Guide to social media for enterprises

In 1998, Carnegie Mellon university’s research predicted that heavy internet use was going to make us “socially isolated, lonely, and depressed”. What they didn’t account for is that (most) human beings are inherently social and have an innate desire to connect with others, be it offline or online. If anything, internet has shrunk the world and the ‘social’ (not to be confused with socialism) revolution has made us all more connected. Thanks to the genius that is marketing/branding, the social tools and underlying technologies like blogs, wikis, bookmarking sites, social networks, etc. have all collectively come to be known as web 2.0

Jargon aside, social media enables you to engage your customers in a much more meaningful and effective manner. Over the last decade, there has been a significant shift in online user behavior and companies that ignore this trend, do so at their own peril. However, there are plenty of enterprises who don’t want to be left behind and are enamored with the idea of social media/web 2.0, without giving much thought to why it’s important for their business.

For companies clamoring to get on the social media bandwagon just because of the hype, here is a must-read post by Greg Verdino at Crayon. Verdino questions whether marketers have truly optimized the existing marketing tools for engaging their users or are they just trying to latch on the ‘next big thing’?

Recently, Forrester recognizedIntuit’s efforts to embrace social media with an award. I think, Intuit‘s CMO Dan Maurer hit the nail on the head,

Customers turn to us to help solve their important problems,Maurer said. Were focused on giving them more ways to do that, whether its talking to us or providing forums where they can talk to each other. Being online for customers and for Intuit isnt just an option. Its a necessary component of success.

Bottomline, social media tools offer you a great new way to ‘touch’ your customers. That being said, businesses need to first understand user behavior and devise social media strategy around their user needs. The challenge for an enterprise is figuring out where to start in social media and if you are wondering how other companies are using social media marketing, here are a bunch of great posts from Mashable with real-life examples and how-tos:

The 22 step Social Media Marketing plan: Peter Kim at Mashable gives you a framework of the varioius social tools  and links to companies using them.
How To: Build Community on Twitter: This an extremely useful post by Sarah Evans on building a community on Twitter.
35+ Examples of Corporate Social Media in Action: This is an older post, that gives more detailed examples of how companies using social media tools.

However, in order for it to succeed, social media has to be part of your overall marketing mix and plan, it shouldn’t be treated as just another standalone program or project. It should be integrated into your overall marketing strategy, so you can exploit synergies with existing channels and avoid conflicting messages.

A great way to leverage social media is to use it to reinforce your existing marketing efforts and wherever possible, supplement those efforts by using it to reach segments where your company didn’t have a presence before. However, with the good, you also have to be ready for potential pitfalls of open social platforms like blogs, which can be hijacked by users to vent their frustration with your company. That’s where selecting the right medium and having clear, measurable objectives for your selected media becomes critical. 

Last but not the least, once you’ve selected the right social media tools/technology for your company, make sure you consistently track its performance like any other marketing channel to ensure that it continues to stay relevant to your users and consistent with your business goals, that’s the key to long-lasting success.

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