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Social engagement opportunities about more than selling

In this book excerpt, thought leader and author David Giannetto discusses ways companies can cost-effectively identify and gain customers.

You've made the sale, but how do you turn a onetime purchase into a long-term relationship? This excerpt from the...

book Big Social Mobile: How Digital Initatives Can Reshape the Enterprise and Drive Business Results by David Giannetto shows how companies' social media interactions can do much more than simply foster community growth. Giannetto is a thought leader on business intelligence, enterprise performance management and enterprise-level technology initatives. In this excerpt, he emphasizes the need for companies to think big-picture when it comes to social media and not stop interacting with customers simply because they've bought something.

Thinking outside the social media box

Big Social Mobile enterprises use digital initiatives to reduce the cost of customer acquisition. Traditional methods relied on mass advertising and the physical location of facilities and assets to reach consumers, and lacked the precision necessary to distinguish which consumers could most easily be converted into actual customers. That precision was left to salespeople. When combined, this effort represented a significant percentage of a company's overall expense.

A presence on social media, on the other hand, costs even less to create than a professional website, while professional-looking and functioning mobile apps can be created by wizard-type functionality that never requires interaction with a real person. Posting content via any social media platform is free, aside from the salary of the posting employee. Given time, and even the most basic, segregated approach, any company can build an online, social community.

Big Social Mobile enterprises, though, can do a lot more than simply foster community growth. While integrated enterprises see even this fledgling effort as valuable, they also possess a  larger vision for that community and see it as made up of consumers who could be sold to, current customers who could be upsold, influential people who can promote their brand and people with whom they can solicit feedback to help their company improve and grow.

Customers are likely to stay with a company that delivers truly valuable content.

Integrated enterprises also mine their communities for information --derived from big data -- on what will most successfully draw new people into this community, increase their engagement and influence them to behave in ways that benefit their organization. Because of the continuous and seamless flow of information between consumers and all organizational functions, these companies can increase engagement in ways that go beyond the typical social media definition -- they can help create meaningful relationships between consumers and Sales and Operations.

Big Social Mobile enterprises have a constant feedback loop that uses their social communities to test new approaches, survey responses, solicit specific feedback on improvement and distribute this information throughout their organization, thereby improving their approach. This works to grow their community, launch effective marketing campaigns, successfully introduce new products and services and improve their internal operations. Through digital initiatives, they can leverage their most passionate and supportive consumers to help them better understand and approach the market at a relatively low cost, especially when compared to the blunt-pencil approach of traditional mass media marketing and sales.

Providing meaningful content

The superior content an integrated approach provides also facilitates effectiverelationships with customers. Consumers want more than just the marketing content of a company reformatted and delivered via social media (what has become the norm) -- they want more meaningful insight into how the product or service works, how it adds value to their life, and how they can get it for the lowest cost possible. They also expect the person with whom they interact via social or mobile platforms to be more than a talking head -- a key distinction between a segregated and an integrated approach. When organizations provide their social communities with value-based content created or delivered by the right people, communities grow, engagement deepens, propensity to purchase improves and loyalty increases.

A segregated company never realizes these benefits. Their social media expert posts marketing content intended to convince consumers to buy. He or she might also post general industry information, holiday messages and general company information. But once a consumer purchases a product, the marketing content has achieved its purpose and the content has lost its value. Put another way, of what value to the consumer is any ongoing connection to the company through social or mobile technology if its only intent is to sell them? Maintaining the social connection is not creating any additional value. If the customer has a problem, he or she is lucky if the social analyst within a segregated organization directs them to customer service or Web content that could solve their problem -- actions social consumers could easily take on their own. Contrast this with a social media feed that goes into deeper detail on new, creative uses for the product a consumer purchased. This is expert-created content that people typically don't have access to, and making it available gives consumers a reason to remain attached to the brand.

The value of engagement

The benefit for Big Social Mobile enterprises is that they're measuring success not by the limited measures of followers, users, engagement or data collected but rather by the more meaningful metrics of opportunities generated, consumers converted to customers revenue, expense reduction or customer lifetime value. Valuable content creates these beneficial effects within the social community; meaningless content does not. Consider, too, that customers are likely to stay with a company that delivers truly valuable content. When people need to replace or upgrade the product they purchased, they are unlikely to switch and forsake rich content unless there is a significant price difference. Valuable content is "sticky." It increases customer retention and customer lifetime value -- it delivers hard returns.

Search engines have made this benefit even more essential. They have become more sophisticated in their measurements, assessing the value of the content being delivered, not just the amount. Today, search engines have evolved to a point where companies must be conscious of the content they deliver via the Web; self-serving marketing content can actually hurt their ranking in search engines.

This was last published in January 2015

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How does your company keep customers engaged through social media?
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It's all about analytics - knowing what our audience is most interested in and making it readily available via the channels users most frequently access. And always being available to respond to those users who do engage. 
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At a previous company where we created and sold software as a retailproduct, our social media campaigns started as email newsletters and progressed into LinkedIn and Facebook postings. They were created cooperatively by our sales and support teams. The support team provided input into our most common questions, sales gave input into the features most commonly requested by prospects, and we'd put together information that addressed both concerns so that new prospects could see their potential success and existing users could maximize the benefit of the software they already had.
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Great points here, David. I agree that companies need to look at their social presences as active channels to bring potential customers in, not simply as good places for to be. Before starting on a social media initiative, then, it's key to know what you ultimately want out of it. In some cases it may start with customer service or branding, but usually the end goal is going to be increased or sustained business.
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