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Mainstreaming as a Business Tool

December 15, 2014

Many SMBs think “marketing” when social media is discussed in a business context, but its impact extends well beyond that. Social media can, and should, be used to drive decisions across your business.

Many SMBs think “marketing” when social media is discussed in a business context, but its impact extends well beyond that. “Social media can, and should, be used to drive decisions across your business, from strategic planning to sales to customer service,” says Leah Pope, vice president of global marketing at Synthesio, a global social intelligence platform. “Social intelligence is the umbrella term for the ability to listen, analyze, and engage via social media.”

Customer service is one area where more and more SMBs are starting to harness the power of social media, but it’s an area in which they should tread slowly and carefully, cautions Gary Schirr, associate professor of marketing at Radford University. Social customer service results in increased transparency dealing with customer complaints and problems in a very visible forum, and customers expect a very fast response on social platforms. “Studies have shown that nearly half of all customers expect responses to social queries within an hour,” he emphasizes. While social media can improve customer service, it also heightens sensitivity to issues, so SMBs choosing to go this route must be prepared to provide quicker responses and have a plan in place for dealing with very public problems.

Justin Garrity, president of Postano, a social media visualization platform, contends that social media is a natural tool for customer service. “Consumers realize that if they mention a brand directly in a tweet, they can bypass complicated and time-consuming Web forms and get a more immediate response. That said, it’s essential for businesses to have somebody who is qualified to answer any customer service inquiries that come in. Consumers value talking to a person on the other end who can get things done,” he notes.

Social media is also developing into an important business tool that SMBs use to keep tabs on emerging trends among their target audience – and their competition. “The power of social media analytics is invaluable for SMBs,” says Zahra Rajani, vice president of digital experience at Jackman Reinvents, which helps businesses discover and rapidly realize untapped value. “In particular, connected analytics can give brands a very clear view of how consumers and their own customers are responding and behaving.” Schirr feels strongly about social media’s value in this application. “If a firm does nothing else in social media, it should at least be an ‘active lurker,’ watching what competitors are doing, what users are saying about its products and services and those of its competitors, and social conversations about its target markets,” he advises. “A weekly report using Google alerts and weekly blog and social searches can start this process.”

A challenge for SMBs when it comes to using social media for purposes other than marketing is putting responsibility for disparate functions in the hands of the right people. “Here’s the reality: social media isn’t going anywhere,” says Bennett Porter, vice president of marketing communications at SurveyMonkey, a provider of Web-based survey solutions. “It’s more common than not for customers to go directly to social media when they have a complaint, question, or compliment. Therefore, it’s imperative these channels be resourced accordingly.” Ideally, customer service, marketing, and social media departments should work together to monitor, manage, and engage on social channels, he suggests, noting that SurveyMonkey uses a centralized team to make sure there is brand and voice consistency.

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