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Enterprise Social Networking May Improve Public Relations

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Innovative Social Networking Strategies Can Augment Customer Relationships

While voice and the use of business phone systems are still critical in today's evolving customer service landscape, decision-makers cannot ignore the inevitability of consumer-based tools like social media. In many cases, using social networking solutions and other platforms can be an effective way for workers to communicate with prospective and existing clients to resolve issues. More importantly, however, the platforms can be used for reputation management purposes, allowing employees to interact with people before they leak unpleasant information all over the Internet.

Unfortunately, companies are - once again - falling short in their ability to leverage social media to their advantage. As a result, organizations are forced to simply deal with whatever consumers have to say about them on the web. This was highlighted in a recent Aspect Software report, which found that half of businesses are "unprepared to handle a reputation crisis" via social media technologies.

Although experts claim that most organizations are aware of the benefits and consequences associated with either using or failing to implement social media tools into the contact center, many decision-makers have not yet pursued the solutions to their advantage or even taken steps to mitigate risk. In fact, Aspect Software noted that approximately 94 percent of businesses recognize that this lack of preparation makes them susceptible to "trial by Twitter."

"The digital revolution has not just changed the ways we interact, but has had a huge impact on the business world as well, and at a much faster pace than most expected. Organizations have been slow to adapt to this rapidly changing landscape and many are now paying the price as the power shifts to the hands of the consumer," said Dave Ogden, solutions consultant at Aspect Software.

Meanwhile, the speed at which consumers operate is much faster than it was in the past, introducing even more problems. Ogden asserted that it used to take about two hours for individuals to identify service outages, allowing companies to react at their own speed. Today, consumers flood Twitter and other social media outlets in a matter of minutes, suggesting that enterprises need to either resolve issues in seconds or also take to the web in an effort to clear their name before it becomes too tarnished.

Social Media as a Backbone

Aspect Software highlighted the importance of implementing social networking tools, new phone system features and other solutions into the contact center to provide consumers with a choice of communication when resolving an issue. This "omnichannel" presence will be critical in the coming years, as individuals do not necessarily prioritize their loyalty to a company as they do their experience.

"Technological investment in [the omnichannel] area, along with effective planning, is key for companies to protect themselves against such [public relations] disasters, but equally provides them with the facilities to take advantage of the potential benefits this new dynamic medium can bring," Ogden said.

A separate IDC report echoed the growing importance of enterprise social networking technologies, as using the tools to target online communities and interact with consumers on multiple levels is crucial. At the same time, businesses often prioritize the implementation of other solutions.

Vanessa Thompson, research manager of enterprise social networks and collaborative technologies at IDC, asserted that innovative consumer-based solutions should become the social "backbone" of companies because of its ability to form complex relationships that enable information sharing and communication simultaneously. Businesses that want to remain competitive and embrace strategies that will give them an edge in the future need to raise awareness of the potential benefits of using social media in the workplace. In many cases, the technology can help support a remote workforce without compromising connectivity, while allowing customer service representatives to build better relationships with prospective and existing clients.

"However, enabling this social 'backbone' requires the ultimate solution to be open, extensible and easily integrated with existing social networks, content repositories and enterprise applications. For organizations to support the changing nature of work, they will also need to consolidate internal applications where redundant processes start to occur," Thompson asserted.

For the past several years, the idea of incorporating social networking solutions into the workplace has been kicking around, though it seems decision-makers are just beginning to take it seriously. As business communications and contact center operations transform, executives will be encouraged to step up to the plate and level the playing field between employees and consumers. Social media will be a critical player in this game, allowing organizations of all sizes to embrace a new platform for collaboration and public relations management. Executives must plan their social engagements ahead of time to maximize return on investment and mitigate unnecessary complications down the road.