This content is part of the Essential Guide: Guide to customer experience management best practices, technologies

Companies revisit their social media business strategies

Social media is giving unprecedented voice to consumer preferences and concerns, but there are technology and human challenges to overcome.

Creating a social media strategy remains a conundrum for many businesses. The sheer volume of consumers on social makes it too big to ignore, but showing clear return on investment for those efforts remains a challenge.

Companies using social media for straightforward promotion has become standard, but there's growing interest in using the medium to learn more about consumers and build customer loyalty. But none of these efforts take place in a vacuum, and capitalizing on additional channels of communication can be hampered by siloed information and outdated business processes.

Social media experts from a wide range of industries converged in Atlanta to discuss these issues at the Social Shakeup conference. TechTarget executive editor Lauren Horwitz was there and covered strategies for aligning social media and business, along with hearing pointers on how to handle new challenges created by an increasingly multi-channel and mobile marketplace.

Natanya Anderson of Whole Foods discussed how consumer sentiment is affecting Whole Foods at the local and global levels. Social media offers consumers a forum to discuss issues and get localized information about particular product lines and events.

Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook can provide easy connection with customers, but there's a growing trend of businesses nurturing their own online communities for more substantial conversation among constituencies or with experts, explains consultant Vanessa DiMauro.

Companies are also solidifying brand loyalty with internal online communities by creating a social "stickiness." Whether through blogs, forums or other adjuncts to a company's online presence, businesses recognize the need to supplement their corporate Web presence with user-friendly content that engages consumers on topics of mutual interest.

NASA's John Yembrick also talked about the importance of bridging the gap between the digital and the physical through social media. NASA uses social platforms to engage its audiences and create excitement about face-to-face meetings.

Wrangling customer data into a uniform, accurate and consistent picture of a customer is just one of many challenges for companies doing business in a mobile, multi-channel world.  As mobile increasingly becomes the standard for Web business, companies need to be able to combine a customer's social handle on Twitter with their customer account information or their identity on live chat and see that person as one customer. It's also critical to reduce the barriers for customers in their digital experiences. So, for example, companies need to be able to create a uniform customer identity so customers don't have to resort to re-entering customer information to receive help.

Finally, consultant Banafsheh Ghassemi looks at the challenges of providing smooth transactions across multiple channels in the video "customer journey maps can stave off dismal customer experience." The customer perspective is often overlooked when new technology is deployed, but understanding how consumers really interact with a brand is the first step toward mapping out best practices and making improvements.

Next Steps

Social media monitoring mistakes to avoid

Factors to consider when buying social media listening tools

Does it make sense to outsource social media monitoring?

Dig Deeper on Enterprise social media management