There's no turning back on social business

When it comes to using social media platforms for business, the train has left the station. So how can we use the data to change the way we do business?

Social media has transformed business operations. Social business -- or the practice of using social media data to inform business tasks -- has extended company operations to include consumers. Consumers are now providing peers with key information about products that used to be the exclusive province of the company.

And the same is true for product development. Consumers are now part of the chain of command in developing new ideas that become products and services. Social platforms have been a key part of this, but additional sources, such as location-based services or geolocation-based data, are also critical to the story.

These are just some of the issues likely to emerge at the Social Shake-Up, which takes place in Atlanta, Georgia, from Sept. 16 to Sept. 17.

In this, part one of a two-part interview, we discuss changes that social business has wrought with David Schweidel, associate professor of marketing and co-director of Emory Marketing Analytics Center.

How are social communities changing the way we do business today?

David Schweidel: User-generated content across the board has really changed the game. In a lot of ways, some of what we’re talking about isn't new: We've always had the idea of word of mouth. The main difference now is that it’s online, it's always on the record, and it's a permanent record.

Traditional word of mouth has been more difficult to observe and it has been somewhat ephemeral. Before, conversations happened at the water cooler at work, [and within] fairly well-defined social circles. Now with social media, you have those circles going online but also the potential for a much larger audience. Once marketers put a message out there, we lose a lot of the control around it.

How does the voice of the customer being more important change marketing strategy in the future vis-à-vis social?

Schweidel: When companies start taking advantage of what consumers are saying via social media, consumers become more engaged in the entire process. Dell and Starbucks and others are crowdsourcing ideas directly from their consumers. They are saying, "Consumers know what they are looking for; let's listen to them, let’s engage with them as far as product development. Here’s where we're strong, here’s where we're weak."

If you deliver the right message at the right time, a consumer will be very receptive to it.
David Schweidelassociate professor, Emory University

Do you foresee other technologies like geolocation–or identifying where consumers are to target ads to them-- joining up with social to get a better sense of who these consumers are and tailor messages to them wherever they are in real time?

Schweidel: I'm not sure if we're there yet. But, if we're not yet, absolutely in the future, yes. The combination of social and location-based services falls under the broad umbrella of context --and that's what it's all about for consumers.

If you deliver the right message at the right time, a consumer will be very receptive to it. If we take mobile ads, given where you are and what you are putting out via social, we then have to think,  "What’s the appropriate message to send right now?" If a consumer is walking down a commercial street in a city versus being at home, those are two very different contexts, so we should market to them in different ways based on that context.

Are there other important social trends we should note?

Schweidel: Marketing functions are siloed. Can they use social media to support marketing analytics? What are the different groups involved? I talked with one organization that said, "We have the social media team (PR), we have the product team that does brand management, and we have the analytics team that derives the insights." And we said, "You have these three groups, how closely are you working together? Who owns access to the social data?" That varies across organizations.

Those different functions have been siloed. That creates inefficiencies. If we're trying to create a CEM, all our marketing efforts need to be coordinated with each other. Part of this is organizational, the way their different units are set up that will dictate how quickly this can happen.

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