The rapid change of pace for businesses in a modern, technology-heavy environment is no surprise. Competitors tote their wares through digital as well as physical channels, and consumers now possess the power to quickly source and switch their loyalty to rival firms that offer more -- whether through a better product or customer service.
Social media is part and parcel of this change.
Containing the potential to allow businesses to instigate and maintain real-time, effective communication with their customers, it also means that poor customer experiences can be sent into the ethos instantly on a global platform -- and businesses can find this kind of viral damage difficult to control.
The benefits offered by social media, unifying communications, cloud computing and Internet-based applications can be used to gain a strong foothold in digital networks -- the constant flow of data offering the chance to analyze and improve a business through Big Data and social media.
However, if staff are barred from using these kinds of resources in the workplace, how can a business benefit -- especially if it has blinded itself from seeing how much strain data-heavy networks place on existing infrastructure?
It's not uncommon for applications and websites to be blocked by company networks in the name of stopping staff from procrastination. However, in many successful businesses, launching social networking, media, video and app strategies are quickly becoming the norm. For example, community-based online clothing company Threadless uses Facebook to heavily engage their customers, and bag company Timbuk2 uses a blog, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr and YouTube to gain feedback from and communicate with theirs.
A new report, titled "Killer Apps", dove into this problem. Released by Easynet and Ipanema Technologies, 551 responses were recieved from markets including the UK, France, Italy, Spain and the Benelux region during March and April this year.
The majority of respondents -- 40 percent -- were from companies with a turnover in excess of €500m ($623 million). 20 percent of those who contributed to the survey worked at businesses with an annual turnover of between €500m-€100m.
As the research primarily focused on information and security services, the staff roles included CIO, IT Manager, Network Manager and IT professional in "roughly equal" rates.
The study showed that:
Lisa Myers, CEO of SEO & Social Media agency Verve Search, said:
"It's a risky business to block social media networks and I’m genuinely shocked at the statistic showing how many companies do this. The ROI for social media is that your business will still be here in five years’ time. Half the human race is under 30, and has never known a world without the Internet. For these people the Internet, and social media along with it, is a way of life. Businesses need to embrace power of social media, and use it to improve their staff retention and their customer experience, not fight against it."
Naturally, 551 responses needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, and is unlikely to reflect European business strategy as a whole. However, it does touch upon what may be a generational gap between expectations of staff and business, and just how customers may be caught in the crossfire. Justin Fielder, Easynet's CTO commented:
"The gap between Generation X and Generation Y is becoming a chasm. This isn't just about attracting and retaining young talent, it;s about how best to create a dialogue with, and retain, your customers. Social media is oxygen to anyone under 30 and it's vital for communication, education and information. It has huge implications on business success. Business leaders -- usually Generation X -- have to understand this or they will find the future of their business in jeopardy."
The next breed of customer, Generation Y, expects to be able to find a company online -- through mobile and social media means -- and interact with them. If a company does not provide this service through their business strategies, it is possible that slower, less responsive interaction with customers will result in a loss of business.
This is where productivity and network control also jumps in. Application use is on the rise and is here to stay. Rather than denying that social networks have worth to businesses in the workplace -- and I'm not talking about official sponsorship or checking your Facebook news feed -- companies should utilize the technology to better their customer service.
Networks need to be more intelligent. Customer feedback and interaction are important, but just as much, IT professionals need to be able to understand what data is going through their networks and how traffic patterns behave. Bandwidth, for example, needs to be monitored so before problems reach the consumer, network staff are already aware of data-heavy traffic rates and how much strain applications are placing on existing infrastructures -- and can make improvements or suggestions as necessary.
Data-intensive online communication may be due to the adoption of cloud computing and data-hungry web applications, video conferencing and mobile technology -- but businesses must be aware that while allowing social media access may be a risk to productivity, banning it outright can have further repercussions by blinding their own staff.
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