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The roles played by the web and social media for a business turnaround are critical. While management focus is generally directed to controlling costs, reinvigorating revenues and optimizing operations, the forward-facing impacts of the web and social media are invaluable to a business in transition.

For a business in a turnaround situation a solid interactive strategy isn’t a parachute, it’s a jet pack.

Over the past 5 years the web and social media have evolved from “handy tool” to being a business necessity, with social media in particular playing a critical role for businesses of all types. This is because the behavior patterns that people have developed due to smartphone and tablet use – sharing pictures through Instagram and Facebook, checking in on Foursquare, following key opinion-shapers on Twitter and using MMS as a primary communications channel – inevitably extend into work life. Put another way, the conversations that happen in any given industry happen online and through social media; if you’re not there to help guide those conversations you will become subject to them.

That’s not a proclamation designed to be provocative, it’s just how things are.

By employing digital channels strategically and intelligently, a business in transition has at its disposal powerful tools that can help change external perceptions and assure stakeholders of the company’s future viability. It’s not just about spreading the word; the company’s operations themselves can be extended through interactive tools to improve the connection with customers, both current and prospective. This is key to making the turnaround complete and successful.

Five Web/Online Must-Dos for Businesses in Transition
* Make the web site the mouthpiece of management
Reorient the story from being about what the company is or can do to where the company is going and what the customer can expect from the company. Showcase the people who will spearhead the changes, and demonstrate that there is fresh direction in the pilot house.

If a new web site is needed, undertake the project in smaller bites to help demonstrate change sooner, and then show continued, regular, visible improvements. The web site becomes a symbol of the company, so make it count.

As you read that did you hear yourself saying, “Nobody in my industry looks at our web site” in response? That is a symptom of a larger problem: Your sales relied too much on a too-small circle of regulars. When you expand outside of your historical circle your web site will be the first thing that speaks for the organization. When your historical circle sees that you’re not speaking only to them, they will feel that they are a part of something greater, which only helps your stature with your incumbents—so long as you continue to deliver.

* Kill the rumor mill by securing social media
“Please don’t tell me my machine tooling shop needs a Facebook page.” You’re probably right. But only for now. The reality is, while your customers share tips and insights through meetings, trade shows, email and phone calls, they are also doing so through other social media platforms: Twitter, LinkedIn, and, yes, even Facebook. It’s a behavior pattern that has already insinuated itself into the business world. There is not one industry that has not been impacted accordingly.

If you’re reading this your business has a place in social media. Senior management needs to stake the company’s place on LinkedIn and task the sales and marketing teams with monitoring relevant blogs and Twitter streams. A lot turns up there that is useful for the company. Most importantly, when the day comes that your company becomes the focus of the conversation, you can help control it to your benefit. That day often happens when you least want it to. The ironic corollary is, if your company never becomes the focus of conversation, you’re doing something wrong.

parachute* Focus on SEO, strategically engage in / amp up SEM
Being visible is not enough. In a turnaround situation there is an opportunity to propel the rejuvenated company forward by dominating search. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is organically making sure you appear in the search returns you want to appear in. SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing, which is buying the right to have a small text ad appear next to search engine results. You need both.

Search is one of the most misunderstood parts of a business turnaround plan. Even as the amount of relevant content on the Internet has expanded exponentially, people use the web like it’s an everyday appliance. This is because they rely on Google and Bing and the like to start their web session even if they know where they want to go. For a business in turnaround, being present in search is critical both for the appearance of viability as well as for any traffic-driving benefits.

An SEO program starts with developing an understanding of how your customers contact you now. If one of your biggest accounts is always calling from her cellphone while she’s driving, she’s also using her phone for everything else. This means you need to optimize your site for mobile search. Do you have a well-known brand or idiosyncratically named service? Use that in search terms as a rescue flare that can be seen for miles. If there’s nothing particularly unique about your company except that you do the best job of all your competitors, then make sure you emphasize the content that is relevant to your industry and customers, and start linking your site with other complementary sites to spread your range within your industry and geographical area.

The reason SEM – paid search placement – matters is because the company can tune and revise its messaging as often as it likes. New products and/or services, a reminder of the company’s tenure, or notification of special pricing all serve to reinforce the presence and strength of the organization. Best of all, the cost of being strategically placed where you want to be when you want to be is nominal compared to almost any other medium. The more your company deals in non-consumer goods and services, the more nominal these costs can be.

A big part of the reputation management process is to be everywhere you should be, even to a fault. Mastering SEO and SEM means there is a constant reminder to relevant searchers that your company is present, viable, and competing.

* Deliver on customer service digitally
There is practically no type of organization that would not benefit from moving some part of its service to an online model, even if restricted to just internal “customers.” While making a change to customer service delivery processes tends to become expensive very quickly, these changes need not be sweeping and complicated. Find small ways that the customer service process can be put in the control of the customer, and then make a big deal about it. On one hand, having an announcement about an improvement to customer service that involves some degree of customer self-service lends credibility to the new management and/or the new company direction. On a secondary level, this starts training both the customer and company staff for how things will be in the future, which starts the company down the road toward greater efficiency.

What is often overlooked is that digital transactions create a data trail that is quite valuable for the company. Transitioning services to online delivery also gives the organization some visibility into how it’s doing. By tracking the performance and popularity of the services it provides, a company in transition gains valuable business intelligence that can trigger better decision-making up- and downstream of the customer service event. Which leads us to…

* Plug in tracking and CRM to start making customer actions trigger responses
“We have Salesforce.com but nobody really uses it.” “We don’t know what is going on with our web site.” Analytics used to be cumbersome and expensive, but today it’s is easier than ever to track what your customers and prospective customers are doing, and to help them do it better. More importantly, customers have come to expect that their favorite service providers and brands “know” them to some extent.

Indeed, the only better time to become introduced to your current and new customers than during a turnaround, if before a turnaround is needed.

On the most fundamental level web analytics that are designed around event tracking and not just based on a page load deliver a fairly good view of how customers interact with the company, and when those interactions fall down. By aligning the start of a fresh analytics effort with new site improvements or a new product launch, management can establish what the “new normal” is for the company’s online performance.

It is not uncommon for a company to have invested in Salesforce.com or another CRM package but to have never fully integrated it into the sales process. If at all possible it is worthwhile to reinvigorate the efforts to use CRM. A well-conceived and properly installed CRM package helps management draw a solid line between a stakeholder action and the company’s actions. It allows the company to stay on top of what its customers are looking for, and to evolve with the customers as their interests and needs evolve.

CRM can take many different forms, and the technology needn’t be sophisticated or expensive. Try this: collect stakeholder email addresses in exchange for some benefit and then add them to an email newsletter list. Send a well thought-out, nicely designed, relevant message to this list every month or so; set the frequency relevant to the industry. Make sure to include links to specific parts of your web site in the newsletter, and track each of the links so you know who is clicking on which link. When management can see what stakeholders see in them, and they can do something out it, that is a form of CRM. It can become as involved and sophisticated as ones own “Big Brother complex” will allow.

 

For a business in transition, capital is scarce and time is as much enemy as friend. Careful, strategic and deliberate use of the web and interactivity will propel the turnaround for all stakeholders: customers, employees, and partners. The result will be a savings of both time and money compared to relying on conventional methods of remarketing, customer outreach, and reputation management.

After all, a parachute may deposit you safely on the ground, but only a jet pack can take you where you really want to go.

 

Special thanks to Julia Shiplett for key wordsmithing. Also, the image of the jet pack at the top is appropriated from Jetlev-Flyer, maker of this rather incredible machine. I saw one in Grand Cayman and it literally stopped everyone on the beach…so cool…