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The information held on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn has business implications, beyond the social. Employers now routinely scour social media profiles when vetting or seeking out new talent. Sales and marketing professionals may analyse personal or company profiles and the content of social “conversations” for trends and opportunities.
As the social media landscape evolves and matures, and greater numbers of people (professional and otherwise) become familiar with its tools, it’s time for businesses to consider how social platforms and communication techniques may be integrated into everyday business practices – including the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems and processes that so often back them up.
Integration To Date
Historically, there’s been something of an ad hoc approach to incorporating “social” elements into workplace practices. For instance, an organisation might create its own wiki page or host a forum to promote collaboration between its members. Or the members of a project team might use Instant Messaging or a video conferencing application, to hold informal meetings.
But such measures were sporadic, at best. And they also lacked the persistent social presence that would result from a logical and strategic attempt to fully integrate social media tools and techniques into the various activities or business units of an enterprise.
Breaking The Disconnect
Part of the problem has been with the very ad hoc nature of these early moves at integration. Any social interaction or integration that occurred was typically achieved using a set of tools and platforms that were discrete from the enterprise applications which workers used for their general business activity. Once you left the forum or wiki, you were disconnected from the social element, and back to the grind of spreadsheets, word processing, and office productivity software.
To achieve full and meaningful social integration, the social media tools and techniques have to become a part of an organisation’s suite of enterprise applications. Social media functionality essentially needs to be written into the Enterprise Resource Planning platform, rather than existing as a separate set of tools.
Social tools are of most value to the enterprise when they’re actually available on demand, in the places where business processes are actually happening. The use of platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to provide due diligence in the work of Human Resources would be an example of this.
Adding To What’s There
The use of email in association with ERP systems has been going on for several years, and provides clues as to how a social medium may be integrated with ERP in a manner that seems to the user like a logical extension of the platform, rather than something that’s been tacked on.
Salesforce.com’s Chatter tool (introduced in 2010) is the most commonly cited model of an early success in social media integration with enterprise applications. The tool enabled employees to set up their own “Chatter profiles”, and to communicate via a platform combining Instant Messaging (IM) applications with a persistent online discussion forum. Similarly, the Jam tool from SAP enables employees to connect with their colleagues via special “deal rooms”, to source information and discuss ongoing projects.
These success stories point to the simple fact of what social media has come to represent to most people today: another means of communication, capable of supplementing the existing methods like phone, email, and Instant Messaging.
Using Integration To Innovate
With the belief that worker productivity can be boosted by the development of internal social networks and the integration of social media, many enterprises have begun expanding their business process platforms with “Web 2.0” tools like wikis and IM to create threads, discussions, collaboration forums, and communications channels between employees, customers, supply chain partners, and other stakeholders.
In response, ERP vendors are developing innovative new features like activity feeds, chatbots, and conversation feeds based on Web 2.0 technologies, to not only improve the processes of communication and collaboration, but to also draw upon the pools of enterprise data underlying their platforms.
There’s scope to move innovation to all kinds of levels. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) for example, forms an integral part of any ERP system – and the operations of any commercial enterprise, in today’s economy. Social integration could be used to harmonise the customer experience across all outlets of the “omni-channel” marketing process: physical stores, websites, eCommerce portals, mobile apps, etc.
By melding a CRM module with the activity and behaviour monitoring possible on social media – and with the intelligent analytics of an ERP system – it may be possible to empower marketing and sales professionals to track their customer bases and use social communication tools to intervene at strategic points of “the buyer’s journey”. In this way, they could take proactive steps in real or near-real time to provide product or service information, and retain customer loyalty.
With new technologies and techniques come resistance to change, and an urge to cling to what’s tried and tested. The integration of social media in the workplace may encounter opposition at all kinds of levels: workers hesitant to try new things, finance departments unwilling to budget for it, or management fearing that social interaction could become a distraction.
Acceptance of social media integration within ERP systems is likely to meet with most success when the integration occurs through enterprise applications which are recommended by management for use in the workplace. Gartner, Inc. calls this the “push” approach to software deployment.
Overblown expectations are another potential challenge to be met. With automation a part of so many ERP operations, it might be tempting to assume that automated social media integration will eliminate the need for workers to perform due diligence themselves, or provide the personal touch in their dealings with suppliers and consumers.
Like any other tool, social integration is only as versatile as the person who wields it – and this needs to be brought home to workers when a system is deployed.
Working With The ERP Vendors
Finally, the role of ERP software vendors and service providers needs to be taken into account – especially with cloud-provisioned ERP platforms holding a significant slice of the market. Vendors may have their own road-maps and timetables for bringing social integration tools to the solutions they offer, so enterprise deployments need to be planned with this aspect in mind.
In this regard, the open source ERP ecosystem has a distinct advantage, in that the tools and functionality needed for social media integration may be coded on demand.
Emphasis On Actionable
As you can see, information gathering, analysis, the crafting of personas, and the delivery of content and interventions specifically tailored for the Mark and Maggie on your customer list aren’t passive activities. And the emphasis at all times needs to be on extracting actionable insights from the information streams that you consult. Design and delivery also need to be active, ongoing, and responsive processes.
Document Those Profiles
Finally, don’t forget to archive and document your personas – if necessary packaging them in a format most appropriate to the departments within your enterprise that will have access to them. These days, that could include everyone, as interactions with customers (e.g. service requests, response to comments and questions) may occur on social media at any time.
Remember to refresh your persona documents periodically, to reflect changing market conditions, shifts in consumer behaviour, and to allow for the personal growth and changing circumstances of Mark and Maggie.