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Harnessing the Power of Social Media

Social media and the increased role that communities of users have are changing the world

Social media and the increased role that linked communities of users have on issues, discourse, and public opinion are changing the world in many ways -- from how societies react such as in the Middle East turmoil to how users flock to or avoid certain products and services.

The fact is that many people are now connected in new ways and they’re voicing opinions and influencing their peers perhaps more than ever before. Businesses cannot afford to simply ignore these global -- and what now appeared to be long-term -- social media trends.

The latest BriefingsDirect discussion then focuses on the impact that social media is having on enterprises. We specifically examine with an executive at Capgemini on what steps businesses can take to manage social media as a market opportunity, rather than react to it as a hard-to-fathom threat. Hear too how services are being developed to help businesses to better understand and exploit the potential of social media.

The discussion with Paul Cole, Vice President of Customer Operations Management and Business Process Outsourcing at Capgemini, is the first in the series of podcasts with Capgemini on social media issues and business process outsourcing. The interview is conducted by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. [Disclosure: Capgemini is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: It seems a bit of a twisted logic when we say that social media can be both a threat and an opportunity. How could social media be both?

Cole: It's all in how you decide to respond. Social media, in and of itself, is a neutral topic. It could be viewed as a utensil or a platform, upon which you can do things. And depending on your intent, whether you’re an enterprise or a customer, those activities could be viewed favorably or negatively. And that's true as much in the sociopolitical world as in business.

The important thing is that social media is the platform, not the action itself, and it’s really what you decide to do over that platform that makes the difference in business and in the world at large.

Gardner: Do you have any evidence, research, or findings of any sort that bolster this notion that social media is a sea change and not just a blip?

Game changer

Cole: Well, based on a survey we commissioned last winter, somewhat surprisingly, a bit more than one in 10 executives did characterize it as a fad relative to the business world.

However, you can look at it in the everyday world around us and the media as it relates to impact on society and in the sociopolitical spectrum, and there's very little doubt that it’s changing the game there. I believe it will have an equally profound impact on business over time.

Social media has become the bullhorn of the 21st century. It allows people to spread their message, to amplify that message, to mobilize the community, and also to monitor in real time the events as they unfold.

We are having to deal with it across the political, social, and cultural spectrums. Witness, unfortunately, the emergence of something that we’re now calling flash mobs, a case where the platform is being misapplied toward organizing a community of people who have damaging intentions.

So back to your question on threat or opportunity, significant or insignificant impact, it’s all based on the intent and actions of the individuals utilizing the utensil.

It’s all a matter of how you take that information and translate it into actionable insights, against which you can make some smarter business decisions.

Gardner: On one hand, we seem to see a lack of control or at least different aspects to how people behave. We don’t have the necessary tools. But on the other hand, we're seeing a lot more information generated, and information often is the lifeblood of how organizations react and adjust to markets.

Cole: Information overload is one potential consequence of this. It’s all a matter of how you take that information and translate it into actionable insights, against which you can make some smarter business decisions, and from our perspective, ultimately deliver a better customer experience which will help you grow.

What’s neat about what’s happening in the world of technology, on top of the social environment, is that there is a whole new generation of tools emerging that allow you to develop that insight.

There are four steps that a company can go through to generate social intelligence. First, is listening to what is going on out there. There has not been an earpiece for us to really take the pulse of the market, and what's happening in the virtual world or the internet world until the recent development of some of these social listening tools. So the ability just to know what's going on, who is saying what, who are the influencers, what are their sentiments is an important first step.

Monitoring change

The second step is the ability to monitor that over time and see how attitudes, perceptions, and most importantly, behaviors are changing and what are the impact and implication of that for your business, either from a marketing or a selling or customer service standpoint. In addition to monitoring that, you’re also now able, with text analytics tools to not simply track and describe what happening, but also isolate cause and effect.

So if I'm launching a Twitter campaign, putting a new product out there, running a contest, or engaging in some kind of social care activity, what is the impact it's having in terms of the customer’s behavior and what adjustments can I make to be more successful?

It's being able to get attribution and get to a root cause by applying these analytic tools. So you've listened, monitored, and analyzed. The killer app, if you will, is the last step of closing loop in terms of your ability to respond. So many companies today are putting their toe in the water in the social world by listening with these tools and trying to understand what's being said. It's new enough where not that many have actually industrialized their process for responding.

Ultimately, your ability to now go back into that community and influence the customer or attempt to influence the customer and their behavior is where there is a tremendous upside for companies in terms of generating higher growth and profit.

Gardner: How is Capgemini working toward some solutions on this?

The question then becomes, as a provider of services, how to translate that into sets of offerings that add value for our clients.

