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The Role of Social Media in Strategic Communication

Social networks influence 75 percent of consumer buying decisions. In the supermarket, three of every four products in your cart would not be there, but for the power of social media.

If that does not make you think twice before your next tweet about your latest consumer experience, you may already be aware of the influence of social media in strategic communication. But if these numbers come as a surprise, let us examine how social media is most effectively used by businesses.

Listening and Learning

Ninety-three percent of marketers use social media for business. Customer service, product support, research and other departments also use it to listen to not only consumers but also influencers, shareholders and the general public.

Social listening is the process of tracking dialogues to uncover communication opportunities. Objectives may include identifying influencers, tracking a marketing campaign, finding customer service opportunities, monitoring the workplace, tracking investor sentiment, and watching reactions to a news event. Organizations obtain profound knowledge every day, simply by listening to conversations around specific hashtags or keywords. All of this happens before the conversation between a company and its customers even begins.

Here are a few ways organizations listen and learn:

Identifying Influencers: A hashtag search turns up a celebrity tweeter who mentioned her purchase of your stylish new jacket. A widely read movie critic just panned your latest flick in a scathing review linked from Facebook. A gadget guru just posted a review of your new drone on his YouTube channel.

Tracking a Marketing Campaign: Your company started a new catch phrase, and it is being tweeted and retweeted after your Super Bowl ad. A nonprofit starts a viral video campaign to raise awareness for curing a disease and thousands have posted YouTube videos of themselves participating.

Finding Customer Service Opportunities: A search for "billing problems" along with your company's name turns up hundreds of angry Facebook posts and tweets about perceived dishonesty. A search on your product's instructions turns up more than 1,000 people who can't get past assembly step four.

Monitoring the Workplace: A former employee just posted a negative review on Glassdoor, which is met with wide agreement. A group is praising your workplace culture on Facebook and those posts are getting likes.

Tracking Investor Sentiment: Market movers like Warren Buffet influence price action on a company's stock with the most mildly worded positive or negative statement. An inexplicable stock price drop is met with waves of consumer speculation and misinformation that must be addressed.

Watching Public Reactions to a News Event: Your oil spill is wrongly blamed on negligent equipment maintenance. The government wants you to unlock encrypted data on personal phones to intercept terrorist plots. Your pilot is a hero today for diving a plane into the Hudson River after birds destroy both engines, saving all 155 lives on board. But tomorrow, he will be vilified, only to be exonerated again the next day in the court of public opinion.

Responding and Engaging

Before companies can effectively engage with consumers, they must identify key communities and where they like to interact and get information online. Beyond Facebook and YouTube, influential dialogues occur on lesser known platforms such as podcasts, blogs and forums as well as in applications.

Once an organization identifies the channels, it must create strategic messaging for all of the company's objectives. This messaging must be authentic, focused and consistent across all social platforms, so that no matter who communicates, the brand gains equity in specific values.

Timeliness of response is also critical; 43 percent of social media users interact with brands for a direct response to a problem or question and 75 percent expect a response in one hour or less. Seven in eight messages go unanswered within 72 hours, so most companies are falling far short of expectations. This is not simply for lack of manpower, but a lack of content resources to help provide immediate responses to commonly asked questions and a lack of training with these resources.

Transparency is essential, yet many organizations overlook the need for truth. Revealing as much information as possible, as soon as possible, establishes trust in crisis situations.

Continued access to help and expertise is another imperative. Thirty-one percent of users who interact with brands seek direct access to customer service representatives or product experts who can enhance their experience over a longer term. Organizations must therefore put people in place -- in every function from customer service to engineering -- who can serve as ongoing liaisons in this manner.

This article began with an eye-opening statistic: three in four buying decisions are influenced by social media. When you consider that most buying experiences are ultimately based on how customers feel they are treated, according to a McKinsey report, the conclusion becomes clear: social media plays a critical role in strategic communication.

Learn more about the SOSU online MBA with an emphasis in Strategic Communication program.


Forbes: Three Elements of an Effective Social Media Strategy

SproutSocial: What is Social Listening & Why Is It Important?

SproutSocial: 7 Ways to Better Your Social Media Engagement

CoSchedule Blog: 101 Interesting Social Media Statistics Every Marketer Should Know About

McKinsey&Company: The Moment of Truth in Customer Service

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