Is social media a sales driver and a marketing aid?  Absolutely.

But we also encourage our clients to think outside the box, and find innovative ways to surprise and delight their customers by using these tools in unconventional ways.  One way we do this is by studying how other sectors use these same tools in non-marketing ways, and then innovating in reverse.

For example, the folks at OnlineUniversities recently compiled a list of 100 Inspiring Ways to Use Social Media in the Classroom.  Their tips include:

  • Study geography. Use a combination of Twitter and Google Earth to help teach geography-based lessons. This teacher used his network of Twitter followers to create an interactive lesson for his young students. Use her idea to spark your creativity for ways to use these two resources.
  • Connect with other classrooms. Collaborate with another classroom, no matter where they are in the world, to expand learning opportunities.
  • Window to daily life at school. Create a website like the one at University of Chicago Law School. that allows visitors to hear from students and professors about their daily life at law school.

Which made us wonder… if these approaches work in the classroom, how might they also work in the boardroom?  Or in R&D?  Or sales?

Such as…

  • Get a global snapshot of your customers’ realities. Twitter makes it easy to follow users from around the world and receive their updates in real time.  By following your customers in different markets / time zones / continents, you’ll have a constant stream of incoming data that describes their lives and their needs.  And when they share breaking news in their region, your company has the opportunity to act on immediate information and stay ahead of the news cycle.
  • Connect with brand evangelists. If consumers love your brand, they’ll want to know about new products and services ASAP.  You could send your top 100 customers the same email blast that you send to your other 99,000 customers… or you could invite those loyalists to take part in Twitter conversations, Facebook discussions and even Skype conferences.  Reward their support by offering them increased access and they’ll reward you with feedback, leads and sales, not because they have to, because your personalized outreach has made them a partner in your company’s growth.
  • Provide a window on your company’s culture. To the consumer, every brand is a nameless, faceless corporation by default.  The more personalized and transparent a company becomes, the more a casual customer comes to think of that company as being familiar, rather than generic.  Find the best internal observers of what makes your company tick, and empower those employees to post descriptive, informative or witty updates about your day-to-day operations on Twitter and Facebook.  Catching a daily glimpse of life in your office helps your customers feel like they’re in the cubicles and manufacturing lines with you — and it gives them another reason to care about your success.

How else can you innovate with the same tools everyone else is using?

By using them to demonstrate your commitment to your customers, you’ll really give your audience something to talk about.