Tweeting for Dollars – Embracing Social Media

Where you may see a problem Jeff Catlin, CEO of Lexalytics, an Amherst, Mass. based developer of analytical software tools for business, sees a potential solution. “Today’s social media increasingly can be used to solve problems―if you know how,” said Catlin.

Hop aboard because this train is now leaving the station. Growing numbers of CIOs are authorizing, indeed insisting, their companies take the social media plunge because there’s evidence dollars are getting made, and certainly being saved, when businesses make smart use of Twitter, Facebook, and the rest. Real problems, some CIOs say, are getting solved and real sales are getting made.

For the latter, hear Yoshi Maisami, co-founder and head of business development at Intridea, a developer of collaboration tools based in Washington DC. “I would say that 25% of our sales have come as a direct result of Twitter.”

As you chew on that, recognize that this is very early days for business use of Twitter, Facebook, etc. A fair amount of what’s occurring in the “Tweeted” lives of CIOs, CTOs and others is talk, according to new research from managed services provider Logicalis, which crunched tens of thousands of social media conversations. Prime topic number one for CIOs: cloud computing – Columbus, Ohio-based Logicalis said it identified 13,000 conversations about cloud computing (running four to one positive, incidentally).

Right there is a huge development to be aware of: a CIO with a question can simply Tweet it, to get a discussion going. But still more is happening in social media. Early adopters increasingly say they are seeing results in collaboration, innovation, and customer service.

Marketing 2.01

A. J. Gerritson, founding partner of Boston-based 451 Marketing―“social media enable a much freer exchange of information. This has become a key collaboration tool.” When an idea for a new client direction occurs to him, Gerritson will often test the concept by putting it up on Twitter. Within an hour he will have a much better sense of how well the idea will work. The beauty of this is it essentially is free research that, in pre social media days, would have required many dollars and many days to assemble. Now when you want to know if a concept has viability, throw it up on Twitter and see if it sticks. Answers come fast.

Bart Steiner, CEO of Bulbstorm, an online innovation community headquarted in Phoenix, Ariz., elaborates: “Distributed innovation is the new buzzword.” Before, innovation was segmented off in an exclusive department of billion-dollar IT companies―or it happened in a garage. Today, it is just as likely to happen online. “More CIOs are aware of the value of distributed innovation,” said Steiner. “Social media dramatically increase the speed of the ping-ponging of ideas.”

Selling and innovating may be Twitter 2.0, but for Twitter 1.0, look to customer service: if a company is not online, it is setting itself for abuse. Technology-oriented enterprises in particular increasingly see social media as a “must” in any well thought out strategy. Prime case in point of real-time problem monitoring is Network Solutions’ Social Media Swami Shashi Bellamkonda who spends a sizable chunk of every workday monitoring public social networks (Twitter primarily) for users experiencing problems with the company.

“We are gathering intelligence. Where are users having trouble? And we also seek to engage unhappy customers in conversation.” Not all will, however. Bellamkonda estimates that only around 40% of the posters engage but everyone who does is potentially a satisfied customer. “We definitely see social media as crucial in our customer relations.” Just about every tech oriented company should be doing likewise, say the experts.

Incidentally, one prime slice of advice from Lexalytics’ Catlin is, paradoxically, learn what to ignore on social media. “One comment does not make a trend.” Sad examples are manifold: a hotel company will see a posting about bed bugs and, suddenly, dozens of corporate staff are deployed to swat that insect rumor before it devours the company’s rep. But all that may be a fast-paced waste of money.

“You have to learn to pay attention to what matters,” said Catlin.

And, in most cases, one-off rants that are not seconded by others can typically be ignored without much consequence, he suggests. “The more people who engage with a topic, the more important it is, the more you need to pay attention.”

As a busy freelance writer for more than 30 years, Rob McGarvey has written over 1500 articles for many of the nation’s leading publications―from Reader’s Digest to Playboy and from the NY Times to Harvard Business Review. McGarvey covers CEOs, business, high tech, human resources, real estate, and the energy sector. A particular specialty is advertorial sections for many top outlets including the New York Times, Crain’s New York, and Fortune Magazine.