Social media has arrived, but companies still aren't sure what to do with it. Fifty-eight percent of companies are currently engaged in social networks like Facebook, microblogs like Twitter, and sharing multimedia on platforms such as YouTube – but research from the Harvard Business Review Analytics Services report "The New Conversation: Taking Social Media from Talk to Action" [Report PDF; sponsored by SAS] finds that much of the investment in social is future-oriented. In the slides that follow, we'll dive into this research, showing how most companies really use social media – and what the most effective users do differently.
Although 79% of the 2,100 companies surveyed are either using or planning to use social media channels, a measly 12% of those firms feel that they are using them effectively. These social media all-stars engage beyond the tired method of "shout marketing," by using social more often to promote their brand, monitor trends among customers, and even research new product ideas.
A large percentage of organizations are still hesitant to get serious about social. Two-thirds of users had no formalized social media strategy, and just 7% had integrated social media into their overall marketing strategy. While 69% predict that their use of social media will grow, 61% admit the need to overcome a learning curve before adopting any kind of social media strategy. Just 32% view it as an executive priority – and nearly one in ten of the executives we surveyed dismissed the business use of social media as a passing fad.
The toughest challenges for executives involve tying social investments back to the bottom line – measuring its effectiveness, linking social media efforts to ROI, and understanding the concrete difference social efforts make to the business. While they understand social media can be a powerful tool, most executives still aren't sure how powerful.
Just 12% of the companies surveyed have hired staff dedicated to social media activities. Instead, it's mostly delegated to external relations staff or techies. Maybe that's why social media has trouble getting a piece of the budget pie: Just 20% of social-media-using organizations have dedicated a portion of the budget to it, though that rises to 44% among effective users. "At the C-Suite level, they don't want to talk about social media because they don't understand it," one executive admitted.
Given this difficulty in understanding the opportunities social media offers and the lack of clarity in its perceived benefits, most firms now prefer a strategy of controlled experimentation. As one executive put it, "Social media is a big ocean and we are pulling in a little bay where we are most protected." The majority of these efforts (50%) are geared towards increasing awareness of the organization or brand.
The best users understand that social media is a conversation, not a monologue. More effective companies use social media to interact with customers by creating online customer groups and monitoring trends. They were twice as likely to use social media to research new products. And they met their customers where they already were, using four or more social media channels – including multi-media sharing, review sites, discussion forums, and blogs. How do you use social media to listen to – and engage with – your customers?