The current state of social media adoption

Six signs that social is gaining ground as a marketing and customer service staple

Social media’s ever-increasing popularity as a business tool is no surprise. As customers increase their interest in and use of social to interact with each other and their preferred brands, a growing number of companies are in lock step—wooing those customers in social settings with marketing campaigns and customer support.

But these advances are just the beginning. Businesses have yet to use social to its full potential, according to “Social Media 2012: State of Adoption,” a study I conducted in collaboration with Esteban Kolsky. The following key findings highlight that potential.

Obstacles to adoption remain, but they are largely not technical. Executives “get it,” and younger people generally have more experience with social media and they get it too. Although some business leaders have concerns about legal issues and security, many haven’t figured out where in their organizations to first apply social media or which business processes to start with. So there’s plenty of opportunity for vendors and providers to show the way to do social well, including lessons learned, best practices, frameworks, and methodologies.

The usual suspects have the greatest adoption; for example, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, plus the corporate blog and video. While these channels are important, they represent the last mile for social media use. Other activities, like capturing customer input, lag—and a strong case can be made that companies are building out their social strategies in a sequential process: from the customer in or from the data out.

Video and picture sharing are among the top social media. Many organizations have not yet adopted video as a messaging tool in part because it can be expensive and it requires additional expertise that must either be hired or bought on a consulting basis.  But in other research, we’ve seen that organizations that have adopted video and sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo are discovering strong ROI, especially in the sales and marketing process. Video sharing through links in social media is a natural fit and companies are eagerly adopting it.

Marketing and service have more uses for social media than does sales, so far.  Customer service has more use cases for social media than the other two areas combined.  Sales adoption is clustered around the early parts of the funnel such as prospecting and providing information. Marketers know that social is useful for capturing supplementary customer data and using it in nurturing programs. Customer service uses social media in a variety of situations for improving first-call resolution and providing correct information to customers.

Overall, marketing’s use of social media appears to be more sophisticated than either sales or service, as these two departments use social primarily for outbound communication. Marketing is at least beginning to collect customer input for data collection.

Social media has also made significant impacts inside the organization for communicating with and among employees. Its benefits include better employee feedback, greater individual participation in problem solving, and greater job satisfaction. Although people see easier recruiting benefits, they don’t see improvement in employee retention with social media. Nonetheless, a company’s positive experience with employee give-and-take through social media will give some the confidence they need to use social media in novel ways with customers to capture more feedback; internal successes will easily lead to further adoption of the technologies and to seek external use cases.

Content is still king. Ranking the three major social media sites for usefulness, Twitter is first followed by Facebook, and then LinkedIn. Interestingly, corporate blogs and product/service blogs are rated higher than the top three services in terms of content, perhaps indicating that people want specific content and they are not put off by content size or the time it might take to read or view it. So the three popular social tools might help get the conversation started but successful companies will quickly discover that they need more content for follow up. 

Denis Pombriant is principle of Beagle Research Group.

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