More companies plan to leverage social media for bidirectional feedback rather than just use it as a one-way broadcast communication mechanism, according to IDC's latest Social Business Survey. The survey polled 700 senior executives in the United States to reveal their current and future technology and business plans, perceptions, and experiences related to social media/networking.
This is in sharp contrast to 2012, when, according to Vanessa Thompson, research manager in the Enterprise Social Networks and Collaborative Technologies practice at IDC, "the focus of social initiatives was to gather feedback and respond to employees, customers, partners, and suppliers...to capture and understand all of the relevant brand, product, [and] company discussions primarily on customer-facing social media."
Today companies are using social media more proactively to raise awareness of products and services and create ongoing dialogues with customers, employees, partners, and suppliers, Thompson wrote in a recent blog post.
According to the research, 45 percent of companies cited creating awareness as a priority behind their social efforts.
The research also identified that, when it comes to social software, businesses are most interested in building online communities, with 35 percent of respondents desiring this capability. Twenty-seven percent of companies will look to social media for idea sourcing, and 26 percent will seek out innovation management through social media.
In Europe, another IDC survey found a similar increase in projects related to social media: More than twice the number of organizations that have already implemented social media programs were planning on doing so this year. Internal social networks, external social networks, and lead generation were cited as the most popular social business activities for implementation there.
Of all of the business uses, social communities have perhaps the greatest potential for building relationships with customers, partners, and suppliers, whether in peer-to-peer customer communities or through direct interaction with a company through a managed community, according to Thompson.
"Companies will continue to learn from social deployments, and as social capabilities are applied to an increasing number of use cases, a more granular set of business value metrics will emerge," Thompson wrote in the report. "However, there is still a broad set of business-use cases in customer experience, employee experience (empowerment), and partner experience (including partner and supplier enablement) that can be augmented by additional social capabilities to drive increased business value."
Additional findings presented in the report include the following:
Seventy-nine percent of North American survey respondents have deployed a corporate-sponsored enterprise social network solution.
As adoption of enterprise social solutions increases, barriers have decreased, and the concession is that more than one solution might be required to support a company's needs. As companies respond, they are targeting a set of core capabilities and functionalities to develop and tie together current social initiatives that might already be active in separate systems and business processes.
The skills gap is becoming an increasing challenge, with 35 percent of survey respondents strongly agreeing that they do not have the internal skills to support social software.
The skills gap will have to close soon, Thompson argues. "As social capabilities penetrate the core business processes of an organization to become the backbone of work flow, [they] will no longer be called out as a separate component and will become inherent in how we get things done."
Thompson also identified several steps needed for businesses to map business value from social solutions. They include conducting self-assessments to understand current social business strategies and initiatives, producing a social software map that outlines where current social business assets integrate with other business applications and processes, and thinking long term about how they will continue to meet current and future business needs.
Thompson recommends qualifying the value of social media assets in terms of time and resources needed to support disparate and disconnected systems as a way to help justify expenses for a single system to serve as a social backbone later on.
"New solutions should be considered against the social business strategy," Thompson wrote. "Social solutions are not mission-critical applications, but if the broader social business strategy is not well understood and there is no clear path for the future, simply meeting baseline user expectations will become incrementally more complex but essential."