Saturday, February 18, 2012

Social Media Intelligence – A Disaster?

Just read this piece on Bloomberg about how retailers are shutting down their Facebook shops.  I have written in the past about how many companies are using social media to glean actionable intelligence about customers. Very specifically I had discussed how social media has the potential to provide risk intelligence to credit risk managers in banks and financial institutions. While there was flicker of interest, it has not actually picked up for several reasons.

For starters, social media sites like Face book are more an online venting of personal idiosyncrasies and little nonsense we all like to indulge ourselves when our guards are down. Personally I think it is more akin to street corner gathering of teenagers who hangout more for social companionship rather than any serious discussion. Of course, there are serious discussions at these hangouts, but they are heavily outnumbered by the day-to-day sharing of simple trivialities. That is the nature of Facebook transactions.

The most obvious reason seems to be the inability of many leading companies / brands to monetize their huge followings or “likes” on Face book. Many companies opened Facebook stores because they did not want to lose out. However, these initiatives have not provided the expected return on investments and many leading brands -  JC Penny, Gamestop, Gap, Nordstrom, just to name a few – have shut down their Facebook stores. See article for more details.

Banks and financial services, on the other hand, have been more cautious in their social media strategy. Credit Risk Managers were not blown off their feet by Facebook’s ability to provide risk intelligence. While collection agencies are using Facebook to locate delinquent customers, it is a far cry from replacing Credit bureaus as a primary source of customer data. I think we have to wait and see how this evolves in the coming months.

Current social media strategy has hurt companies in other ways too. Many companies that bet on Facebook and have invested heavily are already seeing negative returns. Poor revenue streams from these strategic decisions will show up in the balance sheets of many software companies as early as 1Q of 2012. It will be interesting to see how the markets respond to the poor results.

I am not prognosticating a complete failure of social media strategy. Rather, it is a time for introspection and realignment for future course of action, given what we are learning. As always, I believe failure is a great educator and leads to innovation; innovation is the key distinguisher in a competitive business environment. I believe when the dust settles, it will lead companies to engender a more compatible and sustainable social media strategy.  Definitely, the current social media strategy a.k.a “Facebook Strategy” of many companies does not seem to be working.  Stay tuned folks.