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Social media: a heterogeneous market with mixed messages

This article appears in the issue June 2016 [Volume 25, Issue 6]
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The use of social media has become pervasive. According to the Pew Research Center, 90 percent of young adults use social media. Even for those older than 65, social media usage has tripled from 11 percent to more than one-third. On average, users of social media have accounts with five different channels. Therefore, companies that ignore the social media channels either in their marketing or their customer support functions do so at their own risk.

On the other hand, most companies are hard pressed to quantify the benefits. About half of B2B marketers are not sure if their social channels are having an impact even on something as basic as revenue. “Likes” and “shares” are the most common metric, but they are not well linked to business outcomes.

Although the impact on any given company is elusive, in aggregate the data is more compelling. For example, a study by Deloitte showed that consumers who use social media as part of their shopping process are much more likely to make a purchase the same day and also to outspend those who do not.

More than 90 percent of small business owners use social media marketing and believe it is important for their business, and the percent of digital marketing budgets dedicated to social media marketing is on the upswing. Despite the ambiguous outcomes resulting from social media marketing, it is here to stay and organizations are working to make it effective.

Engaging enthusiasts

Titleist was founded in the 1930s to make top-quality golf balls and has since expanded to produce golf clubs and other gear. To improve engagement among golfers and brand fans, Titleist began using Sprout Social, a social media management platform. Titleist wanted to target a specific audience and build relationships between them and its brand. By monitoring discussions with golfers, Titleist could participate in those interactions and provide useful content to customers and golf fans. In addition, the company wanted to foster awareness about Team Titleist, a community of golf players and enthusiasts.

Sprout Social monitors social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. “The three pillars of the product are engagement, publishing and analytics,” says Patrick Cuttica, product marketing manager at Sprout Social. Tools in the suite allow teams to plan and publish social content, respond to incoming messages and run reports that analyze their performance. A marketing calendar ensures that messages from different profiles are coordinated across various networks. The software also aggregates incoming Tweets and other social messages and routes them for a response. “It listens not only for references to the brand but also for keywords that the customer selects,” Cuttica says.

The core intent of Sprout Social is to improve marketing and build stronger customer relationships. “If companies are using social media only as a marketing tool,” Cuttica adds, “they are missing an important part of the equation—social is a channel that is bi-directional and can communicate one-to-one or one-to-many.” Sprout Social can also be used as a centralized solution by advertising agencies to keep track of their client interactions.

The analytics component of Sprout Social lets the company know how efficiently the team is responding and whether the required tasks are being completed. After implementing Sprout Social, Titleist’s interactions with customers increased 78 percent. The social analytics capabilities allowed Titleist to deliver the most appropriate content, and having a data-driven strategy took the guesswork out of the process.

“At a certain point, managing social media manually across multiple channels is too labor-intensive,” Cuttica says. “With a centralized platform like Sprout Social, companies can be more efficient and effective in managing their social relationships. This helps companies like Titleist save time and collaborate seamlessly across departments including marketing, sales and support, all of whom should have a seat at the table with regard to social media.”

Will the promise be fulfilled?

Even more than social media for marketing and customer support, the use of so-called enterprise social for internal use has struggled to find a role. The vision of having employees more connected with each other and promoting knowledge sharing often conflicted with the straightforward need to complete work tasks. “Senior leadership was puzzling over how to implement a corporate version of Facebook and wondering why it was needed,” says Carol Rozwell, VP and distinguished analyst at Gartner. In fact, Gartner has shifted away from the terminology of “social business” and now refers to the “digital workplace” as the business strategy designed to increase employee effectiveness and engagement.

Companies that want to make forays into a social enterprise often lack a clear sense of purpose and think that picking the right tool is the answer. “We frequently get calls from companies that say they want to choose between two software solutions,” Rozwell says, “but they have not thought through what they are trying to accomplish.” In addition, they have not considered and planned for the organizational change that is an essential part of the process. “We have seldom seen a deployment achieve the intended business outcomes if change is not addressed,” Rozwell adds.

A stated purpose, for example, would be to improve sales effectiveness by reducing the time required for a new salesperson to close the first deal, by facilitating ways of interacting with more experienced salespeople who can answer questions. Another would be to reduce employee attrition by helping new employees develop social connections with people in their company and sustain relationships with their peer group. “In one case, a company hired a large group of new graduates and trained them together at headquarters,” Rozwell explains, “but there was no process for providing them with a way to continue their relationships after they were sent to their permanent locations across the country. Once a way was provided to do this, retention was substantially increased.”

Fostering internal connection

Although numerous reports point to the likelihood that a high percent of internal applications involving social channels will not achieve the hoped-for effects, it is possible to implement them successfully when the focus is kept on work-related tasks. Houlihan’s chain of restaurants perceived a need for greater connections among its employees and planned well for the change. Houlihan’s is a fairly complex mix of franchises, company-owned restaurants and several chains in addition to the flagship brand. A support center and regional operations offices also are housed in geographically dispersed locations.

The company identified a need for improved internal communications that stemmed from several sources. At the time, only a rudimentary intranet was available, which provided a list of news items but had no capability to present images or videos. Only some employees had individual e-mail addresses. Store managers did not have a systematic way of communicating with each other or sharing news with employees, and no centralized method was available to communicate marketing messages internally, such as those about seasonal menus. Reference material was difficult to find because of poor search capability.

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