Biz use of social media evolves, more in-depth

Companies evolving use of social media tools in ways that bank heavily on strategic planning as well as enhance collaboration with external parties.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

With their adoption of social media progressing from random initiatives to regular and active deployment, enterprises have evolved the use of such tools to increasingly involve expansive strategic planning as well as enhance collaboration to reap business benefits.

Three years ago, most social media use by businesses was mainly experimental and ad hoc, according to Ryan Lim, business director of social media marketing agency, Blugrapes.

The key focus then was simply to build a sizeable following on the various social media platforms. Today, this has moved toward community engagement, beyond just contents and giveaways, Lim said in an e-mail.

Calvin Siew, director of Ominfluence, a consultancy which helps companies implement social principles and technologies, agreed. Organizations previously were unprepared and grappled with the concept of social media, but most have now recognized and adopted such tools, he said.

They also realized that their previous focus on campaigns might have temporarily gained user interest but did not give long-term sustainable business value to their organization, Siew added.

Both marketers noted that the need to create business value via social media is the critical driver to constantly evolve the adoption of such tools.

Changing the rules
Anthony Mullen, a London-based senior analyst for interactive marketing at Forrester Research, said: "Businesses must move to where the dialogue is."

He explained that the how and why companies use social media are influenced by "game-changers" occurring in external platforms such as third-party social networks, forums and wikis.

"When social networking ballooned, brands initially watched, listened and dabbled in an ad hoc way. Then it dawned [on them] that the dialogue has shifted to a platform they didn't control...and no longer remained within companies' firewalls.

"A social dynamic had entered the very nature of the business dynamic," Mullen said.

Changes are also to be expected when businesses deploy social media for their internal operations, said Jake Wengroff, global director for social media strategy and research, Frost & Sullivan.

"[The issue] today is where social fits inside and outside the company," he said.

Social media traditionally was viewed as a collection of tools and channels to support a company's marketing and media functions, but a social business or enterprise is "more than owning a Twitter account and a Facebook page", Wengroff said. "It is about harnessing and maximizing social tools' integration into day-to-day workplace functions to drive more effective business processes and decision-making."

As Siew pointed out: "If anything, social media has demonstrated how innovative and novel technologies continue to propagate well."

The industry observers identified five new key social media trends:

Social learning
The concept of social learning posits that people learn from one another through observing, modeling and imitating, said Siew. By implementing social media tools, organizations can quicken the learning process and make it more enjoyable. This creates business value that benefits both internal and external stakeholders, he pointed out.

For instance, better and more efficient knowledge management will enable companies to integrate new staff members quicker, or grow the organization's overall IQ with collective learning.

New verbs, use of semantic analytics
"The monoism of [Facebook's] Like is changing into something richer," noted Mullen. This is not only limited to the social network's new Timeline apps, but other social networks as well such as "pin" or "repin" from Pinterest, which acts as an online pinboard for images.

The Forrester analyst added that as the lexicon of actions within social networks expands to include new verbs, it will likewise expand and challenge current semantic analytics tools.

Marketers will see the hitherto simplicity of analytics around impressions, Likes, and click rates "explode into real semantic mathematics", he said.

Maximizing social real estate
Mullen also noted that as the volume of data grows within social networks, so does the need for different ways of viewing or presenting existing data, which brands and marketers can then leverage.

For instance, Facebook's Timeline profile, which acts like a virtual scrapbook and allows users to insert life milestones, is one avenue for brands to "weave their message alongside the life story of consumers".

Already, 60 companies earlier this month partnered Facebook to launch their own Timeline apps, Mullen said. "Old data never goes away, it's just freshly enlivened and tied to your brand," he said.

Online-offline social integration
According to Blugrapes' Lim, social media is increasingly used today as an amplification of marketing activities such as roadshows.

A tightly integrated campaign, combining the digital and offline, allows for lesser dependency on traditional paid advertising, he said. It also facilitates easier sharing and greater awareness of the marketing message among contacts within consumers' online social networks.

Companies would be able to drive their online community members to on-ground events in this manner, he added.

Private networks for customers, partners
Wengroff pointed out that enterprise social networking typically revolved around employees within an organization, with outsiders granted authorization into certain discussions or workflows.

As more companies get more comfortable with social software tools, they will create private social networks for their customers, suppliers and other external parties, wherein communications and documents can be shared and archived with non-employees, all in one place, the Frost & Sullivan analyst explained.

"One could argue that a company can simply create, for free, a members-only group on public networks such as LinkedIn, but these will not have the same features and security that an enterprise software product has," he noted.

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