Brought under the Microsoft flag, LinkedIn has continued to grow and has just passed the 500 million mark in members. New tools are now available.
At the end of 2016, the European Commission authorised Microsoft's takeover of LinkedIn. And so the merger, already validated in the United States, Canada and Brazil, was finalised, with three commitments:
- the optional aspect of LinkedIn in Windows for Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM);
- continuation of the interoperability of LinkedIn with Microsoft's competitors;
- universal access to Microsoft Graph, an interface dedicated to software designers.
There may well have been concerns for its user base. Unjustified, as it turned out. The takeover of the professional social network for USD 26 billion did not slow its growth. 500 million members are the figures quoted today by the company.
New design, new integrations
27% of traffic on the site comes from mobile devices. However, since 2003, LinkedIn had not seen any major change in its design. That is about to change, however. The new owner is upping its offensive strategy, with the launch online of a clearly more ergonomic interface, armed with a navigation bar similar to Facebook's and a cross-functional search tool.
Another keyword: integration. This is being made increasingly clear both with Office products but more recently also with Dynamics 365. This is a strategic move: Sales Navigator integrated in Dynamics 365 now means salespeople can access LinkedIn members and identify potential leads. And lastly, Dynamics 365 for Talent targets recruitments via Dynamics 365 ERP. HR departments will then be able to search for new talent directly from the LinkedIn network.
A communication tool more focused on B2B
Whilst VSB and major brands have taken social networks by storm, expressing a clear preference for Facebook, LinkedIn remains the network of choice for canvassing companies. LinkedIn in fact offers SME and large companies tools for managing their e-reputation, particularly in the B2B sector.
The factor which makes all the difference compared to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram lies in users' expectations. Searches on LinkedIn are for corporate content above all, with one slight difference: no purely institutional information.
Exposure of your brand is vital, particularly if your aim is to recruit the most talented people, who will find out about your corporate culture through your presence on the network. LinkedIn, then, is an opportunity to deploy an editorial line based on your company's news: profiles of directors and executives, actions and platforms in the form of articles or stylish photos in support, involvement of teams in private, public even charity events. To successfully achieve this, favour storytelling, highlighting real testimonies, rather than an exclusively commercial pitch.
There are a few companies which might inspire you in their communication on LinkedIn, as suggested by the "2017 Top Companies", published on 18 May. In the United States, the 5 iconic companies are Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Facebook, Salesforce and Uber. In Germany, Zalando and McKinsey & Company followed by Rocket Internet have taken the lead. In the United Kingdom, take your inspiration from the John Lewis Partnership, ASOS, Arcadia Group and Harrods.
Social media and e-commerce: opportunities and risks
The huge popularity of social media brings new opportunities, but has resulted in some new stumbling blocks as well. What are the most recent trends? And how should you respond to them?
Social media such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, etc. seem cutting edge, but the principle is as old as the hills: word of mouth, sometimes abbreviated as WOM in marketing. Even in the heyday of the mass media, positive recommendations from neighbours, family and friends remained important to a company's success. Newspapers, magazines and television advertising were the first channel introducing a new product to consumers, but word-of-mouth turned out to play a decisive role in what matters most: consumer behaviour. Consumers shared experiences and thereby affected the behaviour of their fellow consumers. Today, more than ever, they do so through social media.
Consumers persuading consumers
Social media are the contemporary, more sophisticated and super-fast successor of old-fashioned word-of-mouth advertising. They are a catalyst. Social networks allow people to exchange views, share experiences, express their dissatisfaction, etc. more quickly than ever.
In addition, more and more consumers are opting for a "social search" over search engines such as Google to find information. They consciously do not search the entire internet, but approach their friends on Facebook or contacts on LinkedIn or Twitter. It speeds up the search and makes the result more reliable. The idea is that if X thinks it is good/nice/beautiful, we will probably think it is good/nice/beautiful too. There is also the option to ask questions and really discuss the product or service you need information about.
Consumers talk about all sorts of products (offline and online), from new detergents to new car models. And it is not just young people who are sharing their experiences about products and brands. Young and old, male or female: everyone does it. All these recommendations between consumers are worth gold.
We can illustrate this with an example: computer manufacturer Dell assumes that 25% of its customers choose their brand after it has been recommended by another user. The average purchase value per customer is about 210 dollars. Based on this amount, the value of every recommendation is estimated at 42 dollars. The more consumers Dell can convince to buy its products, the more money it makes.
However, the reverse is equally true: bad word-of-mouth advertising can have devastating effects. Particularly in this age of social media, a bad reputation does not take long to spread.
