Companies must use Social Media to inform decisions

facebook, twitter and youtube logos2011 was a big year for Social Media for a number of reasons. Sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube along with countless blog sites played a major role in the uprisings and protests in North Africa and the Middle East.

Social Media also had a significant influence on business during 2011, causing a number of large companies to reverse major decisions following online campaigns.

It started when Gap launched a new logo to widespread derision on Twitter and other sites. Within a week Gap had restored the original logo. In the US, Netflix announced changes to its DVD and streaming services and associated pricing structure. Netflix responded to the social media storm generated by the decision by announcing further changes that it thought would placate its customers. It didn’t work and these changes and most of those contained in the original announcement were eventually abandoned.

On a smaller scale a Facebook campaign started by a marine conservation charity forced Tesco to withdraw a t-shirt with the slogan “Reel Men Fish For Sharks”. Within seven hours the offending item had been removed from sale. And more recently HP announced it would stop making PCs. Cue a wave of support for its PCs expressed via social media. The CEO was soon replaced and an announcement that HP would continue to make PCs followed.

There have been many more. Presumably none of the major decisions were taken lightly and they must have been through a formal process involving identifying options, costs, impact, reviews, advice from specialists such as PR advisors, board approval, etc. So how did they get it so wrong?

Social Media brings a completely new dimension to customer feedback; it makes the process easy, immediate and open to everyone (including those who are not customers). And once the momentum builds it is virtually impossible for the corporate PR machine to control the message.

To avoid making the same mistakes with major decisions businesses have to make social media part of their decision making process.

Companies will need to use online channels proactively instead of just using them to react to feedback. Social media is also more than just a medium for businesses to make announcements, publicise new products and services and manage their brands. It can be used to inform decisions, to solicit feedback, views and ideas as part of the decision making process. It is also a valuable source of real-time data that can be used to assess how decisions will play with customers. And it’s relatively low cost as well. The analysis of social data is a growth area and the companies that successfully exploit it will avoid the type of PR nightmares we saw in 2011.

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