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In January, I was asked to give a talk at the Ovum /Butler Group Strategy Briefings at the Royal Institute of Physicians looking at how Sharepoint can meet some of the Enterprise and Web Content management challenges facing many businesses today, and using some of the insights from the Customer Engagement Survey as a basis for the discussion.

2010 seems to have been the year when enterprises seemed to start to seriously experiment with social media; through a variety of means be they targeted advertising campaigns on Facebook, engagement through Twitter, or the first tentative steps into social mobile and location based marketing. Interestingly it also seems to be the year where customers have started to expect these companies to engage with them through these new channels, and this all sounds like great news, or rather it should be.

What we are noticing however is that very often, the customers who buy, and the companies that serve them are still coming at this from different angles: As a customer I have probably experienced social media platforms as increasingly important gateways to my social circle – meaning increased transparency, openness, and individualized experience with the people I know; On the other hand many organisations are still approaching these channels trying to fit a one-way marketing paradigm into these new social environments.

This is a product of the huge change we have seen in the last few years. A transformation from the traditional marketing channels which were generally predictable controllable and measurable to the environment where we find ourselves now, where new engagement channels are appearing and disappearing all the time, each with a new model for interaction (how do you tell a prospect about your products or services in 140 characters!?) Making sense of this isn’t an overnight operation, and one should be very wary of anyone knocking at your door with the suggestion they can revolutionise your business model through social media. However, the fact that you now may well have groups of customers discussing your services, exchanging their experiences, some positively and some perhaps negatively is actually a great opportunity if you approach it with a few simple principles:

Listen first. The most successful engagement strategies of our survey respondents have a social media monitoring element where they are listening across the various channels to hear where the discussions are taking place and understanding the nature of the conversations before their brands engage. Understanding these conversations allow you to identify the patterns of sentiment and the influencers who drive them, and provide the building blocks of a company wide governance model for customer engagement.

Measure. The combinations of channels customers use are now as individual as the customers themselves and one of the most important elements to have in place is the ability to measure their interactions with your message across these channels. Its very difficult to justify spend or feel in any way in control of what’s happening out there unless you are able to identify the value of each touch point. This starts with web analytics and can extend to deeper research questionnaires and individual customer interviews. It’s about the whole organisation. In this environment of individualized experiences for customers, everyone has a part to play. Traditional delineations of front line sales, PR, customer service are likely to blur as each are required to work with people from across the business in answering queries, collaborating on new combinations of products and services, and dealing with customers individually. This takes a combination of understanding how your organization engages now and how you wish to in the future, as well as a robust, flexible and evolving governance model for social media engagement ensuring that key teams know what’s being said out there, and how to contribute to the conversation in an appropriate manner.

Empower people through access to content. If the marketing, innovation and product information is siloed with the departments who create and own it, it is going to be very difficult for any company to be agile enough to respond effectively through these emerging channels. Your content needs to accessible by everyone who is authorized to engage with customers and be able to be rapidly repurposed to the platform they are engaging through. Integration with your social media monitoring and analytics suite will allow fast, granular measurement of the effectiveness of these engagements and build learning back into the business. A single source of data, in appropriate formats, accessible anywhere, wrapped in a collaboration model allowing rapid learning across the organisation is a powerful core tool for meeting the challenges ahead.

(this is an adapted repost from the cScape ‘Foundation Thinking’ blog)

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