The world has turned on to social networking. Ignore it at your peril.
That was effectively the message of Joe Staples, chief marketing officer at Interactive Intelligence, Inc., during this afternoon’s keynote presentation at SocialCRM EXPO, which is collocated this week with ITEXPO in Los Angeles.
In an upbeat speech, Staples offered up statistics on the social networking and Internet fronts that just a few months ago would have been unimaginable.
He said recent research shows that Americans now say the Internet is the most essential media in their lives – more so even than TV, radio or newspapers.
The growth of social networking has no doubt been helped by the availability of mobile Internet devices and connectivity, as people – particularly younger consumers – tend to use their wireless devices to tap into Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. Staples noted that the mobile web has seen 110 percent growth in the U.S. in the past year.
Meanwhile 77 percent of 18 to 24 year olds have profiles on social networks. For those in the 25 to 34 age bracket, that percentage is 65 percent. And just more than half of the population between 35 and 44 are into social networking, Staples said. All told, 139 million people have Facebook profiles – that’s a whopping 44.7 percent of the population, he said.
That probably explains why so many top brands are on Facebook, too. Staples said that list includes Xbox (with nearly 3 million Facebook fans), Best Buy, JCPenney, Playfish, Southwest Airlines, Taco Bell, Verizon Wireless and Wal-Mart.
Even more shocking is the fact that there are 160 million Twitter accounts worldwide, said Staples, who called that “a staggering number.” He added that there are about 90 million tweets a day, which is a huge jump from the million tweets a day about two years ago, when only 5 percent of U.S. consumers had any knowledge of Twitter.
Staples said that he, like many of us, thought Twitter might just be a flash in the pan.
“I was so wrong,” he said. “It’s amazing to see how it’s become part of our vocabulary” and way of life.
“It is really here to stay,” he continued. “So how do we as businesses harness it, use it to our advantage, and not turn into a disadvantage for us.”
Businesses can do that by monitoring what’s happening on the social network sites. Tools from companies like Buzzient can enable them to more easily do that. Buzzient is just one example of an outfit that offers a “listening” tool for key social networking sites so businesses can select key words and phrases, and receive feeds on the social network-based comments related to those terms.
Buzzient also rates “sentiment” of the comments, Staples explained, so a company interested in a given term knows how quickly it might want to act on each comment. (A complementary comment is great, but probably doesn’t have to be acted on – at least not immediately. A less than stellar comment about a keyword related to a company name or service, however, might require quick attention, Staples suggested.)
Moving those comments into a format that a business can easily use is also important, added Staples. So businesses involved in social networking might want to look into integrating Buzzient or other social network monitoring feeds into their existing business communications systems. That way, it’ll be easier to follow these conversations, and it will offer the ability to have all the same rules that apply to phone calls and e-mail on the business’s communication system also apply to e-mails delivered via social networking monitoring tools, Staples said.
Of course, despite all the interest in social networking, many companies are still on the fence as to whether and to what extent they might want to leverage it in their own businesses. Staples suggested that most businesses probably want to consider it and implement programs around it at some point if their customers fall into the groups who are already heavy users of social networking.
To figure out if social networking is a fit for a particular business, Staples suggested that the business survey its customer base as to whether they use and want social media features. If they do, he said, that company needs to identify the skills and capabilities needed to operationalize a social media strategy – asking who will do what, how the marketing department will be involved, etc. Then, he said, the company should select the appropriate talent and technology to launch the strategy. Staples suggested that it probably makes sense to pick people who already are familiar with social media, and know the language of social media, to do the job.
At that point, he continued, a company should choose tools and create processes to “listen” to and actively respond, when needed, to online conversations on social media sites.
But it can’t end there, he noted, as companies need to continue to track the deliverables of their social media strategies.
“You gotta have some results, otherwise you’re flying blind,” he said, and management might decide to pull the plug on the social media initiative and the people involved with it.