest.

In other words, businesses should seek to identify their most influential customers, ensure they are made aware of the latest products and service enhancements, and let them spread the word virally. Not only is it easier for businesses, but the opinions of peers and family members are likely to have a greater impact on outliers and potential new customers.

There are countless vendors that have begun to develop social media tools that will allow businesses to leverage this global phenomenon as a revenue generating resource. Still, it is still a relatively immature market, and one which most businesses are still struggling to fully understand. Those that invest the resources in not only the appropriate technology, but in understanding how to turn social media in to a full-blown business tool, will have an advantage over their more slowly reacting competition.

The simple fact is the evolution of communications and, in particular, its mobile and social nature, has created a thirst for instant gratification, which has, in turn, driven the need for businesses to engage their customers in real time. Social media is a critical component of that activity.

Many of the leading minds in social media will convene in Miami, February 2-4, 2011, at Social CRM Expo, providing business leaders an opportunity to understand exactly how this global phenomenon will impact their businesses and how they can best use it to their advantage. Sessions will focus not only on the tools available, but strategies for collecting data, interacting with customers, and monetizing investments in social media. 

Regardless of your specific line of business, Social CRM Expo is a must-attend event if you intend on keeping pace in today’s business climate (and speaking of climate, there aren’t many better places to be in February that South Beach). For more information, visit www.scrmexpo.com. I hope to see you in Miami.

Erik Linask (News - Alert) is Group Editorial Director of TMC, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to 2,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi