Social media & business.

Over the last two years, the Nielsen-Community Engine Social Media Business Benchmarking Study has confirmed the visible rise in Australian organisations that are employing social media in their marketing activity.

The inaugural study conducted in 2010, found that 70 per cent of all Australian businesses intended to conduct some form of social media activity last year, up from just 40 per cent in 2008.  This year, the study has demonstrated that social media programs have began to entrench their place in not only marketing programming, but budgeting. Nielsen said: “One of the major shifts this year was organisations increasing marketing budgets as opposed to last year when they reallocated it from traditional media. This year 44 percent of participating businesses expanded their marketing budgets to fund a social media strategy.”  This marks a significant shift from last year, where organisations were more likely to redeploy funding from traditional marketing budgets to fund social media activity.

However not all research demonstrates such a categorical rise in social media use by Australian businesses. Sensis, in conjunction with the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association (AIMIA), surveyed 803 Australian consumers and 1,944 Australian businesses to understand how they are using social media.  According to their report, released late last month, 14 per cent of small businesses, 25 per cent of medium-sized businesses and 50 per cent of large businesses have a social media presence.

The two reports are in agreement about the use of social media by consumers; us Aussies are the biggest users of social media in the world. (nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) of Australian internet users now have a presence on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn) and it seems that as we become increasingly comfortable about conducting our day to day lives through these channels, we become increasingly frustrated by those organisations that do not come to the party.

Whether we consider the data of Nielsen, Sensis, or somewhere in between, the adoption of social media as a business tool has become less of an ‘if we do’ to a ‘when we do’ in the corridors of corporate Australia.  While these figures create a sense of urgency on one hand, other reports of social media disaster evoke a deathly fear across nearly every boardroom in the land.

With these two equally compelling arguments, how can an organisation embark on their social media journey in a way that marries these two opposing forces?

There has, not surprisingly, been considerable debate around the best way to introduce social media into the organisation.  Fundamentally these involve either a discrete pilot or integrating a broader, more generic organisational presence onto social media channels.

Those who favour the latter approach do so because of the time it takes to build trust and subsequently interaction with your audience. Social programs build momentum slowly, whether through listening and engaging people one-by-one or sharing great content. Activity and engagement grow daily, as does your audience. This happens over time, and time is generally a luxury a pilot program does not have.

This is also, in most corporate environments, too much of a luxury in itself.  Most organisations require a business case, a proof of concept, an achievable return on investment and a manageable level of risk before any new initiative gets the rubber stamp of executive approval.  The story of Twitter and the A380 still rings in the air for many.

So, with this in mind, what is the best way to ensure that the benefits of social media are demonstrated in the tight timeframes of a pilot program?

1. Give your pilot a purpose

Too often, organisations pilot or ‘trial’ social media platforms as an additional communication channel. There is no definition on what specific business issues the pilot is trying to address, which then makes it difficult to define boundaries. As a consequence it is equally as difficult to find focus, adequately resource the project and measure its success.

2. Identify metrics at the beginning of the pilot
Once you have identified the business issue you are trying to resolve, spend some time establishing the current methods that are employed to address the problem. For example if your pilot is focused on “raising awareness amongst 45-55 year old regional Victorians on free flu vaccinations” audit the current channels, spend and effectiveness before you commence the pilot. This will not only help you measure your pilot, but if successful, also provide you with data to help decide which are the most effective channels to employ in the future.

3. Assess risks and plan
Things don’t always go to plan. Ensuring that potential risks are identified during an investigation phase pre-pilot and establishing a high level process around who to engage when things don’t go to plan, alleviates stress, mitigates risk and reduces the chance of escalation. Ellis-Jones’ IDEA Methodology provides a measured, risk managed process for projects.

At Ellis Jones we can help you create an online presence using engagement strategies to take your ideas, products and services online, attracting people and holding them over time. Read more in the Social Media section of our website.