Corporate executives see the need to use social media to connect with their customers, but many acknowledge that they're still figuring out how best to do it.
According to a study released this morning, 82% of chief marketing officers (CMO) plan to increase their companies' use of social media over the next three to five years.
However, more than half of the 1,700 CMOs in 64 countries and 19 industries that responded to the IBM survey said their companies are not yet ready to handle social media and the corresponding increase in collaboration with customers.
The CMOs largely said their organizations will have to make fundamental changes to traditional brand and product marketing methods to prepare for an expansion into social media tools.
"The inflection point created by social media represents a permanent change in the nature of customer relationships," said Carolyn Heller Baird, IBM's global director of the study.
"Approximately 90% of all the real-time information being created today is unstructured data. CMOs who successfully harness this new source of insight will be in a strong position to increase revenues, reinvent their customer relationships and build new brand value," Baird added.
Customers are now in the driver's seat in their relationship with the makers of their favorite products.
The shift in balance came when customers began taking to sites like Facebook, Twitter and Yelp to share their experiences with and opinions of specific products and companies.
With the change in the balance of power, companies have to come up with a new approach to marketing, as well as new tools and new skills, said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at ZK Research.
IBM said its survey found that CMOs are aware of this changing landscape but are struggling to respond.
Only 26% of the CMOs surveyed said they are currently tracking blogs, while less than half are tracking third-party reviews (42%) and consumer reviews (48%).
Kerravala said he's not surprised by the results of the survey.
"I've done some research myself asking CIOs about social media. My ZK Research estimate is that about three quarters of companies are still trying to understand what to do with social media," Kerravala said. "The general feedback I get is [executives know] that it's important, but how to best maximize that value is still not very well understood."
Kerravala noted that a lot of CMOs and other executives are still figuring out how to respond to customer comments on social media sites. They're unclear on how they should filter customer comments and how to tell the difference between noise that can be ignored and comments that warrant a response.
"It's just new to many companies," he said. "Remember that many stodgy organizations were late to adopt email."
The best way to determine how to best use social media, said Kerravala, is to seek out companies that are doing it well and to learn from them.
"If I were a CMO, I would find organizations that do a good job of using social media to enhance their business," he said. "Look at Best Buy and Amazon. Sitting around and watching is only going to cause the company to fall competitively behind."
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is email@example.com.