Social media is the rage now and has been for the past couple of years. Many experts predict that corporate websites are dead–social media is where people are. Add to that the excitement that Social Media IPOs have been genereating. Obviously, any company that does not have a ‘real’ presence in this area feels left out.

Any consumer-focused company that does not have a Social strategy should worry as customers are increasingly becoming weary of corporate websites. They get their information from their friends, family and other customers like them. If you are in the market for a new Sony television, do you visit the Sony website or do you “google” it to find customer ratings on it? Seriously, when did you last visit Sony’s corporate website to get information on a product? So the experts are right about this one – corporate websites are dead and social media is where the people are. But does having a social strategy means creating a Facebook page? Hardly! While creating a presence on Facebook, Twitter and other similar social mediums is a MUST for every company, it is hardly sufficient. A true social strategy is to create an open environment where customers can freely engage in the conversation about your products and the company. Under a true social strategy, a company willingly transfers the control of the conversation to the customers (and its employees) and resists every urge to promote itself. A great book that talks about this phenomenon is called Clue Train Manifesto by Levine, Locke, Searls and Weinberger. What is even more amazing is that this was written in 1999! That’s right! Way before Facebook or Twitter were invented, before the dot com bust, in fact even before Y2K. So the thing to remember–Social Media is not a platform to deliver a sales pitch. It is not for talking about the company. Rather it is a medium to listen to the customers to find out their needs so the company can respond to fulfill those needs resulting in a healthy relationship between the business and its customers.

So the next logical questions are: what is the ROI on social media? Is there an ROI? Or is it just the cost of doing business? Is it just another form of advertising or something much more? The answer is simple – There is a clear ROI if the company knows how to use it effectively. When used properly, social media can increase sales, help improve new product development, reduce customer support costs and grow the brand value. An effective social strategy (i) targets social ‘influencers’ and uses them as the brand ‘ambassadors’ (ii) identifies social product ‘experts’ and creates a platform for them, and (iii) leverages all available social platforms to create a unified message about the brand.

In other words, creating and implementing the right social strategy offers both monetary and strategic benefits.

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