SG Roundtable #3: Business Use of Social Media

RoundTable3Social Media: Different Folks, Different Strokesby Melinda Ilagan

The truth about social media these days is that some people want to use it while others don’t. My theory of the latter is simple – either they do not believe in the platform, or they are unaware of social media’s existence.  Those who use social media do so in different ways. Some use it on a purely personal basis to keep in touch with families and friends online. Some feel the ‘pressure’ to be in social media because of work/business. Most people I know, and myself included, use social media both on a personal and professional basis. It is increasingly difficult to separate one’s personal and professional network especially in the business of public relations. Should one create two distinct Facebook or Twitter (probably not LinkedIn) accounts to separately manage his or her personal and professional networks? While some people I know actually do it to manage privacy, I personally don’t. It just takes a little bit of discipline and the customization of a few account preferences to make it work. The Business Use of Social Media While some users enter social media for entertainment and purely personal gratification, many people use social media for business growth. Facebook alone, which now has over 400-million active users, is considered a ‘gold mine’ of customer information and for marketing programs. Some B2C and B2B companies have started to embark on social media marketing campaigns while some are still in the stage of assessing their strategy. During EASTWEST’s Roundtable Discussion 3 entitled ‘The Business Use of Social Media’, participants from different business verticals shared their insights, strategies and tactics on their business use of social media. There were interesting viewpoints from business owners, executives in corporate and marketing communications, sales people, artists, consultants and recruitment specialists, among others. The participants were in different stages of using social media. Some are already using social media and leveraging it for sales and marketing. Others have just started to get into social media and still navigating the platform for business. The more cautious ones have started to use social media on a personal basis and have yet to be convinced how they can use it to positively impact their business. Despite having different opinions, the conclusion at the end of the discussion is that there is no single approach to social media. The social media approach, as well as the tools to be used will have to vary depending on the goals that they had set out for their respective business organisations. The common approach for all businesses, whether big or small, will be to start with assessing their organisation’s needs and match the right social media tools. There were two important prerequisites in the business use of social media that were highlighted:

  1. Having the ability to create value-adding content in order to effectively engage stakeholders
  2. The readiness or the commitment to engage with the relevant public on a regular basis.

