With information moving faster than ever, businesses have to keep up. Among users, the gap between who's online and who's not is shrinking. At work, as in private life, information workers are turning to wireless environments of laptops, smartphones and tablets wherever they happen to be.
As mobility has blurred the borders of the workplace, tools of social media practice have blurred the borders of interaction. If your business is not part of the wave yet, you probably sense already that a cultural shift has arrived.
The dialogue never stops in today's online world, where Facebook, Twitter and blogspot are among preferred platforms of expression for customers or employees to sing praise, air grievances or just maintain presence. Social media already reinforces relationships within the organization and strengthens bonds among peers, colleagues and customers. If you are not monitoring this channel, you are ignoring something as real (and potentially much bigger) than a favorable newspaper clipping or a protest outside your office.
The platforms exist for all to use. Small and midsized businesses without dedicated marketing for online brand identities can level the playing field in social forums that promote the voices of all. Very large companies are also institutionalizing social media. Notable among these is IBM, which has dedicated time for employees to engage in huge internal forums, even though IBM does not pursue social tools as products. Rawn Shaw, an IBM social business transformation, says it's simply because employees have always sought to interact, find and share information, and in a broader pursuit, responses might come from anywhere.
Anyone can use Twitter to curate lists to stay abreast of their industry's leading voices, news and trends. LinkedIn professional networking is frequented by intra-industry CIOs to ask questions and share best practices in an instant. Where businesses saw Facebook as a time off the job activity for employees, companies now see an opportunity to communicate with customers and brand "fans."
The Next Step
Many of us think we have things under control since we've started a Twitter account and a company Facebook page alongside our traditional customer service avenues. Getting the business into social media is a good beginning. But it's just the start. Over time, the social enterprise will equip new employees differently and adjust hiring, internal policies and overall culture. Expect social media to influence customer/public-facing touch points and who is likely to interact with customers.
For those still trying to get started, connect with employees using social media networks and push for policy to give them status on behalf of the organization. Think of it like any other project: we earn executive support, promote communication, train and give power to stakeholders to get the team invested. Engage fragmented departments with common (and vested) interests and people will begin to collaborate online and build a digital reputation inside and outside the company.
When you face a challenge that calls for thinking ahead, consider engaging social media to organize current and potential future states. Look to the groups that deliver material company success and those who benefit from them.
Try to sense demand as you listen to employees and customers. Distribute your observations online (via blogs, events, and developing community), engage socially at real-life events and share your notes with peers who have the same goals or interests.
Employees, "friends," "fans," or "followers" and other connections will tell you what they want to see, hear, give and take from your social media channels if you give them a chance. Take a reverse role and offer the same kind of information in return. That adds up to collaboration and a compelling reason to engage at many levels for any purpose.
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