Social Media for Business Is No Longer Optional

By | Aug 9, 2012

When it comes to many new technologies, consumers become attached to the new services much faster than businesses do, and when it comes to the social space, this disparity could be about to cause issues. Gartner research is now reporting the businesses that fail to engage customers in social media risk losing those customers.

A Social Explosion

The advent of the social space has changed how people use the Internet and interact with other people online. Many businesses have seen this trend and attempted to expand their social presence, basically just making sure that the brand is visible online to both customers and potential customers.

As consumers increased their attachment to social brands, some companies took the extra step of interacting with their customers on the social sites. The interaction comprised both marketing endeavors and customer service initiatives.

Now, the landscape of the customer base appears to be changing, and Gartner, which closely monitors the IT market, is predicting that many customers are going to start demanding that companies interact with them through social sites.

As detailed in this IT Pro article, Gartner predicts that after 2014, any company that fails to respond to customer complaints received through social media is likely to experience a 15-percent increase in customer churn.

For a midsize business running on razor-thin margins, a churn increase that high is likely to doom the company, meaning that if management doesn't have a social strategy in place already, there is no time to wait.

Marketing, Customer Service, and IT

One of the big problems behind company social media initiatives is the fact that the social space really runs across different aspects of the company. Marketing usually needs to be involved in engaging customers through the services, and customer service needs to be involved to handle customer issues that come to the company's attention through the social space. Finally, IT needs to be involved as they will be in charge of building the systems and tools that integrate social sites with the company's existing systems.

Getting all these disparate areas of the company together to solve the social problem can often be a monumental task, especially in larger midsize companies as it's likely that the people in the different divisions won't be very familiar with each other.

The difficulty that businesses are having in this regard is quickly becoming evident. As noted by a ZDNet article, around 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies have a social media presence, but only 50 percent of those actually use the technology to engage with customers. For businesses to survive in the coming years, these numbers have to greatly improve.

IT managers at midsize businesses probably aren't in control of the company's social media decisions, but once those decisions are made, it's up to them to make it all work together. Forcing employees to use the existing Web apps to interact with customers isn't going to get it done. Those interfaces simply aren't built to handle the volume and importance of traffic.

Existing solutions are out there, or IT managers with the right staff in place can also build their own. In the end, the social information needs to be completely integrated with the rest of the customer information and service systems, allowing employees the freedom to focus on just the customer instead of fighting with an interface.

The year 2014 is just around the corner, and if Gartner is right, the fate of every single customer-facing business may be hanging in the balance. By the time the general customer base starts to expect social interaction, instead of just being happy when it exists, it is far too late to only then be beginning the discussion on how to handle the situation.

There is certainly an advantage to be had here for early adopters, especially those who fully integrate their social system between the marketing, customer service, and IT departments. Midsize businesses that move on this information early or who are already well on their way to social domination, will start to see the benefits of these labors over the next two years.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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