6 ways social media changed the enterprise in 2012

Social media has altered more than the way companies market and promote themselves -- it's also touched recruiting, internal communication, and the handling of sensitive data

It almost goes without saying that social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn are changing the way companies do business. And while social media has probably had the greatest impact on marketing, it is also changing the way companies recruit, communicate with customers and employees, and handle sensitive data.

As you look back at the past year, here are six ways social media has affected companies, as reported by CIOs and other C-level executives.

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1. Advertising, marketing, and PR
The area where social media has affected the biggest change is marketing, advertising, and public relations. Instead of having to spend tens of thousands of dollars a year on traditional print, television or radio advertising -- or even online banner ads -- companies can now get their message across for free (at least in theory).

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"Social media has revolutionized the way businesses do marketing," says Dave Kerpen, the cofounder and CEO of Likeable Media, a social media and word of mouth marketing agency. "With social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, companies hyper-target their exact relevant audience," as well as quickly adjust their messaging.

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2. Research and development
Thanks to the rise of social media, it's easier than ever to find people passionate about your company or brand: brand ambassadors. And social-media-savvy companies have been "leveraging these passionate ambassadors, involving them in product development and design decisions," says Blake Cahill, president, Banyan Branch, a full-service social media agency.

Social media sites allow business "to receive feedback on new products and services prior to honing final product design at very low costs over traditional market research. We've even had clients allow social communities to name products and features," says Cahill. The result: greater word of mouth and increased early adoption.

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3. Internal/employee communications
"Social media facilitates collaboration," says Paul Liu, CIO, Freeborders, a provider of information technology services. "This is especially important for companies with teams that are located across different regions. At Freeborders, we use Yammer [a private social network] to exchange ideas and collaborate with team members from the U.S., China and Europe."

Adds Marcelo Costa, chief marketing officer for Neoris, a global business and IT consulting firm: "Using social media [can be] very useful in managing communication among employees. We have a LinkedIn group exclusively for employees. The group is managed by the employees and they are the ones who create content, share news and comment on industry trends.

Employees are also in the habit of checking into Foursquare when they arrive to work at one of our locations around the globe. In addition, Neoris created its own hashtag and set up a corporate Instagram account so employees can easily share photos and content, which has created a greater sense of community.

[ Related: How Social Customer Support Brings Social Media Beyond Marketing ]

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