Social networks for business
Every year, Ernst & Young recruits many of its 3,500 college graduates using a career group on Facebook, where it not only posts job information but also interacts with prospective employees. Last year, Starbucks launched an online community “my Starbucks Idea”, which allows consumers to share, discuss and vote on ideas giving vital marketing feedback to the company.
Similarly, Dell launched “IdeaStorm”, which is helping the company gauge which ideas are most important and most relevant to the public.
Earlier this year, Ford tapped into 100 top bloggers by giving them their Fiesta model for six months with the agreement that once a month, they are required to upload a video on YouTube about the car, and talk about the Fiesta on their blogs, Facebook and Twitter.
The above are all examples of the phenomenal concept of social networking that has swept the world in recent years. Social networking is no longer confined for “Social” purposes. It is going corporate!
Companies around the world are increasingly tapping into the wonders of social networking with the objective of getting closer to its consumers, to get new business, fresher ideas and improving business performance to name a few.
Social networking is changing the way we spend our time, the way we interact with people, buy products or services and the choices we make.
So how are companies in Bangladesh responding to social networking?
A short survey of senior executives conducted by MTI yielded mixed results. While most executives understand and acknowledge the potential of social networking as a business tool, most are unsure about its strategic use and implementation in the near future. This does not come as a surprise at all.
Bangladesh has one of the lowest internet penetration rates in the world with usage primarily in urban and suburban areas. Social networking in Bangladesh also supposedly has a more youthful user base thus only revealing insights of a particular demographic group. Companies also continue to have greater confidence in the use of traditionally proven communication mediums. Thus it seems like the use of social networking in business in Bangladesh seems impractical, at least in the short-medium term.
However MTI's survey of internet usage in Bangladesh suggests otherwise. Over the past few years, internet penetration in Bangladesh has increased exponentially. According to internet industry insiders, this can be mainly attributed to the growing popularity of mobile internet.
Last year, Facebook shared some statistics that revealed over 1,00,000 Bangladeshis maintain Facebook accounts. This means one among every five Bangladeshi internet users are Facebook users.
A peek into “Alexa's 100 Most Browsed Websites in Bangladesh” reveals over 35 social networking websites with Facebook ranking as the most browsed website in the country. What is more encouraging is the rise in popularity of Bangladeshi blogs, forums as well Bangladeshi social networking and e-commerce websites, such as Linkedbd and Clickbd.
The growing popularity of social networking has led to a promising outlook for its application in business.
One of the primary uses of social networking can be to generate business. Through word of mouth marketing, consumers are becoming the best advocates for companies. It is no secret that consumers trust their peers more than advertisers. With this principle in mind, companies can develop blogs and create pages in the likes of Facebook and Twitter to open up an entirely new channel of communication. This is not only free, but it effectively cuts through the media clutter, keeping consumers up-to-date with every new development.
Already some companies in Bangladesh are reaping the benefits of this. Recently, a retail company enjoyed a successful launch of its new outlet with no advertising at all. When asked, an executive of the company stated they generated enormous buzz merely through word of mouth communication from its 10,000 loyal advocates.
The ability to obtain research insights can be another important purpose. Using social networking companies can get instant and candid feedback from its consumers regarding a product, customer service and new advertisement.
Focus group discussions and surveys will always provide better depth, however time and cost often deters companies from carrying out continuous research and eventually implementing changes.
Social networking is also being used in other functional areas. HR departments are identifying talent and being able to evaluate prospective employees using social networking. As these websites evolve and develop new functionalities and features, its application in business will be boundless.
However, with every reward comes risks and challenges. Despite its numerous benefits and applications, it must be kept in mind this is still a new concept, which has not been thoroughly tested.
Although internet usage is increasing in Bangladesh, it is still focused on selected geo-demographic segments. Questions are bound to arise on authenticity and also whether the views and opinion represent the entire market.
It must also be kept in mind that every consumer will have a different opinion and companies must be able to differentiate from what matters and what is a mere trivial opinion.
There is also the threat of sabotage and infringement of privacy. One must also consider in the same way that positive news can spread rapidly through social networking, negative news can too, which may lead to disaster for a company.
Finally there will always be traditionalists who challenge the ROI of social networking as opposed to other visible and proven mediums.
To many, social networking can appear to be a revelation. However, companies should not rely on it as a strategy for success.
As Intel's Social-Media Strategist Michael Brito says, “Social media is not the messiah. It is one of several tools”. Whether it wishes to use social networking for marketing or any other purpose, it should always be a part of its broader marketing or research or other strategy. It is not a substitute or alternative for advertising or research, rather a tool to augment.
Like other media, there should be resources allocated for execution, with a clear plan on how to tap into its outcome. For every issue there will always be two schools of thought and, in this case, those who embrace social networking and those who shun it. The latter group needs to rethink. They simply cannot ignore the millions of customers who are consuming media in new ways. Social networking is not a fad -- it is a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. The sooner companies realise and respond to this, the sooner they will reap the benefits.