Social Media -- It's Not Just Another Channel

FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2011 file photo, a magnifying glass is posed over a monitor displaying a Facebook page in Munich. Fac
FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2011 file photo, a magnifying glass is posed over a monitor displaying a Facebook page in Munich. Facebook is proposing to end its practice of letting users vote on changes to its privacy policies, though it will continue to let users comment on proposed updates. The world's biggest social media company said in a blog post Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, that its voting mechanism, which is triggered only if enough people comment on proposed changes, has become a system that emphasizes quantity of responses over quality of discussion. Users tend to leave one or two-word comments objecting to changes instead of more in-depth responses. (AP Photo/dapd, Joerg Koch, File)

Social media collects and distributes knowledge faster and more widely than anything we've seen. It's a testament to our deeply collaborative nature and shows us the enormous value that collaboration brings. Social media works the way it does because people are quick to contribute; we jump at opportunities to cultivate our talent and love sharing our knowledge and experiences. The Internet makes it easy to publish -- social technologies make it easy to share. The resulting explosion of user-generated-content (UGC) -- real, authentic voices of shared experience -- has indelibly changed our economy.

Yet most companies today struggle with social media -- 67 percent say they don't have the time or resources to invest, 50 percent say they can't measure success and 42 percent say they simply don't have the competency. Many companies that have jumped in so far mostly just fold social into existing business processes as a new channel -- an important and influential new channel perhaps, but a channel nonetheless. They get a Twitter account and a Facebook page and start tracking channel successes like fans and followers. They cheer as the channel successes pile up, but eventually someone starts looking for the business success. Sadly, because they've adopted a channel-centric view of social media, very often no one can point to a single dollar saved or earned.

Smart brands today realize social media isn't just another channel. It's a new and hugely efficient collaboration machine -- a mechanism for matching talent and knowledge with those who need it. They create online customer communities that give people with problems instant access to those with solutions. They create engaging social customer experiences that motivate and reward contribution. They develop knowledge bases where service questions and product solutions are owned, codified and easily accessed by anyone in need. And they save multi-millions per year in the process. When it comes to creating and distributing information customers need, smart brands prove every day that social technologies offer a novel opportunity to realize off-the-chart scales.

Using the power of the crowd, top social brands today grow their service and support teams exponentially, deepen their knowledge bases many-fold and speed up innovation by looking at thousands of ideas instead of several. They don't just push impressions through existing social networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. They build their own customer networks, turning the power of social into a perennial business asset that delivers returns year after year.

And those returns are staggering.

Since launching its customer community, Australian-based voice and broadband company, Telstra, has seen nearly half of customer queries resolved in the first instance. HP has realized $50mm in support cost savings since enlisting its social customers to help each other through online support communities. UK-based mobile service operator giffgaff has no call center at all. Their customer community answers 100 percent of inquiries in an average of 90 seconds. What's more, giffgaff enjoys one of the highest Net Promoter Scores on record, right up there with the likes of Google and Apple.

With all the efficiencies and advantages it offers, driving meaningful results through social media is fast becoming the new normal. We're not fully there quite yet, but there is an enormous opportunity for differentiation in a crowded landscape. While the channel-centric competition is still counting fans and followers, smart brands like Telstra, HP and giffgaff are using social to change the way they organize work, apply talent, conduct research and make and market their products. These trailblazers show us every day that when we stop approaching social as just another channel and start seeing its potential to transform our operations, our customer relationships -- our entire business -- we unlock its full potential.

This post is part of a series co-produced by The Huffington Post and Blogworld, in conjunction with the latter's NMX BusinessNext Social 2013. That event will feature some of the world's leading social-business luminaries and influencers, each of whom will be speaking at the event to provide an up-close look at how the world's most successful businesses harness the power of social.