Customers in control

Should business be afraid of social media?

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

In the last decade, businesses have had to adapt to some of the biggest changes in a generation. Mobile phones are no longer devices used for talking and texting - people use them to access data and information on the move. 

It's ultimately given more power to the consumer, who now has more choice about where they can eat, or compare which shop is selling a product more cheaply. 'Very few organisations are untouched by this evolution - or revolution. It doesn't matter what type of business you are. And if they are untouched, I would be concerned about their future,' Bill Macdonald, MD of Accenture, said at a discussion hosted by MT and Accenture in Edinburgh on Wednesday.

The introduction of sites such as Facebook and micro-blogging site Twitter has given consumers new platforms to voice their experiences, good and bad. 'Social media can represent a big risk for organisations,' Iain McMillan, Director of the CBI in Scotland, said. 'Reputations can be destroyed, perhaps more easily than they can be built.'

HSBC's Head of Commercial Banking in Scotland, Mark Tate, agreed: 'The consumer is a lot more knowledgeable now than they ever were. We need to be much more fleet of foot. But it is also a positive. Consumers are much more accessible. Using internet tools, we can access markets without needing to visit them.'

Over the last decade, internet globalisation has given businesses more opportunities to sell to markets which might otherwise be out of their reach. 'We are only just beginning to understand the reach social media has given us,' said Jane Gotts, International Director of SCDI. Whilst methods of reaching customers has grown, it has meant customers expect a 24/7 service. 'People want their voices heard,' said Kevin O'Shaughnessy, Digital Director of Standard Life. 'When people say something about a brand on social media, they expect that brand to be listening and to take it on board. And if a company is developing a new product, people want to be involved in the development.'

But with customers demanding more information quicker, there comes the issue of how to deliver it. 'The real tipping point will be 4G,' said Les Bayne, partner at Accenture. 'It's as quick as wi-fi and will have a big impact when it comes over to the UK.'

And it seems the rest of business agrees. Research out yesterday suggests 94% of businesses think the UK needs 4G networks to remain competitive and protect jobs. The research, carried out by Coleman Parkes and commissioned by Everything Everywhere, also found that 70% of the 1,000 bosses questioned use mobile internet daily for work. Half of the world's biggest economies already have 4G. It can reach speeds up to 10 times faster than 3G, but isn't expected to arrive in the UK until next year.

'We are attempting to embrace video calling because more people don't feel the need to travel as much,' Mike Bamber, MD of Branch and Private Banking at RBS, explained. 'But for that you need wi-fi; 3G isn't good enough. And that enabler isn't there at the moment.'

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