2015: The Year 'Social' Breaks Out of the Silo

Businesses have adopted social media, but in 2015 it will no longer be seen as a discrete activity; it will spread through the whole organization.

Last December, I predicted social business would grow up this year, with real use cases and measurable return on investment (ROI) emerging across the enterprise. Looking back at the last 12 months, I’d say we’re right on track. From Southwest Airlines to Asos, customer engagement has already been transformed by Twitter. Representatives not only respond to customer complaints and inquiries at breakneck speeds but share content that shows off the company’s unique style and culture. Retailers from Burberry to Starbucks (where I’m proud to serve on the board) not only shine through creative campaigns and audience engagement but have also made cutting-edge social- and mobile-enabled technology their core business. Above: Starbucks' Tweet A Coffee campaign on Twitter. Below: Burberry connecting with its audience on Instagram. Even in financial services, an industry sometimes perceived as slow and sluggish because of the regulatory environment, the world’s largest banks, insurers and financial firms are “getting social.” At Hearsay Social, we now support more than 100,000 financial professionals, allowing them to meaningfully connect with clients and prospects across multiple social networks and devices. Whether it’s improved responsiveness to customer complaints, greater audience reach, more instantaneous market insight or the opportunity to connect with a new lead, compelling business cases now abound on social media. In most organizations, however, social media still sits in a silo by itself. And some companies are still investing in social just to say they are social. Therefore, my big idea for 2015 is that social media will cease to exist as an individual silo, but instead will become integrated into standard business practice. With the initial business case proven, it is time for the C-suite as well as functional leaders to institutionalize social as a core part of how business is done every day. Here’s how: Define a customer-centered vision for transformation We like to think we’ve come so far, but change comes from the top. And how much can be said when, in 2014, two in three CEOs still have no social presence on any major social network whatsoever? (Source: 2014 Social CEO Report, CEO.com.) Of those CEOs who do use social media, two in three are only on one platform. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the only Fortune 500 CEO on every major social network is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who is arguably the best-equipped to understand the power of social. We need to change this next year. If you truly want to create a customer-centered organization -- that is, a company dedicated to long-term success amid seismic shifts in consumer expectations and behavior -- then executives at the top must articulate why the transformation needs to take place. The first step toward articulating this is leading by example: CEOs, functional and line-of-business heads and first-line managers all need to be practicing what they preach so that they are not only more credible but are also better-equipped to lead and influence from within their organizations. Create a new methodology, process, and metrics It’s no longer acceptable to be doing social media for the sake of doing it. Have a plan in place, no matter how simple. Document your plan and intended goals, train employees and managers on it, drive success by checking in regularly and, of course, measure people on it. Our customer success team at Hearsay Social, for example, has developed a four-step methodology for financial firms and their advisers who may initially feel overwhelmed when approaching social: First, establish a presence, which can be measured simply by seeing who has online social profiles. Second, grow your network by connecting with colleagues and clients where appropriate -- yet another step that can be easily measured. Next, listen to your network for opportunities that could help you grow your business. Finally, share content and thought leadership to continually stay top-of-mind with your audience. Four steps to successful social business: Establish a presence, grow your network, listen to your network ("Hear") and share content ("Say"). Having a methodology, process and metrics in place for the social program helps institutionalize social as part of a company’s DNA and standard operating procedure while ensuring repeatability and scale as the company brings on new employees. Cut and consolidate Regardless of the organization, resources are never unlimited. Employees can only get so much done in a day, and there’s only so much cash flowing to fuel projects. With that in mind, even the largest companies in the world must start thinking like start-ups by adopting a mentality of ruthless focus. In other words, you need to decide what you’re not going to do to make room for social. For example, many of the insurance agencies we power on social media have decided to stop advertising on park benches and in the Yellow Pages. Instead, they are using their funds to buy promoted posts on Facebook. Another company, a financial services firm, which previously provided two separate training programs for “inter-generational wealth transfer” and “social media,” realized that there was actually an opportunity to combine the two because social media should be core to any effort to appeal to future generations of heirs. Let your people teach and inspire one another The first three steps are all top-down, but equally important, if not more so, is the groundswell of employee engagement and feeling of ownership. Companies more than ever need to have bottoms-up evangelism and peer-to-peer sharing to succeed in the digital era. As partners of our client companies, we regularly attend national conferences hosted by our client organizations that bring together advisers across the country to share ideas about how they do business today. Time and time again, we hear anecdotes of social-savvy advisers sharing their success stories and ROI proof points, which serve to sway even the most skeptical advisers to become social media believers and practitioners. In the end, though executive buy-in is crucial, peer-to-peer evangelism will be much more credible than corporate departments pushing their initiatives down. You need both. Expect continual iteration To succeed as a company in 2015 and beyond, it is imperative to accept that change is ubiquitous and accelerating. There’s new tech coming out every day -- from mobile payments to virtual reality, connected cars and homes to the Internet of Everything -- destined to challenge and upend every established sector. In turn, each of these disruptions will cause even newer technologies like social media to evolve, and there will always be new use cases. Perhaps your company may pave the way to the next innovation in social media case studies. In 2015, social will be disrupted by going mainstream across the enterprise. Soon, we will no longer call it out separately. Social as a silo is going away. A decade ago, we spent a lot of breath talking about “online” experiences, but today we assume every customer is always online. Social will be the same.

Clara Shih

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Clara Shih

Clara Shih is CEO and founder of Hearsay Social and a pioneer in the social media industry. Hearsay Social is the leading social sales and marketing platform, empowering the world's largest companies to build stronger customer relationships. Clara is a member of the Starbucks board and previously served in a variety of technical, product and marketing roles at Google, Microsoft and Salesforce.com.

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