Here's a little experiment I conducted:
About 6 months ago I put two searches in my Tweetdeck (my tool of choice to follow what is going on in the twitter sphere), one for Web 2.0, the other Social Media. Every 2 minutes I would be notified of how many new references were made to these particular search terms. After about an hour, the average ratio was about 3:1 in favour of Social Media. For every mention of Web 2.0, there would be three mentions of Social Media. Today, I conducted the same experiment, under the same conditions, and the ratio had increased to approx 12:1.
OK, this experiment is not conducted under strict labatory conditions but it does show a trend in how things have evolved, and it is supported by the fact that instead of having conversations with technical gurus about web 2.0, I am now having conversations with executives about Social Media.
But why has there been this sudden upturn towards Social Media?
It's because executives are beginning to take social media seriously, to see it as a game changer in not only advertising but also in customer engagement.
This might be an obvious statement but you would be surprised at just how many businesses feel they are already engaged in Social Media because they have a blog or a YouTube channel (in some cases multiple creating serious disparity in its message). That is like dipping your toe in the water and saying that you have been for a swim. You cannot approach social media in this way (remember the slideshare Social Media in Business: It's just a bunch of tools right?), you have to put in place a long term Social Media strategy. O2's Glen Manoff, director of communications and reputation, is doing exactly this and said in a New Media Age article recently:
"We're pulling our social media activity together into one place and creating a clear strategy and a consistent face to the world."
"There's a lot of crowdsourcing and people helping each other online, but the big role for us is to answer their questions about products. We want to participate more and help where we can."
Other businesses will soon start to follow O2's example, and begin thinking about their customers social activities and how they can engage better with them through Social Media.
But as well as an external social media strategy, you need to go that extra mile and develop an internal one to help engage the right employees and departments in responding to customer issues, questions and potential opportunities. As Mikal Belicove (contributing editor for Entrepreneur) wrote recently on how Starbucks is building meaningful customer engagement through social media:
"The magic of social media is that you can recognize the opportunity quickly. The challenge is in responding just as quickly."
In short you also need to socially connect your employees as well as socially connect with your customers. By socially connecting your employees you are also able to access their tacit knowledge, a commodity many companies forget to utilise (see my early post Social Media is the key for sharing tacit knowledge).
As you have probably seen on the news today, there has been a small upturn in the UK economy (0.3% growth), and businesses are now beginning to come through the recession. However the businesses that will continue to grow are those that have embraced social media and made it part of their long term strategy, externally and internally.
Is your business going the extra Social Media mile?