Social Media and Business Performance (Jim Karrh on Marketing)

The best performance of the Super Bowl might not have been Eli Manning's. Many of the companies advertising during the Super Bowl proved themselves adept at using social media to extend their ad messages, build their customer communities and generally add value beyond the $3.5 million spent for 30 seconds of the world's time.

In fact, we see that executives in organizations large and small are running up the maturity curve to gain more from the opportunities afforded by social media. The goals executives seek these days are less about "joining the conversation" and more about "engaging with customers" and especially "using social media to improve my business performance."

How can social media help move the right needles for you? If you sell stuff online then certainly you can drive a strictly financial ROI. But even that formula might understate the practical returns available from social media research and investment, including:

  • More traffic to your website.
  • Higher customer satisfaction scores. Social media are now an important component of the overall experience that your customers have with you (or expect from you).
  • More efficient call-center performance. Many companies are using social media to keep some less-relevant conversations away from the call center, so that people and their time are better deployed.
  • Better face-to-face customer interactions. Hospitals, clinics and physician groups are able to engage their patients through social media, meaning that patients show up for appointments at higher rates, ask better questions and often report better outcomes.
  • A healthier sales pipeline. Many B2B companies are using social media to position themselves as experts, problem solvers and thought leaders, which in turn feeds better lead generation.
  • More effective research and development. This includes the ability to both generate and evaluate more ideas for new products, features and designs among consumers who are already engaged with what you do.

The R&D benefit is one that nearly any company can leverage. In their book "No BS Social Media" (actually, the "BS" part is completely spelled out but I won't repeat it here), Jason Falls and Erik Deckers point out the example of Fiskars Corp., the scissors maker. Fiskars built a worldwide community of 8,000 users - "Fiskateers" who are passionate about crafting - that they now draw upon for ideas, testing of prototypes and overall brand evangelizing. The Fiskateers are powered by social media (now including multiple Facebook locations and nearly 2,000 followers on Twitter) and serve as an important competitive advantage for Fiskars. I mean, we're talking scissors here, a lower-priced, commoditized product. If a Finnish scissors brand can engage its customers via social media for better business performance, isn't there an opportunity for your organization?

To take advantage of opportunities, your team will naturally face tough decisions, including those around design, management and measurement. The landscape is cluttered with experts, gurus, solution providers and research firms.

In one camp are established research companies (e.g., Edison Research, Forrester, Gartner) who do solid scientific research, including studies on the uses of social media and looming trends. You can frequently find free research summaries or white papers that clarify the 30,000-foot view of social media.

Other companies compile data and position it as research (in the form of an infographic, or a user study from their customer base) that the sponsor can use for marketing purposes. There is a lot of this content available online. While this content can be thought provoking, remember that these data sets are packaged to benefit the sponsor (e.g., to help them with their SEO strategies) and probably don't apply well to your business. None of these gurus is considering your social-media starting point, staff resources, goals or competition.

The good news is that if you can identify your key drivers for near-term business improvement, then it's very likely you can employ social media to accelerate the process.

Jim Karrh is the founder of Karrh & Associates and director of MarketSearch, both of Little Rock. Email him at JimKarrh@AOL.com.