Businesses can't afford to ignore social media

By Debbye Omlie, communications manager for the Center of Economic Vitality

It isn’t business as usual. There has been a major power shift and  it isn’t going away. Your customers have more power than just their buying dollars thanks to the Internet and social media networking tools. In its most basic form, social media can help create strategic relationships with customers as participation can put a human voice to a business. And more people expect it.

More people can now create messages and communities without barriers that can help or hurt a company. Customers want solutions to problems, and a business’s customer-service actions can determine whether people go public with opinions. Creating and maintaining positive customer relationships at all contact points can help to prevent people from taking issues online to be tried in the court of public opinion. The power of customer testimonials, positive and negative, can’t be ignored.

There is much discussion about the return on investment (ROI) for participating in social media. One way to look at it can be quite simple. (I’m unclear how these two sentences are connected; seem like two disjointed thoughts) percent of your percent of your business, the math makes this clear.

What is the value of stopping one angry customer from creating a blog or website about an issue that attracts others and eventually piques national media attention?

Impossible? Ask Ford Motor Company. One of the largest recalls in the history of the company was thrust into national limelight by the work of one angry pickup truck owner. “The Flaming Ford” website attracted so many other angry owners of Ford’s Ranger pickup – which, due to a design defect, led to ignition switches that were causing fires – the issue couldn’t be ignored.

Previously, the company had dodged a recall for several years and had been through several federal investigations, according to a New York Times article dated April 26, 1996. The article also estimated the cost of the recall between $200-300 million. Think about the rate of adoption for people using social media now, more than a decade after “The Flaming Ford” website was first established.

Today, Ford is a social media success story. Ford’s Scott Monty is now credited as a social media innovator in his activities to integrate social media within the entire organization.

While the costs for social media tools are minimal (or free), the learning curve cost to participate is high. Social media are unlike any other communication medium and have many nuances. But, the investment is worth it, if you consider the costs of ignoring.

Want to learn more? Come to the Social Media Conference NW, March 25 at McIntyre Hall Performing Arts and Conference Center in Mount Vernon. Hear and meet busy C-level individuals and social media practitioners talk about why, and how, they are embracing social media and why their businesses are thriving, even in this economic downturn.

Whether you are a social media “newbee” or want to take your efforts to new levels, speakers will cover many important aspects of social media. Need more information? Visit Early bird registration ends March 11.

Disclosure – I am one of the creators and organizers of the 2010 and 2008 Social Media Conference NW and a dedicated social media evangelist and practitioner.

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