Ian McKee CEO of Vocanic, a Social Media and WoM Marketing agency, started with a clear position that ‘social media’ is actually a misnomer and in fact a misleading term: “From a brand point of view, it (social media) isn’t social. It’s social between people. And the platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In) are not the media. The real media is the voice of thousands of people, your customers, discussing your product and the experiences they have with your product. The platforms are simply a vector that carries or broadcasts the conversations.  It is what people say that is crucial – which is why Vocanic’s point of view is that there is nothing more valuable for your brand than a recommendation between friends – and the social media platforms available now simply carry and magnify the effect of these recommendations (positive or negative). Susanna Hasenöehrl differed and asked to keep the ‘social media’ reference for purposes of discussing it in a B2B environment.  Coming from a technology vendor, Susanna said there is a whole range of very specific topics that tech companies need to discuss with their customers and potential customers. She views micro blogs and tweets as a source of information and a tremendous opportunity in the B2B area to establish a conversation with potential counterparts and among customers and potential customers. Ray Bigger, a sales, marketing and people development architect, shared how he likens people’s behaviour towards social media to how the British will queue up on something they don’t have a clue what for. Ray’s opinion-slash-question is that some people could have leapt into it (social media) because of what everybody else is doing.  People are too curious: “Oh my god. How the hell am I going to get into that? What is it going to cost me? Is it something that my market segment that I’m targeting –is there people who are actually using it?” Marcus Lim, a historian painter, on the other hand has a very clear view of his use of social media for business. Using Facebook as an example, he shared that he uses it to interact with his clients (fans). He makes use of the existing games to interact and initiate conversations. “It’s like throwing a paper ball around a room and passing it around. Some people start having fun throwing the ball and in the process, could initiate a conversation: ‘Why did you throw the ball, Marcus?’ And the conversation begins. Social media to me is starting the ball rolling, breaking the ice, actually getting in and talking with the person at the other side.” Frederic Moraillon, Managing Director for Southeast Asia, EASTWEST PR, shared a personal experience of coming across the opportunity to work for the company via a LinkedIn conversation with EASTWEST’s principal. “I get a lot of opportunities both personally as well as from a business perspective coming my way because of my involvement in social networks. I like connecting with people though there is a limit to where you can go. LinkedIn is purely for business. Facebook is people I know fairly well and can talk about personal things. Both of them have brought many different opportunities – but my brand has always been there.” Andrew Pickup, chief operating officer, Microsoft Asia Pacific neutralised different views on social media: “There is no right or wrong way. Every company I think needs to approach it in different ways. The way I would approach it would is to think about what I am doing proactively with social media. What am I being proactive for, what is driving me towards (a goal), and what am I doing reactively? The reactive part is about listening and understand what your constituents and stakeholders are saying about you, you personally, about your company and about your brand and there are tools to help you to do this.” Andrew shared that the challenge is when one gets to a size like Microsoft or any international company with 100s and millions of people commenting every single day about the company and individuals. With a big company, (listening) tools are needed to taxonomise commentaries. Only then, can companies create content that addresses commentaries. In general, comments from powerful individuals such as a minister, journalist-slash-blogger not necessarily with volume followers, with volume impact will need to be addressed. Otherwise, resources will not permit to engage everyone who comments. Simon Dale, senior vice president of SAP Asia Pacific and Japan, shares Andrew’s view: “In a B2B space with an organisation of 5000 people, you want the 50 or 60 people who are going to influence the top 3 people to be engaged with you, so they will support the decision that happens through the process. And depending on the culture, if you’re in Japan, that’s an awful lot more people who are going to make the decision than in a western country.” Simon raised an important point about recognising the influence of commenter in a social media environment. He shared how they (at SAP) treats bloggers the same way as they would   the journalists and analysts. At the heated discussion of “how” participants from major companies use social media in their organisations, EASTWEST moderator, turned to the spa business owners/ operators to ask how they use the platform in the spa industry.  Interestingly enough, while the two participants, Christina Tan and Lim Ker Han use social media on a personal basis, they have not used it for business. Among the reasons highlighted is confusion as to how to manage social media and fears of leaving out a significant demographic group — older generations of women who are perceived to be ‘not using social media’. Greg Lipper, co-founder and CEO of Value Advantage an running five (5) other businesses, like Christina and Han believed there is a vast opportunity in social media for his businesses. However, his major concern was the time he needs to invest in managing the social media. Lin Hsin Hsin a renowned Singapore artist, poet and composer and an active user of information technology, admits that she is new to social media. Although Hsin Hsin remains hesitant to go into a social media network like Facebook, she admits finding vast information that are extremely focused and relevant in a channel like LinkedIn. Sebastian Barnard, marketing and corporate communications manager at the British Chamber of Commerce Singapore shares: “We look at social media from two angles. One purely as a tool to connect businesses. Part of what we do as a chain business, is essentially to mediate or be a middleman for businesses to talk to each other. We’re looking at how social media can help us facilitate that. The other way we’re looking at social media is purely as a marketing tool. I’m interested or have come to the opinion that email as a marketing tool is actually dead. I think the days of the email EDM are over. The issue I’ve faced, and this is the issue I’ve sat in many rooms and talked to many people and had many talks is a chicken and egg question that nobody seems to have ever brought up, and that is: Social media is about people opting in. I’ve never heard a discussion about how you get people to opt in. So my question is then is there a role for a traditional marketing tool to achieve that segment?”

Ian, at this point, offers an answer emphasising the importance of value-adding – in the form of valuable content, or, valuable functionality. The value that they find in the organisation, he said, is what will make them want to opt in to a relationship.

To summarise the many different viewpoints, Frederic proposed that the business use of social media, should start with the businesses’ assessment of their own organisation’s needs and goals vis-à-vis where all the tools fit – options are vast as seen in Brian Solis’s conversation prism and flywheel. Two key prerequisites are having the ability to create value-adding content, and readiness or commitment to interact on a regular basis, whether you use aggregation or manage one-on-one relationships.

Social Media: Different folks, Different Strokes

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