Chris Jackson, Cicero - Digital is constantly evolving

Building a digital strategy is very different from building one for PR or public affairs.

Companies of all sizes are faced with the prospect of reviewing their digital strategies, given the rapid changes in social media and the growing importance of mobile devices in comms.

It is evident that most businesses realise that times have changed with the evolution of digital. But some fail to appreciate that it is no longer enough to build a digital strategy in the same way as you would a PR or public affairs strategy. Rather, to succeed in harnessing the opportunity that digital comms can provide, companies must accept that it will disrupt their business model. Once they accept this, they will be well placed to make use of digital comms to disrupt the marketplace in which they operate.

Social media represent a brilliant example of the importance of integrating a relatively new aspect of digital comms into your business. This involves asking some hard questions and letting your barriers down. The values and ethos of your business must be reflected in any social media engagement, to ensure an authentic user experience. This will be achieved only if all parts of the business are linked into the use of social media. Companies need to lower the drawbridge and allow customers to shape their business and brand through social media.

Brands such as Topshop, Coca-Cola and Google have thousands of comments every day on their various social networks. What shines through is that social media have enabled the brands to become loved like a friend, because they have a personality and identity. These companies have realised they need to allow people to interact with and shape the brand. As a result, they have a relationship based on collaboration, respect, trust and understanding.

I work closely with several brands, helping them to make sense of social media. While the appetite to use social media is there, many struggle to make the step into the unknown, preferring to maintain a transactional relationship, because that is how they have traditionally done business, even though we operate in a new digital world.

If companies can use social media to build relationships with their customers, they can revolutionise the way in which people engage with their brand, company and products, ultimately influencing the bottom line. To do this, companies need to 'shut up and listen' (to quote the title of our new report on social media), not only for simple brand mentions, but also to understand how their products and services fit into customers' lives, and evolve their products from there.

I encourage clients to use social media to transfer responsibility to customers and let them take the reins in a way that allows them to shape their brands, product and, most importantly, the customer experience. Customers need to feel that they have 'skin in the game' and are valued. If businesses are able to do this, over time they will have more loyal customers and brand advocates that share, like and tweet, creating a cycle of positive buzz about their brand. Social media can change a business from just offering products and services to actually giving customers an experience, which means it is likely to be valued more.

Social media flow across all parts of a business, which means they can be used to radically change the relationship that all businesses have with their customers. For this to happen effectively, companies need to first open up to fully understand what new social and digital comms mean for their organisation, and then design a new business strategy that takes into account the fundamental changes that have occurred because of the developments in digital comms.

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Chris Jackson is head of digital at Cicero.

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