Beyond the Twitter of Social Media Apps

Now that mobile phones have made the entire world "app crazy," there is growing business interest in social media applications beyond Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ because so many of them offer real business value. The same tools that have been used to spread consumer and voter revolts also are being used to solidify brand loyalty, a process that is taking on a more proactive dimension. To a large extent, companies still are taking this vehicle out for a spin as they take advantage of a cultural shift in public attitudes toward personal information-sharing.


Strategy first

Liz Eversoll, CEO, and Karen Hitchcock, vice president of marketing for SLM Technology (aka SoLoMo), said businesses have many choices about the social media communities they participate in. They note that Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google are here to stay in the near term, but many other options will come and go. They believe the first step in going "social, local, and mobile" isn't choosing a specific tool, but creating a strategy that aligns information technology, marketing, and business goals.

Once that's established, you can add the technologies that grow, scale, or manage customer relationships.
One of those technologies, Hitchcock said, can be used to create micro-communities that are more appropriate for vertical markets. Ning, a build-your-own social community site, is a product that can facilitate that, and it can be built on a company website. Hitchcock used the biotech industry to explain its value. "Why would anyone want to follow the goings-on of monoclonal antibodies, or something highly specific?" she explained. "Someone in their vertical might want to follow that, it's just that not all of your friends on Facebook would. So there are these separate communities that are more targeted to your industry."

Bill Simon, director of digital marketing, and Mark Anderson, social media administrator for American Family Insurance, use social media to monitor what is said about their company, and they are in a position to build their own apps. They prefer social media that creates conversations and relationships, with the ultimate goal of connecting people to an insurance agent, based on those conversations, when they need an insurance product. "From a business standpoint, we use a lot of the aggregators such as HootSuite or TweetDeck," Anderson noted. "These kinds of applications use Facebook and Twitter to manage conversations that take place in social space. We also use Social Mention and Alterian to monitor sentiment around our brand.

"We have a good process for listening to all of the references to American Family in one format or another," Simon added. "We thank the people who say good things about us, and we get back to people who don't have good things to say about us.

"A lot of times, we can turn that negative feedback into something positive for the company and brand."
American Family also is building its own social listening tools to manage the conversations about its brand, including a ratings and review application for the Facebook pages of insurance agents. "This will tell an agent what their customers think and say about the level of service provided by their agency," Simon said.

As for what the future holds, Eversoll believes a more socialized version of customer relationship management is about to take off and augment the standard variety. "We've had customer relationship management that is pretty straightforward – manage your contacts," she said. "We sent emails, and we did very straightforward things. Now we have a plethora of ways to contact our customers, and all these touch points are talking about our brand."

In 2012, she said, social CRM could take off because it enables businesses to use these touch points to engage various communities and get a more holistic view of customers and prospects. "We're going to see social CRM being added into traditional CRM systems like," she predicted. "We'll see some upstarts like Nimble and other social CRM applications that are specifically for helping you manage that."

Dana Arnold, director of public relations and social media for Hiebing, is impressed with the level of consumer engagement made possible by business-to-consumer apps like Foursquare, but she predicts more business-to-business apps like SlideShare will be developed to position B-2-B companies as thought leaders. Such applications will help organizations share business best practices content that customers and suppliers want, but the average consumer has no interest in.

"B-to-C is still growing," she noted, "but I hope we get to see some of these B-2-B platforms emerge as well."
Hitchcock believes smart organizations are going to use the convergence of social, local, and mobile technologies in a proactive way. Instead of simply managing things that go wrong or getting customer feedback, they will push out product ideas and get user response on pricing models or actual physical products or services – gaining a competitive advantage in the process.

"What being social really means is strengthening that intimate relationship with your clients and making it a highly personal experience," Hitchcock said. "That's the power of a community because when the customers feel like they have a say in it, they are more likely to be your product evangelists because they have some skin in the game."

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