Reaching out to the customer

by Khairul Islam

ang01With the popularity of social media, the concept of business and marketing has been changing rapidly across the world. Nowadays, instead of having a small costly outlet in a city shopping center, the traders occupy virtual space for their businesses.
The social media like Facebook and Twitter has opened up a new avenue that facilitates conversation among the companies and consumers, challenging traditional ideas of marketing and brand management. It has created new opportunities for companies to understand customers and remain connected with them directly on one-to-one basis.
Businesses around the world have already started understanding the significance of new business tools. A study found, almost all of the big companies (97 per cent) have their own social media accounts. From a small boutique house to IT center and a social welfare organisation to a political institution all are now leveraging the social media into their regular functions.
However, many companies are not getting expected returns from the important media due to lack of proper understanding of it and inadequate policy support. Majority of the businesses either do not have a social media policy or they have but these are very ambiguous or self- contradictory.
A recent research found that over 46 per cent of internet users look toward social networking sites when they buy products while around 97 per cent marketers have participation in the social media. Hence, there is no way to ignore the importance of using social media in business.
However, the question is, what are the companies and corporations’ attitudes toward social media uses? A number of studies examined that corporate business can achieve trust of clients through their active and strategic engagement in social media. As the platform facilitates suppliers and buyers stay connected, they can easily interact with each other facilitating a tacit trust.
A majority of companies believe, future business expansion mainly will be through social media. Many of these corporations also believe investment on this new media will provide them with tangible benefits as returns.
Realising the importance of interactive media tools, presently the corporate houses are shifting their monopoly one-way advertising to direct one-to-one consumer centric interactive marketing of their products and services, thus creating many opportunities and some challenges as well.
But various studies have revealed that many corporations have poorly designed social media policy in place. In their social media policies, many companies have discouraged their employees’ contribution to the social networks. Besides, many policies are self-contradictory in meaning. As a result, corporations do not get expected benefits from the social media presence.
Engagement in social media platform helps users develop their creativity, open communication and sharing of knowledge among themselves. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and MySpace are examples of some popular social media tools.
Many researchers have identified that businesses are increasingly depending on these platforms. Facebook has over 1.5 billion active worldwide users. And it is not just a phenomenon among the young people: according to Forrester research, a third of adults post at least once a week to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and about 70 per cent of them read blogs and tweets, and watch YouTube.
A review report (2010) by Harvard, revealed that majority of the companies who use new media were still struggling with how to ensure the best uses of the different social networking channels, measuring their effectiveness, and integrate these channels into their business strategies. Many corporations reported that they are still looking for getting the best way to demonstrate the impact of social media and the contribution to their business. Therefore, they do not realise its importance in their regular business.
The report said, “Just 20 per cent companies have a dedicated budget for their social media activities, with marketing controlling that budget in almost half the companies. Around 25 per cent of the users outsource some social media activities to public relations agencies or others while only for a very few (12 per cent) companies have dedicated staffs who work only on social media. Overall, half (49 per cent) has up to one full-time equivalent working on social media.” It found the majority (66%) of the businesses that use social media platforms have no formalised strategy in place.
A company or business with strong social networks can make a magnificent identity capital that will be greatly beneficial.
Now, traders have started to target new customers through social media. Marketers can no longer just rely on mass media channels like television channels, radio, and newspapers to communicate with their consumers. They must adopt social media new strategies, if they wish to be successful in their business.
Besides interactions, social media facilitates collaboration between the organisations and customers. Companies can take help from the communities for their product development. It can happen in one of two ways–either through solicitation of ideas or through implementation processes.
Such company and consumer collaboration could greatly reduce the development process. For instance, in 2007 Dell launched ‘Idea Storm’ through an online-destination website created for the sole purpose of obtaining new product ideas from its customers. Over 10,000 ideas were received from the customers, of which 400 were implemented. Such steps can help increase the level of involvement of customers with the companies.
Businesses need to understand that they share the brand with the consumers who are willing to engage with them through productive online dialogue. Their employees can play very significant roles in this regard and therefore allowing employees to use social networking sites not only helps satisfying their customers, but also helps branding of the products.

The writer is a Graduate Assistant of the College of Media & Communication, Arkansas State University, USA. He can be reached at khairulislamdu@gmail.com.