Social media in 2014
Perhaps Facebook will no longer exist in ten years' time, but it will most certainly have been replaced by something else. Social media are here to stay. It is therefore important for companies to build a good social media strategy. They can start by thinking about which channel they want to use for which content and objective. What do you need to take into account?
- Content (the message to the consumer) is still the key part, but the importance of segmentation is increasing. The audience is varied, so not all content and every channel is suitable for everyone. As a company, it is best to divide your target audience into sub-target groups. You can then choose specific content and a channel per sub-target group.
- Create real-time content: define a number of key moments in the year in advance and use these wisely. The World Cup, back to school, the summer holidays, etc. are all events that happen regularly and companies can respond to in a clever way. The trick is to find a good link between the key moment and your product. Be creative in this respect. If a school bag brand presents its content at the end of August, it will have to use an original approach to avoid coming across as predictable.
- Social media are predominantly a mobile story: most consumers are switching to smartphones and tablets. It is no coincidence that the four best-known social networks are also in the list of most popular mobile apps: Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. In any case, your content (both on the website and on social media) will have to be mobile-friendly.
- The importance of customer care is only increasing. Consumers will now use social media more than ever to find information, ask questions and make comments.
The conversation manager: essential and permanently online
Coordinating a company's social media strategy is a task in itself. Who will you use to handle this? And what about involved customers who suddenly get too involved?
Because of social media, the role of a traditional marketing manager is evolving more and more towards being a conversation manager: someone who facilitates consumer communication. This includes communication between customers themselves and communication between the customers and the company.
Some key tasks in the conversation manager's job description are:
- Uniting and activating ‘branded fans’, as they will recommend the brand to friends and family.
- Listening to what people are saying about your company and seeking their active contribution to your products and strategy.
- Creating content worth distributing in order to encourage discussions.
- Managing these discussions.
- Ensuring your work is very customer-oriented and customer-friendly through customer care, i.e.by responding faster and providing more than what the customer is expecting.
Some companies are big enough to hire a full-time conversation manager. In other cases another employee will take on this role part-time. A third possibility is using a specialised company.
Caroline Hombroukx, conversation manager at content marketing company Head Office:
“No matter which option you go for, communication in social media must come across as personal. There is definitely a reason why large companies such as Telenet and Belgacom have created a fictitious person to deal with their customers; Charlotte and Eva respectively. The conversation manager also has to know the company and its social media strategy very well. It may therefore be an advantage if someone in the company itself takes on that role. That person is right at the source and so can distribute information, take a quick picture and post it online, etc.
This task is not for everyone. A conversation manager must have experience with social media, have fluent communication and writing style and must be empathetic, positive and solution-oriented in his or her dealings with customers. Prior training is not a luxury, because the employee must be very aware of the company's content strategy. The audience is varied and unpredictable. You have to decide time and time again whether certain content is or is not suitable for your target group. It is also not a nine-to-five job: the online world keeps on turning even at night or at the weekend."
The advantage of hiring a conversation manager from an external company is that in principle the expertise is present. In that case the challenge is to know the company to such an extent that the customer has the impression that he or she is talking to a real employee.
Getting angry is out of the question
Traditional marketing and advertising are a one-way street. If they do not work, they are a waste of money. However, they are not likely to result in angry comments. A company venturing out on Facebook, Twitter or other social media, can be sure to receive comments and reactions. Including negative ones. Caroline Hombroukx:
“On social media the consumer is suddenly right next to you banging the table. It is important to respond well to that. Getting angry yourself is out of the question. You need to respond by showing that you understand and you are taking the question or complaint seriously. Everyone following the discussion must see that the company is providing a quick answer and is trying to find a solution. If a mistake has been made, you can acknowledge this openly and honestly. You can also show the problem as something positive: as an opportunity to improve your brand, product or service. Of course you must find a suitable solution in the end. If the person sharing the complaint becomes too negative, you have to try and divert him or her to a private channel: a private message on Facebook, a direct message on Twitter, an e-mail or a phone call."
An enthusiastic, understanding response also works well if the consumer is sharing something positive about your brand, company or service. Thanking the consumer strengthens the bond between the company and the customer. Caroline Hombroukx:
"The dialogue with the target group is an opportunity to improve your product or operations through constructive criticism. Make customers feel involved. It creates a strong relationship. If you are publishing a magazine or starting a poster campaign for instance, you can let customers choose the best layout or title from three options posted on Facebook, for example. Everything that engages customers can only strengthen their commitment."
