There’s no arguing that the internet has forever changed business practices across nearly all industries. Customers discover new brands online, and do a good percentage of their purchasing there as well. But social media has brought these interactions to an entirely new level, and corporations seem to be coming around to that fact. Any business can use the platforms of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social media platforms to improve the quality of their customer service, improve brand recognition and expand their existing relationships with key partners. Most large corporations are known more for staying the course than adapting, and embracing the very public world of social media is quite a tall task for many. But a study recently released through a joint effort from communications agency Ketchum and FedEx shows that the best performing companies are the ones successfully embracing social media in all its forms.
The joint study was first undertaken in 2010, and the latest information comes after a significant expansion of their research. Public web interactions have created what people are referring to as social business. Although an evolving concept, it basically describes how businesses generate value through using all existing social media capabilities to their fullest. It’s truly transformed how businesses find and retain their customers, and how consumers connect with brands. And according to the study, it’s improving things all around. More than half of the companies polled felt they are using social media to improve their existing relationships with partners, customers and the public.
As many companies have the consumer relationship under control, it seems they are turning their attention inwards. The 2010 iteration of the study showed that the majority of companies polled were focused on their consumer base. That’s now shifted, with the majority looking to improve their employees’ use of social media, and willingess to act as brand ambassadors out in their own lives. Fully 85% of companies polled who agreed they are focusing on their employees reported that their staff is far more engaged with the company’s overall social business strategy and execution.
The biggest growth in this area seems to be happening in four distinct ways. More employees are heading to social media to improve relationships, to create collaboration and discussion, to gather more participants for a company program and to find experts in the field and share information. These are all incredible developments, and just knowing actions are being taken must be encouraging. But how do these businesses measure results? When it comes to ROI, it seems that corporations do not yet agree on the most important factor. 84% of those polled look at engagement first. 69% are focusing on impressions, while close to 50% look at either influence of the individual engagers or tone of the communication.
Yet almost all agree that there may not ever be a system for tracking return on these efforts. Social media for business is at heart a marketing effort, always important, but hazy in how it impacts the bottom line. You can push a marketing manager to complete one of those executive mba programs online, but he probably still won’t come away with any definitive answers. Social media is and will remain a huge opportunity, but also a real challenge, with no 100% reliable pathway to success.