Social business - a company's move from a presence on social platforms to strategic engagement that supports business goals, fosters brand affinity and generates co-created value - is no small undertaking for corporations, but it is undoubtedly the direction in which top companies are heading, according to an in-depth study on social media trends released today.
The move to social business for many of the world's most recognized companies faces a hurdle, however: Social media tools have radically transformed the way people engage with the world around them, yet many of the corporations studied that cater to and employ these individuals appear to have been slower to find ways to effectively connect in these channels.
The 2012 FedEx/Ketchum Social Media Benchmarking Study, presented jointly by FedEx and Ketchum, analyzed the changing impact of social media on business today. The study updates and expands upon research findings first released in 2010. As part of the research, quantitative surveys were completed by 55 communications and marketing executives at companies in the U.S. and internationally. In addition, detailed qualitative interviews were conducted with 30 communications and social media thought leaders.
"The rise of social media is both the biggest business communications challenge and opportunity in decades," said Bill Margaritis, senior vice president of Global Communications and Investor Relations at FedEx. "Our survey provides a dynamic look at how business is evolving and expanding its social platform use, what's working so far, and what might be next. Younger audiences in particular expect to interact with businesses this way; businesses building for the long-term will benefit by learning from our findings."
The findings suggest that these business executives believe they have a strong framework in place for supporting the needs of customers and the general public online, and they are most effectively using social media to enhance brand reputation and awareness, provide customer service and strengthen relationships across key stakeholders. The research further suggests that these companies believe they are particularly effective at strengthening relationships among customers (51 percent), the general public (52 percent) and partners and suppliers (40 percent). With effective strategies in place for these stakeholders, companies are turning their attention to improved engagement with employees, via both external social tools and improved social functionality of internal platforms such as company intranets.
"Companies today recognize that employees are often their most passionate, credible and impactful brand ambassadors, both internally and externally, and are designing communications strategies that reflect that reality," said Tyler Durham, partner and managing director of Ketchum Pleon Change. "The 2012 study revealed significant movement among those analyzed in the area of internal social connections on two fronts: internal engagement between the company and its employees, and empowerment of employees to represent the brand externally. Both approaches support the move toward true social business and will ultimately foster real business results in terms of employee retention, engagement and productivity."
While about half of 2010 study participants were focused on improving their intranets and expressed an interest in redesigning their intranets to include greater social media capabilities, 2012 results indicated that the participants are increasingly encouraging employees to own social media efforts and act as confident and active ambassadors for the organization. In fact, 85 percent of the companies who use social media to engage employees reported that employee participation in their organization's social business efforts increased over the past 12 months. These companies believe they are effectively using these strategies with employees in the social space to:
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