By Gavin Meikle, Head Of Learning And Founder Of Inter-Activ

When was the last time you wrote a letter or even sent a Fax? Today most communication is done via Email, Websites, Intranets and Mobile Phones. But the tools keep evolving and I believe we need to adapt with them if we are to remain successful. In this article I’d like to challenge you to think seriously about social media as a valid business communication tool.

Social Media
Just the mere mention of the phrase “Social Media” will raise the hackles of some you reading this article. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ are often seen by those of a certain age as being an unwelcome distraction, populated with inane trivia by people who have obviously got more time on their hands than sense. But like it or not, Social Media does offer a new and powerful channel for communication.

A friend of mine once told a story about how, when he had a party at his house, everybody always ended up in the kitchen. He and his wife spent the evening unsuccessfully trying to encourage people into the empty lounge. He used the story to make the point that we need to meet our customers and our staff where they like to hang out, rather than wasting time and effort trying to get them to go somewhere else that we prefer.

Social Media Usage
Social media is undoubtedly popular, and a large proportion of our customers, clients and staff spend time their every day! More than 50% of the UK population have a Facebook page, 34 million UK inhabitants are active on Twitter and LinkedIn has 11 million UK members.

Social Media Marketing
Each of these platforms, with the exception of Twitter, offer the ability to create business pages. These are a cheap and effective ways to share current information about your brand including announcements, product launches, campaigns, contests, videos etc. All these sites make it incredibly easy for someone who reads your announcement to “share” that post with some or all of their network at the touch of a button. It’s word of mouth marketing on steroids.

Creating Communities
Social media also offers a powerful new way to connect and communicate with groups of people (customers, suppliers or staff) in a new and more engaging way.

Groups can be private or public. Private groups are an effective way to keep a continuous open, two way communication channel open with your staff or even particular teams within your organisation. This doesn’t replace email, well not yet at least, but it does increase the chances of more people getting your updates and reading them!

Social Media as a Market Research Tool
Currently I think there are two main ways that organisations and companies can use Social Media to help themselves improve and innovate.

Capturing the customers’ voice:
By studying what your customers or potential customers are saying on social media, you can gain a valuable insight into what their real problems and needs are, for a fraction of the cost of traditional market research. This research can lead to product improvements and innovation that is driven by real marketplace needs.

Most Social media platforms allow you to create simple polls or surveys to get insights into what people love our hate about your products or services

In Conclusion
Social Media isn’t a passing fad, it’s an incredibly powerful tool that will play an increasingly vital part in business communication. The big question is whether your business is benefitting from the opportunities offered by Social Media or are you losing out?