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Social media: stop talking and start doing

Social media is not a bolt-on channel, it is a catalyst for fundamental change

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Everyone knows that social media is here and now. Everyone is talking about the impact it can have on business, how consumers are changing their behaviour - becoming more demanding as a result of mass adoption. We hear how brands and services no longer just sell, but must open the lines of communications.

Despite this, the implementation of social media in many traditional consumer-focussed sectors is woeful. Let’s take one industry close to my heart - public transportation - and compare it to other sectors. Companies in this sector are failing to grasp the impact - positive and negative - that Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other forms of social media can have. They don’t see that they are more than just communication channels to travellers. Most organisations in this sector have yet to catch up to that reality, and almost none take full advantage of it. The bottom line is - they must.

I am sure that leading organisations will increasingly apply social platforms and social design mechanics to manage interactions across all communication channels to consumers, fostering greater intimacy with their customers, more efficiently, and with better outcomes. Some have already done so. Toyota Friend is a network that connects owners with their cars, their local dealership, and with Toyota itself. It allows the car to send an alert for required service, just like a tweet. For users, the new features make their interactions with others richer and easier. For businesses, they further solidify the value of social platforms as ways in which businesses must interact with their communities of interest, whether those communities are customers or employees.

In contrast, a small number of public transportation companies are beginning to see how they can gain from increased communication with their customer base. Companies have started to engage with travellers when there are disruptions to services, like an accident, where advisers connect with customers online to help clarify a situation and solve problems.

Some aspects have historically deterred many public transportation companies, as they have other sectors. Confidentiality is clearly one, and many are hesitant to part with old ways and share information online. Then there’s frequency of engagement - organisations do not believe they have the time to respond to every post or comment from users. However, companies need to attempt to break down these barriers - which many industries have already done - and take small steps in the right direction. It will then become clear that the pros far outweigh the perceived cons.

Some operators are struggling to get to grips with analytics, meaning they can’t make predictions on or know who their customers are; they have no view into who the consumer of the future is and how they should interact with them. Social media gives these the chance to overcome some of the old channels but the opportunity to reach out directly to old customers and, importantly, adopt new ones.

Social media must be seen as much more than a new “bolt on” channel; it has to be viewed as a catalyst for revisiting everything that touches a mass transit company’s customers and, increasingly, other communities of stakeholders. The challenge for IT managers will then be to revisit business processes and the systems that implement them. They will need to look across channels to define interactions. They must look at new forms of data generated by those interactions and evaluate the potential insights they can get from them.

Social media can also build levels of trust, and this is what sells products and services. For some current examples, just look at our newly-published Technology Vision 2012. No business is going to be able to exclude these innovative and disruptive channels. Those that dismiss its rising influence as a fad will be doing their organisations a disservice. It’s clear from aforementioned examples that many other industries are upping their game in terms of social media, and it’s now public transportation’s turn to do the same.

Philippe Guittat, managing director for Accenture’s Transportation Services industry.

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