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In less than a decade social media has become part of the fabric of everyday communication. More than a billion people now have Facebook accounts, and well over a quarter of a million use Twitter. These tools offer businesses new opportunities to connect with customers and employees, usually at very little cost. And while it is not essential for companies to maintain a presence on all social networks, ignoring them altogether would seem somewhat out of touch to many customers and employees.
Being active on Twitter, Yammer, LinkedIn or Facebook can make a business seem more ‘human’ and approachable. It can also keep it informed of the latest trends and customer desires, and establish it as an expert on important issues. What is more, social networks can provide businesses with a vast amount of information on how they and their rivals are perceived by customers, suppliers and staff. This allows them to fine-tune their communication strategies, target certain groups or broaden their appeal.
Secure, private social networks such as Yammer are breaking down hierarchies and internal silos, giving every employee a voice and ensuring that worthwhile ideas and opinions receive a fair hearing. More than 400,000 companies worldwide (including 85 per cent of the Fortune 500) have already adopted Yammer, so that everyone within the company can share their insights, ask questions, create polls and contribute to projects. That means frontline staff with valuable customer insights can share these with the rest of the business immediately, rather than pushing them up the chain through long-winded reporting processes. Feedback from colleagues can be in real time – right up to senior management level.
Twitter’s real strength lies in its ability to allow both existing and potential customers to communicate with a business on a more personal level. Businesses can draw attention to important campaigns and special offers, and deal with customer enquiries – including complaints – in a quick, satisfying manner. Praise for what the business has done right can be tracked and shared, helping to build its reputation as a reliable, open and trustworthy brand. Regular updates and photos detailing life behind the public façade often strengthen bonds with both customers and suppliers.
Social media gives businesses the chance to share expert opinions and insights with staff and customers. A company might tweet a link to an article on its website or blog, or help people solve everyday problems. Both LinkedIn and Facebook allow businesses to set up a company or fan page, which acts as a hub for sharing images, video, text, blogs, updates and product information with online communities. LinkedIn’s analytical tools allow businesses to track engagement with their posts, their follower growth and other key trends. Similar data is available on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks, allowing you to refine the content you share and build a strong online following.