1integrationThe social media hype isn‘t about to go away, neither is customer dialogue, and nobody can get really around it. It is the era of quick and easy information, many ideas and the exchange of all this through networking is taking off like never before.

The question from a business perspective is how companies can successfully participate? How can businesses get in contact with more customers in an even more individual way? And does this higher quality of communication pay off financially in the long run, or is it merely a fundamental requirement in the competition? How can it be organized, so that costs do not spiral out of control?

In order to answer all these key questions relevant in today’s dialogue marketing, companies must first grasp the main trends before evaluating them both from the customer and the business perspective.

Today, everything is indeed about Social Media. Some industry gurus even claim that if you do not participate in Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter you are not part of cyberspace anymore. However, for sure is that Social Media allows firms to engage in timely and direct end-consumer contact at relatively low cost and higher levels of efficiency than can be achieved with more traditional communication tools. This makes Social Media not only relevant for large multinational firms, but also for small and medium sized companies, and even nonprofit and governmental agencies.

Customer-centric Social Media Marketing is key

Each and every potential customer has and always will have his very own profile - product preferences, willingness to pay, preferences for media and sales channels. In the past, the customers’ expectations neither were highly developed enough in this respect, nor could they be fulfilled on a technological and economical level.

With Social Media, however, all that changed at a rapid pace: On the one hand, media usage and buying behavior of customers transformed dramatically, simultaneously accompanied by new demands – both for qualitative and quantitative advertising purposes or dialogue with brands and companies. On the other hand, new technological "customer centricity"-infrastructures and new media started to allow a better, and at the same time cheaper, individual customer dialogue. Thus, you can imagine the far-reaching impact and consequences it has on all businesses in the near future.

From a corporate perspective, this leads to three substantial challenges: (1) the current integration efforts within the "traditional online channels", (2) the integration of social media and (3) the upcoming holistic integration of offline and online media, and marketing channels respectively.

These issues have sustainable implications for enterprises: Customers linger and communicate in social networks where the dialogue takes place today and in the future. And because almost all customers go there, social media portals will inevitably evolve into new centers of gravity for communication.

Listen, understand and demonstrate your presence - continually

Companies need to be locally “on-site” as a contact, understand social media and learn how to deal with it. For example, classic campaigns are usually selective large range impulses, while Social Media works completely different: It is about long-term, permanent and indirect coverage through the relationship of a possibly manageable active fan base, with the support of authentic content, so it requires entirely different strategies, structures and processes in companies and their agencies.

In doing so, listening is an essential part of the dialogue. Companies have to recognize what makes the customer tick and respond appropriately. Therefore, it makes sense for companies to install processes that distribute systematically the distilled, relevant information from social networks to all opportune positions in the company - not only to marketing and service - capturing the responses for systematic learning.

But beware: Typically, only one percent of a company’s customers are really active on social media portals, another nine percent are said to be moderately active, and the majority of around 90 percent mostly passive. Companies must, therefore, complement their offline market research panels in such a way that they always know with whom they communicate with at the moment- online and in social networks.

Using Social Media is for sure not an easy task, and may require new ways of thinking, but the potential gains are far from being negligible. So, keep your eyes on the horizon for mobile social media applications as well, since mobile devices are expected to be the main driver of this evolution, soon accounting for over 50% of the market.

In one way, this surge toward Mobile Social Media can even be seen as another step toward Internet democratization and closing the digital divide between developed and emerging countries. We, in Asia, are well aware of that fact. In India, for example, mobile phones outnumber PCs by 10 to 1. In Thailand, only 13% of the population owns a computer, versus 82% who have access to a mobile phone. It is therefore not surprising that the Pew Research Center predicts that by 2020, a mobile device will be the primary Internet connection tool for most people in the world. Those in Social Media have definitely still a vast base of new users untapped and unexploited that is relevant for virtually any firm.

Due to the variety of Social Media, it makes sense for companies to bundle their own content as well as the distilled information from these media centrally in order to grow efficiencies. Conveniently, this task is in accord with "owned media", such as websites and blogs that serve as a content hub and provide all the online and Social Media with consistent information. This strategy ensures that your company doesn’t depend on individual media or any other player, but retains instead a valuable asset under control.

By Daniela La Marca