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For Many, Social Media Still an Experiment
A Harvard Business Review survey shows the immaturity of business activity in the space.
Posted Nov 30, 2010
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A recent survey by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services indicates that nearly two-thirds of the 2,100 companies who participated said they are either currently using social media channels or have social media plans in the works. As promising as that might sound, answers to the survey point to the newness of social media efforts. One third of companies, for example, do not measure the effectiveness of their social media efforts. A whopping 75 percent have no idea where their most valuable customers are talking. The survey, sponsored by business analytics software and service provider SAS, relays business' attitudes about social media, their current challenges, their perceived benefits, and their usage habits and plans for the future.

Here are some highlights from the survey:

  • Among surveyed companies, 87 percent participate in social networking sites.
  • 58 percent use blogs or multimedia sharing.
  • 53 percent use microblogs like Twitter.
  • A lowly 7 percent said they are able to integrate social media into their overall marketing strategy, such as campaign management, retail analytics, CRM and business intelligence.
  • Only 12 percent of companies described themselves as effective social media users.
  • About 23 percent use social media analytic tools.
  • 75 percent of companies report not knowing where their most valuable customers are conversing about them.
  • 31 percent do not measure effectiveness of social media.
  • 50 percent list "Increased awareness of our organization, products, or services among target customers" as the primary benefit from applying social media efforts to the organization.
  • Only 9 percent list the ability to measure the frequency of discussion about the organization as a benefit.
  • Two-thirds of the companies predict that their use of social media would grow significantly over the next few years.
  • Those who already budget for social media plan to increase spending for it by 30 percent or more in the next year.

The report states: "Many still say social media is an experiment, as they try to understand how to best use the different channels, gauge their effectiveness, and integrate social media into their strategy." Jeff Gilleland, global customer intelligence strategist at SAS, remarks further that we are still very much in the early stages with business. "The medium and the tools are consistent with the adoption of any new emerging media form," he says. "What we expect is that there will be this rapid acceleration as these experiments get underway and companies begin to demonstrate effective strategies and measure the results."

The report conveys that many companies are struggling to treat social media as an enterprise-wide operational strategy. Instead, the report states that companies are operating under old paradigms, and treating social media as a one-way channel. "Many organizations [are], viewing social media as one-way flow marketing messages, instead of capitalizing on the opportunity to monitor, analyze, and participate in the millions of conversations between consumers."

John Bastone, global product marketing manager for SAS Customer Intelligence, says social media is "a classic silo right now." Although numbers are less than stellar for monitoring conversations, analyzing conversations, and applying analytics before taking action, both the report authors and the SAS executives seem to come to the same conclusion: Businesses are adapting to social media — albeit slowly.

The report sums it up nicely: "Those companies who are most effective in social media now are not only experimenting with multiple channels, but also creating metrics to measure impact and using new tools to understand how to enter into a new conversation with their customers. In the future, effective use of social media will be led by these organizations that are able to enter into this new relationship with customers, employees, and partners."

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