09/01/2012

By Keith Patrick, Senior Lecturer At Westminster Business School

A PriceWaterhouseCoopers survey in 2011 identified that 43% of CEO’s would “significantly change their strategies in the next three years to respond to customers increased use of social media and mobile”.

Just as the internet became a ‘must be there’ space for business it is increasingly apparent that social media is becoming a similar space. Customers are there, and they may already be purchasing from your competitors, commenting on your products, services, or brand, both positive and negative.

So where should social media fit into the business strategy, is it at the business level, or does it fall within an existing strategy, e.g. marketing, IT, communication? Who is, and will, be responsibility for social media activities, both the strategy, strategy implementation, and maintaining the associated day-to-day activities? And finally what resources will be required and are available, in the short and long term?

A useful starting point is to identify why you should be using social media, and if so what specific goals or objectives could be achieved by adopting social media. A further consideration is measurement, how will achievement or success be established; this needs setting up before commencing the activity. These measures or metrics need to be realistic and considered in the short, medium, and longer term. The measures could be activity levels and the issues that provoke increased activity, or related to specific products, or product launches, or events. Finally it is worth considering how social your existing website is and whether it could easily be adapted and made social as part of its next update.

Possible objectives could be promotion of the organisation, increasing business awareness and visibility generically or in relation to brand or sub-brands or specific products/services. Or taking particular positions of advocacy, customer services/relations, thought leadership, developing the conversation, or extending the network, or targeting or expanding market segments.

The typical approach is creating a presence to highlight the organisation or a product or simply to identify/locate customers. An added consideration relates to which platform or applications should be used; with Facebook now being challenged by Google+, and with Twitter adding brand specific capabilities. These changes have resource implications, to select a particular platform or to spread coverage across multiple platforms. This is significant in managing content and linking fans across platforms and deepening loyalty.

Alternate approaches could see social media as an additional strand of a specific brand strategy, increasing involvement in the conversation. This could be through listening and where necessary participating or simply facilitating the conversation. Another way is to link into particular products and services with the objective of driving custom to transaction based websites.

Considerations

- Setting clear objectives or purpose

- Identifying actionable goals

- Establishing appropriate measures or metrics

- Defining success

- Monitoring activities and discerning the changing patterns

- Consideration and addressing the resource implications and demands

Social media does require a strategic perspective. It is already clear that social media is having a significant impact on organisations, if only by the presence and indirect behaviour of customers who are already in the social media realm. Indeed Dion Hinchcliffe, a social media strategist, suggests it is necessary for organisations to create a culture of experimentation, seeking to open out the organisational imagination to innovation.

Although he did also indicate that a lack of skills in organisations could potentially be the greatest challenge in the shift into the social business era. Here lies the real strategic challenge in the crossing of the generational divide within organisations, the gap in the familiarity of the younger generation of workers with social media in the broad opportunity and its day-to-day use and context. Which contrasts with the level of knowledge and familiarity of the strategic decision-makers and awareness of the competitive benefit or necessity of social media as a business tool.


Keith Patrick is a Senior Lecturer in Business Information Management at Westminster Business School. His expertise and research interests lie in information and knowledge management, with a focus on the impact and implications of emergent and emerging technologies.


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