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Using social media tools to innovate your business

My talk at the Business Show (28th and 29th November) will hopefully provide some useful tips on how you can use social tools to innovate your business. The days of innovating your services and products through lengthy R&D or relying on the feedback of small numbers of people in a focus group - only to find the market had moved on - are gone. 

Social tools let you innovate faster in two ways: by ‘listening’ to what people might want from a business / brand like yours and by collaborating to create the new (whether that's a product, service or marketing campaign) when you want to and how you want. And with people inside or outside of your business, in real time. And these tools can be free or at low monthly fees for all but the largest ‘enterprise’ usage.

Social listening

Social listening (or social media monitoring) takes place across any and all online social spaces.

So any listening tool needs to interrogate not just the usual suspects of LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook (and increasingly, Google+) but should also be able to pick up on conversations held, comments (or complaints!) made and questions being asked; in blogs, forums and niche networks. They should also have analytics and reporting functions that help you ‘sort the signal out from all the noise’ (that we all make online).
 
Social collaboration

Social collaboration can be as simple as sharing a Google document with a couple of colleagues or associates, to draft say a business or marketing plan, in real time. Or it can involve canvassing the opinions of thousands of people about their experience of your global brand and using their energies to co-create new products or services. I show a couple of examples in the Business Show talk but tools in this space include Basecamp, Yammer, Minigroup and (as mentioned) Google Docs.
 
Here are some tips to steer you in the right direction of innovating with either social listening or collaboration.
 
Be open minded

When you start out on a listening exercise, you'll typically add in a range of keywords or search terms / phrases that relate to your market, your brand or the types of problems people may have that you are looking to solve. At this initial stage try out a whole range of key words terms and be open minded about the results that come back, you may spot some interesting themes that you weren't expecting. For example, exactly who your ‘target customer’ is, how people use your products or what they think of you or the competition.

The data you gather and the insights you'll gain will probably suggest some short term / tactical marketing or service delivery changes that you could or should make before looking at longer term strategies.
 
Choose the tools that work for you

There are hundreds of tools available (around 250, based on a recent report from the Ideya Consultancy, Aug 2013). Some are completely free, and of the paid-for options most have a reasonable monthly fee with a sliding scale of cost depending on user numbers, additional functionality required etc. There’s no right or wrong here - you pays your money etc - so ask business associates what they use, ask in LinkedIn groups or look at online reports or ‘league tables’ for popular solutions.

On the listening tools front I have tended to use SproutSocial (with some clients) because I like the clarity of the interface and its listening / reporting functionality. But I’ve also used Hootsuite, Vocus and a couple of others where client needs dictate - and all are robust platforms. That’s not to say that aren’t others that would suit you and your needs better.

For collaboration I use Google docs a lot but also have been part of Basecamp projects where mixed client / agency / freelancer teams have been involved and have also used Minigroup on two client campaigns.

Making time, allocating resources

Less a tip than a watch-out: like any areas of social media or content marketing, some of the tools or social networks may be free but successful usage isn’t.

Your time is valuable and you’ll need a lot of it get the most of out of social listening or social collaboration tools to really get the insight that creates winning strategies for business growth. And you need to factor in the resultant time needed to create any marketing initiatives that will be driven by those insights.

So you should decide how much time you, as a business owner or senior stakeholder, should invest and how much you allocate for your team members or trusted partners (agency or freelancers). And set that time against 'SMART' objectives to ensure that effort is paying off with innovation that grows your business.
 

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