Social Business

Using Social Media to Build Trust and Community

social networking Photo courtesy of MarketingInsiderGroupOpens in new window

Social business is leveraging on social media technologies to interact with and facilitate communication and collaboration among employees, customers, and other stakeholders.

    Social media include:
  • company online community pages and forums,
  • blogs and wikis for virtual collaboration,
  • social media sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn,
  • video channels such as YouTube, and
  • microblogging platforms such as Twitter and China’s Sina Weibo.

Social media can provide for more effective sharing of tacit knowledge. For example, the simplicity and informality of Twitter make it a fast and easy way for people to communicate. People can send a question and quickly get responses from all over the organization or from outsiders.

Because of the popularity of Facebook and Twitter in people’s personal lives, most employees are comfortable with the idea of “following” and communicating with their colleagues online.

Using social networksOpens in new window for a business enables people to easily connect with one another across organizational and geographical boundaries based on professional relationships, shared interests, problems, or other criteria.

A SymantecOpens in new window salesman in Dubai created a group on the company’s network that exchanges sales tips from employees around the world.

People can use the social network to search for tags that will identify others with knowledge and resources that can help them solve a problem or do their jobs better. Moreover, the nature of social networking builds trust so that people are more likely to cooperate and share information.

In addition, social media technology is being used by companies to build trusting relationships with customers. An early leader in this realm was Morgan Stanley Wealth ManagementOpens in new window. As director of digital strategy, Lauren Boyman worked closely with the company’s sales manager and investment advisors to use Twitter and other social media for communicating with clients.

Just as importantly, social media can build stronger, more authentic relationships between managers and employees.

IN PRACTICE | General Motors
Mark Reuss left General Motors (GM) in Australia to run GM’s operations in North America just after GM had filed for bankruptcy and was implementing plans to eliminate more than 2,000 U.S. dealerships. He knew every move he made would affect how well the company weathered the tough period and how successful it was on the other side of the bankruptcy.

Reuss chose to communicate with the dealer network through a “get to know you” messaging part of Facebook rather than through e-mails or other corporate communications. The strategy helped build trust and credibility because Reuss made himself accessible and was willing to engage others authentically.

“No matter what happened,” Reuss said, “they knew that I was listening and they had … someone to talk to in the company and they could do it instantly. And if you look at how we got through that period and the dealers that we have and the trust that we have built … it’s because of that conversation on Facebook.”

Other managers are also finding social media a great way to quickly build trust and credibility. Short after arriving as the new CEO of MassMutualOpens in new window, Roger Crandall attended the company’s biggest sales conference and was asked by an employee with a Flip cam if she could record him at the conference and post the video on the company intranet’s communicative page, “A Week in the Life” was available for the whole company to watch in real time and “was a great way to create a personal connection,” Crandall said.

Some managers have begun incorporating video streams into their blogs because they allow them to engage with people in real time on a highly personal level.

Many organizations, from small entrepreneurial firms and nonprofit agencies to huge corporations, are using social media for business purposes.

Danish shipping and energy company Maersk GroupOpens in new window had a 100-year history of keeping a low public profile, but the company is now a social business leader. Maersk is on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumble, Google+, Sina Weibo, LinkedIn, and more.

As the public began expecting more transparency from companies, MaerskOpens in new window found itself hosting conversations and asking customers and others to engage with the company.

Social media is also used at Maersk for internal collaboration. One unit, Damco, established the Damco People’s Network to help salespeople in Copenhagen, for example, connect with their counterparts in other countries, such as China, where there were potential leads.

Another unit is using ChatterOpens in new window to connect sales teams around the globe and create a knowledge database. When you get people who don’t already know one another connected to a global network, says corporate brand manager Anna Granholm-Brun, “magic starts to happen.”

Maersk isn’t the only company using social media to communicate with customers. Many organizations. Including Ford Motor CompanyOpens in new window, Harrah’s EntertainmentOpens in new window, McDonald’sOpens in new window, PetcoOpens in new window, and AT&TOpens in new window, have hired social media directors who are in charge of a blend of acitivies such as marketing and promotions, customer service, and support.

Like most new activities or techniques within organizations, social business typically starts slowly and gains momentum. Unlike some other activities, social business often starts bottom-up, that is, with lower-level employees and managers who see value in using social media, and then spreads throughout the rest of the organization. Facebook was founded in 2004 and Twitter in 2006, but most organizations began actively using social media for business only within the last few years.

  1. Richard L. Daft and Norman B. Macintosh, “The Nature and Use of Formal Control Systems for Management Control and Strategy Implementation,” Journal of Management 10 (1984), 43 – 66