Tools to help you use social media as an asset not a chore

Let’s get this out of the way: much like many of you, I am sick of every single
‘social media’ service that’s going to magically bring customers in the door
and turn them into lifetime fans of your business and also of every other
person professing to be a ‘Social Media expert’.

Ever since Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn
became mainstream applications, we’ve seen a torrent of entrants into the
social space that’s matched in number only by the sheer volume of celebrity
tweets on Twitter from Stephen Fry to Jonathon Ross, Barack Obama to Sarah
, even entrepreneurs and TV Dragons’ past and present in the shape of Duncan Bannatyne, Peter Jones and Rachel Elnaugh have embraced the service.

But look underneath the surface and something interesting is truly afoot.
Consumers across the UK and the globe are sharing media on Twitter and Facebook, friending relative strangers, becoming fans of their cities and their
favourite shows on Facebook and talking with their public officials and TV
presenters or ‘previously untouchable’ stars on Twitter. It seems obvious then,
that where consumers are, business must follow.

As a business owner or manager, where should you start? There are several
social media tools that you can begin using right away with low friction and
great upside. I have picked a few select examples but this list really does only
scratches the surface. I am assuming that you have signed up to Twitter and Facebook, but if you haven’t then you really do need to as soon as you finish
reading this article.

Hootsuite: Do you struggle to manage a Facebook fan page, Twitter account and actually do
work away from your PC during the day. Well with Hootsuite it lets you manage multiple accounts on
one dashboard. It can schedule tweets in advance instead of logging on every
time I want to send one. If you have a company blog to keep people informed on
your news Hootsuite automatically sends a tweet to your followers.

Also to
increase your personal credibility and brand you can click on the Hootlet
feature in your browser’s Favourites bar when you are reading an article of
interest and send out a tweet with the story’s name and URL. A stats feature
lets you see how many people clicked on any given link so you can tailor future
tweets accordingly.

Paul, the online editor of Business Matters, uses HootSuite to keep track of
tweets containing certain keywords. Anytime someone mentions Business Matters,
for example, it appears on his HootSuite dashboard.

He sifts through the responses at the beginning and end of each day, tracking
both positive and negative feedback and reaching out to potential readers and
using this to tailor future content.

CoTweet: Do
you run a service business? Do you live and die by customer service and
word–of-mouth? It doesn’t matter if you operate a small small local cafe or are
Eurostar you have most likely created a company Twitter account to engage with
your customers who are also on the social network. CoTweet allows all of your
employees to share one company Twitter account and engage obsessively with your
current and future customers in a common voice. You can also see what the
Twittersphere is saying about your business and reach out to them directly via
CoTweet. Finally, you can even track all of your Twitter conversations in one

Angels Den, the Business Angel company which puts business angels
together with investors uses CoTweet as their staff are all over the UK, but
they all tweet with one voice. (@angelsden)

SalesForce Chatter:
I attended the launch of Chatter from SalesForce, at their global conference in
San Francisco last year, and have come across SalesForce’s myriad of business
offerings before over the last few years. This latest is a slick collaboration
offering called Chatter. Most small and mid-sized businesses deal with
collaboration issues — how do you run a lean and efficient business when your
team is stuck in a meeting for half the day? Smart companies are solving
the problem by offering their employees the same kinds of social tools we all
use to keep in touch with our friends around the globe. Chatter, for example,
is a piece of collaboration software that allows your employees to
“follow” each other much like on Twitter or Facebook.

This way,
employees can stay constantly updated on projects that various colleagues are
working on across teams and departments. Chatter also allows team members to
create groups instantly to discuss and collaborate on deals they are working on
together. Users can post files, talk strategy and competition, and get on the
same page without more dreadful meetings.

The key point here is that different
members of your team can engage with the stream of information at their own
pace and “chime in” as needed, or simply consume the updates
passively using mobile devices or their desktop or laptops.

are other collaboration tools available, like the team from Huddle, who were on
our February cover, but Chatter is definitely a service to keep a close eye on.

No matter what business or industry you are in, you have likely already
established a basic online presence via a company website that lists and/or
sells all of your products online, a blog where you discuss your tactical
goings-on, and likely, Facebook/Twitter pages where you engage with actual
customers. But what happens when things go wrong with customers? How do you
provide professional customer service online in today’s hothouse media
environment, where a small complaint from someone not handled properly can
become a social media circus all baying for virtual blood.  A simple “Contact Us” page
with a telephone number simply won’t do.

Enter GetSatisfaction, a thoughtful
service that allows customers to report issues, start conversations and get in
touch with your customer service reps painlessly. 

There is a ‘feedback’ tab to the right hand side of this page as you read it,
but in a nutshell, the service provides your customers a simple online
interface to ask questions and report problems. Your staff and customer service
teams can now maintain an official online presence and work with your
customers’ most pressing issues. GetSatisfaction also allows grouping of issues
into meaningful “views” such as frequently asked questions, recently
proposed ideas, most common problems with your product (and solutions!), etc.
What’s more, you can integrate GetSatisfaction directly into your site’s domain
for example. This allows you to control the look and feel and maintain a
seamless experience for your customers.

Richard Alvin is the managing Editor of
Business Matters and also the Group Managing Director of publishers Capital
Business Media.  He tweets about a
combination of personal observations and business related topics at @ralvin