The Facebook threat

Robert Clark
14 Sep 2010

The Social Network, a movie about Facebook, is due to hit the screens next month.

It's fair to say Hollywood will never make a movie about a telco, unless it involves Bernie Ebbers, although Alexander Graham Bell and Marconi surely offer excellent biopic material.

It's also fair to say that telcos, like everyone else, are still grappling with social media.

From an operator's perspective, social media - blogs, tweets, social networking, user-generate content - are just one more challenge, like falling phone connections and the mobile data explosion, only not as critical.

But they still have to be addressed. Telcos, more than most companies, are built on Business 1.0 principles: hierarchical, remote from customers and parsimonious with information. Even the newer mobile operators display elements of a culture where the network takes priority over getting in front of the customer.

In a traditional telco, senior managers used their monopoly over information to help maintain control. Web 2.0 is blowing that up because it flattens the barriers between customers and organizations.

Supposedly 79% of Fortune 500 companies use social media for customer interaction. But what is frustrating for businesses is that for all the boosterism of social media advocates there is very little hard evidence as to its positive benefits.

Not to say that there isn't a big upside. It's just that nobody appears to be tracking it in any meaningful way.

Consultancy Engagement db claims a link between use of social media and financial performance, but doesn't offer any evidence to link the two.

Dell's Twitter account DellOutlet is a good practical example of corporate social media. It's effectively an online sales person, offering customer deals, answering questions on deals and announcing new specials and helping with customer care. Most businesses get that.

Next in degree of difficulty is managing a company's brand on Facebook and among the blogs and tweets. It maybe just a PR/issues management exercise but requires a change in company behavior. If your brand is getting beaten up online you need to know about it and respond to it at speed. Apple's recent antenna problems are a classic example of the way tweets can amplify a problem if a company does not quickly solve it.

Where social media gets tricky is when staff start distributing information or - worse - their unedited opinions online.

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