You and I may be fully participating in popular social media like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, but I'll bet your company isn't -- at least as well as it could be. While these networks have exploded over the last few years for personal use (Facebook with 800 million users, Twitter with 175 million, and LinkedIn with 115 million), most businesses are at a loss for effective ways to engage with customers in this brave new world. And social media growth is showing no signs of slowing; newer networks such as Google+, Pinterest and Instagram have seen incredible growth in a matter of weeks.
Social media has transformed the way we connect with each other. We all have a voice, and we make ourselves heard, sharing wisdom and gossip, connecting with new friends, and documenting our lives. This new communication channel has empowered us and changed our expectations of the world, including the companies with which we interact.
Today, we are more influenced by comments from friends and anonymous reviews than we are from traditional online or TV ads that we easily ignore. That means the game is changing for businesses of all sizes and types. It's no longer about telling your customers what to think and do. It's about listening and engaging, guiding and supporting. Creating a Facebook page is a start, but let's be clear: Having a presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter isn't enough. People, not sites, are the fabric of the new Web.
As a company, it's not only possible, but also imperative, to develop a relationship with each of your customers. Here's how:
1. Your Entire Organization Needs to Participate
The first mistake most companies make is to hire "community managers," lock them in a room, and expect to use social media as just another marketing tool. This is not a social business.
Certainly community managers have a role to play. But to become a true social business, every single employee in the company needs to be part of the social conversation. Salespeople need to listen to their customers no matter where they interact, understand their needs and build deeper relationships. Product people need to listen to product feedback. Customer service people need to proactively help and guide the customer. CEOs need to keep their finger on the pulse of the business. Everybody needs to listen and bring that knowledge back into the organization. Everybody needs to engage with the community.
Let's use Best Buy as an example. In 2009, 3,000 Best Buy employees volunteered to answer customer questions on Twitter (@twelpforce) as part of their daily work responsibilities. In three years, 50,000 questions were answered, employees engaged more deeply with their community and customers became evangelists for Best Buy.
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