Date posted: 1/12/2016 5 min read

Effective social media — a key business objective

Social media is strengthening its place as a major component of business strategy

In brief

  • A social media strategy should be fully aligned with the business strategy
  • Consider a steering committee — the whole business should be contributing
  • Clients seeking professional services review the LinkedIn profiles and social media of key staff

By Tim Gacsal CA

In little more than a decade, social media has been adopted at an unprecedented speed and on a truly staggering scale. Worldwide it’s estimated there are:

  • 1.8 billion social network users
  • 4.5 billion “likes” a day on Facebook
  • 500 million tweets sent a day on Twitter
  • 5 million images uploaded a day on Instagram

In terms of devices where social media is accessed, mobile growth is clearly leading the way. This is evidenced in New Zealand by a strong base of smartphone and tablet users at 2.2 million and one million, respectively. [In Australia, smartphone owners number 14.9 million and tablet owners number 9.2 million.]

According to the most recent report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau of New Zealand (IAB NZ), mobile advertising spend in Q4 of 2014 grew by a whopping 119 per cent year-on-year. Though they don’t break this down further into subcategories, there’s a strong sense that a big part of the increase correlates with the growth in accessing social media from mobile, possibly making it one of the hottest digital trends in the country.

Another recent report from the IAB in Singapore found that 48 per cent of New Zealand’s population with active accounts on top social networks accesses them via mobile.

Your customers, your competitors, your business partners, your kids, your neighbours and your friends — they’re all on social media. So you need to be there too — don’t you?

For most businesses, the answer is undoubtedly yes. But many make the mistake of jumping into the social media frenzy without really asking why they’re there, and what they hope to achieve.

Investing in social media is no different to any other business investment. You need to think about how it will contribute to your business strategy, and how you will measure that contribution.

You also need to understand the costs and risks involved.

To be effective, you need to provide a continuous stream of engaging, relevant content and invest resources in creating an ongoing conversation with customers and other stakeholders.

Aligning social and business goals

Social media can contribute to a wide range of business goals. The most appropriate social media approach for you, therefore, depends on your business strategies and what you’re trying to achieve.

Here’s a snapshot of different ways social media can support key business objectives.

1. Increasing reach and awareness

This is the starting point for most businesses and the most obvious reason to get involved in social media. Customers increasingly use social media networks as a source of information and opinion about products, services and brands. A social media presence can connect your business and your brand to a huge audience across different market segments and geographies.

2. Thought leadership

Social media platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn are increasingly where people go to stay up to date with latest thinking on key issues in their field. This has particular relevance for professional services firms, who have traditionally used content marketing (for example, the creation of white papers, opinion pieces and journal articles) to sell their firm’s expertise. Social media provides the opportunity to turbocharge the distribution of that content to a much wider audience.

3. Building profile

For professional services firms, the profile and reputation of their partners and senior people is a key driver of new business. Increasingly, clients seeking professional services are reviewing the LinkedIn profiles of key staff as well as their social media posts when they are considering engaging a firm. These typically have more cachet and reveal more than the relatively staid corporate bios or profiles on the company website.

4. Build relationships with key influencers

Many important influencers have a large number of followers on social media (LinkedIn has even established a global influencers programme which includes luminaries like Sir Richard Branson and Bill Gates). Thoughtful contributions to their posts and conversations can help establish relationships with these influencers as well as enhancing your own profile.

5. Increase marketing effectiveness

Social media can be an effective way of leveraging existing marketing and corporate responsibility activities. Paid search, banner ads and posts can link to campaign pages on your website, while Facebook and Twitter are effective forums for stories about your sponsorship or community activities.

6. Improve customer service

Customers increasingly expect that businesses will be on social media. They also expect to be able to interact with you there, 24/7. Social media therefore is an increasingly important customer service channel.

7. Increase website traffic

Social media is an increasingly important factor in search engine algorithms. Building your social media presence can help improve your site’s ranking for organic search.

8. Reputation and issues management

One of the major advantages of social media is the ability to listen in to what people are saying about your brand and your business. That’s why social media has become integral to any PR strategy.

9. Market and customer research

Social media networks offer huge opportunities to gain deep insights on what both your customers and competitors are doing and saying, in a very cost-effective way.

10. Improve recruitment

Networks like LinkedIn offer access to, and with, a huge pool of potential employees.

11. Internal collaboration

Much of the hype about social media focuses on how it can connect you to your clients and customers. But social tools like intranets, executive blogs, Sharepoint and other knowledge sharing tools, online forums, etc can help break down functional silos and encourage your staff to collaborate more effectively — especially in organisations that operate over multiple locations.

Focus on business outcomes

Social media is often led by the marketing department, as it’s seen as simply another channel for connecting to your market. But as the list of potential applications above shows, it can have a significant impact right across the business — so the whole business should have an input into your social media strategy.

For example, consider establishing a social media steering committee with representatives from throughout the business. That way you can avoid:

  • Taking too narrow a view and missing out on the opportunities social media presents to transform your business.
  • Taking a piecemeal, uncoordinated approach to social media that is not aligned with your overall business strategy.

The steering committee should also establish guidelines for the use of social media in your business — for example, what channels you will “play” in, who can take part and in what capacity, what resources are required to achieve your social media goals, your social media “tone” and “voice”.

In the same way, you should take an organisation-wide view of how you will measure the impact and success (or otherwise) of your social media initiatives. There are plenty of tools you can use to measure various aspects such as likes, click-throughs, sentiment, followers, etc.

These are attractive because social media is hard to measure and they provide some hard data. But the key is to focus on your intended business outcomes rather than just on activity.

Social media measurement is not easy and it’s an emerging and hotly debated topic. Likes, click-throughs, etc have their place, but they should be used as part of a multi-disciplinary dashboard approach. It should include both hard and soft measures, and should focus on the contribution of social media to overall business goals.

Social media should always be aligned with your business strategy, not an end in itself.

Tim Gacsal CA is the risk advisory director at BDO NZ.

This article was first published in the May 2015 issue of Acuity magazine.