Nowadays, business needs to be peoplecentric. Social communities, especially those that are built around a business and its products, have a fundamental role to play in connecting employees with customers. So how can we best respond to this challenge?
A number of tools are available to make your business more social, but the best one is your website – your customers shouldn’t have to go to Facebook or Twitter to contact you.
Take, for example, SIMalliance (simalliance.org), the industry association of SIM card manufacturers, which has recently redeveloped its web presence to prioritise social media and improve site usability. Everything has been integrated into the existing site design, which can now be run single-handedly. The hierarchy of news and special events can be altered easily to drive traffic to priority content and is fed through LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook widening its reach.
This integrated platform also enables SIMalliance to provide different levels of access to members, management and external users, and enables personalisation of the online experience to ensure that topics that are directly relevant to each individual are prioritised. As SIMalliance demonstrates, it’s important to engage with customers on your territory first, before embarking on social platforms. Obviously some channels may be more relevant than others, so do your homework and find out where your customers are talking.
Real-time interaction can also be an important area. I was recently browsing the Vodafone website, looking to change a mobile package and couldn’t find what I was looking for. Having spent quite a long time on the site, becoming more frustrated, a customer service advisor contacted me to ask if I needed any help. This service was invaluable, kept me on the site and solved my problem there and then. Customers don’t necessarily expect this level of engagement right now, but if you can afford to implement the tools it’s certainly worth it.
As well as focusing on communication between your customers and your business, it’s increasingly important that you enable customers to engage meaningfully with each other. They may not take your marketing messages as gospel, but opening discussion forums and affinity groups on your site, managed and facilitated by you, will enable you to steer the conversation in an interactive environment. You can also create Wikis for particular areas of expertise, allowing people to help each other and you.
But it’s not just about communicating with your external audience. You can use social tools to enhance your business by creating an internal social space. At Siteforum we’ve created our own online community, and use this as a collaborative tool to build an internal community between our international offices. The internal space can be used to share content and news with ease, and discussion forums and networks help people find out what’s going on where – be it meeting agendas, minutes, documents or plans.
Virtual Events are a great way to take your online social environment to the next level. While not fully 3D-immersive like Second Life, virtual events are graphic light and content-rich, providing great value for money. You can hold and attend trade shows, corporate events and conferences from your desk – becoming instantly global.
Finally, it’s crucial to know what your customers are doing and where they’re going on your site. Set objectives at the start and use simple analytics, monitoring and reporting to keep an eye on your social success. Websites need to be about people. Anyone who buys from you, or is thinking about doing so, will visit your website, so take this opportunity to engage with them, encouraging them to return, and you’ll see the effect on your bottom line.