Cisco’s Social Strategy: Customer Engagement Isn’t Enough

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As customers and consumers become more active in social media, they’re gaining access to the wealth of constantly evolving information that resides on the web and increasingly contributing their own knowledge of brands, products and services. At the same time millions of businesses – big and small – are dipping their toes in social and trying to figure out a) how best to mine the customer insight they find there and b) testing the water with various initiatives that typically fall into three categories:

1) Social network activity (Tweeting, FB fan page, etc)

2) Blogging and/or influencer programs

3) Customer community development and management

All of which is great. But it’s also only one side of the social media coin. Outbound activity that focuses on engaging more effectively with customers in social is important. But embracing social insights in order to change the internal culture and processes of a business is even more so. Much more so. And much harder.

Like numerous other companies, Cisco has established a thriving online community to engage, assist and learn from its customer base. But unlike others they’ve taken the next logical step. Rather than just focus on improving engagement and collaboration with external parties, they decided to do the same inside their own business.

Cisco uses digital and social media tools to improve internal collaboration, but more importantly they made (the need for) collaboration the rallying cry to completely revolutionize their internal culture. Cisco’s bet is that improved collaboration, and the tools that enable it, are the future of business. They’ve developed a comprehensive suite of services – and a thought leadership position on the issue – and (in the best traditions of the Valley) they’re well and truly drinking their own Kool-Aid.

Why is this important? Cisco believes that companies lock up huge value in poorly aligned and siloed internal functions (I’m simplifying). We’ve all worked, or continue to work, in companies where communication is poor and collaboration between departments is sporadic at best. With huge irony, even social media is falling foul of internal dysfunction. In many cases different departments manage different customer social media initiatives with minimal sharing of insights.

It’s a pretty simple proposition really. The better companies collaborate internally the more efficient, flexible and innovative they’ll likely be. It certainly seems to be working out that way for Cisco. Here’s a question: What’s the point in engaging and collaborating better with customers and vendors if a company can’t even collaborate successfully internally and share what’s learned?

Social media tools provide the means to a more collaborative and innovative future for business. But cultural change, as usual, needs to come from the top.

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