Social media’s impact on both our social and professional lives has significantly increased over the past few years. The power behind social media is generated by its ability to amplify word-of-mouth effects, which if used effectively can be used to expand product recognition, drive sales and profitability, garner loyalty and elicit valuable feedback from customers.
Social tools are being increasingly put to use among companies for reaching and collaborating with customers, connecting employees and collaborating with suppliers. Using social media for brand monitoring—knowing what is being said online about your products—should be a default social media function and should take place continuously in any company in the business of product development.
Those tasked with brand monitoring within a company must ensure that information gleaned from social networks is immediately shared with the relevant internal departments, such as product design. The ability to gain product-development insights from customers in a relatively inexpensive way is emerging as one social media’s biggest benefits.
Social networks make innovation a two-way street
Companies are turning to blogs and social sites at a greater rate to elicit valuable feedback from their customers and route it back into their product development processes. Social tools enable companies to obtain more detailed feedback than traditional focus groups, and build links to important and influential groups of customers.
One company that has reaped the rewards of tapping into the social networks of users is Dell Computer. The company, through its IdeaStorm site, has taken in more than 17,000 new ideas for new or improved products, and has adopted nearly 500 of them. One of which was a backlit keyboard that work better in low lighting, such as on airplanes. Dell also vets out its own new ideas with customers on IdeaStorm in an online “brainstorming” forum called Storm Session.
One recent idea proposed was a specialty laptop geared towards people who write wireless apps and other Web-based software using a variation of the Linux operating system called Ubuntu. A week later, customers had posted 83 ideas for refinements to the machine on IdeaStorm, covering specific software bugs to broader issues, such as whether the screen should be shiny or not. The laptop will hit the market by year’s end.
Internal use of social networks on the rise
Not only are companies reaching out more to customers via social networks, but they are increasingly communicating with their own employees through the social networks as well. Forrester Research predicts that the sales of software to run corporate social networks will grow 61% a year and be a $6.4 billion business by 2016. Using social networks helps companies foster connections and match up the skills of people working in different locations, divisions, etc.
Two-thirds of big companies surveyed now use Web 2.0 tools, such as social networks or blogs, with use of internal social networks up 50% since 2008, according to a survey by McKinsey & Co. What’s more nearly 90% report that they have reaped at least one measurable business benefit as a result.
The future of social networks for corporations
Though it is a tad early to determine what the overall effect of social networking will be on the productivity of companies, it’s hard to believe it will be insignificant. Economists, such as MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, say it takes about five years before a new technology shows its full impact on companies that deploy it. Social networking is about two to three years in at most companies.
Companies will continue to tinker with the technology and their own business processes to find the optimum ways of matching them up to derive the most benefit and learn how to interpret all the unorganized data users disclose about themselves on these sites. Product developers, however, now have a proven pipeline through which to communicate with customers on what new products or improvements upon existing products they would like to see in the future.
To learn more about the impact of social media on companies and how business leaders can harness social media to shape consumer decision making, check out this report, “Demystifying Social Media,” by McKinsey & Co.