value out of social mediaThis post was originally featured on The Wall blog on February 6, 2014.

Three or four years ago, many articles on getting business value from social media would have been haranguing brands to improve their presence on Facebook, perhaps with a suggestion to try out Twitter. Luckily, time has moved on and the vast majority of businesses not only have a social media presence, but are also providing some form of social customer care. Alas, all is still not well: many companies continue to fail to maximise the full value of social media. This can largely be blamed on company practices and culture which fails to take social media seriously – that is, until something bad happens.

In many companies social media is managed by a community manager sitting within the marketing or customer service teams. This system for the most part works well. If social media is handled by marketing, the Twitter or Facebook feed is a procession of company and product news, interspersed with the odd statement when things haven’t gone to plan. If social media is the preserve of the customer service team, Twitter et al becomes a conduit for quick-fire responses to queries and complaints, and a good way to put a human face on a large corporation. In an ideal world the marketing and customer service teams communicate well together and social media becomes an avenue for both complaints handling and proactive communication.

This is the sum of how the majority of businesses use social media. The problem is social media can be much more useful. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs and forums form part of the biggest focus group the world has ever seen. The web contains a treasure-trove of real-time information and insights into the experience of being a customer, including typical moments of pain and joy. This revelation will come as little surprise to community managers. However, the senior management team or indeed, other departments of the same company, often have little access to the types of social insights their community management teams are exposed to on a daily basis. Many companies have taken to ‘siloing’ social media, leaving reams of customer information and product or brand feedback sitting within their ‘social’ teams. Few companies proactively analyse, distribute and act on the data they have at their fingertips to reveal underlying trends or insights that could improve their products, services, customer support or marketing effectiveness.

There are, however, some brands who do integrate the information they glean from social media into their business plan. Brands who aspire to become truly social businesses include Nissan, which has incorporated social media KPIs, such as the Synthesio Social Reputation Score, into the heart of the way it measures and plans campaigns and all aspects of customer engagement. BT, Viacom, Toyota, BNP Paribas and Mars are also examples of companies who are both proactively listening to customers and trying to ensure the knowledge gained is shared with the stakeholders who have the ability to act on those insights, no matter what department they are based within.

Using social media to disseminate news and handle customer complaints is now the very least a brand should do online. The best companies analyse social media and then integrate these findings into their overarching business strategy. Information should be readily available to senior executives and workers in different departments. The reality is that the value of social media is directly correlated to how seriously a business takes it.

Take a look at how Nissan is using Social Insights to drive electric car sales.