Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Businesses Need to Embrace The Power of Social Media and Crowdsourcing

More and more businesses are turning to social media to attract and engage customers around the world, as well as develop new ventures and products. Virtually every business has a Facebook page, Twitter account and more recently Google+ page in which directly engage potential customers/clients, to source feedback on an existing product or field ideas for new projects. Yet many businesses still shy away from social media, preferring to stick to more traditional marketing methods. 

So why are some businesses still reluctant to tap into the limitless potential that social networking has to offer? One possibility has to be, like crowdsourcing, they are simply unsure of how it all works. Many people find social networking akin to a different world with its own rules and language that they simply do not understand. Many assumptions are hurled around on comments pages of news sites and forums in which social networking is seen as either a glorified chat room or virtual playground for self obsessed individuals. This blinkered view tends to blind some businesses to the potential of social networking to engage with customers about their product and generate potential interest which in turn translates into income. 

Some reluctance is not just down to lack of knowledge or popularist assumptions. There are still many fears as to the security of accessing social network sites. The recent Facebook porn scandal has not allayed the fears of the less Web 2.0 savvy who use it as the perfect cautionary excuse to stay away from these sites. This is reflected in a survey carried out by consultancy and audit firm Protiviti in which they reported that 17% (around 1 in 6) of UK employees consider social networking sites to be a risk to corporate security. These fears can be calmed through proper guidelines as to use of these sites, and an effective security system.

The real problem however seems to be a lack of vision. Monitoring customer feedback on Facebook for example, can be seen as not wholly representative of other customers leaving analysts unsure of how to interpret the feedback. Could this however be down to incorrect implementation? If you bombard followers with generic sales messages on a mass scale then feedback is likely to be vague. However if businesses can better understand the interactive component of social networking then they can start to build a relationship with potential customers, feeding them sales messages and information more relevant to them. Vodka giants Smirnoff used social networking and crowdsourcing to engage customers with their highly successful Nightlife Exchange campaign

It is also interesting to note how the reluctance to use social media has blinded some businesses to the potential cost savings. Ten years ago focus groups were used by businesses to determine customer reactions to their brands and were very costly to organise. Depending on size of venue and location the cost could range from £500 to £1500. Organisers would have to arrange venues, find the right groups, and determine reward incentives. Registering with any social networking site is free and you can start asking questions straight away, thus saving on costs. Whereas focus groups have limited number of participants social networking offers the potential to tap the insights of a limitless number of consumers thus ensuring high quality results. 

An understanding of crowdsourcing as a source of ideas and innovation through social networking could not only enhance a company's brand but even help develop new brands and ventures. By embracing social networking and Web 2.0 principles businesses can take advantage of a limitless customer base and develop an advantage in a rapidly competitive business world.

Image Credits; Social Grow

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