High Priority

Social Media is Responsible Business

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  January 01, 2012

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 2012 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions

I recently had a conversation with Christian Goffi and Andrew Maher from Avaya (News - Alert) (see my story in this issue, titled Making Sense of Social Media). Among the key takeaways from that conversation, corroborating my own previous beliefs, was the notion that, while not every business has to implement a social media strategy right away, they must understand their own social media presence, both from an internal and external perspective. In other words, they have to address the question of social media rather than ignoring it.

Why? Because social media exists. In fact, according to a recent ComScore assessment, 82 percent of the world’s population over the age of 15 now is active in social media in some form. As a result, social media ranks as the most popular online activity globally, taking up one of every five minutes of all online engagement.

The argument a year or two ago might have been made that social media isn’t relevant because it’s just the younger generation that’s using it, and that’s not our customer base. That has changed dramatically. Today, all groups have caught up to the 15-24 generation, all boasting usage figures in excess of 80 percent of their population. That’s more than 1.2 billion people globally.

In the businesses context, there is still, in many cases, a fear of social media, founded in a lack of understanding. But Goffi and Maher both note that, any time they have consulted customers as part of their Avaya Advisory Services activities, executives wanted to learn and understand social media in order to learn what it might mean for their businesses.

“There is a generational gap and a fear, but it’s a fear of the unknown,” said Goffi.

The fear stems from the recognition that many of them and their customers use social media as a way to communicate with children and grandchildren. Because they don’t use social media for broader, more conversational activities, they are often unaware of its existence as a business influence.

“It’s not a generation that isn’t willing to learn and do something about it,” added Goffi. “If you take the time to explain it, the conversation changes.”

Once that conversation happens, and executives see how prevalent corporate and product mentions are in social forums, they are quick to acknowledge not only its existence, but the need to learn more.

The one stumbling block, as it often is with technology decisions, is ROI. To date, ROI on social activity, because its direct impact is hard to track, has been hard to identify. But, if you look at customer satisfaction levels, some of the most active social corporations have registered significant CSAT increases as a result of social activity.

It’s not magic. Rather, for those companies, it’s about understanding that customers interact via their preferred channels. The easiest way to gain access to customers is by understanding where they engage, and following their lead. By integrating social media into the customer care environment and ensuring all activity history is available to customer reps – voice, chat, web, video, social media, etc. – those agents are able to provide exceptional service, driving CSAT, which can be measured and tied to ROI.

Most businesses haven’t taken it to that level, but are still trying to figure out how to justify spending on social media. Part of the answer comes through technology. By leveraging software to automate social monitoring and data collection and aggregation, much of the manual work can be offloaded and agents can focus on customer service.

But at the heart of the matter is the simple question: Where are your customers? When businesses make marketing decisions, they choose campaign placement based on an ability to reach a certain audience. They know what TV shows their prospective clients are likely to watch; they know which publications they are likely to read; and they know which websites they are more likely to visit.

In fact, in October 2011, 28 percent of online display ad impressions were on social media sites. If businesses have started to recognize the value of advertising on those sites, it follows that they must then also understand how many of their customers and prospects visit those sites. Shouldn’t they then also be very interested in what those same social users are saying about their businesses? If businesses advertise where their customers congregate, they have a vested interest in listening to what those customers are saying where and when they congregate in those places.

Indeed, there remain many questions, not the least is how to evaluate social programs. And with new applications and tools emerging regularly, and with users finding new ways of leveraging those technologies, the value in social media is still being determined.

But to not at least look at social media, to ignore a communications medium you know your customers utilize regularly, would be near sighted. It’s not only logical to find out what 1.2 billion people are saying about you – it’s responsible business.

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. Follow Erik on Twitter (News - Alert) @elinask.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi