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July 21, 2010
Is Social Media Really Bankable?

I heard about a conversation recently that I just had to share with you. A group had gathered at an industry event, and a client asked whether a supplier participated in social media: “Are you on Twitter, do you have a blog, things like that,” to which the vendor replied, “Um, we don’t do any of that; we only spend time on real business.” Rarely do I hear of something as proudly, defiantly, and arrogantly wrongheaded as that, especially when, as it turns out, all of the company’s clients and top prospects have at least one Twitter persona, and some as many as 10-20. Yet when I learned that same speaker later described the rest of the company’s business model as, “Doing the impossible for less money than the competition,” I understood. The speaker and company are riding a business model rooted in thinking small that is destined to hit the wall.


I’ll admit I had misgivings about social media earlier on, too. Back when Twitter was still about mundane daily activities (“Now I’m eating breakfast; now I’m signing off to take a shower”), and a global micro elite was mainly blogging back and forth with each other about online esoterica, it was hard to see the value. I also understand why the word “social” still conjures up images of the games, mindless Web chatter, or worse that some still engage in on company (or taxpayer) time. Yet outside the most determined backwaters such as those described above, and notwithstanding that there will always be time-wasters and trust abusers among us, social media is coming of age rapidly in the corporate world. As we’re about to discuss, combining it with operations and business support systems (OSS/BSS) can produce some strong business-building results.


UC + IC = UC&C


Unified communications (UC) was originally about delivering the right content to the right place at the right time. For example, a user may wish to have messages -- no matter which form they are received in -- converted to texts on a mobile phone when away from the office during the day, to e-mails when he or she is back in the office, and to voice mails later in the evening. Intelligent communications (IC) took it a step further, delivering the right content to the right user. For example, rather than routing calls through a switchboard, wasting resources, and delaying critical decisions about patient care, via IC a medical center could now route calls about oncology, fractures, or any medical condition directly to the appropriate physician for immediate attention. After about a year, the market dispensed with the notion of IC and expanded the definition of unified communications to include both UC and IC. Today UC has again annexed surrounding real estate and evolved into UC&C, or unified communications & collaboration. As provided by the likes of Microsoft, Avaya, Cisco and the business divisions of some of the world’s largest communications service providers, UC&C includes UC, IC, instant and mobile messaging, HD videoconferencing, telepresence rooms, and social media capabilities. As reported on Mashable, Microsoft -- which in 2009 launched Outlook Social Connector, a plugin that syncs social networking feeds with Outlook contacts -- has now added integration with Facebook and Windows Live Messenger to its existing integration with LinkedIn.


Social media now resonates with business because it is in keeping with the market’s need to reach the right parties in the optimal venues at the appropriate times with the preferred messaging mix. Corporations over time have devised some elaborate systems to try to enhance collaboration, but collaboration is in social media’s DNA, and increasingly social media is showing corporations the way.


Travel Channel and others using Cisco Eos social monetization platform


Another breakthrough in the corporate world, Cisco Eos, is a hosted software platform designed to help media and entertainment companies cash in on social media by providing enhanced entertainment experiences around branded content. A small but growing cadre of clients including The Travel Channel and Warner Music Group (through artists such as Paramore) is launching EOS-powered sites and content to pull together integrated interactive/digital marketing strategies connecting them to their fan and viewer bases.


Social media driving mobile advertising and corporate mobile contracts


Previously in this space I discussed how Microsoft and Verizon are collaborating on mobile advertising strategies, and now others such as Alcatel-Lucent are getting in the game. The ability of social media to drive high- consumer involvement with mobile devices is a big part of what makes initiatives such as this viable. On the business-user side, “managed mobility” solutions are helping those global operator business divisions close deals. AT&T estimates that one out of every three mobile devices it sells to large corporate users is driven by usage of business and social/collaboration apps, and it put its money where its mouth is by acquiring leading mobile app developer Plusmo.


Mobile advertising and apps, and platforms like Eos, are riding on the newest iterations of the software systems that have long kept service provider networks and systems up and running: OSS/BSS. Combining OSS/BSS with social media is providing a powerful one-two punch to help companies fight on through today’s tough global economy.


For sales or hiring outreach: cold calls/e-mails or social media?


So you’re doing sales or partnership outreach, or recruiting/hiring, for your company or client. What do you do? Start launching cold calls or e-mails? As I noted earlier in this space, research by HubSpot indicates that in increasing numbers you are sourcing prospects on LinkedIN, Xing, Spoke, Facebook, Twitter, or other social business hubsites, and from those social beginnings you are closing the deal.


Tell us how social media is working (or not) for your business


Based on these and other developments, it would appear that some of the world’s most important organizations -- maybe even yours -- are “Um, spending time doing real business” with social media (sometimes powered by OSS/BSS) as a vital ingredient, not just in the marketing mix but in core-business processes. Is social media helping you obtain bankable business results, or is it too soon to tell? Please let us know with a comment below.


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For years Jeff Cotrupe was the analyst who "named Stratecast but never joined the firm." Those days are over: He has now joined Stratecast, a division of Frost & Sullivan, as Program Director, OSS/BSS Global Competitive Strategies. If you compete in the global communications market, Stratecast offers the critical strategic insights you need to WIN. You can connect with Jeff on all social media sites at XeeSM and follow StratecastF&S and Jeff on Twitter.

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