If you were to ask an entrepreneur his greatest wish, 9 out of 10 chances are that he’d answer something along the lines of –
a) To earn more money and/or
b) Become the number 1 brand in the hearts of its people.
And given the significance of social networking in people’s lives today, online platforms are, largely, the space where brands that matter are talked about by people who matter to the brand (outlined in my previous article).
From this perspective, businesses, and especially sharp Indian brands, are fast turning to social media to engage with their consumers. The resultant: we have more brands than even celebrities on social media (source: Financial Express), who are attempting to reach out to the 225 million Indian social media users (Source: MindShiftInteractive).
However, often enough, social media is largely left to the responsibility of a specific function/team and there still remains to be seen a complete integration of social media with other existing business functions.
Social Media and Business – The Stance
In a typical business, the various functional departments are:
- Human Resources
- Public Relations
- Product Research & Development
- Customer Service
Do feel free to capture any that I may missed.
In the context of social media, each of the listed departments can leverage the power of social media to reach out to internal and external stakeholders. However, as already mentioned, largely social media is interpreted to be the responsibility of the communications or public relations team and is left at that.And add to it the fact that, much of the senior management is not social and thus misunderstands the medium and its potential (elaborated here). As a result of these two factors, social channels end up being treated as hype-platforms for campaigns or for one-way news dispersion.
Apart from citing ignorance, an oft-repeated argument against this occurrence is the quantitative ROI which again stems from a lack of understanding.
So why should you integrate social media with your business functions?
Before you attempt to integrate social media across business functions, remember that social media at its core enables conversations and relationship-building on the social web.
Whether you like it or not, people are going to talk about you online which will in turn impact the business in some way or the other. So given this uncontrolled and viral nature, the online medium oscillates between parading as Dr Jekyll and My Hyde depending upon its use and implementation by the brand.
So rather than puffing your nose into the air and ignoring, what you must do is join the conversation with an open mind. I say an open mind, because once you’re a part of the conversation, then it becomes imperative to be accepting of some rather difficult and pleasing truths that will come out.
And let this not scare you into abandoning the medium. That would equal shutting out one’s ears to avoid listening to negative feedback aka immature and silly – Not what a brand wants to do or be seen as doing!
Overall, the elements of social media allow for communication, collaboration and entertainment. And with the internet exploding across geographies, the earlier thought-out business model of a website on the premises of the company brochure is no more enough. Today the user leads the brand to think and rethink constantly.
So against all this background, the question arises:
How to prepare all departments to go the social way?
Before you begin the integration, ensure you are prepared to:
- Take risks
- Respond quickly and engage
- Listen and act on genuine feedback
- Be transparent and real
Identify a department, its goals, functions and results that are expected from its integration with social media. Do not translate this into creating and announcing the social media team to do all the work.
Rather ideally, you should breed a social culture at your workplace. This can be done by conducting a training or workshop for your employees. Once all team members have been trained, ensure everyone is kept in the loop on social steps.
This means everyone receives updates and reports on what is happening online. Ensure there are regular meetups for inputs on what is being done, an analysis and the next steps.
And what do you get from all this?
Before you try and answer this question, an important point to bear in mind is that once you integrate social media across departments, benefits for each department will differ marginally across advertising expenses, hours, influence.
Today, silos cannot exist and all business departments need to come together. What is primary is that all responsibilities are properly delegated along with decision-making powers. What is also important is that the business keeps a social media policy guidelines document in place to avoid confusion and minimize potential issues.
For the ease of understanding, I have attempted to outline a few advantages below:
- Human Resources : Ease of recruitment, showcasing company culture, strengthens positioning as an ‘ideal workplace’
- Marketing : Spreading information by personalizing the brand
- Advertising: Catching attention on the non-costly avenues via rich creative content
- Public Relations: Consumer engagement and relationship building
- Sales : Lead-generation
- Product Research & Development : Customer insights and feedback on product
- Customer Service : Listening and addressing issues in real time
- Finance : Collaboration and knowledge sharing
To reinstate, it’s not wrong to say that social media is about everyone. Learn to keep the people at the top of your mind, outline what you want to say to them and how you want to say it, what you want them to do at the end of it and what will you need to make them do it.
A good social media plan that aligns across departments will ensure your business thrives internally as an entity, is able to adapt itself as per the demands of its consumers and also thrives on the worldwide web.
At the end, it’s about time you decided whether to treat social media as a well-planned natural extension or last minute thought for your business!
Featured Image: Free Digital Photos