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Social Media - a fad or a new business reality?

Forward Focus - October 2011

Author: Grant Frear

In our March issue of Forward Focus Charles Hett explored Facebook,, specifically looking the opportunities to support underwriting. In this issue we have expanded our discussion on social media and are looking more generally at the topic. As with any new technology, fad or consumer movement, it is natural to approach social media with caution. We hope that through this discussion you will feel more comfortable about the topic and can have some confidence in making some steps into the social realm.

Social media, and social computing for that matter, is not a passing fad. With the development of the internet consumers have used the enhanced capabilities of the internet to connect, collaborate and conduct business. People have come together to form communities around their interests and as a result we have had to create a new term, the prosumer. The prosumer is someone who is part producer and part consumer. It is the capability to both produce and consume on the web that has seen the rise of social media and it is this capability that has made it increasingly important to businesses.

For businesses there are some new realities that you have to come to grips with.

  • Your customers now have a platform through which they can give you compliments or air their grievances
  • Your customers are coming together in online communities (which at times will resemble your market segments and specific micro-segments) to collaborate and connect
  • Online conversations are affecting public sentiment at speeds we have not seen before
  • Online conversations are exactly that, two way and interactive. Long gone are the days where a simple press release will mark the end of an issue for customers or the public.

While these new realities may seem threatening they also represent an opportunity for businesses. Those that are smart and have the ability to monitor and analyse the conversations will be ahead of the game in managing customer sentiment. They will be more responsive to issues and are better positioned to predict future needs of specific customer segments. Social media provides the opportunity to interact with a highly engaged segment of customers. In this area you need to be particularly careful as online communities tend to not react well to traditional advertising messages being injected into their conversations. If you understand your customers you will understand where and how you can add value to them.

If social media is a new reality for insurance companies for many the first question will be “where do I start?” Unfortunately, there is a simple but somewhat boring answer to this question. Start with good old-fashion business objectives and planning. You need to be purposeful when deciding where to start and what to do. Having made these choices you can be somewhat more innovative in how you implement. At Deloitte our initial focus was on the graduate recruitment market. We talked to the students on campus and their response was overwhelming, they were all on Facebook. Our first foray into Facebook started small, we put out a page, provided information for students about recruitment and responded to their questions. As our confidence grew we expanded our presence to provide our staff a voice, we followed the day-to-day activities of some of our staff to give students an appreciation for what a career with Deloitte would include. Our staff answered their questions directly and helped us build a more engaging presence on Facebook. Social media allows you to prototype, dabble and re-think your approaches more than traditional technologies and traditional media. You should take advantage of this, start small, experiment and learn from these experiments. The result of our prototypes and dabbling was numerous awards for innovation in recruitment and recognition as a top 40 Facebook page world-wide. It also resulted in an improvement in the number of applications and the acceptance rate following offer was significantly improved.

For many a safe place to start is internally. The social media tools and principles work equally well inside your organisation. For us at Deloitte we have embraced Yammer. Yammer is a tool that mimics traditional water cooler conversations and makes these available for the whole organisation to participate in. As the composition of our workforce changes it is impossible to keep up with who knows what. Yammer allows our people to identify new pools of knowledge, to connect people that would otherwise not have met and to collaborate on solutions for our clients.

The bottom line is that social computing is not a fad, it is also not something that can be dismissed as youthful or a consumer-oriented hobby. Many of your key customer segments are well represented in the world of social media and social computing, their ranks will steadily grow over time. Your ability to harness social media, to connect and collaborate internally with your business partners and with your customers, will become one of the hallmarks of success in years to come.

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