Cole: As a global provider of consulting technology and outsourcing services, Capgemini attempts to keep its finger on the pulse of market. You have to be blind and deaf to not recognize that social media has quickly emerged on the scene. The question then becomes, as a provider of services, how to translate that into sets of offerings that add value for our clients.

At one level, you could look at social media as a wave or a phenomenon. I’ve been in the professional services, technology services business for 30 years, and we’ve seen the waves come and go, whether that would be CRM or ERP through SAP or eCommerce, which I think this mirrors quite a bit, and Y2K. So there's always an emerging area that people will try to understand, chase, and then capitalize on.

My particular area of expertise is around customer management. So I look through the lens of how a company acquires, develops, and retains its customers and how can we manage some of that process for them in a faster, better, or cheaper manner. We do that today in traditional forms with managing their call centers or their customer service operations, helping them present stronger web content, providing them with insights through analytical services, and so forth.

What social media started to suggest to us was that there was a new opportunity to bring another service to the market that allowed clients to focus on the business problem that they’re trying to solve and provided us the opportunity to provide them with everything they needed to mobilize around that objective in the social world.

Marketing enhancement

In and of itself, social media is not going to drive your business forward. As we've discussed, it's really a platform or a utility upon which you can engage customers for one or more activities based on a business objective. It does, at the end of the day, relate back to what you're trying to accomplish.

When I went to school, we were trained on the four Ps in marketing. You develop a product that the marketplace is interested in. You price that product at a level that the consumer or customer perceives value so they want to transact with you. You need to promote that in terms of distinguishing you against your competitors and bring that product to market with some form of distribution. We call that the four Ps.

Obviously you still need to do all those things, but in the social world now, there is a new twist. If you think about the product, we used to take a very linear approach to doing market research, testing concepts, via surveys and focus groups. In today’s social world, you can do that much more dynamically. There's a whole phenomenon around crowd sourcing with which you can solicit people's input and feedback and iterate on that massively, and closer to real time.

There's a whole phenomenon around crowd sourcing with which you can solicit people's input and feedback and iterate on that.

Your ability to get really close to the marketplace is enhanced tremendously by social media. In terms of promoting, it used to be broadcast media, but now you're able to do micro campaigns. You can do tweet campaigns. You can do campaigns through Facebook. Your ability to target the individual that you are trying to influence has gone up exponentially.

We've always talked about the segment of one, but it was very difficult to do. Now, you can get in there and really understand who is driving popular opinion, who are the big influencers, who do you need to convert to be an enthusiast or an advocate of your product, and launch very specific campaigns against them. It's a different form of promotion.

It's the same thing with pricing and distribution. While you still need to do many of the same activities, the way in which you will execute on those activities has evolved and become much more dynamic.

Every function within the organization has a potential application in the social world. I don't think it's the kind of thing that any one executive or any one function is going to own per se.

It's a matter of looking at it through the lens of the process that you're responsible for, and trying to understand how to apply new thinking and activities to improve your efficiency or your effectiveness of that area. That could be public relations and the brand, marketing and developing effective positioning, product development and management, selling through more targeted campaigns or, at the end of the value chain, a better servicing of the customer to generate greater loyalty.

Different ways

Gardner: Are we going to repeat history and have a fragmented approach to this or is there a better way?

Cole: You’ve really put your finger on a core issue. It all depends. What is social media? That depends on who you are and what you're trying to accomplish. That’s going to be variable based on your area of responsibility within the enterprise.

There is something to be said for standardization and taking a platform-based approach to avoid the recurring tendency of investing in your own individual solutions and then lacking interoperability or having to face integration issues and so forth.

By buying into a managed service the company can avoid having to make capital investments in the technology, avoid the potential risk of different groups going off and doing their own thing.

While the application of what you do on top of the social platforms may vary, there is potential for the organization to operate as an enterprise on top of a single instance of a platform. That’s part of why we got into offering a managed service.

We allow the client to focus on what they are trying to do in the marketing, selling or customer service world. We provide them with the infrastructure, the technology, the process discipline, the data, and importantly, the social media advocates, the human intelligence layer that is ultimately conducting the monitoring and the analytics and the interpretation of what’s happening there.

By buying into a managed service the company can avoid having to make capital investments in the technology, avoid the potential risk of different groups going off and doing their own thing. They can remain current, because they don’t have to pay attention to this fast paced dynamic technology market and what is the state of the art. That would be our responsibility.

Hopefully, it's the best of both worlds. They can each, as user communities, decide what they want to get out of social media, but be able to leverage the fact that they're all investing in a common platform. ... It is a different way of storing, distributing, and accessing the data.

