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By now, everyone knows that technology changes rapidly; generally speaking, companies are braced for it. Social media technology, however, is qualitatively different. First, it has become a force for businesses to reckon with at breathtaking speed. Second, its effects are reaching across the entire spectrum of business activity, from product development to marketing and sales to customer support. And third, organizations don’t always have a choice about engaging in social media if their customers are already doing so.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, instant messaging, and video conferencing: These and many other collaboration and social media platforms are now an everyday part of people’s lives around the world. They are also finding their way into enterprise communica¬tions and management strategies. But are these social media applications and technologies ready for an even greater challenge—helping companies and govern¬ment agencies successfully navigate major business change programs?
According to numerous studies, anywhere from 50 percent to 80 percent of change programs do not live up to expectations. Although the reasons for fail¬ure vary, many can be traced to the difficulty with managing multiple talent and organizational elements effectively across a global enterprise—creating a shared vision, gaining buy-in across locations and levels, dealing with expectations and handling the day-to-day upheavals inherent in change. This paper looks into few strategies that can be deployed for integrating enterprise to customer requirements.
The social media strategy
For many companies, creating rigorous social media strategies is necessary to ensure consistent customer experiences, reliable content creation, data governance and regulatory compliance. Social media strategy will be different for different companies. It can vary depending on whether they are business to business (B2B) or business to customer (B2C), the industry they’re in and a variety of corporate culture factors (e.g., risk-averse versus risk-taking). Still, there are some basic steps in social media strategy development that tend to be universal:
The social media policy0
Once an organization’s strategy and risks are assessed and understood, establishing social media policy to guide employee behavior is critical. Many companies already have established policies ranging from reactive policies that focus mainly on risk to proactive policies that focus on the upside potential of social media strategy execution. An important element of any social media policy is direction that addresses how to respond to user-generated content or comments anywhere on the web; should company employees ignore public complaints, address them publicly or address them privately? Social media policy also should include guidelines that govern employees’ general social behavior online while they’re at work.
In addition, some companies create more restrictive guidelines that apply when employees post comments about the company or its products, spelling out requirements such as protecting confidentiality, privacy and security. If the company runs its own social site, such as a blog, the company should also create acceptable use policies for external users who post comments. Although social media policies will vary somewhat depending on the type of company and industry, some common employee guidelines apply to most companies:
The big wave: Social influence
Thanks to social media, a wave of influence has taken place evolving from a small group of endorsing celebrities, to a few thousand influential individuals with high number of social connections, to millions of ordinary consumers. This shift is having a profound effect on consumer buying behaviours, which increasingly are being driven by everyday people as they spread their influence across the nodes of their trusted networks. Technology has been the catalyst, changing the mode of influence by making it even easier for individuals to share opinions and content with their close friends and beyond. Some companies have recognized the influential power that ordinary consumers hold, and are targeting and engaging with them across various social media platforms and technologies. Other companies need to ramp up quickly, reaching out to individual influencers with compelling content to create distinction and competitive advantage. In either case, organizations that use analytics and metrics to define and refine their marketing campaigns stand to gain the most as they work to tap into the influence potential of ordinary consumers.
Social media and the Internet have made consumers more connected than ever before, enabling an unprecedented and highly efficient flow of information among individuals. In many cases, the opinions shared by people across their trusted networks also drive consumer buying behaviours. During social media exchanges, individuals often talk about products and brands.
Given this authenticity, the contacts are more likely to remember opinions provided by their trusted networks when shopping online for their own jeans or buying beverages at the grocery store. In contrast, people have become cautious at best and cynical at worst, to the recommendations from companies or to the influence of a celebrity who is being paid to endorse a line of jeans. And while the endorsement approach may work for companies the first time, the opinion of a highly-influential person, who may have received a free case of beverages as an incentive to spread the word, only reaches a limited audience. The law of diminishing returns will quickly set in, leaving companies wondering what to do next.
A number of leading companies have recognized the power of social influence as a powerful marketing practice and are successfully engaging with ordinary consumers, and by extension, with their social networks. Although these companies cannot completely control these everyday interactions, they can:
Use social influence in your favour
Technology has made it even easier for ordinary consumers to broadly share both opinions and interests with their trusted network. In this sense, it has magnified the power that individuals have as influencers on other consumers. Companies can take advantage of this paradigm shift by targeting and engaging ordinary consumers, and by leveraging the social media and Internet technologies through which influence flows to achieve scalability. To share content and information on Facebook, companies must provide consumers with the right kind of ‘sharable’ content, such as interesting pictures featuring a product or customized messages targeting a specific group of people. Providing sharable content increases the likelihood that people will connect to the brand, and talk positively about a particular company and its products. Naturally, creativity and relevance are crucial.
From a technical perspective, companies can leverage this sharing strategy by integrating their existing services, such as websites and mobile apps, with online social networks so that their customers can seamlessly share the company-provided content with their contacts. To determine which messages are shared the most, companies can mine their existing databases. For instance, they can focus on their social media fan pages, and analyze the number of shares for different posts. They also can slice and dice the data to understand which messages were most heavily shared by each segment.
To leverage social influence towards your products and services companies should take the following steps.
Business risks with social media
As urgent as the need is to establish a social media strategy, businesses must do so with full awareness of the potential risks. Social networks allow digital consumers to be in control as they post information and their sphere of influence can reach far and wide that can either be beneficial or critical to the business operations. Social media comes with several specific risks, including:
Because the impact of social media is so new, most organizations are only now considering risk assessments to outline the pros and cons of social media. When organisations realize the potential for the risks described above, many have a “knee-jerk” reaction and simply block access to social media sites. Leading companies, however, have recognized the potential value they can derive from social media, not just the risks of being present there. They are creating and communicating social media strategy, objectives and measurement plans; developing enterprise-wide social media policies to guide employee usage; and educating and training their staff to operate safely and effectively in social media.
Perhaps the most important early step into social media is the development of strategic listening programs. Effective listening involves more than simply monitoring mentions of a company, brand or product name online. Rather, strategic listening programs use real-time analytics tools to tap into social media knowledge and tease out key conversations taking place about your brand, or about topics that are critical to your brand. In addition, companies are able to track not only what customers say, but what they do through analytics focused on transactions, website behaviour and call centre information. Strategic listening programs allow a company to move beyond the limitations of traditional marketing, sales and customer service and continuously build a relationship with the customer by listening to and engaging with individuals. Companies can benefit from establishing strategic listening posts — not as a onetime gauge of public input, but as an ongoing strategic listening program.
So how do we manage social media?
Beyond listening in on social media content is taking action based on insights gained from that listening. Following are the few steps that organizations can implement to manage the impact of social media input:
Importantly, whether a company has just begun to develop its social media strategy or already is executing, social media audits are paramount. After all, regardless of where your organization is in its social media planning, some percentage of your employees and customers are likely to already have a social media presence. Social media audits can offer a company a clear understanding of those social media activities, sanctioned or not. For companies that have social media policies in place, audits can assess compliance with that policy. And for companies with established social media strategies and objectives, audits can assess the effectiveness of their execution and recommend ways to improve. Given the speed with which social media has hit business agendas, a social media audit may be the most important first step leading to an immediate assessment of corporate exposure, as well as long-term social media strategy and policy development. And, on an ongoing basis, social media audits can help optimize the effectiveness of strategies and policies.