Milind Shah from the US Technology Transformation team shares his views on getting ahead with a digital strategy. Digital trends and specifically social media have been redefining the way that people interact with one another, the way consumers interact with providers, and the way that businesses interact internally for the past few years. Hugely successful social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have in many cases become a focus for organizations’ (particularly retail) investment strategies and there are hundreds of examples on the web of the steps companies have taken in this space to make use of the wealth of tools available. A shining recent example from the States involving social media and crowdsourcing is Mountain Dew and their DEWmocracy campaign allowing fans of the drink to choose the next flavor. (and therefore directly influencing the organizations’ new product development).
With Forrester predicting that organizations’ will invest $4.8 billion by 2014 on their interactive spend it is anticipated to continue to be a growth area. From my own experience, the question increasingly that organizations who have already experimented in the social media arena have today is, ok, so they have done something but what should they do next? Should they continue to engage?

The question I want to address today is what should organizations’ do after gaining a strong online presence? Perhaps they rushed into social media and created an interactive micro-site, or, maybe they have a strong following on Twitter or Facebook. Should they go back and define a strategy if they haven’t done so or should they continue running with the presence they have today (whatever shape it has taken) and engage in the same voice and manner?
Interacting with customers and expanding social is really part of a larger corporate incentive. For me it is about recognizing that customers, partners, and employees are looking for new ways of interacting and collaborating with one another. In thinking about this, talking to several clients, and having done some work myself in the space the diagram below is what I see the journey should be like for an organisation that is looking to make the most of social media when asking the question “What next?”:
1.Define the strategy: The first step is to go back to basics and define a strategy and approach for digital interactions. Using the example of Mountain Dew mentioned above, I’d expect them to considering key questions such as: Who are their customers? How many of their customers use social media? Of the non-adopters, how many are likely to adopt if persuaded? Does Mountain Dew have the proper resources/skill-sets to make this a success? What accelerators can help them get there? How can Mountain Dew measure if the strategy will be a success?
Without this type of visionary due diligence exercise up front organizations may end up paralyzed in a reactive mode, lacking the foresight to know why they are going down a certain path and what their end goal is.
2. Establish a presence: Many organizations enter the social media process here, seemingly overlooking the upfront strategy bit. Hence this stage tends to be the first step in starting to change the model in which they engage, interact, and work with their suppliers, employees, and customers yet they lack a strategy to clearly underpin key decisions. Given the increasing use of social media for customers to vent their frustrations, but, also make recommendations and provide true top of mind feedback on products and services this is a missed opportunity for many companies.
3. Interact with customers: Many companies today use the one-way model of interacting that they have used with traditional channels and replicated that online. They fail to see and leverage the opportunities their presence has enabled them in knowing their parties better and being able to address them in a unique, bespoke and effective way.
4. Personalize the interactions: As organizations engage more with repeat customers, they must further segment and address each group based on that knowledge. If they are able to leverage that history and be able to know exactly what they are thinking, looking for, and need they can capitalize on a more tailored approach to engaging, interacting, and hopefully transacting with them. Here is where investment is required, and, organizations are failing to bring that “intelligence” and learning back to their main lines of business and change.
5. Cross-Pollinate Insight: Mat Sloan blogged earlier in 2010 about consistent interactions across on and offline channels, and, with the transparency of social media it has never been more important for organizations to offer a consistent customer experience. The biggest challenge that organizations that move into this new space have to make is how do they integrate and bring all these experiences together? Being able to keep a consistent customer experience throughout the customer journey requires organisations to extend their knowledge about the customer past the boundaries of various models. This is where the power of Social CRM comes into its own – combining new information learnt through how your customers are engaging online with existing databases and forming one single view of customers based on all perspectives.
Are you really listening to your customers?
The final thing I want to say is that going through all these phases and ensuring success is defined and measurable in the strategy you craft from the outset is essential but, with social media, increasingly customers want to be re-assured that they are being listened to.
It is about reaching that next level of understanding with them.
If a customer has left a comment about a product or service, have you made them feel listened to? Have you responded to them? Have you changed the way you operated as a result? How are you using the intelligence out there about your products and services, as an organization? Organizations that are able to seamlessly integrate intelligence into their value chain and operations will get the most value from these new digital technologies.