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How social media can influence high-stakes business decisions

Kim S. Nash | Sept. 30, 2014
Social media is more than just amassing likes. Companies are using advanced social techniques to rehabilitate corporate reputations, uncover ideas for breakthrough products, and figure out what competitors are up to.

Most companies don't reap the full benefits from social media because they're stuck in old thinking, don't know how to properly use digital, or are pushing out one-way messages like they do on TV or in print, says Mark Fidelman, CEO of Raynforest, a sports marketing network, and author of Socialized! How the Most Successful Businesses Harness the Power of Social. "There's a difference between having a presence on social media and using social media well," Fidelman says.

Skillful companies take chances and perhaps make mistakes. But for those that use social media as more than a popularity contest--such as Domino's, Ford, Wells Fargo and Virgin America--the rewards can be dramatic.

Seeing the Future
Using social media for competitive intelligence can yield big strategic payback, says Estelle Metayer, an adjunct professor at McGill University and founder and president of Competia, a strategic consulting firm. One intelligence tactic: Track the LinkedIn connections of the top salespeople at the competition to figure out what new markets--geographic and conceptual--they are entering.

While many companies focus on engaging with their own customers, some have realized they can learn a lot from studying their competitor's customers. Identify them with targeted searches to see what they are saying and doing in online social circles, Metayer advises. Note where they are traveling, what they are buying, eating and reading, she says, because that information can offer insights into how to grab market share.

Analyzing the social behavior of both your own customers and those you'd like to steal from rivals is even more telling when that information is combined with internal data from supply chain, marketing and point-of-sale systems, says Dave Hanley, a principal at Deloitte Consulting and lead at Deloitte Digital.

"Social as a silo is over," Hanley says.

The idea is to watch natural conversations as they trend this way or that and correlate the observations to movements in sales. Then a company can try to influence outcomes, Hanley says. Building a database of customers' Twitter and Facebook names can lead to targeting individuals with special, unpublished prices and traceable coupons. Such experiments may result in sales or simply further chatter about the company or brand, he says.

Hanley says companies may need to hire specialists to interpret social conversations: data scientists to crunch numbers and digital anthropologists to analyze the behaviors before and after those online conversations. This goes beyond simple positive-negative-neutral sentiment analysis, he says, to more nuanced evaluations.

At Ford Motor Co., for example, studying social media behavior helped the company decide to build a hands-free lift gate that has proven to be a selling point with consumers, says Michael Cavaretta, data science leader at the $147 billion automaker.

 

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