By Clara Shih
Social media has come a long way. When my co-founder Steve and I originally pitched Hearsay Social to venture capital firms in Silicon Valley in 2009, many passed because they thought Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn were passing fads headed for the same fate as MySpace and Friendster. Today, 77% of Fortune 500 organizations now have an official social team and presence, according to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. No doubt there has been incredible business uptake of social media over the last few years.
But what if these social media projects were only scratching the surface of social media’s business value?
To tap into social business’ greater value, it will take more than launching a few corporate accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (represented by the 42% above). The coming years will see more large and small businesses shifting social media from just the corporate level or just the division level to both the corporate and division level (represented by 22% in this Altimeter chart).
We’re headed to something greater, but to understand that requires perspective on where we are today. The first wave of social business was all about employee collaboration, giving rise to products like Yammer, Jive, and Salesforce Chatter. Then came the next wave, external social business, rooted in customer service, corporate marketing, and communications. Many companies are still working through this stage by managing all social media at the corporate level.
In 2013, there was already executive commitment and discussion around turning internal social media projects into strategic imperatives owned by lines of business. Instead of discouraging employees from social media or making it optional, companies are making social business mandatory and part of the “standard issue” of communication just as email accounts became standard issue a decade ago.
In 2014, more and more companies will usher in the third wave of social business by empowering everyone across the organization to participate. While corporate marketing teams continue to use Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for brand awareness, sales teams and other customer-facing roles will increasingly tap into social networks for ways to authentically reach and engage their customers and prospects, build their credibility as a trusted advisor through value-added content, and provide higher levels of service – all to ultimately increase business and deepen relationships. Even for employees in non-customer facing roles, the expectation will be that they represent the company whenever online to amplify and reinforce the corporate brand and its value to customers.
To make it all work, we will also see companies operationalizing social business by (1) enabling and training employees to effectively use social media for business, (2) creating social business programs and guidelines, and (3) applying key business metrics to turn grand visions of social media into real business process and ROI.
In summary, the third wave of social business will move from enabling the few (i.e., the few marketers who manage corporate social media accounts) to mobilizing the many (i.e., the entire workforce and the “feet on the street”) to authentically engage at a personal and local level. After all, people buy from people, not companies. People trust individuals, not corporations. It’s the way business has always been done, but now social business complements traditional methods and allows for companies and their employees to manage and measure this engagement at scale.
Authenticity has become a prerequisite to doing business in this new era, and empowering employees to use social media for business will be the number one way companies stay relevant and top of mind.
As the pace of technological innovation continues to accelerate and the use of social media expands, 2014 is sure to be even more disruptive than years past, with social media weaving through all aspects of business. This is the endgame of social business.