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On The Scene: Jumping on the social train

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On the Scene
Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Social networking can take place on everything from YouTube to the iPhone. The amount of time consumers spent on it tripled in 2009; 56% of Americans want companies to be involved with it; and 85% of social media users are expecting companies to interact with them using it. In short, you need social networks.

“You have to have an investment,” said Eric Peterson of Web Analytics Demystified. “If you don’t get on the social train, you’ll fall behind.”

Portland’s Multnomah Athletic Club recently hosted “Social Networks & the Enterprise Unite: Integration 2.0,” a tech innovation conference held by the Oregon chapter of TechAmerica. Representatives from local tech giants like Intel, Jive Software and Tripwire were on hand to share why social networks have played such a large role in their recent successes, and how other companies can implement the same practices to meet the ever-growing demand for instant communication and transparency, within the company and with customers.

Peterson, Bryan LeBlanc of Jive Software and Kelly Ripley Feller of Intel kicked off the conference as general session speakers, and there was no question among them that every company today needs a social-network strategy. “I think it’s absolutely critical,” LeBlanc said. “You’ve got customers, you’ve got employees, and everyone today is into transparent conversations.” But what’s the best way to fill that need for authenticity? Generally, Peterson said you should consider four primary social-network objectives: fostering dialogue between the business and the social audience, identifying and promoting advocacy from influential people, using social networks to facilitate support and spurring innovation by listening to the audience.

Dell and Comcast are some of the big companies that Ripley Feller cited as good examples of social-network interaction, and Intel has had great success as well, particularly with its online software communities and blogs. Intel’s evolution as a social-network user began internally, and Ripley Feller said grassroots approaches from passionate early adopters are often how social-networking strategies develop. But she added that those grassroots efforts are among the first challenges company heads face before implementing social networks for their companies.

“If you’re in fear of these grassroots people, you’re not alone,” Ripley Feller said. “I’ve talked to a lot of executives who fear social media because they think it’s going to jump from grassroots to adoption [without testing first].” So Ripley Feller said it’s important to slowly test different strategies to see which ones your audience responds to the most.

In a breakout session focused on business value, metrics and ROI, Bruce Kenny of Webtrends echoed that sentiment of initial skepticism to social media and social business software. While the company is an active user of both today, Kenny said the groundswell of interest in social strategy at Webtrends was met with significant resistance, with some seeing it is a negative move that would increase costs with no hard ROI. But with 350 employees and 15 years of methods that needed improving, Kenny said it was a crucial step to take.

“We needed to move faster,” Kenny said. “We needed to break down the walls, and break out of some of that bad DNA, and the only way we were going to do that was to knock down some of the walls of communication. And the only way to do that was with social business software.”

Kevin Manahan is the online editor for Oregon Business.

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