Leveraging #social media - one #hashtag at a time

Social interaction with customers is growing, and more and more businesses are realizing the importance of social media, according to a new study from FedEx and Ketchum.

The study, which is a follow-up to a 2010 study on the same topic, found that business executives believe they have the framework in place to support customers’ online needs, although it notes that many companies have been slow to adjust from simply having a social media presence to generating  social media interaction.

“The rise of social media is both the biggest business communications challenge and opportunity in decades,” said Bill Margaritis, senior vice president of global communications and investor relations at FedEx. “Our survey provides a dynamic look at how business is evolving and expanding its social platform use, what’s working so far, and what might be next. Younger audiences in particular expect to interact with businesses this way; businesses building for the long-term will benefit by learning from our findings.”

Fifty-five communications and marketing executives at companies in the U.S. and internationally and 30 communications and social media thought leaders were interviewed for the study.

According to the research, the businesses believe “they are particularly effective at strengthening relationships among customers (51%), the general public (52%) and partners and suppliers (40%).

Even still, not everyone is convinced of social media’s power. In May, General Motors announced it was pulling its advertising from Facebook because it was not seeing the return on investment. Ford and Coca-Cola responded shortly thereafter professing their support for the social network and its abilities in brand promotion. GM has since stated that it intends to return to Facebook.

But while the ultimate affect of social media advertising on sales is still being debated, the role of employees in company branding efforts is not. This is a shift from the previous study, and the public perception that companies want to limit, almost control, their employees’ use of social media. There have been countless stories of people who have been fired for posting negative comments about their employer on Facebook. But that is now changing as companies embrace the use of social media by employees.

In the 2012 survey, 85% of the companies who use social media to engage employees reported that employee participation in their organization’s social business efforts increased over the past 12 months.

“Companies today recognize that employees are often their most passionate, credible and impactful brand ambassadors, both internally and externally, and are designing communications strategies that reflect that reality,” said Tyler Durham, partner and managing director of Ketchum Pleon Change. “The 2012 study revealed significant movement among those analyzed in the area of internal social connections on two fronts: internal engagement between the company and its employees, and empowerment of employees to represent the brand externally. Both approaches support the move toward true social business and will ultimately foster real business results in terms of employee retention, engagement and productivity.”

For trucking companies, it’s important to remember that social media can and does play a role in their reputation and branding. But that role is only one part of the equation. In fact, social media branding and engagement is driven by, of all things, employees.

Brands are built by word of mouth as much as any advertising campaign. Social media is the new word of mouth and companies need to embrace it. But there is little any company can do to limit negative comments other than to provide a welcoming and warm work environment in the hopes that its employees feel the same.

Companies can, and should, build their social brand, but that branding effort is only as strong as the overall attitudes of the company’s employees. Remember, employees will always tell others about their experiences – for better or worse.

More information, including the study’s full findings, can be found at http://www.2012socialbusinessstudy.com.

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