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Facebook has long been a place where people share embarrassing college photos and post scintillating status updates on what they had for dinner. But it is now becoming a serious platform for business activities, including e-commerce and employee recruitment. The move has meant that companies have had to get more serious about their IT department's role in managing social media and more thoughtful about their own social media image.
Here is a look at five ways companies will be employing Facebook in the coming year:
Online video marketing
"We are using Facebook as a tool to increase awareness of our brand and focus on small business and startups in the U.S. market," said Alex Ramjuttun, head of IT services for U.S. and Bermuda for Hiscox, an international provider of small business insurance and services with U.S. headquarters in New York. "One of the key ways we've increased our fans on Facebook has been through our original webseries about five friends, including an IT consultant, starting their own business, [called] 'Leap Year .' We've seen our fan bases on the 'Leap Year' and Hiscox Small Business Insurance Facebook pages grow in tandem since February."
In preparation for its marketing efforts on Facebook, the company increased its IT budget for bandwidth and security-related investments.
"We have invested in bandwidth by adding more server capacity to handle the additional load from increased visitors to our site," he said. "We've added more blades to handle the additional traffic and we have dual redundant load balancers to allocate that load intelligently. With increased marketing comes increased awareness, in addition to increasing our bandwidth capacity, we are also anticipating potential threats and have further increased our security efforts."
"Retailers have mainly used fan pages to connect with consumers, incorporating creative ways to drive deeper brand loyalty," said Gary Lombardo, multichannel, mobile and social commerce product marketing lead for Demandware, a Burlington, Mass.-based software-as-a-service e-commerce solution vendor. "Recently, setting up storefronts on Facebook has become another way to engage consumers and one that potentially could drive additional online revenue."
Having a Facebook store should be part of a larger Facebook strategy, he said.
"Retailers need to think about a larger Facebook strategy, one that will reach consumers both on Facebook, but more importantly, off Facebook or on the retailer's site. The real opportunity is the integration of Facebook into the e-commerce site. Facebook is also increasingly providing ways for retailers to reach consumers in-store, such as with Facebook Deals, which should also be part of a larger Facebook strategy." He said two types of Facebook deals will develop — check-in deals similar to Foursquare and group deals in the vein of Groupon.
"Facebook is one of the largest self-maintaining databases out there,” said Brenna Johnson, product marketing manager for Cambridge, Mass.-based Endeca. "There are a number of tools out there to help extract this data for insights on what products are selling, what consumers are talking about on their Facebook pages and what they are buying from your competitors."
Lombardo said companies will be using Facebook to scout out the latest trends and track purchasing behaviors of top customers. "There is a lot to be learned from a company's most influential customers , and they're most likely on Facebook. There are privacy concerns here and Facebook doesn't make all data available through APIs, but it would be an IT challenge in how to get this unstructured data and make it useful for their organization."
He said a big push for retailers is Facebook Connect, which allows websites — including online e-commerce sites — to connect with a user's Facebook identity, profile, friends, and overall social graph. He said companies will need to consider how this will impact their current authentication and registration process.
Increasingly, people are turning to Facebook and other social networks when they have a complaint or question, particularly when it comes to technical issues.
"Customers that follow companies on social networking sites expect that they will be able to get a fast response," said Jennifer Fair, account executive for MMI Public Relations, based in Cary, N.C. "If that need for a response is not met, this has the potential to escalate into increased complaints on social networks and a poor public impression of a company. If customers are pleased with companies, however, the can also use Facebook to praise those companies, leading to a more positive public perception. In 2012, companies can expect to have to do more customer service online and dedicate resources to staying on top of online commentary and responding to it in a timely manner."
While there are plenty of people looking for jobs, in some industries it can be a challenge to find qualified candidates with specific skills or experience. That's where recruiting employees through social media comes in.
"Companies have begun using social media outlets to drive more traffic and engage potential candidates in new ways," said Tom Boyle, director of product marketing at SilkRoad technology, a Chicago-based provider of talent management technology. "In addition to a fair salary, top talent wants to be in an environment that values employees. Facebook is enabling organizations to become more brand-centric and show how culture can be a tangible asset."
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