It has become an accepted proposition that most small businesses, especially new businesses, need to engage in social media, and, for the most part, do so. They have Facebook pages, they tweet, they form networks with other businesses, and attempt to make their presence known on the Internet as well as in their bricks and mortar locations. Social media has not only changed the ‘language’ about how we obtain information about consumer goods, but also in fields such as medicine, biotechnology, and education, to name a few. Yet, the question remains, do mid-sized businesses need to engage in social conversation?
According to Dorian Cundick, an executive advisor with the Communications Executive Council, the answer is a resounding yes, and further, to stand by while the new market forces take shape in response to the new media is to jeopardize their future. According to Cundick, social media have changed the dynamics of influence in the market. So why is this question still being debated?
Traditionally, mid-sized businesses have used their larger budgets to purchase advertising space, set up sales presentations, and to build static websites, overpowering their competitors simply by their static but large presence in the market. However, by maintaining control of their engagement with their customers and partners, they ultimately fail to respond to new ideas, feedback, and strategic opportunities. Being more invested in this traditional ‘style’ of engagement, they find it more challenging to respond quickly and efficiently to the changes imposed by the digital marketplace.
The most common reasons provided by firms for lack of engagement in social media are that their culture is conservative, that the executives have yet to buy into social media, or that they are fundamentally different from those businesses using social media. However, these reasons are no longer acceptable simply by virtue of the fact that there is now a fundamental shift in how information is communicated: it is now free of the former constraints of time and space. David Via, IBM Sales Executive for Collaboration Solutions, notes that public perceptions of companies are now primarily shaped in the social media sphere, and no longer by the companies themselves.
At the center of the discussion on the engagement of social media by mid-sized businesses is the challenge of undertaking a paradigm shift. Via states the central shift as follows, “ Beyond gaining fans or followers, a social business uses software and hardware tools to create new pathways centered on people and the relationships between them”. Developing deeper relationships with both customers and employees is the key to social business success. Social tools offer companies the ability to meet customer needs in real time, thereby increasing customer loyalty. Concurrently, they can monitor how customers and stakeholders perceive them. And these tools do not require massive outlays of cash.
Via believes that renewed emphasis on empowering people through social media also has benefits in terms of increased efficiencies in the workplace. Employees are already using social tools. These tools can facilitate information retrieval and analysis of information in real time across different geographical locations in real time, and permit decision making to address problems quickly. More importantly, they create forums in which new ideas that ultimately lead to innovation can thrive.
As social networks are poised to replace emailing as the most common means of communicating online, Via understands the potentially threatening view of social media that leads executives to eschew social media: “No one’s advocating putting up a wiki with all the salaries of your executives.” By establishing social media policies, and engaging role leaders in spreading social business tools, companies can take advantage of cloud-based solutions and social tools already in the marketplace to create forums for innovation and new products, to facilitate a faster time to market of new products, and to provide quicker resolution of geographically dispersed supplier issues.