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Time for businesses to leverage social media to their advantage

Many marketing departments are trying to figure out how to use social media services to their advantage while avoiding the obvious dangers to their brand.

The first is easier to control, while the danger is unpredictable given the nature of social media. But it is hard not to jump into the pile-up for attention, given that this is the year when every business should be learning how to leverage social media to their advantage.

It doesn't matter whether you are a one-person shop or a massive business, Facebook and Twitter work incredibly well at gathering a potential base of clients around your brand. Social media also works to undermine your business if you're no good, have done poorly, or someone has a grudge against you.

While marketing has been keen to jump in the pool, many have found it difficult to justify on the bottom line. As found in a previous survey by Bazaarvoice, marketing heads reported challenges in tying social media use to revenues.

While revenues remain critical, one should also consider the value of getting direct insights from customers. In 2010, about 90 percent of marketing heads said they participated in three or more social media activities: company blogs (87 percent), brand communities (86 percent), and Facebook (79 percent).

Customer ratings and reviews were mentioned as the top social strategy to drive measureable return on investment. This user-generated content can be very useful when making product and service decisions.

“This is the big shift in the power of social media and user-generated content brands are starting to organise these voices, pay attention to them, and take action on their insights within the business,” says Bazaarvoice, which is in the business of selling such insights to its customers, hence the study.

This UGC, as it is called in the biz, includes customer stories, product suggestions or ideas, polls and reviews. Marketers can use these suggestions to uncover what clients like or dislike about a specific product or brand. They can also be used to amend existing products, or to create new ones.

The company sites Dell Corp., which reports looking at customer reviews when developing products, and strives to create products that are rated with four or five out of five stars across the business. They would be stupid not to, wouldn't they? But what about small services or business that don't get those kinds of customer reviews generated by the trade press?

Well, I guess you have to create your own Facebook page or Twitter and encourage customers to write reviews or post comments. There are lots of free tools out their to try out your voice. But that again is dangerous, unless you are ultra confident you are providing the best service or product you can.

Content can also be generated through contests. One example is by Burberry. The company's 2009 “Art of the Trench” campaign encouraged customers to send photos of themselves wearing its clothes. The company saw an uptick in sales. People can identify with their peers wearing clothes they like, I guess.

The main takeaway here is to try out social media. You can always shut it down if you don't think you are getting positive comments. Then I guess it's time to rethink your business.

After the article on mashups of government data last week, Paul Hiscoe of UK-based Transparency Data in the UK contacted me to ask if anyone in Bermuda was interested in creating a site for the Island publishing food hygiene inspection reports. That's what Transparency Data does in the UK at www.scoresonthedoors.org.uk. The company aims to promote food safety, business standards, and “empower consumer choice by making available information to which the public has a right to access”.

But he says: “We [first] have to get hold of . . . the food hygiene inspection reports!”

If anyone is interested and knows how to get them, he would like to help out. Contact Paul at: phiscoe@transparencydata.co.uk and let me know how it goes by sending me a quick word at elamin.ahmed@gmail.com.

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Published March 02, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated March 02, 2011 at 9:27 am)

Time for businesses to leverage social media to their advantage

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