In 2011, the wave of interest in social business swept Marcel LeBrun's Radian6 into the arms of Salesforce.com. In 2012, he believes a bigger crest will sweep the business world, leaving behind those who are unprepared.
This was the year of the Arab Spring, when communication through Twitter helped organize the overthrow of entrenched and oppressive regimes in Egypt and Tunisia. In 2012, organizations that don't embrace social media disruption will find themselves getting overrun by it, LeBrun said. "You're going to have a CEO Spring if the CEO says, 'We're going to stick with command-and-control, and we really don't want employees using social,' " he said.
Formerly CEO of Radian6, LeBrun is now its general manager and a senior vice president at Salesforce.com. Since Salesforce.com acquired Radian6 this spring, the cloud services company has kept stepping up its focus on incorporating social media into business, aggressively promoting Chatter, its enterprise social networking product, and recently acquiring Rypple for social performance management and employee recognition.
LeBrun said Radian6 has continued to build an independent brand for social media monitoring and engagement, although it also contributes to broader social software initiatives at Salesforce. "We're doing a lot more of the same things we were doing, but we're also doing a lot more [different] things," he said.
[ For ways to stay on top of trends, see 10 Cool Social Media Monitoring Tools. ]
Radian6 continues to be best known as a tool for monitoring and analyzing social media feeds, although it also provides tools for engaging customers and prospects on the social web--for example, by replying to questions and complaints. Radian6 now offers integration with the Salesforce Service Cloud, allowing customer service agents to monitor and respond to social media communications through the same user interface they employ for other kinds of interactions. LeBrun said Radian6 also is exploring ways that its monitoring and analytics could enhance the Chatter experience.
Salesforce recognized how important social media was becoming, LeBrun said, and the rest of the business world is going to come to that realization in the coming year.
Although some companies might be brave and others cautious, almost every company will have some form of enterprise social networking by the end of 2012, LeBrun predicted. Meanwhile, the kind of monitoring and management of external social media that Radian6 offers is going to grow more integral to business operations, he said. "We're going to see a shift to thinking, 'how does this now transform my company,' 'how do I tie this in with business processes at my company'--as opposed to 'we have this little team we have set up' and letting them handle it."
Dell is an example of a company that went from having a small team of social media specialists--about 20 people--to having a much broader group of employees, including those associated with specific business functions, managing parts of the social media conversation, and helping address the tremendous volume of relevant comments, LeBrun said. "The question now is how do we get the voice of the customer to every employee and teach them how to engage in social and understand it, encouraging them to talk to customers and to listen," he said.
In the process, there are questions of style, LeBrun said. "You have to figure out how you want your brand to engage. Is my brand funny and friendly and warm to everyone? Or do I want to project thought leadership, but not engage. You look at a company like Apple, and they don't necessarily talk to individual customers a lot, they talk about ideas. Dell really does want to talk to individual customers, and they've had to figure out how to staff it and put the right technology in place."
Each company has to figure out how social media applies to its business, and the answer will be different for consumer brands seeking to take the pulse of a customer base numbering in the millions, as opposed to business-to-business firms seeking to build deep relationships with a smaller number of customers. Companies in regulated industries might have to pass communications through more layers of approvals and address concerns such as archiving, but they won't simply be able to ignore the need to engage in social media.
As shown by the Twitter-powered political revolutions, power is shifting to the masses--and businesses need to understand the same thing is happening in their world, LeBrun said. Old patterns of customer interaction, such as making people wait on hold, aren't going to be acceptable in the new business reality, he said. "Businesses need to line up for customers, rather than expecting customers to line up for business."
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