Everyone has an opinion when it comes to social media and its business application, which at first was perhaps not that obvious. Having pushed passed the ‘fad’ phase, social media tools are connecting businesses and customers like never before. This enablement has allowed businesses to reach their audience, and potential audience, to gain insight which is set to change the way we approach the market forever. Where does the Channel fit in? David Dungay logged on to see how the Channel has embraced this new way of working.
Before we get started let’s address one burning question you might have. Why is ‘The Role of Social Media’ sitting in the mobile section of Comms Biz?! Social Media tools are now accessed through mobile devices more than any other access point. In fact, Mark Zuckerberg said recently that if he had invented Facebook now he wouldn’t have even bothered with the website version, he would have just made the mobile app. As smartphones gain further traction, particularly in developing economies, this trend will only accelerate. Hence Social Media is fast becoming intrinsically linked to the mobile device.
On the proliferation of social media and its application Claire Macland from Avaya agrees “One of the main catalysts for social media expansion has been the proliferation of sophisticated mobile devices. When you hold a smartphone or tablet in your hand, it’s far too quick and easy to check your tweets, scroll through your Facebook, and comment on LinkedIn. Information is available at the touch of a screen or click of a key wherever you are. This reinforces the principle of active collaboration; consumers are proactively looking for ways to communicate with others and to engage with brands. And those brands have to be ready not only to react, but to interact in the way that keeps customers happy and drives competitive advantage for the organisation.”
Linda Patterson, marketing director, Avnet Technology Solutions said “The channel by its very nature is a network of like-minded organisations and social media provides another communication tool to reach interested parties quickly and effectively. Using the right software tools social media is a great way to generate awareness, build credibility, impart information and get ahead of the game in a cost effective and speedy way.”
Pete Tomlinson, Director of Sales and Marketing, Eclipse Internet added “With 70% of a customer’s buying cycle now completed online, before they even pick up the phone to speak with a potential supplier, and recommendations being trusted more than twice as much as anything your sales team will ever say, you can’t ignore the importance of connecting with customers online and increasingly how customers are choosing to connect using social media.”
As consumers we are familiar with the feedback system we give companies when we buy products and services. Some of you may even buy products solely on the feedback and comments left by others.
Richard Eglon, Marketing Director Comms-care commented “If customers are happy with the service they receive, many of them will resort to communicating their satisfaction online such as via a tweet. This not only helps to spread the gospel about a company but it also gives the channel and its partners a great opportunity to directly engage online with the customer by responding to the positive feedback. This type of communication is personal and makes customers feel unique and valued – which always helps to boost loyalty, consumer confidence and build long term relationships.”
Eglon continued “Social media is also a great checks and balances system – as it not only is used to praise but also to expose failings in customer service too. If a job isn’t done well or not to the standard expected, many will turn to social media to vent their frustrations. For example; a negative tweet can have a terrible impact on a brand – especially if the person who tweeted the comment has thousands of followers. If the channel partners business is impacted as a result, then so will the relationship it has with their supplier that delivered it.”
Lawrence Jones, CEO of UKFast, says “The next generation of business leaders and decision makers are already using social media on a daily basis so it is vital that our channel partners understand it and use it effectively in order to stay ahead of their competition.
Social media gives customers (both consumer and business customers) the ability to have their say and, whether this is positive or negative, businesses need to be aware of it so that they can manage their reputation effectively and contribute to the conversation that social media facilitates. Just because you couldn’t hear what people were saying about you before, doesn’t mean they weren’t saying it. With social media, you have the chance to add value to the conversation.”
Macland States “You’d be pushed to find an organisation today that isn’t either sold on, or warming up to, the concept of social media as an ideal way to boost brand awareness and improve customer service. But while many companies are sold on the idea, they also recognise the importance of getting their social media outreach strategy just right in order to make the most of the huge opportunities it presents. As a result, our customers are increasingly coming to us and our partners asking for help in developing strategies that will help them to capitalise on the power that new technologies have to transform the customer experience and foster stronger relationships with their customer base in the digital space.
We see social media as another conversation starter for our partners. In most organisations, social media is seen as an extension of the marketing and communications function, for example. And while creating a new Facebook promotion or advertising via Twitter can do wonders to push your message out there, savvy companies are looking at how they can extend the opportunity that social media presents to other parts of the business. Social media is blurring the boundaries between sales, marketing, customer service and other corporate departments and many organisations could be better prepared for this when they first launch their social media programme.”
Tom Maxwell from Nimans said “Social media is a very effective way to engage with customers, find out more about their activities and also communicate your own messages. I think LinkedIn has emerged as the biggest and most popular tool for this.
