Tsocial mediahis post was originally featured on The Fourth Source blog on February 28, 2014.

Most of us use social media fairly well in our personal lives, but that obviously doesn’t necessarily mean we use it to its full potential in a professional capacity.

Updating statuses, posting photos and staying in touch with friends is one thing. However, using social media platforms to manage the reputation of a brand and gain meaningful insights into consumer behavior is an entirely different beast.

If businesses are to get the most out of social media, the first thing CEOs and Managing Directors need to understand is that social media is not just the preserve of marketing and customer service. For effective social media engagement to take place, all areas of a business must have access to the wealth of insights offered by platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

For 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 the 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, it 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.

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 wealth of real-time information and insights into consumer behavior. 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 compartmentalizing social media, leaving reams of customer information and product or brand feedback sitting within their ‘social’ teams.

Few companies proactively analyze, 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.

There are, however, some brands which do integrate the information they glean from social media into their business plan. Brands which 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. In the case of Nissan, the car manufacturer used the insights gained from using Synthesio’s tools to better inform their strategy around a large integrated marketing campaign for the electric Nissan Leaf.

Using social media listening, Nissan identified five key barriers to the uptake of electric vehicles, including concerns over battery life, charging infrastructure and total cost of ownership. They also discovered that after someone had driven a Leaf, they were much more likely to be an advocate of the vehicle. Nissan’s creative agencies used these insights to devise a campaign that directly addressed the identified barriers to purchase, providing facts and information to lessen people’s concerns.

The campaign was also structured in a way that drove people towards dealerships for test drives. Nissan used listening to measure the impact of the campaign in terms of positively shifting attitudes and conversations. The campaign was a huge success and supported the Leaf’s rise as the world’s number one electric car.

BT, Viacom, Toyota, BNP Paribas, and Mars are also examples of companies which 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, irrespective of what department they are based within.

BT uses social media listening to not just monitor the quality of service but also aid the launch of new products. Additionally, in crisis situations, BT uses the insights and analysis picked up by its monitoring dashboards to identify issues early on and stop the development of negative situations.

As a result of BT’s success with social media listening, the telecom company has raised the profile of social listening within the company, with regular reports now being delivered at managing director level.

The examples of Nissan and BT prove the value that effective engagement with social media can offer to business or a brand.

Social media can be used for so much more than simply disseminating news and handling customer complaints. This reactive approach is now the very least a brand should do online. The best companies take a more proactive approach. They analyze the insights gained from social media and then assimilate these findings with their central business strategy.

In short, information should not sit in one department, it should be made readily available to senior executives and workers in all areas of a business. Social media, when fully understood and used correctly, can provide invaluable insights which are nearly impossible to find elsewhere.