In an economy where innovation has become the currency for sustained competitive advantage, it also has become a truism that when companies collaborate they will innovate more often and more effectively. Although large enterprises have long deployed complex and sophisticated collaboration tools, popular social networking tools can do as good a job.
That’s why you hear a lot about the successes big consumer product and entertainment companies are having with social networking. P&G, for example, discovered that Facebook could pump new life into a stable but decidedly staid product, Pepto-Bismol. Business Week wrote about it here in March.
Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) and those not so explicitly consumer oriented have found social networking success a bit more elusive. Among midsize businesses, for instance, 38% have a company Facebook page, but less than a quarter uses it to generate new leads and sales and less than one-fifth use it for internal collaboration or customer retention, according to a recent study by the SMB Group.
The SMB 2012 study shows overall use of social media is up from 44% to 53% among small businesses (1-99 employees) and up from 52% to 63% among medium businesses (100-999 employees) year-over-year, but it also reveals a widening gap between SMBs that are using social networking in an informal, ad hoc manner and those taking a more planned, strategic approach. Here is how can you make social strategic in your organization and avoid common pitfalls.
Start by making a commitment to use social networking strategically and link it to goals for revenue growth. Strategic users, the study found, also were more likely to have already integrated social media with existing business applications and processes. CRM, customer support, and product development are the three that most immediately come to mind.
After that, you want to avoid five social networking pitfalls SMBs trip on. Kevin Casey, writing for Information Week, elaborated on them, which Bottomline IT summarizes below:
- Not enough time. A lack of time was the clear number-one issue for small businesses, with 62% citing it as a roadblock to effective social engagement. Midsize businesses are similarly pressed.
- Too many social networks. The time issue compounds as the number of social platforms grows. Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and others bring social networks that together complicate strategy development and execution.
- Hard to measure. Nearly half of midsize firms report being unable to accurately measure the value of their social networking. Why define and execute a strategy if there is no effective way to evaluate progress?
- Inappropriate tools and services. Yes, social monitoring and management tools are emerging but many are not designed for SMBs. They don’t want a comprehensive command center but something easily deployed that covers their key social activities in one simple toolset, including metrics.
- Confusing customer sentiment. SMBs experience a deluge of social information emanating from these networks, some of it contradictory, which makes it hard to figure out what it all means. Social analysis tools are just emerging for this.
Data published in Forrester’s Global Enterprise Web 2.0 Market Forecast: 2007 to 2013, projects that enterprise spending on Web 2.0 technologies will reach $4.6 billion by 2013 and climb to $6.4 billion by 2016. Gartner predicts that social technology will be integrated with most business applications by 2016. But, deriving value from social networking is not just about implementing Web 2.0 technology. Rather, it is about transforming a company’s knowledge-sharing culture and influencing daily behavior patterns to ensure effective adoption and exploitation of the new social tools and processes, writes Gloria Burke for Unisys. That’s how you get true, sustainable collaboration.
Maybe the first challenge in that transformation is getting your organization to adopt of social networking at all. Corinne Sklar, marketing director at Bluewolf Group, a leading social consulting firm, has this to say on adoption: Long emails with links to how-to web pages tend to fall victim to the I’ll-get-to-it-later email black hole. Instead, innovate with new forms of communication, the more streamlined and concise the better. As attention spans diminish providing a mix of communication tools helps your people get the info they need in the kind of short, bite-sized chunks they can absorb immediately. When going social, instant gratification counts.