Check in or be checked

Check in or be checked

Strategic thinking into capitalising on social media is no longer on business wish-lists, it has moved to the ‘must do’ department, as David Shaw reports.

If you’re in business in Scotland you simply don’t have a choice: you must have a social media strategy in 2011. Put it on your to-do list now. Otherwise you’ll be listening to your customers through the same stale methods and channels. If you’re sceptical about the impact social media is having in the UK there is an avalanche of statistics avaiable. Research suggests that 25% of search results for world’s top 20 brands are links to user-generated content.

There are estimated to be around 200 million blogs in existence and 34% of bloggers post content directly relating to products and brands. Connect that with the rise of smartphone penetration and things get interesting: 50% of all mobile traffic in the UK is reported to be on Facebook with applications such as Twitter also promoting mobile delivery of instant opinions about customer experience.

You can be sure there is an opinion – good or bad – out there about your business.

So how switched on is your business? The good, the bad and the ugly of social media is the lightning pace at which new things keep happening. Ideas are spawned and they are the next buzz for the social media glitterati to faun over. Social media investment gurus speculate over the next Google or Facebook buyout, the next big idea for social media agencies to sell into companies obsessed by brand management. There’s lots of noise but the truth is that many of these are ineffective, niche or copycat innovations.

Serious developments to watch out for – Zuckerberg has delivered Facebook messaging including Facebook email addresses, a sure rise in temperature in the battle with Google. Perhaps of equal interest, Twitter has started beta trials of its free analytics tool, meaning that we can finally get a handle on all of the Twitter activity going on, something no analytics company has managed to date. While all of this activity is interesting – does it really matter for your business? What matters most is customer engagement.

CHECKING IN

LET PEOPLE KNOW WHERE YOU ARE AND IF IT’S GOOD OR BAD

A few weeks ago I sat in a well-known sushi chain in Edinburgh Airport. I “checked in” to the restaurant using the Foursquare application on my iPhone 4, tagged a friend who was with me and left a mini review (Facebook, with more than 500 million members, has recently switched on the same capability) – a simple way of letting your friends know where you are using the location function on your smartphone. I was letting people know I was off to London for the weekend, but what was the point? And there lies the potential opportunity and the downside with social media in one, twominute finger-tapping session. As an early adopter, this was a novelty but ultimately this is the kind of effective recommendation that my friends will see and it will drive levels of awareness and business for the restaurant. Quantifying the benefit will be the challenge, but the gut feeling is that it’s a powerful tool. Other businesses are thinking creatively. There are mobile applications that now allow people to “check in” to TV shows and discuss with fellow viewers, therefore creating connected communities all acting as advocates for the product rather than standalone customers with a flat experience of the product. Volumes are rising for CBS and Virgin Media has kicked off similar activity in the UK for football fans. Clear and creative thinking to engage customers through social media.

SOCIAL SCANNING

COMPARISON SHOPPING USING YOUR SMARTPHONE

Applications for smartphones like Bakodo and Stickybits are delivering comparison shopping and are merging the ability for customers to scan products, read a wealth of information, compare prices with other retailers and – most importantly – see comments from fellow buyers. Now, given that 78% of consumers trust peer reviews and only 14% trust advertisements, this is something to seriously think about. Previous scanning applications had no link to community but now people are talking to each other.

GROUP BUYING

TARGETED DEALS FOR CUSTOMERS

A phenomenon led by companies such as Groupon – the concept is simple. Retailers can set up virtual storefronts with deals available through the Groupon’s website or smartphone application. Sites like Groupon’s create community around a city and then around specific retailers. Deals are recommended and the retailer and Groupon share revenue on redemption of the deal. The retailer, Gap, went with a Groupon voucher system in August this year and in two days sold 445,000 vouchers at the value of $25 each, a successful departure from their small business strategy to date. Social media may well be the customer relationship management challenge of the moment, and many businesses have some kind of unstructured and unmanaged presence already. High time to invest in strategic thinking to reap social media insight into the voice of your customers and engage whatever the scale and type of business you are in.

David Shaw is the managing director of Social Media Analytics and Insight Consulting.