Let's get this out of the way: much like you, I too am sick of every single "social media" service that's going to magically bring customers in the door and turn them into lifetime fans of your business. Ever since Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn became mainstream applications, we've seen a torrent of entrants into the social space that's matched in number only by the sheer volume of vapid celebrity tweets on Twitter.
But look underneath the surface and something interesting is truly afoot. Consumers across the globe are sharing media on Twitter and Facebook, friending relative strangers, becoming fans of their cities and their favorite shows on Facebook and talking with their public officials on Twitter. It seems obvious then, that where consumers are, business must follow.
As a business owner or manager, where should you start? There are several social media tools that you can begin using right away with low friction and great upside. I have picked a few select examples but this list only scratches the surface.
CoTweet: Do you run a service business? Do you live and die by customer service and word–of-mouth? It doesn't matter if you operate a small neighborhood cafe or a low-cost airline, you have most likely created a company Twitter account to engage with your customers who are also on the social network. CoTweet allows all of your employees to share one company Twitter account and engage obsessively with your current and future customers in a common voice. You can also see what the Twittersphere is saying about your business and reach out to them directly via CoTweet. Finally, you can even track all of your Twitter conversations in one place. Think it sounds hokey? Take a look at JetBlue's rather active Twitter stream, powered by CoTweet.
SalesForce Chatter: You have undoubtedly come across SalesForce's myriad business offerings over the last few years. One of their latest is a slick collaboration offering called Chatter. Most small and mid-sized businesses deal with collaboration issues -- how do you run a lean and efficient business when your team is stuck in a meeting vortex for half the day? Smart companies are solving the problem by offering their employees the same kinds of social tools we all use to keep in touch with our friends around the globe. Chatter, for example, is a piece of collaboration software that allows your employees to "follow" each other much like on Twitter or Facebook. This way, employees can stay constantly updated on projects that various colleagues are working on across teams and departments. Chatter also allows team members to create groups instantaneously to discuss and collaborate on deals they are working on together. Users can post files, talk deal strategy and competition, and get on the same page without more dreadful meetings. The key point here is that different members of your team can engage with the stream of information at their own pace and "chime in" as needed, or simply consume the updates passively.
I think we are going to see an increase in similar collaboration offerings in the next few years and Chatter is definitely a service to keep a close eye on.
GetSatisfaction: No matter what business or industry you are in, you have likely already established a basic online presence via a company website that lists and/or sells all of your products online, a blog where you discuss your tactical goings-on, and likely, Facebook/Twitter pages where you engage with actual customers. But what happens when things go wrong with customers? How do you provide professional customer service online in today's hothouse media environment? A simple "Contact Us" page with a 1-800 number simply won't do. Enter GetSatisfaction, a thoughtful service that allows customers to report issues, start conversations and get in touch with your customer service reps painlessly.
In a nutshell, the service provides your customers a simple online interface to ask questions and report problems. Your service reps can now maintain an official online presence and work with your customers' most pressing issues. GetSatisfaction also allows grouping of issues into meaningful "views" such as frequently asked questions, recently proposed ideas, most common problems with your product (and solutions!), etc. What's more, you can integrate GetSatisfaction directly into your site's domain at http://service.yourcompany.com, for example. This allows you to control the look and feel and maintain a seamless experience for your customers.
Companies left and right are jumping in with both feet. Check out a traditional and established business -- Nike -- that has overcome these qualms and is taking advantage of social customer service. Nike integrates GetSatisfaction on their NikeRunning site, albeit mostly for technology issues.
So what are you waiting for? Kick off 2010 with an aggressive investment in a few, or all, of these tools.
Saumil Mehta is a product fanatic at Kosmix and an all-around Internet business geek. He tweets with nary a hint of self-promotion at @saumil and blogs about technology and personal rants at http://bitbubble.wordpress.com