We use it to follow groups to establish new contacts and networking opportunities. It’s fundamental. When I’m speaking to and meeting customers many of them tell me they are also using LinkedIn to prospect and get new clients. Recruitment is another big factor with individuals and agencies contacting us and recommending high calibre candidates.
It’s the biggest networking tool out there and I’m certainly encouraging my team to follow all their customers as it further strengthens what are already very close working relationships.”
Tom Maxwell goes on to talk about how our reseller community should be getting involved, “From a reseller’s perspective they need to be aware of the type of technology they can be deploying to their own customers, but equally they can use social media to generate many more business enquiries for themselves.
“For example we’ve just completed a co-ordinated marketing campaign with a reseller to help them clinch more wireless headset sales. This spanned direct mail, e-mail and also Twitter. All three mediums performed well and generated some impressive results. Social media can help maximise campaigns and develop awareness on a scale never previously available. It’s intuitive and instant.”
Linda Patterson explains “Being able to syndicate and disseminate supplier information while adding a personal touch gives business partners a way to keep ahead of the competition. Being able to demonstrate an understanding of the latest trends and technology sets a reseller apart from the rest. Any technique to make this possible with minimum investment needs to be embraced by the channel. We found that Avnet business partners who had made a start with social media had thousands of followers and were looking for ways to maximise those connections to influence purchasing decisions and generate incremental business. In addition to taking the time to write their own blogs to add value and demonstrate knowledge, using readily available content from vendors relieves pressure while keeping up momentum and influencing buying decisions.”
Swings and Roundabouts
Tomlinson commented “Being available to speak to customers across different platforms, where it suits them and when they need it, is fundamentally the most important factor, and if social media is another enabler for that conversation, why would you not make it an integral part of your customer communication strategy?
However social media should never be considered a topic in isolation, but rather part of an on-going conversation with existing or potential customers. Thought provoking content, Online reviews, feedback and experience are all key factors in how people now buy goods and services.”
Tomlinson continued “This real time and very public communication can be a double edged sword. From the customer angle, response is guaranteed very quickly, as no business wants an unanswered query or comment floating around on their social media channels as this could deter potential new customers. On the flip side, glowing reviews and positive feedback can be what really makes a business stand out from the crowd. In this very public world, you’ve got to back yourself and be good at what you do – which of course you are, aren’t you?”
Trefor Davies, CEO at Timico commented “The channel is certainly using social media to engage more with Timico. We see this as being very successful although we don’t necessarily see how our channel partners use social media to engage with their own end customers.”
Eglon added “Ignoring social media is detrimental to businesses within the channel and ultimately to the customer relationships they have worked hard to build. Therefore, constant engagement is key to keeping customers happy. If a negative comment is made, channel businesses need to act on it, engage with the customer, find out what went wrong and amend it, and communicate that amend as quickly as possible. Remember, at the end of the day, a business will not last long if it develops a bad reputation – especially in social media circles.”
Tref continued “The outcome of all the social media activity is that customers and prospects often talk about having read something on Twitter/trefor.net/etc to our sales channels. It is proving to be a highly effective way of engaging with customers, prospects and people who one day might become prospects.
It isn’t just a fad but it amuses me to see how many people have jumped on the bandwagon as “experts”. I tend to ignore them. If you read the advice of the “gurus” it is all pretty obvious stuff. If you or your business are good communicators then social media is a natural way to extend your communications to your customers. The only thing I’d say is that social media can’t really be delegated. I recall one blog post “written” by the CTO of a well known network operator that was full of technical errors. Clearly it had been delegated to a PR person. Social media needs to be driven from the top of a business.”
Macland added “I would say the impact and influence social media has had over the past few years is irreversible. We cannot go back and you cannot ignore it. Social media will only become more sophisticated and more infectious so we should embrace it and realise the opportunities it presents. One of those opportunities is the chance for our partners to deepen relationships with existing and potential customers. Social media presents an immense opportunity for the channel and, as it evolves, it will continue to open new doors for our partners, and create new ways for them to target customers with solutions tailored to meet their pressing business needs.”
Maxwell said “My advice is don’t ignore social media on any level for yourself or your customers. Embrace it! However I think you will find there’s a difference between sending information out that’s ‘noise’ and sending out information that’s relevant and educational. Don’t talk drivel, make it relevant and interesting. That’s the key.”
Eglon concluded “I think the businesses that have caught on to the power of social media are using it in a lot more sophisticated ways than they did initially. At the beginning they may have jumped on the social media bandwagon without a long term vision of what social media could provide in terms of return on investment. They set up Facebook accounts and Google + circles without asking the question- are these the right social media tools for my business? However, I believe that a lot of companies are becoming a lot savvier and are focused on what social media platforms make a biggest impact on their brands.”
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