from Social Business Manifesto
The fast-approaching threshold of one billion Facebook users is the most striking sign of the unstoppable spread of social media worldwide: social media is coming out from the circle of web enthusiasts to conquer an ever more relevant portion of the population, influencing their tastes, purchase intentions and expectations. Today more than ever, for the brands of any sector, it is important not only to understand this phenomenon but to know how to use it to establish more significant and lasting relationships with customers and consumers that are able not only to reinforce purchase behaviours but to more widely involve the entire business ecosystem (suppliers, employees, consumers and opinion leaders).
A recent Nielsen study  shows how the so-called “web 2.0” is today appreciated by three quarters of users, occupying 22% of their time online. Much of this time is spent playing an active role within groups united by an interest, a need, a passion so strong as to make communities the fastest growing sector of the whole Internet  (+5.4%) and capable of reaching a larger number of people than email (66.8% against 65.1%). These networks are now “seen as special” by companies because 70% of users have a lot more confidence in the opinions posted by their own peers than in the messages of traditional advertising (steady at 14%). This percentage increases to 90% when opinions and recommendations come from people they know. The opportunity inherent in social media is even more evident when adding that, for example in America, as many as 93% of interviewees would like the companies they have contact with to be accessible on social media  in order to provide better services (56%), solve their problems (43%) and collect feedback on products (41%), including on the move. In line with the international framework, Italy is among the most evolved European countries as regards the use of social platforms, especially Facebook.
The customer has changed: the social customer
A revolution in methods of communication has followed an even more relevant revolution in behaviour. What is emerging from the data is a new type of consumer who is extremely active on social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Flickr, and interested in a more lasting, transparent, deep and joint relationship with the brand. Thanks to the quantity of information and the possibility to connect with millions of people online, the social customer:
- is more demanding because it is more expert and constantly updated on the latest product characteristics;
- believes little of advertising messages and before purchasing prefers to form a personal opinion online;
- loves sharing feedback and comments, in particular when the experience has been highly negative;
- expects its point of view to be listened to 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, regardless of the channel chosen to express itself;
- asks to see its own feedback included in the evolution of products and services;
- uses smartphones and other mobile devices to track down at any time the indications it needs, especially through the networks it belongs to;
- knows it has a voice with which it can speak directly to the brand, not only as a customer, but also as an ambassador and influencer (for better or worse);
- wants to be respected and treated transparently strong with the weight taken on in its own circle of contacts.
The diagram in figure 1 highlights the characteristics of the Social Customer, who is more knowledgeable, more prepared and who holds a constantly growing power in relation to the brand.
Characteristics of a good Social Media Strategy plan
Where should we begin in order to devise a strategy for a company’s presence on social media? Let’s start with some indications taken from our projects:
- The strategy is a “tailor-made suit”, no scalable strategies or packages valid for every company exist: the creation of a strategy should always be preceded by an accurate assessment, to properly understand one’s own market and customers, and by an internal analysis concerning the problems that could hinder the correct development of the strategy itself.
- A good strategy is always co-created: Social Media Strategy is a mix of objectives, rules, values and guidelines that are impossible to identify without close collaboration with the company itself. The role of the consultant is to put the company and the brand in the position to have the best exposure on social platforms, without replacements. In order to work well, a strategy needs a strong commitment from above, the consent of the various departments and managers concerned, and of the various stakeholders.
- The strategy must be accompanied by a governance plan that can govern the daily management of the social platforms.
- The entire company is involved: a good strategy passes over existing silos, involves and holds together the objectives of communication, marketing, customer care, HR, sales, the product and innovation. In this sense the strategy (and governance) must be accompanied by a Social Media Policy aimed at providing operational advice to all the people within the company who operate, whether officially or not, within the social platforms where the brand is active. A good strategy does not stop at providing indications regarding individual platforms, but is able to communicate the company’s real objectives, including long-term.
The starting point: listen, listen, listen
A Social Media Strategy is based on a fundamental process that starts with listening, by monitoring online conversations to understand how consumers perceive the organization. The diagram in figure 2 shows the process leading from active listening (Social media listening or monitoring) to the customer to a wider involvement, highlighting how Social Media Strategy is simply the end of a very precise journey that in turn is placed as the starting point for new activities in relation to the customers, in an active and recursive mechanism.
Prospects of social media strategy
The value that Social Media Strategy can bring has different possible deviations. In our experience there are at least five scenarios to work on, which are listed in figure 3.
