Businesses need to embrace rather than ignore social media if they want to better engage with customers, according to IT consultancy Parity.
With the rapid end-user uptake of instant messaging, blogging, social networks and video sharing, social media is becoming a massively popular communication tool.
However, a recent report by research firm Vanson Bourne for Parity found that most companies have little or no presence in these channels, meaning they have no idea about what is being said about them in these spaces and cannot respond to queries or complaints.
The trend continues internally as well, with the research revealing that, while many think social media is a viable business tool, only a tiny number would consider using it to communicate important information or even office gossip to their colleagues.
"Social media already seems to have attracted negative associations," said Adrian Moss, product manager and head of the Web 2.0 team at Parity.
"Combined with effective information management, social media tools have been successfully deployed by organisations to help people communicate more effectively both internally and externally. However, there will need to be a paradigm shift in the attitudes of senior management, or UK organisations will lose the race before it even starts."
According to Moss, most business managers are afraid of using social media as they feel it doesn't fit the "comfy old jumper" model they are used to and fear the loss of control, privacy and management traditional methods offer.
However, he argues that by taking the "three monkeys approach" and ignoring these technologies, firms are not doing themselves any favours as the problems still exist, just now they have no way of knowing about them or dealing with issues that may arise.
"For instance, if someone Tweets a complaint about a particular product, they may suddenly find a cascade of others Twitter users who agree and then pass the complaint around to others, creating a wave of discontent. If the manufacturer can pick up on that and respond, they can turn the tables on the situation and be seen as proactively dealing with their customers' concerns," he explained.
Moss went on to highlight the public sector as a prime example of where social media can very effectively be used to help communities. There is a growing push from government towards e-engagement and self-service through online portals, both for greater cost efficiency and improving interaction with residents, and social media is one very simple channel that can be used to deliver this.
"The rapid growth of social networking sites and examples of its successful use, from President Obama's White House race and the US Food and Drugs Administration's use of social media for public safety and information updates, to the viral advertising campaigns for everything from Earth Hour to T-Mobile, show that the public have accepted and use social media in many ways," Moss explained.
Moss added that companies would do well to look internally as well as externally when considering implementing social media as he believes it can be a useful tool for communicating with colleagues as well as interfacing with customers. However, he also warned that these businesses should not forget the traditional communication channels, as there are still many who prefer to pick up a phone, write a letter or come into a store.
"Organisations need to invest time to understand and plan how to best use this valuable communication tool, embracing its potential, and seek ways to professionalise its use – or risk missing out on an incredibly powerful communication tool," he concluded.
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