Casting an eye back over the news archives for the first week of February 2004, one can only conclude that it must have been a busy seven days for journalists across the globe.
Authorities on both sides of the Atlantic set up independent inquiries into the events leading up to the Iraq war the previous year. Meanwhile, 41 people were killed in a terrorist attack on the Moscow Metro and 23 Chinese cockle pickers died when they were caught by an incoming tide at Morecambe Bay. Beyond planet Earth, the European Space Agency announced plans to send humans and robots to both Mars and the moon over the coming three decades. All of which was overshadowed by Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction" during the Super Bowl half-time show.
With all this going on, newshounds can be forgiven for overlooking the significance of the launch of a website dubbed The Facebook, the invention of a 19-year-old soon-to-be college dropout.
Nine years on and the site and its founder are considerably bigger news; Facebook has an estimated 1.1 billion registered users, while Mark Zuckerberg is the world's 66th richest person, with a personal fortune of $13.3bn (£9bn).
So why is it that when one thinks of social network and business, the first associations are inevitably with afternoons spent skiving off and hapless employees landing themselves in it with ill-thought-out tweets or status updates?
Make no mistake: social media is big business. A recent Inspector General report revealed that the US State Department has spent a total of $630,000 in the past two years trying to increase its engagement with citizens on Facebook - with limited success, it must be said.
Damovo is one channel firm to see big opportunity in helping businesses get to grips with social media. UK managing director Simon Payne said that many enterprises - particularly big consumer-focused businesses - increasingly spend a great deal of time and money keeping track of their net promoter score (NPS) and ensuring it remains positive.
The integrator boss explained that the inclusion of social media platforms is now a key component in his firm's sales strategy for contact centre and comms technologies.
"The whole social media integration is becoming key; it is about the ongoing evolution of the contact centre - managing inbound requests and finding out positive and negative comments," he said.
"It is about [customers being able to contact you] from any device, by whatever means. Sometimes that is social media."
Dominic Monkhouse, EMEA managing director at Peer 1 Hosting, was another to cite the increasing importance to businesses of NPS, claiming that it "can be the single most important number or metric for any company".
"Customers that do not give you a nine or 10 receive immediate and personal contact to find out how the service can be improved - this is how sevens are turned into 10s," he added. "We were the first hosting company to publish our NPS, and firmly believe any serious hosting provider should measure and publish it to enable simple comparisons of customer satisfaction.
"As far as we are concerned, a measure of any customer initiative is whether or not it improved our NPS score. The score for the month is looked at in line with the customer service initiatives undertaken, and the feedback is used to plan the next one. The result has seen Peer 1's NPS score rise to 36, when the industry average for IT services is 7."
Avaya is one vendor to have been citing the opportunities for the channel around integrating social media into comms estates for several years. EMEA channel vice president Claire Macland admitted that "three years ago was too early - organisations were not so keen to hear about it".
But nowadays companies are becoming increasingly cognisant of the inefficiency of "having the contact centre in one building and Twitter and Facebook run by the marketing teams in another building, using different technology", she claimed.
"This is where resellers have the opportunity to provide consultative advice," added Macland. "It is not just about contact centre and social media, it is about having a holistic approach to customer service management."
Whatever one's thoughts on the rights and wrongs of their business model, the Avaya chief cited the payday loans sector as one that has made a big splash in its market - thanks in no small part to innovative use of social media technologies.
"This type of banking has a very disruptive approach which has made the traditional banks sit up and take notice," she explained. "They have massively differentiated themselves in how easy they are to do business with in terms being able to contact them over Facebook, Twitter or the phone, and in how they message you back. They remove all the barriers."
Macland opined that, while most vendors are very active in the world of social media, many resellers and distributors "have not fully embraced it... and have quite a reactive presence".
But Avnet is one distie that prides itself on its use of social media, and its socialondemand software tool shows that social networking does not begin and end with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
According to marketing director Linda Patterson, the tool "allows business partners to syndicate and disseminate supplier information while adding a personal touch". She added that social media should now be considered "an important tool in the channel's marketing kitbag", as well as being a valuable technology to deploy internally.
"Being able to demonstrate an understanding of the latest trends keeps resellers ahead of the competition. Any technique to make this possible with minimum investment [such as socialondemand] should be embraced by the channel," she added. "The channel by its nature is a network of like-minded organisations and social media provides another tool to reach interested parties quickly and effectively."
Channel price comparison website Comparetheware.com launched last year and business manager Mike Worby explained that his firm has "embraced social media from the outset". The company considers social platforms a key way to create sales opportunities, drive brand awareness and network with peers and rivals. But Worby conceded that the channel might "sometimes be seen as a bit old school" when it comes to social networking.
"Social media does require a different mind set, which is why some companies find it difficult to measure and get frustrated at the perceived time it requires to drive results," he added. "Social is a new mode of marketing and requires applying company skills in a different way. It is becoming one of the most effective ways to attract interest in your company and people, as well as adding value to other marketing and customer engagement activities that are in place. That is why we are big fans and why we will continue to tweet away."
Aces and analytics: How IBM and Wimbledon used NPS
IBM recently served as the technology partner for the Wimbledon Championships for the 24th year in succession. But this year marked the first time that Big Blue put a real focus on social media, as part of its SlamTracker data collection and analytics application.
Tracking Twitter conversations, the app collated data on how positively (or otherwise) players' performances were being received. IBM claimed that "knowing how positive the fan base is being about them could help players to better deal with their various media commitments".
But a much wider and more valuable application for these kinds of high-end technologies may be in the business world.
"Being aware of what clients are saying about you at key moments, such as new product launches, can be invaluable," said IBM in a white paper. "The predictive analytics used at Wimbledon can be applied in business to assist organisations to predict what will happen next, enabling them to plan and carry out strategies and improve decision making.
"When predictive analytics solutions are applied to all data within an organisation, including both structured and text data, it can lead to discoveries of unexpected patterns and associations and develop models to guide front-line interactions. This can help prevent high-value customers leaving; sell additional services to current customers; improve operational efficiency and help to identify and minimise fraud and risk."
In 2012 IBM's software tracked about 100 Wimbledon tweets per second - a number that is sure to have shot up this year as Andy Murray's win became the fourth most-tweeted-about event ever.
With such a wealth of potential data available, Big Blue added that the key for businesses is to "aggregate communities of interest, identify specific demographics and thus enable marketers to precisely segment and engage their audience".
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