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June 6, 2016updated 28 Mar 2017 4:13pm

Harnessing social media

By John Oates

Love it or hate it social media is now a central part of our lives. So it needs to be a central part of your business thinking too.

The basic first step which no firm can ignore is to listen.

Find out what is being said about you on social media. Set up systems which will warn you quickly when things start to go wrong. It is too easy for a single customer story to dominate media coverage for days or even weeks.

When this does happen you’ll be left with a long-term problem because the internet takes a long time to forget.

For consumer brands there is no shortage of this sort of information online. The harder part of the equation is turning the data into useful, actionable knowledge and understanding.

The type of unstructured data typically created by Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn requires something more than the simple number crunching of traditional big data projects.

But decent systems can give genuine insight into how customers are dealing with your company. They can provide almost instant feedback on advertising and marketing campaigns and allow on-the-fly changes as such campaigns develop. Don’t think that this only applies to big High Street names. Your brand might not be mentioned as often as Marks and Spencers, but this makes each mention even more important.

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There is no point setting up such a programme unless the rest of the business is ready, willing and able to deal with insight in a timely manner. This means getting the whole business onboard before the project starts.

Social intelligence can benefit all parts of the business, not just sales and marketing.

Decide before you start on the process on how you will measure its success or failure. Getting real numbers on any kind of marketing is notoriously difficult but one of the benefits of social media is that it can provide more transparency of success or failure. Make sure you’re making the most of this transparency.

And this leads us onto the final step – and one which has far more risk for business – responding and interacting on social media.

Traditional marketing messages can be entirely counter productive if simply re-run on social media.

In the old phrase – the media really is the message – something which works on LinkedIn will look and sound awful on Facebook for instance.

Controlling all such interaction through a traditional press or marketing office is missing the point of social media.

Your staff are already using these systems so you need to educate everyone in how to do so to benefit the company. Your staff are already using LinkedIn and listing you as their employer.

So think about how, and why, staff should be using these systems.

Innovative sales teams are using these networks to talk to dozens of individual sales leads. With proper support this can be a major new opportunity for any business.

The way business purchases are being made are quickly moving into line with consumer purchases – and these all have at least some element of social media now even if it is just a feedback score or customer review on a website.

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