By Gordon Geldenhuys
It’s your responsibility as a marketer to turn social media into a boardroom issue.
Though there are a few exceptions, South African companies in general are treating social media as little more than a new marketing and communications channel. In most organisations, it is driven mostly by the marketing department and there isn’t much emphasis placed on aligning it with the rest of the business.
But the truth is that social media is a force that is transforming organisations and the way they interact with their stakeholders. It should be driven and supported right from the top level of management as a strategic element of any organisation’s business strategy.
More than just a marketing tool, social media intersects with a range of issues that should be on any board’s list of priorities – governance, risk management, product development, customer service, human resources, and so much more.
By bringing new levels of transparency, immediacy and access to data to business, social media will transform organisations profoundly over the next few years.
Consider for example how it impacts on the way organisations interact with shareholders, customers, employees, the community and a range of other stakeholders. The demand from these stakeholders is for a new level of transparency from companies, along with a real-time flow of information.
Or think about risk management, one of the important issues any company faces in a time where governance and legal compliance is so high on the agenda. Organisations’ service, financial performance, ethics and products are all under constant scrutiny by social media users.
Rumours and complaints about a brand can spread from a single social media post to an audience of hundreds of thousands or even millions in a matter of hours. Given how reputation can impact a company’s sales, share price, and business relationships, it is an issue that should be on the exco agenda.
Corporate governance frameworks such as the King III Code report identify reputational risk as one of the key risks facing a Board, so this ranks as an issue for top management attention.
Savvy organisations should also be using social media to tap into sentiment about their businesses among shareholders, customers and so on. If users are complaining about a product, for example, it could be a warning that call centre volumes or product returns will rise or that sales could drop. That intelligence should be put in the hands of a person who can make a decision about ramping up call centre staffing or recalling a product.
But apart from using social media as a reactive platform, organisations should also be thinking about how to use it to improve corporate performance.
It is, for example, one of the best ways companies can do customer research today.
What if your business could pick up on customer desires and requirements from social chatter, and then develop the products that meet these needs?
Social media can also provide a wealth of competitive intelligence – what do customers like and dislike about competitors’ products and how they perceive their brands – as well as customer insights that can be used in product development.
Organisations that use social media in a strategic and integrated manner stand to reap great rewards. They will be able to offer superior customer service, manage risk and reputation more tightly, gather customer and competitive intelligence, and even use it to recruit and manage staff. But with competing issues dominating the executive agenda – labour, governance and the economy – it is up to marketers to show their boards just how important a role social media has to play in business today.
Source: Gordon Geldenhuys is head of online reputation management at 25AM, formerly Acceleration Media, a strategic digital media consultancy.