Previously posted on http://srikantsharma.com
As enterprises are racing to adopt social media, it is becoming increasingly apparent that there are some areas where Web 2.0 technologies are having a more dramatic impact than others. Over the recent weeks, I have been actively engaging with friends, customers, partners and industry experts to understand and discuss where businesses appear to be seeing the greatest traction with regards to their social media initiatives - and I thought I'd share my findings.
- Collaboration inside the organization: This is the use case that has the largest footprint - and is currently the most prevalent use of social media in the enterprise. The widespread deployment of this solution is likely because intranets and knowledge management systems were key IT initiatives over the past 10 years as companies started to drive internal organizational efficiencies, and as a result, expanding these wins further by employing social media technologies was certainly the least expensive and lowest risk approach for organizations starting to make forays into enterprise social media realm. While it is the low-hanging fruit, and certainly offers indisputable advantages to the enterprise, this is also the use case that is most difficult to measure in terms of value, ROI, or tracking results.
- Brand management, development and tracking: A quick aside - "Brand" is a highly misunderstood term even by marketers. It is not a company's logo, signage, taglines etc. Nor is it what the enterprise wants to project about itself. The brand of an enterprise is what people (customers, employees, media, etc.) believe about the company - and the values, image and attributes that they, as a collective, confer upon the enterprise. While I can't get into a more detailed discussion of "brand", I felt a clarification on brand was critical to this discussion on social media. Tracking, managing and developing one's brand is perhaps the most obvious and valuable use cases for social media for the enterprise. "Listening campaigns" that follow the "chatter" about the company in social networking forums such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, Yahoo, etc. are very important in understanding what the real brand perception is. This in turn enables the enterprise to address issues, and manage, control and steer its brand. For this reason alone, this area is going to be one of the most popular and critical areas where companies will invest in social media initiatives.
- Demand Generation 2.0: Given the economic headwinds, and the overall recessionary climate, deploying a successful demand generation campaign via social media has enormous benefits. Besides the obvious potential for driving incremental revenue, a demand gen campaign will result in increased net market-share (at the expense of competitors), an automatic positive impact on the corporate brand, and greater traction with core constituencies such as customers, key employees, partners and the media. Also, the natural outcome of a successful demand gen campaign would be an increased propensity to fund and extend the enterprise social media initiative to other solution areas that may be less easy to measure. Companies such as Zappos.com, Dell, and Amazon, to name just a few, are shining examples of how to social media-based demand gen can be a phenomenally profitable initiative. This particular solution area is the new frontier in enterprise social media - but I expect this area will get a lot of interest and focus as businesses grapple with economic challenges, and seek more innovative ways to counter that downturn.
- Projecting thought leadership and domain expertise: Closely related to the earlier discussion on brand development, the use of We 2.0 tools such as blogging, micro-blogging (Twitter, Yammer etc.) and rich-media and wikis (audio and video podcasting, interactive web sessions, etc), moderated community forums etc. enables the enterprise to educate its audiences in the areas of its expertise. This ultimately serves to establish the organization as a domain- and subject-matter expert, and thought-leader in the market, resulting in downstream benefits such as driving demand.
- Improved Service Level: A more tactical use of Web 2.0 technologies is their use in offering a more timely, richer and more complete service level to customers, partners, suppliers, vendors, employees, etc. Examples of such initiatives include sophisticated sales agents, automated technical support, employee self-service etc.
While the use cases above are the most widespread and popular deployments of social media in the enterprise context, there are numerous variations and specialized instances of how they are used by business. I always find it of great value to start with the basic understanding that social media is ultimately nothing more than a highly sophisticated and effective manner for people to exchange ideas, information and content - and given that foundation, one can conceive of addressing and improving almost any challenge that involves interaction among people.