Getting value from social media

December 2009

Business newspaper with coins on top

The market is ablaze with the latest form of buzzword bingo: social media. Everything and everyone has become social - social CRM, social business, social government. Some of the biggest software vendors from Microsoft to Oracle have a new focus on social software.

Get past all the noise, and you may start asking some of the more challenging questions. How is the social web, and my participation in it, impacting my business? Can I measure the impact? Should I be involved, or is this just a passing trend?

Peel off the shiny packaging and look deeper into what social media really means for you.

At the recent Enterprise 2.0 Conference, MIT professor Andrew McAfee, said, 'I have never come across a word [social] that has more negative connotations to a busy pragmatic manager.' McAfee, who coined the term Enterprise 2.0, finished his keynote presentation with an illustration of social as two dirty hippies hugging at Woodstock.

I couldn’t agree more. The term 'social' is a poor descriptor, and inadequate to describe the underlying value of what’s really happening. 

Collaboration is a much more accurate definition for the objective of most organisations: collaborating with customers, prospects, partners, employees, and colleagues. Social media tends to be a type of activity, but collaboration is an activity with a purpose.

Dell is a well-known success story of an organisation that has maximized the value of social media. Dell’s very specific business purpose? Increase sales revenue and decrease support costs. What makes Dell successful in its foray into social media is a clear strategy with measurable objectives.

While Dell views Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube as new communication channels, the team at Dell runs its own collaborative community (on Telligent’s platform) for blogs, forums, profiles, groups and more. Using these tools, Dell can lower support costs by leveraging peer-to-peer communication. Often, the best answers in Dell’s communities come from Dell customers.

EA uses collaboration platforms to enable publishing and viewing videos. Gamers can record short video clips from games like EA Skate and publish them to the community to share. While the benefit to the gamer might be bragging rights, the benefit to EA is free advertising. Customers become advocates and evangelists for the game; new customers are introduced to EA products through word-of-mouth social sharing. This translates into bottom-line revenue growth from net-new sales.

So other than research what other companies are doing well with their investments into social media and collaboration, what can you do to achieve success?

Develop a clear strategy. First and foremost, that strategy should articulate a plan for what goals will be accomplished.

Find a platform to enable your strategy. You can start out simply by using a free service like Twitter, and graduate to an enterprise collaboration platform when you are ready.

Measure the results. This is the most important step, and one that is too often simply ignored. If the strategy is clearly defined, then there should also be measurable objectives.

Is there business value in social media? Yes, there is. But to extract that value you need a clear strategy, a platform to enable the strategy, and the tools to measure and analyse the results.

You are in business to make money, serve customers, and out-maneuver the competition. Don't jump in blindly. Clearly define your objectives and identify your sources. Then listen, engage and measure.

Rob Howard is the founder and Chief Technology Officer at Telligent, a global enterprise collaboration and community software company.

Comments (9)

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  • 1
    Kenji Katsuragi wrote on 8th Dec 2009

    I see that Dell is a well-known success story of an organisation that has maximized the value of social media. While Dell views Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube as new communication channels,

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  • 2
    Mark Kobayashi-Hillary wrote on 16th Dec 2009

    This is a topic that needs serious coverage by the BCS, but this story reads like advertorial for Telligent. Did they pay to have this placed here?

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  • 3
    Lee Bryant wrote on 16th Dec 2009

    I think the problem is not with the term social, which is simply a descriptor of the methods by which new networked tools get the job done, not as you say the 'value' or their purpose, but rather with an outdated view of how business gets done. You suggest collaboration as a better term, but this encompasses only one aspect of the business value provided by this field.

    See my comment on Andrew McAfee's article here:

    I do, however, think the term social media is meaningless, since all media by definition are social. Plus, it has become a term adopted by old style marketeers who are hitching a lift on what they see as a bigger bandwagon.

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  • 4
    Stuart G Hall wrote on 16th Dec 2009

    What caught my eye in what Ron Howard has written is the importance of measuring 'social media' to help prove ROI. Of course Telligent has an advantage here with analytics which captures qualitative data. This for me is where the action is!

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  • 5
    Steve Marshall wrote on 16th Dec 2009

    I agree with Mark. This subject needs more airing in the BCS. Businesses may not be using it yet, but they will.
    Collaboration is only one aspect of social networking. That is doing business, whereas the greatest potential of these opportunities is in the underlying marketing created by the presence of people, brand names and products.
    I also think that the BCS should reject articles such as this that amount to blatant adverts. They detract from the brand the BCS is trying so hard to build.

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  • 6
    Hank Marquis wrote on 16th Dec 2009

    Invoking the image of "hippies hugging" represents a condescending and shallow understanding of what is driving social media and from where it comes. Regardless of the term, as a movement social media is a shift toward a prosumer model (Google "prosumer" if you are unaware of the term.) Social concepts are not new, Tofler predicted it in 1990 (coined the term prosumer) and the Cluetrain Manifesto was published in 1999 (read it here

    Social media is a wave that has been building for over 20 years. It changes the fundamental relationship between producers and consumers. It impacts sales, support, logistics, marketing, research and development (most of the accepted primary business value chain elements.) This is a critical topic that demands deeper understanding. Social media is as pivotal to business success as was mass production, computing and the web.

    BCS members would do well to really investigate this topic and understand its impact on his or her business -- you are be assured that our non-IT counterparts are doing just that right now.

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  • 7
    Simon Evans wrote on 16th Dec 2009

    This article is shallow in concept and blatant advertising for the author's company. The recommendations are motherhood and apple pie. A professional audience deserves better. I had planned to forward this issue to someone I am trying to persuade to join the BCS as an example of the sort of thing his company (starting to make a name for itself with social media) could benefit from. But I do not want to insult his intelligence.

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  • 8
    BCS Web Editor wrote on 16th Dec 2009

    Thanks all for your constructive comments. The editors have now overhauled this article to remove any advertising or self-promotion. We hope you'll find it more satisfactory.

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  • 9
    Anthony Burke wrote on 16th Dec 2009

    Social Media or Web 2.0 networking sites (call them what you wish) is definitely promoting a lot of "buzz" and for this reason we technologists and professionals need to keep an eye on it and participate in the debate and strategise for it. With the sort of explosion of numbers on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Digg etc (it is a long list). I think the biggest impact is the move away from traditional "push" marketing to "pull" marketing and all those implications. When was the last time that you were considering spending £1000 on something that you jumped on a plane, went to a trade show or looked in Yellow Pages? Hopefully, you did a search on google or asked a friend and they emailed you a URL as a response. I think that is where the power of social media networking sites lie....what do you think?

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