Over the past several years, we’ve been witness to a tremendous explosion in the innovative business uses of social media, social data and social content. According to McKinsey, 72% of companies use social technologies in some fashion. In most organizations, marketers have been the early adopters, tapping into the social media universe for insights into customers and prospects. But as tools and technologies have changed, so too have the business uses of social media. Today, the utility of social media content has morphed from a traditionally tactical exercise into a potentially game-changing strategic enabler of future growth. Here’s a quick overview of the evolution:
The Early Days: Listening
The earliest social media solutions were basic listening tools, giving companies the ability to tune into what was happening in the social media universe, but in a fairly passive way. By specifying certain keywords—typically the company, brand, or products—a business could find out what people were saying about them. This was obviously valuable to marketers who used social media as a focus group to gauge reactions to campaigns. It was also a boon to customer service organizations, allowing companies to address problems and concerns in real-time, and to PR departments, who could head off crises before they had a chance to develop.
Business uses: Marketing, Customer Service, PR, Crisis Management
The Next Step: Monitoring
As social media tools continued to evolve, they added functionality to help companies make more meaning out of social media data. These new capabilities included things like sentiment analysis, detailed demographics, and competitive analysis, opening up new applications for businesses. Research departments could mine social media for the most current information and draw insights from it. Product development teams could get a sense of what consumers needed and wanted, and create new products that answered those desires. Sales departments could keep tabs on marketplace sentiment, something that’s especially important to them since likeability is key to sales.
Business uses: Research, Product Development, Sales
A Crucial Development: Engagement
The next generation of solutions focused on helping companies to become part of the conversation. They provided easy dashboards that allowed businesses to share content across all their social media accounts. With influencer identification tools, companies could find the people driving key conversations and start to create relationships with them. HR departments could build networks with former employees, current clients, suppliers, partners, and other local businesses to expand their recruitment efforts. Companies began creating their own internal social media networks to streamline collaboration, improve knowledge-sharing, and increase productivity.
Business uses: Influencer Marketing, Recruitment, Internal Communications
Expanding Further: Intelligence
In the most recent trend, companies have started to merge social media data with other sources of enterprise data such as CRM, business intelligence, and market research to create what is commonly known as “Social Intelligence.” The convergence of these data streams provides an incredibly rich - and exhaustive - source of information that can be mined for insights to shape decision-making, enhance forecasting, and drive innovation.
Business uses: Strategy, Forecasting, Planning
The Evolution Continues
Of course technology continues to advance, and the additional potential for social media utility across the enterprise remains untapped. McKinsey estimates that the value of this potential in four sectors alone—Consumer Packaged Goods, Retail Financial Services, Advanced Manufacturing, and Professional Services—could be worth 1.3 trillion dollars annually. As social media solutions mature, they will offer even more opportunities to find insights among the billions of conversations going on each millisecond in the social media universe. The most successful companies will be those that have the forward-looking leadership, adaptable workforce, and culture of innovation necessary to embrace these new technologies and unlock the full potential of social media.