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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.

A flurry of social media posts on a specific topic--say, 100 posts in 60 minutes--will trigger a statement from the bank. For example, a denial-of-service attack against Wells Fargo's website last year warranted a response from the bank. Posts provided information to customers while simultaneously reassuring them. Corporate communications, IT, the digital channels groups and other departments work together to craft plans like that, Brown says. "In our industry, we can't do anything without a lot of eyes reviewing," she says.

The Ultimate Metric
The business benefit of next-generation social media work goes well beyond the number of interactions a tweet can trigger. Wells Fargo, for example, is testing whether it can spur social media users to go through a loan-application process at its website, experimenting with different posts and tracking the responses to see what works best.

And yes, these companies do measure interaction. But they're also able to measure new business. Domino's CEO Doyle easily rattles off stats about his company's followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But, he says, "First, ultimately, it's about sales." Calvert, Virgin America's CMO, agrees. Virgin counted up the over 17,000 views of its Branson video and was happy to get more than double the number of petitioners it expected. "But the biggest metric," Calvert says, "was getting the two gates."

Use Your Influencers
Don't just collect social media followers. Put those fans to work for you.

Followers of your corporate Facebook page, Twitter account and other social media outlets can be more than just loyal customers. They can be product testers, idea generators, and members of a ready-made focus group. Also: marketing and IT can work together to collect the social media handles of customers, then log on, tune in and observe what they do online to create a more complete picture of who you're selling to, says Dave Hanley, principal at Deloitte Consulting.

Ask for social media data during customer support calls or hold contests that require customers to submit it, Hanley suggests. Then integrate social media data with customer information in CRM and call-center systems.

By observing conversations online, companies can determine what issues, events and people move customers to act in some way--by replying, for example, or buying a product, Hanley says. Identifying customers by "persona," he says, yields "a more three-dimensional view than transaction data alone."

Another tactic for getting more value from social media followers is to let them know about new product or service ideas early, so that when the new offering comes out, they are already familiar with it and more receptive, says Estelle Metayer, founder and president of Competia, a strategic consultancy.

Virgin America did something like that when changing its e-commerce site this year, monitoring social media feedback about new features and adjusting along the way. In May, the airline rolled out a beta version of the site, revealing it to different audiences in phases. First, its own employees and some Google staffers got a peek, to assess the performance of new features. Then 30 or 40 frequent flyers who act as informal advisers were let in on it. Finally, the media and social-media influencers were notified.


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