What are we talking about?
Social Media, for us, means transparent and open people to people interaction that is mediated by web based tools like Blogs, Wikis, RSS and Twitter; and sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr.
We see Social Media as more than another marketing or communications channel. It is here to stay and is not a passing fad. We see it as a way of having two way, near real time communications with potentially large numbers whilst retaining many of the characteristics of a conversation.
Our particular interest is how business drive benefits and avoid or mitigate the risks from engaging with Social Media. For additional and complementary definitions of Social Media look at Our Thinking on Social Media.
What's in it for your business?
On the rest of this page we outline the business benefits and risks of engaging with Social Media. We provide a number of case studies to illustrate both. You can get more examples from our Delicious social bookmarks.
The main generic benefits of Social Computing for businesses are: Internally: greater staff productivity and innovation, and Externally: stronger relationships with customers, suppliers and partners.
The supposed risks for business of engaging with Social Computing are significant but in the past have been overblown . In our view, the greatest risks can be engaging without sufficient thought and then disengaging. In which case you can be damaged going in, coming out, and then by the ongoing gap you have created.
The risks of not engaging with Social Computing are more usually downplayed, but include giving market advantage to those competitors who are engaging effectively.
The major change some organisations have to make to engage effectively with Social Computing is to loosen the reins.
An organisation's engagement with Social Computing has to be through its people. This means giving them authority to act for you in ways that may not, currently, be acceptable to you.
Engaging effectively is an organisational attitude issue. And consequently for larger organisations, a policy issue. You have to be clear on what you are prepared to let your people do before you get started.
Benefits from internal use of Social Media
- from not re-inventing the wheel but sharing good practice
- from working collaboratively on projects and producing a better solution
- from sharing and developing new ideas together
- from listening to what others, outside of your organisation, are doing and making their best ideas work
- building social bonds across wider parts of the organisation (which in turn helps ideas flow)
Benefits from external use of Social Media
Closer customer engagement
which can lead to a virtuous spiral of improved relationships, ultimately leading to customers potentially becoming effective members of some or all of:
- your sales force, as they sell by recommendation
- your technical support teams as the help other customners with issues with your products
- your research, as they tell how they want your product or service to develop
- your marketing, as they engage and refute negative comments about your products and services
Closer engagement with partners and suppliers
Which can lead to
- improved innovation
- reduced supply chain costs
All of these risks can be managed (minimised or mitigated) through effective policies, guidelines and where approriate , training. Many companies share their Social Media policies, see our Delicious Bookmarks. Guidelines on how to use tools, not just what buttons to press, but how to avoid pitfalls in their use are also readily available. Training in the effective use of tool scan be taken off the shelf or developed for your organisation.
Most of these risks are described from the viewpoint that you have taken the decision to empower your staff to engage in relevant social media on your behalf. See Our Thinking for why you would do this.
As you engage in Social Media it is possible that your staff will make personal remarks that they shouldn't, in particular defaming an individual or organisation. It is also possible that your site will be used as a platform by others for this purpose.
Breach of confidentiality
It is possible that your people will let slip information about a client or a colleague that they shouldn't have divulged.
Your people (or you) may say something about your products or services that contradicts your carefully crafted brand messages.
Intellectual Property Issues
- Giving away your intellectual property - by publishing information about your products or services that they shouldn't
- Using someone else's intellectual property - e.g. using a photo in a blog that you have no rights to use
- Creating new intellectual property where ownership is confused, because it has been created collaboratively with partners or customers.
All of these issues can be managed. All are faced in different ways by mnost organisations that are not using Social Media, but the use of the web based tools tha make up Social Media can magnify the impact of these issues.
With high potential rewards it makes sense to spend time thinking about the potential risk.
Starbucks use much of the Social Media tools - Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Blogs, and Crowdsourcing for engaging with customers
Procter & Gamble use wikis, blogs etc. internally to encourage staff to collaborate and innovate.
Wiggly Wigglers, a small family business making worm farms, use Social Media tools - in particular podcasts and blogs to get closer to their customers and to use them to generate business.
Universities are starting to use Twitter as a back channel and feedback mechanism in lectures - like modern conferences, enabling the students to share, in particular whether others are having problems with lecture
BT use wikis and other tools to shar knowledge internally and open up external sites to staff
For other case studies go to our Delicious Bookmarks and search on tag casestudies
* Social Media icon watercolours by MfinleyDesigns.