In today's world, we often hear the word "cloud" used to mean something drastically different than what our grandparents and ancestors would have understood. For example, we hear of information clouds and technology clouds that store our files, data, thoughts, and even opinions of other things, people, and companies. The advent of modern social media has brought with it a potential opportunity for customers to voice their concerns and opinions and for companies to gain a competitive edge by being the first to hear and respond to those concerns. The question remains, does this "social cloud" really matter for businesses, or is it just a new buzz word?
Incorporating Social MediaThe answer is anything but simple. Social media, as a basic theoretical construct, has been around for an arguably long time. Social media essentially connotes interactions between people, including the creation, sharing, and/or exchange of ideas or information in communities or networks. Thus, the interactions of people at a city event could be classified as one type of social media channel—not just the accompanying Facebook posts or tweets on Twitter. This broad, abstract definition and concept is, perhaps, one reason why so many businesses are struggling to leverage social media to gain a competitive advantage in their respective industries. For purposes of this writing, we will largely define social media in its electronic form of virtual communities and networks via electronic channels (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.). In a study conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, 75% of companies do not know where their most valuable customers were talking about them, and only 7% of companies are able to integrate social media into their marketing activities (Harvard Business School Publishing, 2010). While the majority of companies today are trying to incorporate social media in their marketing efforts (a recent study suggests that 9 out of 10 SMBs use or are planning to use social media [Yeung, 2014]), it is clear that the art and science of effectively utilizing the "social cloud" to attract new customers, satisfy existing customers, and promote a brand has yet to be completely established.
Incorporating social media into marketing strategies will likely continue to grow and even more companies will promise the quick, best-practice, golden path to effectively navigating this "social cloud". However, success with this endeavor and the answer to whether or not this "social cloud" really matters for businesses depends on the given company's strategic vision for leveraging social media. As Avinash Kaushik puts it: "Too many companies have not evolved from what I call 'shout marketing'—think TV, newspapers, magazine ads—to influence by initiating and participating in conversations with consumers" (Harvard Business School Publishing, 2010). Merely "telling" your customers what they should think of your brand or which products they should buy is no longer an option. With new technologies, clouds, and mobile devices, the conversations about a company or a product are no longer tethered to the physical community of human interactions, but are now accessible to virtual networks of people on a massive and international scale. Furthermore, these conversations are happening regardless of a company's ability to locate and hear them. So how exactly can we hear these millions upon millions of conversations, and how do we make those conversations actionable?
Whatever the resource used to enable social media in marketing efforts, the successful company will listen, engage the audience, and influence in a way that matches the customer's needs and expectations. For example, sending a customer an advertisement to purchase a product in response to a complaint is probably not appropriate and suggests the company is not listening, just stalking. Effective companies typically use social media to promote brands and products/services, monitor trends among customers, research new product ideas, collect customer reviews, and advertise (Harvard Business School Publishing, 2010).
In conclusion, successfully navigating the "social cloud" depends on the company's strategic vision for implementation and ability to make virtual conversations actionable. Merely "listening" to your customers is almost as bad as "telling" them what they should think. The critical component involves creating a structured, strategic vision to engage and influence customers where they are already talking about you.
· Harvard Business Review Analytic Services. The New Conversation: Taking Social Media from Talk to Action. 2010
· Wikipedia. Social Media. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_media
· Yeung, Ken. LinkedIn report says small businesses are becoming more astute users of social media for marketing. 2014, http://thenextweb.com/insider/2014/02/13/linkedin-report-says-small-businesses-becoming-astute-users-social-media-marketing/#!wm2Iw
· Links for resources: