Social media: This medium is now the message

John is looking to buy a highly specialized exhaust for his car. But he knows the chances of finding it at the local dealership are very slim. So John instant messages Pat, a friend John met through a Facebook group dedicated to high end car restoration, and asks him his thoughts. Pat flips John a link to a car blog he came across the other day, as he noticed the blogger was selling the exact exhaust John is looking for. John hops onto the blog and sends a private message to the blogger, Stan, and they work out the details of the purchase over Skype. In a matter of a few mouse clicks, John has made a purchase without leaving the comfort of his home, all thanks to the power of social media.

Meet the new media

According to a study conducted in 2009 by Delvinia, 72 per cent of Canadians completely agree that digital technology makes it easier to stay connected with their social contacts, and 52 per cent of Canadians completely agree that digital technology allows them to stay better connected with their places of work.

This widespread adoption of digital technology has allowed for the widespread rise of social media – as Ipsos Reid notes, in 2007, only 39 per cent of Canadians had a profile on an online social networking site, yet by 2009, that number had grown to 56 per cent. As the number grows, consumers will begin to rely more and more on social media for information, solutions and as a way to engage with businesses in a highly targeted way. Today’s customers expect results to happen quickly and efficiently – social networking can deliver this.

In short, social media is how Canadians are communicating with each other now. Businesses need to be communicating with their customers in this space, too.

Some businesses are embracing social networking technologies, rewriting the way in which they collaborate, communicate and do business. Yet not all are, as the social media space is still relatively new. However, organizations can no longer expect customers and employees to accommodate the limited communication methods they offer. Rather, the reverse must be true or customers will simply take their business elsewhere.

Integrating by IMing; Facilitating through Facebook

The key to the successful adoption of these new technologies is the development of appropriate policies and procedures to ensure new technologies are suitably integrated into existing offerings so that accessing them is as effective as making a phone call. In this manner, businesses can seamlessly connect with their customers in whichever way suits them the best, be it a new or traditional interaction method.

It’s also important to keep in mind that customers will switch communication methods depending on their personal circumstances: Mobile one day, IM the next and Twitter the day after so it is important to maintain a consistent customer led approach to all communication “channels” and make sure that customer history is maintained in one place no matter in what form this contact comes in.

The foundation that can enable social networking to be effective and useful for businesses is already in place; all that is needed is a platform that can bring these disparate communications methods – phone, Facebook, SMS, email – together. This will ensure that when a customer contacts a business, their needs will be addressed quickly and efficiently, regardless of what form the contact comes in. This level of service is what lays the foundation for repeat business – a key benefit in these challenging times.

To ensure that social networking supports how customers relate to the business, it’s important that it be prioritized, managed and provisioned for correctly. The key is to begin looking at anytime access to information as a requirement, not a luxury, and a benefit to customers and businesses alike. Companies that offer this are ahead of the curve when it comes to customers’ expectations – a competitive advantage today, more than ever before.

Unifying your business with Unified Communications

One of the ways organizations can begin incorporating social media into their existing communications platforms is through Unified Communications (UC). UC can deliver an integrated platform to manage disparate communication formats in one place. What’s more, it can extend flexibility to employees, giving them the power to work efficiently regardless of location, making it much more convenient to deliver the immediate response that new social networking tools demand.

Used in this way UC, combined with social networking tools, will without a doubt, transform the way customers connect with businesses. It will allow employees to become more flexible in where and how they work. And it will elevate customer communications-just as some people may not have access to the internet, so some will use their mobile phones as landlines, email devices and internet browsers.

Any business that can’t accommodate the ever-changing needs of all its customers is missing a major point – all those communications media need to be embraced. Social networking can enable businesses to communicate with their customers in a more holistic way. Go to Yahoo

Amir Hameed leads a combined team of Avaya and Nortel enterprise engineers as systems engineering leader for Avaya Canada.

Follow Computer Dealer News on Twitter: @CompDealerNews.

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