Examples of metrics for different Social platforms
|Platform||Brand Awareness||Brand Engagement||Word of Mouth|
By describing in an operational manner how to build a Social Media Strategy we can identify a series of questions – shown in figure 4 – that it is useful to ask and that can guide us in creating what we want to obtain.
The work process
As already shown, it is important to define the listening process: who are we listening to? Which public are we interested in involving? Where online is our brand being talked about? It is essential that a strategy defines clear business objectives that connect it to a very precise executive plan that also provides KPIs able to measure any success of the implemented activities. As regards the definition of KPIs, it should be underlined how each platform has fairly different metrics and logics. One example and a summary, by way of illustration, can be taken from the diagram shown in Figure 4 that highlights some of the successful metrics of a brand within social channels.
It is then necessary to anticipate a co-design phase and a period of experimentation in which the strategy is put to the test in the field to understand where to intervene and where it is possible to make improvements. A useful piece of advice could also be to start with some channels and gradually broaden the approach to other platforms.
The web as a mirror
Interview with Giuseppe Cerroni (Head of Communication and Institutional Affairs at Autogrill)
Why does a company like Autogrill have to be interested in social media?
Whilst tradition mass media is tending to assume more and more of an “institutional” nature, becoming tools for a communication limited to certain respondents, on the web we witness an opposite process, so much so that today if a company wishes to examine a realistic image of itself it is preferable for it to use the web as a mirror rather than printed paper. Our interest in social media comes precisely from this, from the wish to listen and monitor what happens in this less and less virtual universe. It is a complex listening process, because it involves, for example, redefining the parameters of authority and impact of sources.
How are you planning to do this?
The first step was starting up periodical web and social media monitoring. After this came building a social media strategy, a social media policy and social media governance. The objectives and rules with which the company will manage its social presence have been defined in a collaborative manner, by building a wide range of work teams made up of the different company functions involved in the subject. It is characteristic of social media, on the other hand, to make the boundaries flow and to reduce them, both the internal ones among the various company functions but also those between the company and consumers. Our Group is also present in 35 countries and there’s no doubt that the experience already gained by our business units in the USA and UK spurred us on.
What are the areas of resistance and complexity that have been faced in order to do this?
Whilst in the English-speaking world there is a greater facility to meet the consumer on social media, in Italy, in our experience, we are faced with people who are more oriented to critical attitudes. Some social media end up channelling a type of questions that evidently have no outlet elsewhere. This seems to me to be another interesting challenge that certainly needs to be dealt with, as does the challenge of transmitting complex company identities, both local ones and global ones simultaneously.
Conclusions: connect Social Media Strategy to the organization and the workflow
As we have seen when talking about Social Business, the traditional separation between the inside and outside of the company – with the new social tools – is lost. The split is made much less evident and it therefore appears necessary that, as external brands put a specific strategy in place to engage consumers, so too must internal strategies and policies be put into place that can allow the company to respond to requests coming from the outside.
It is therefore essential that when transforming a company into a social business and creating a Social Media Strategy, the company must also be equipped with a social media governance and a social media policy that clearly explain to employees how to use the new social channels and how to behave when on the various social platforms.
Social Media Listening – Example sections of a report
Share of Voice
The SOV helps us to better understand where our company is being talked about and how frequently this is taking place. It is a simple count of mentions but it represents a first, fundamental step to understanding how much material on us is online and in which online places interactions are most frequent.
The trend provides an indicative measure of the tendency of conversations in the period of reference. By tracing a trend it is possible to understand if the specific initiatives launched by the brand in that particular period have attracted a certain amount of interest or not, or if some facts have caused a stir online and affected the company’s image.
Categorizing messages and assigning sentiment
Within a good report, that offers a snapshot of what is being said online about a particular brand, there must always be a strong contribution from expert analysts able to determine the sentiment of messages, understand the deep sense and reposition it within the broader vision of the entire report. This is as if to say that it is not enough that there are data and numbers but that the good “assessor” must always translate those data and values into suggestions and specific indications in order to set up a more complex strategy.
A good reputation analysis is based above all on this point which is unlikely to be able to be entrusted to a tool (as valid as it may be).
Wherever possible it would always be important to try to identify who are the opinion leaders, the most important sources and the people who move information on our brand around online.
Engagement means the relationship between the interactions of users (comments, likes, shares) and the total number of views.
This means the relationship between the users participating in the brand’s discussions/initiatives and the total audience exposed to the brand’s communication.
 Nielsen, “Global Faces on Networked Places”.
 “Cone Finds That Americans Expect Companies to Have a Presence in Social Media,” http://www.coneinc.com/content1182.