Social media dos and don'ts
- The consumer is always right (even when this isn't the case).
- Be open, honest and friendly.
- Use a personal style.
- Respond quickly to any questions or reactions.
- Stay positive and be understanding.
- Do all you can to engage your customers.
- Come up with a free gift every now and then.
- As a brand, try to avoid political topics.
Big data: six questions to ask yourself before getting started
Big data is a new class of assets that companies must embrace, develop, protect and make work for them during their transformation into a digital enterprise. We have put together some points to help guide your strategy.
Is there a course in big data?
Most universities around the world have come to understand the importance of big data. More and more, they are using analysis, both in research and to improve the lives of students on campus and help guide them; however, there is little in terms of training on this topic. Nevertheless, some establishments have recently started to offer their own diplomas and programmes to train the next generation of data scientists.
Do I need to provide training for my staff?
Yes. However, it's difficult to send your IT teams back to the school room in order to train or bring them up to speed. Nevertheless, various training courses have been organised around the country by specialist service providers. A two-day training course already teaches its students about the specific issues surrounding big data and the potential technical solutions.
Do I need to hire a data scientist?
Not necessarily. Some figures: last year, there were 4.4 million jobs in this sector, of which only 40% were filled. Not everyone has the budget for a data scientist. You can instead call on an independent consultant to pave the way and get your company up and running with big data.
What main techniques are required?
Techniques such as machine learning and data mining are essential for those working with big data. They help you tackle tasks that are difficult or even impossible to complete using more classic algorithms. The art of Data Visualisation enables you to communicate discoveries from data analysis.
What keyword should I take away?
Hadoop! In the same way as Microsoft Office is known for productivity and Apache is synonymous with the internet, apps are the key in the world of Big Data. Hadoop should be the cornerstone of your strategy. Without such expertise, it is impossible to master big data. This open-source software framework is designed for distributed data storage. It is highly scalable and resistant to failures. Its role is to process and analyse new and old data silos to extract significant knowledge from them that can be used in a company's strategy. Your experts will have to become familiar with its components: ‘Spark’, ‘Hive’, ‘Pig’, ‘MapReduce’ and ‘HBase’.
Is big data relevant for SMEs?
Certainly, in particular for marketing: big data enables companies to sort data in order to gain a clear profile of its customers. Segmentation can be used to optimise campaigns. Analysis also allows you to really observe how customers behave. SMEs don't have the same budget as a large group, and so they must primarily focus on data which is both crucial and can be exploited to reap the greatest reward: creating a stronger link with their customers.
Get on board with corporate responsibility
Customers are demanding quality products, and also companies that share their values. In the US, the B Corp example could redefine the commercial strategy of all new start-ups.
In 1970, the economist Milton Friedman wrote in the columns of the New York Times Magazine, ‘The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits’. In a complete departure from the practices of the age, this innovative speech was not necessarily convincing. For 40 years, business has consisted of optimising the return on shareholder investment, with boards of directors putting profit above all else. To do this, they carried out redundancies and restructuring, paying little attention to the environment.
Nevertheless, as Steve Denning emphasised in 2011, maximising profits for investors, intended as an economic remedy, ended up becoming a disease. According to the editorial writer, we have reached “the limits of the model”. The figures prove it: capital ROI is now 25% of what it was in 1965.
More responsible growth
In 2016, everything has changed. There is a shift towards a corporate conscience, greater transparency and authenticity, values personified by a movement that now brings together such emblematic companies as Ben and Jerry's and Warby Parker, B Corps certification. This highly successful label is awarded by a not-for-profit organisation, B Corp, already present in 50 countries and adopted by more than 2,000 companies. One of them is the Belgian company Ecover.
Jay Coen Gilbert, the founder of B Corp, took the opportunity offered by the 2016 Net Impact Conference to explain the model he endorses:
"The tectonic plates of business are shifting beneath our feet. Sometimes they move so slowly that it’s hard to feel it, but now they are shaking the earth and transforming the landscape right before our eyes. We are seeing the change from one form of capitalism to another." For him, corporate responsibility no longer only concerns large enterprises, but all trade in goods and services around a common project: "The creation of jobs with dignity and purpose, concern for the environment and the need to create pathways out of poverty and reduce inequality.
"There are populist movements around the world in response to the realisation that the economic system is not working, but these are not enough. Hope is not enough to bring about profound social change. History has proved to us that this comes from the creation of viable and visible alternatives. And in our view, one way that’s happening is through companies themselves.” Whatever their size.