Like it or not, social media is here to stay. The good news is that social media platforms escalate consumer brand participation and corporate awareness. The difficult news is that consumers and employees want firms to listen and get involved in their conversations even if it causes a blurring of professional and personal lines.
This rapid sharing of information and feelings has created a shift in the business landscape, and the message to CEOs and management is clear. Social media gives companies an opportunity to create a social network strategy to maintain a competitive edge, improve brand loyalty and close the gap between management, customers and employees. Of course, there are several factors to consider when designing this strategy.
The first step is to classify your business. Are you a business-to-business organization or a business-to-consumer business organization? This distinction is critical because consumers have different networking interests than businesses.
B2B social media platforms have a networking and knowledge sharing component. B2B Internet surfers look for educational information or something to satisfy a particular project or requirement. Providing useful and knowledgeable content on your website and through professional networks, such as LinkedIn, is the way to attract these prospects.
In contrast, B2C social media platforms approach customers on a personal level. These customers are looking to learn or to be entertained. Examples of B2C sites include Facebook, Twitter and specialty blogs to name a few. These sites tailor themselves to specific social groups such as students, parents or coaches and special interests such as hobbies, medical conditions or politics. Consumer interest in these sites provides businesses with an ideal platform for addressing their target markets.
When establishing a social media presence, a good question your firm should ask is “What do we want to accomplish with our social media program?” Some goals might be recruiting, lead generation, brand awareness or employee connectivity. My firm wanted to establish a social media presence in order to increase employee communication and knowledge sharing within our product and service lines. Because our employees are dispersed across the U.S. and overseas, we sought the advice of a social media expert to design our social strategy, which involved creating internal service line groups using LinkedIn as the backbone. Each service line has a LinkedIn captain who facilitates communication and knowledge sharing within the group. Our firm then takes best practices from these groups and publishes white papers for the industry. The result has been rapid sharing of information and knowledge transfer from employees across the globe.
This is one example of how a social media strategy can be designed to accomplish specific goals for a business. Yet this leads to another important consideration in designing a social media strategy, which is that although launching a program may be inexpensive, maintaining the program involves a cost to the firm. Managing the program requires personnel time. For example, our LinkedIn captains dedicate a portion of their work time during the week to facilitate discussions with employees. The allocation of personnel time needs to be factored into a firm’s social media program. Also, a cost-benefit analysis should be conducted to ensure that the firm is leveraging the information exchanged or transferred and turning it into real value.
The bottom line is social media is still in its infancy. Some aspects will change dramatically within 24 months. The key is to re-evaluate your programs regularly and check in with consumers of your social media strategies to get a reality check on the changing nature of your business. If you are thinking about using social media, there are several companies in the Northeast Ohio area that specialize in creating and executing social media strategies. These firms can help you navigate and choose the right platform for your business.
Victoria Tifft is founder and CEO of Clinical Research Management, a full-service contract research organization that offers early to late-stage clinical research services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She can be reached at [email protected].