Social communication requires small steps

Engagement key to social media effectiveness, say industry watchers who recommend companies start "small" to better ensure greater success.
Written by Tyler Thia, Contributor

Once online tools built primarily for friends to keep in touch, social media have since evolved into digital platforms that enterprises now leverage for branding and revenue. But, businesses that do adopt such tools must dedicate proper resources and drive user mindset to achieve success, say industry observers.

According to Gartner, by 2015, 20 percent of businesses that employ social media beyond marketing are expected to lead their industries in revenue growth. The research firm noted that social media provides a seeding point for enterprises to communicate information about themselves, products, services and promotions that they want consumers to be aware of.

"Clearly, the value of word-of-mouth marketing is important as the viral aspect of any given retailer's promotion will be enhanced as the news spreads through the community that is influenced by social media participants," Van Barker, a Gartner analyst, said in a report last month.

To reach out to customers, enterprises not only rely on one but engage multiple platforms, namely Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and blogs to maximize their online strategy.

In an interview with ZDNet Asia, public relations company Text 100's global social media practice director, Jeremy Woolf, said for a social media campaign to be successful, enterprises must allocate resources to hire the right people for the job, change employee mindset and operations style, as well as put in place indicators to measure success.

Woolf explained: "Firms that are successful in leveraging social media have better marketing and analysis tools. They understand the need to nurture the brand and to interact with 'fans', where views and comments made on Facebook and other platforms are being channeled to relevant departments such as marketing to follow up on."

He added that enterprises must understand that merely setting up a Facebook or Twitter account is definitely not the right way to go, and in order to properly leverage digital channels, management must first understand how these tools work.

Social media analyst Tim Baker concurred, noting that social media is not about simply having a fanpage and enterprises need to be involved in the frenzy. He pointed out in a recent article that mindsets must be changed, instead of asking how online networking can work for them, enterprises should in fact find out how to work with social media.

Baker added that until large brands let go of the notion that social media is something they only need to focus their business expertise on and start looking at a holistic strategy, big enterprises are going to continue to let the smaller, hungrier and more savvy competitors pass them by.

Big less nimble and proactive
Woolf highlighted that large companies may not be as nimble as smaller outfits when it comes to adapting social media, and this is evident in the Asia-Pacific region, where digital platforms are considered new and enterprises are not as proactive compared to counterparts in the United States and Europe.

Baker added: "What works for 'Company A' can be totally different from 'Company B'. Some may think they're only involved in B2B (business-to-business) so they don't need to be on Twitter, when in fact there are many B2B companies that can get more from Twitter than a B2C (business-to-consumer)."

Having advised clients on social media campaigns, Woolf revealed that while he has seen growing acceptance among Asian organizations that online social networks are important, it is still a challenge to convince skeptical B2B enterprises that have yet to recognize the advantages of digital media.

He said businesses that have not budged are typically helmed by "old-school" executives in their 40s who have been successful sales people, but are limited to working with traditional platforms.

"Until the digital natives--people who are adept with digital media--take on more important corporate leadership roles, for now, I do not see the communication platforms of these enterprises to be built around social media," he noted.

Embracing the new
Nonethless, an increasing number of companies in Asia have successfully leveraged social media for brand building and marketing.

Low-cost carrier AirAsia, for instance, is reaping the benefits of a strong digital strategy, where its Facebook fan base crossed the 500,000-mark this week.

The airline started investing and building its social media marketing just two years ago, but today "positions itself as the leader in social media marketing".

In a report by travel tech Web site tnooz, Kathleen Tan, AirAsia's regional head of commercial, said the airline's Facebook fanpage has enabled the company to steer away from the usual limitations of conventional marketing "which consumers are no longer reacting to".

The nine-year-old budget carrier experimented with running an online-only publicity for its annual "free-seats sale" last November. The initiative broke single-day ticket sales record clocked by its booking engine provided by Navitaire, which serves over 70 airlines.

Going digital also helped AirAsia save a significant amount that would have been spent on traditional advertising methods, Tan said.

With nine Facebook pages, four Twitter accounts and a host of other digital platforms, she said AirAsia has a dedicated "social media hub" on its Web site which the airline believes will enable it to be "more relevant in providing content, based on feedback or requests from our guests, instead of just sending out a one way marketing push or product updates".

In another interview with Web In Travel, Tan admitted she did not know how "massive" social media could get until she joined the airline. "The savings goes directly to the bottomline and I can also use the money to hire more people in digital media," she said. "The beauty of digital is with analytics. I can check where the sales are coming from, [which is] something you can't do with offline media."

Achieving business objectives
As Gartner's Barker noted, marketing is not the only function that can benefit from social media to achieve business performance objectives. For example, he pointed to an aerospace and defense manufacturer fielded a wiki to allow its engineering team to record and share significant interactions with customers. Though the wiki was a soft launch, its use quickly spread to customer support and then to sales which found the information invaluable in supporting customer relationships. Within a few months, the wiki was actively used by more than 5, 000 people across the organization which Gartner did not name.

Barker said in today's connected world, enterprises have to look beyond their confines and reach out to interact with other internal business functions, business partners, customers or prospects, and even the social Web.

For enterprises keen on getting on to the social media platform, Woolf's advice is to start on small projects, identify initiatives best suited to go digital, then push these out to various platforms. Companies must also establish indicators to measure the effectiveness and success of the campaign which can be extended to other projects, he said.

He added that by starting with smaller campaigns, the chances of success will be higher compared to "engaging everything in the business", which can be too "massive" for enterprises to manage overnight.

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