This is a guest post by Steve Nicholls, author of the best-selling Social Media in Business
Thinking of a business strategy without social media has become antiquated, unless you travel at least 20 years back in time. Today, a business is no longer sustainable without an effective social media agenda. Even giant organizations like Starbucks, Groupon, Reuters or British Airways have all started to incorporate social media; this is because businesses simply cannot do without it any longer.
Social media can be defined as the experience of sharing content online, whether music, videos, pictures, comments, reviews and news among other forms. Once, the ‘brochure site’ ruled over the Internet, static and imposing, allowing Internet users to simply view content passively. Today, anyone, anywhere and at anytime can generate and share content on the Internet: this is social media.
Social media is materialized through its many applications. The differences between each one are very wide, which means a range of activities can be done through social media. To give just a very few examples, Twitter can be used to send short messages instantly to a group of followers, Yahoo! Answers gives the chance to ask questions to the entire web community and receive a plethora of answers, Wikinews allows people to work jointly in order to write objective news articles and GoToWebinar is a conferencing tool that makes long-distance training possible.
Furthermore, each application is a world of small applications. LinkedIn, for instance, is very useful for the creation of a professional hub of current and past co-workers, who become connections. These in turn can link you to their own connections so that you become at the center of a web of professional connections – generating a lot of opportunities for network-building. Next to that, LinkedIn Answers allows users to ask business-related questions to their network as well as the bigger LinkedIn hub. Also, LinkedIn’s reference check helps users search for references on a potential employee or employer. These options are only a very few examples of what LinkedIn offers but shows how social media is extensive in both breadth and depth.
In a business context, interchange via all these applications can take place between the company and its customers, between customers themselves but also within a company and finally, within a business-to-business environment as well. Steve Nicholls, author of the book Social Media in Business, explores these avenues in depth. He explains that “this sharing allowed by social media translates into invaluable opportunities for businesses,” which he divides into five main categories.
First and foremost, social media gives access to the largest marketplace on the planet. In a matter of a few seconds, companies can transcend traditional boundaries to reach more people or create a presence beyond geographical limits. This gives rise to the second opportunity: communication. Social media improves communication between any two or more parts of a business: between employees, between staff and customers or between upper and lower staff. Blogs, for example, are a very good way for a company to communicate with its customers and having a Facebook Page can be useful to create an internal online community amongst employees, especially the bigger the organization is.
Third, social media allows managers to tap into communities where prospects – such as customers, freelancers, business connections, etc. – can be found or created. Every time this happens, it is not one individual that is found but an entire pool of prospects. For example, a Facebook Fan Page is great to nurture a community of customers and keep them updated with product news while Elance is a community of freelancers with all sorts of skills where the ‘right person for the job’ can be found.
Fourth, social media allows businesses to get information from collective intelligence, i.e. the ‘global brain’ of the web community, as Tim O’Reilly, founder of O’Reilly Media, defines it. Exploiting this facet of social media means that companies can obtain competitor intelligence, customer insights or find cost-effective business solutions. For example, through Brainrack, companies can crowdsource business-related issues to students and get a diversity of solutions and the student with the best solution wins a prize. Rating systems are another way to use collective intelligence to find out how much consumers like a certain product for instance.
Finally, social media allows collaboration, i.e. co-working on a certain project, or participating in its development. A very simple application is Skype, through which colleagues living in different countries can form an online conferencing room. DropBox is an excellent tool to create files which can be accessed by colleagues online, from anywhere in the world.
By adopting a good social media strategy, a company can thus leverage its competitive advantage substantially. Nicholls however stresses the use of social media within a company must be clearly fitted to its general business goals to avoid going enthusiastically in the wrong direction. Nicholls also warns that social media does have a ‘dark side’ and that managers should be aware of its pitfalls, but that these, if properly prepared for, are just a small obstacle in comparison to social media’s great potential. Adopting a successful strategy is one that will take advantage of social media in the context of a company’s business goals, while at the same time mitigating its risks.
Steve Nicholls Bio
Steve Nicholls is the author of the best-selling Social Media in Business, international speaker, and social media strategist who helps business executives implement a winning social media strategy into their organization. After beginning his career as a project manager in skyscraper construction, Steve earned his MBA at Henley Business School in 1992 and his Masters of Science in Organizational Development from the University of Portsmouth in 2008. His background as a project manager, combined with his extensive experience in the business and technology industries, has given him the unique ability to help companies lay their own blueprint for social media success. www.socialmediainbusiness.com