What it translates into for us is the ability to provide process as a service. That’s a fundamental shift in the marketplace that’s occurring as a result of the development of cloud capabilities.

Organizations can just tap into a service, and that makes it easier for them to get into a new area. It’s faster, it’s less expensive. We're trying to apply that same concept to social media. We can provide a faster, better, and/or cheaper approach. The client buys the process as a service on a subscription model.

We assure the integrity and security of the data. We provide the data management, the repository, the infrastructure, and the toolset. You're buying a service around a process, whether that be listening to your customers, wanting to launch marketing campaigns, providing social care or whatever.

The whole SaaS cloud phenomenon is just changing the distribution model and also facilitating an easier approach for companies to get up and running in this area.

The whole SaaS cloud phenomenon is just changing the distribution model and also facilitating an easier approach for companies to get up and running in this area.

Gardner: How are organizations getting started?

Cole: As evidence of the fact that it is a new phenomenon, you can just notice the volume of conferences that are out there with social media in the title. It just reinforces that companies are trying to understand still what "good" looks like. They’re out there looking for best practices. They are still paying for "PowerPoint," for consultants to come in and help them understand the strategy, the power of social, what that translates into in terms of metrics and governance, and so forth.

The market is very much in its exploratory stage. I'm not sure you can over-architect what social media means to you at the moment. This is something that you have to get in and dip your toe in the water. Instead of "ready, aim, fire," it's probably "fire, fire, aim, ready, fire." This means that you need to iterate.

You don’t know what you don’t know….. until you get in to the market and you start to listen to what is happening out there, identify who the key influencers are, where they're talking about, who are the advocates for the brand, and who are the potential saboteurs who can represent a threat? What are some of the kinds of programs and activities that one can run?

Rather than the grand strategies, the big-bang approach, this particular area is deserving of more experimentation, and iteration. Then, over time, we need the development of a broader strategy. But, you need to get in there, and listen, and learn, and act, and from that you'll figure out what works and what doesn’t work.

Part of what we’re trying to offer our clients is the ability to do that faster than doing it themselves, where they have to go out, acquire the tools, hire the people, and put in place the processes.

In this case, they can say we want to launch a campaign and we’d like to understand how we can use the social world to solve customer service problems or whatever. We provide all the tools and capabilities to do that. They focus on learning and evolving their strategy of what to do in the social world.

Part of what we offer is the ability to bring to them the best of the tools that are out there, and it's an evolving world.

... As part of that, in our Social Media Management Solution, we’ve built a joint solution with a company called Attensity, which really comes at the market initially from the text analytics world, but offers a nice suite of applications that enable your ability to listen, monitor, analyze what's being done, and then respond to the customer in terms of workflow and direct customer engagement. So it's what you decide to do, but it's also having the right toolset with which to do it.

Gardner: Are there any places to which we could direct our listeners and readers for additional information, perhaps whitepapers, other research, and/or more information on your services?

Cole: Certainly We do have a featured social media section on the website. We've recently published a whitepaper called "Harvesting the Fruit from the Social Media Grapevine". We hope that clients will find that insightful. It's a bit of a point-of-view on where the market is today and where it's headed.

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More Stories By Dana Gardner

At Interarbor Solutions, we create the analysis and in-depth podcasts on enterprise software and cloud trends that help fuel the social media revolution. As a veteran IT analyst, Dana Gardner moderates discussions and interviews get to the meat of the hottest technology topics. We define and forecast the business productivity effects of enterprise infrastructure, SOA and cloud advances. Our social media vehicles become conversational platforms, powerfully distributed via the BriefingsDirect Network of online media partners like ZDNet and As founder and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, Dana Gardner created BriefingsDirect to give online readers and listeners in-depth and direct access to the brightest thought leaders on IT. Our twice-monthly BriefingsDirect Analyst Insights Edition podcasts examine the latest IT news with a panel of analysts and guests. Our sponsored discussions provide a unique, deep-dive focus on specific industry problems and the latest solutions. This podcast equivalent of an analyst briefing session -- made available as a podcast/transcript/blog to any interested viewer and search engine seeker -- breaks the mold on closed knowledge. These informational podcasts jump-start conversational evangelism, drive traffic to lead generation campaigns, and produce strong SEO returns. Interarbor Solutions provides fresh and creative thinking on IT, SOA, cloud and social media strategies based on the power of thoughtful content, made freely and easily available to proactive seekers of insights and information. As a result, marketers and branding professionals can communicate inexpensively with self-qualifiying readers/listeners in discreet market segments. BriefingsDirect podcasts hosted by Dana Gardner: Full turnkey planning, moderatiing, producing, hosting, and distribution via blogs and IT media partners of essential IT knowledge and understanding.

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