Social Media is not Going to Save Your Business

To truly see opportunities within social media requires viewing the consumer landscape through a different lens…

Social media is enjoying yet another gust beneath its wings. Google Plus is rekindling the love affair of social networking among the early adopters and mavens who friended their way to higher Klout scores and also social network fatigue. The numbers of social network users are soaring well past 10 figures. Even celebrities such as Bono, Justin Timberlake, Ashton Kutcher, Lady Gaga et al, are not only living social, they’re putting their money where their cliques are by actively investing in emerging social technologies.

Can you believe that today, skeptics still remain? What’s most concerning is that many of them are primary decision makers responsible for the future direction and corresponding relevance of their businesses. Some of you either work for this leadership team or you are part of it.

“Social networks are where people share what they had for lunch. No one’s listening anyway. You saw what happened to Myspace, Bebo and Friendster. You see that Google+ is already killing Facebook. No one sees the point of Twitter. See what we saved by not jumping on the treadmill?!”

No, social media is not a fad nor is it merely a soapbox for inane, narcissistic or self congratulatory over sharing. And no, social media will not cower in the shadows of “what’s next.” We’ve reached the end of the destination web and are long past the attention rubicon. Social is now a fabric of everyday technology and digital engagement. It’s is only gaining in momentum and permeance. Those businesses that miss this opportunity will find a slipping point that may eventually give way to Digital Darwinism, the evolution of consumer behavior when society and technology evolve faster than you.

Benchmarking Against the Opportunity

Many businesses realize the potential of social media and are savoring a seemingly compelling way to reach customers. Many are even boasting millions of fans and followers. But what they too underestimate is the power of people. It’s not so much about technology as much as it is about the democratization of information and the equalization of societal influence. People are now part of the equation and are willingly shedding their “audience” moniker and vacating the branded auditoriums of yore in favor of building their own stages, their own personal theaters. Consequently, customers are becoming influential as they fill the seats to their performance. They’re creating dedicated information networks and as a result, consumers have evolved into a connected and more discerning audience with an audience of audiences.

How businesses embrace this opportunity says everything about how they view customers and the relationships they’re shaping as a result. Equally, how businesses measure success in this new frontier also says everything about how they value customer relationships. Hearing it this way makes the measurement of Likes, followers, views or +1′s seem trivial. And, thinking about customer value and how to deliver it where attention is focused makes us rethink website traffic as a KPI. Instead, businesses must embrace a new perspective, one that takes the lessons rife within social media to build a more meaningful engagement strategy for building customer relationships and growing new opportunities.

Have you defined the customer relationship you’d like to develop in 2012?

Have you revisited the company’s vision and mission for the connected customer?

It Takes a Leader to Lead…Not Follow

eMarketer recently visualized the findings of Jive Software and Penn, Schoen, & Berland study that examined how social media impact business strategy. 78% of participating executives believe that social media is somewhat or very important to the future success of their business. Amongst medium-sized businesses, this appears to resonate as 51%, the highest in the group, see social media as very important to business strategy and direction.

In aggregate however, 22% of small, medium and large businesses either don’t know or don’t see the importance of social media to long-term success.

Executives need help in understanding the significance of social networks in fostering customer relationships and how doing so affects the lift for sales and brand resonance. On average 27% of executives view social media as a top strategic priority and another 47% see it as necessary, but not necessarily as a priority. Again, medium-sized businesses lead the way with 49% placing social media as a top priority moving forward.

Surprisingly 26% of executives do not see social media as a necessary or strategic priority or they’re not sure either way. Are they wrong? We cannot measure what we do not know to value. Executives need help in understanding the opportunity. This is why we must leave behind the training wheels of social media 1.0 and graduate to a new era of greater social media significance, one where business priorities and customer needs and value coalesce.

The Future of Business is not Created, It’s Co-Created

Customer influence is growing and when they’re not focusing attention on one another, they’re focusing activity toward the things that move them. As we know, brands and organizations are the recipients of sentiment, both good and bad. It’s what we do with the feedback and insights that define the brand in the future. In addition to brand, competitive advantages will lean toward businesses that embrace customer engagement to shape and steer experiences and innovate future products, services and uses.

In a separate study, eMarketer learned that customers do indeed want deeper engagement with the brands and products they care about. At the same time, companies that embraced a culture and philosophy of co-creation are realizing that open collaboration is instrumental in keeping a competitive edge.

Companies also tend to restrict their co-creation activities to discrete moments in the product life cycle. But the greatest benefits can be realized when collaboration centers on building value that enhances a product’s daily use.

The study found that companies benefit from customer insights which in turn delivers customers benefit through product satisfaction. This in turn increases sales while saving customers time and increasing their productivity.  Of course, co-creation promotes loyalty and builds pride and a sense of recognition, which equally lowers customer service costs while building a strong community of customers and advocates.

As we’re learning, it’s not enough to be present on social networks. It’s not enough to engage in customer conversations. Leadership organizations, not just marketing departments, must realize that social media are not a cure for the ills of common business malpractices. The rules of relationships still apply and in fact are only amplified.  In social media and in the real world, the pillars of any great business must embody service, innovation, experiences, performance, value, and now co-creation. Remember, customers are not looking to build a community with your company simply because they can. Community rules require the cultivation of affinity and belonging through relevance, empathy and the consistent delivery of tangible and intangible benefits.

Companies must now be engaging and worthy of connection now and over time. And more importantly, businesses must embrace a culture of change to become adaptive and survive Digital Darwinism.  Social media will not save business, but it will challenge them to evolve, to adapt…to do better.

As a wise executive of a leading global company once told me, “If you come to me with a request for budget and resources for social media, to make it a priority for our business, you will lose every time. If you tie social media to our business priorities and objectives and demonstrate how engagement will enable progress, you will win every time. Social media must be an enabler to our business, just show me how.”

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook | Google+


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The New ENGAGE!: If you’re looking to FIND answers in social media and not short cuts, consider either the Deluxe or Paperback edition


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Image credit: Shutterstock

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  • http://www.facebook.com/connors Ryan Connors

    Great article Brian. I think social media is more important than you let on, yet I agree with the underlying premise of it not being a magic wand. Social media is still a baby and those changes from Myspace to Facebook to Whatever are indicative of the need for information and interaction between people and groups of people. What the end results will be is yet to be determined, however riding the wave is necessary if companies want to stay relevant. How many fortune 500 companies are on Facebook?

    The exposure of social media is unparallelled today, and the costs are by far the lowest for reaching the target audience and engaging them. Being able to aggregate customer concerns, pros and cons, allows a company to have cheap, relevant data to build on. The product results will make the company look responsive and customers will feel good about being valued and listened to. Couple that with regular updates about the industry and then the company becomes a beacon of information. Customers feel comfortable going to the people they see as experts for their own business, and as a result the company will benefit financially from a mutual relationship that starts with a tweet or a like. Any company can do it as well whether its a one-man operation or a multinational corporation.

    • Timharrap

      Do Fortune 500 companies need to be on Facebook? I have serious doubt. Nice to be there but not necessary.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/mdyoder Michael D. Yoder

    Another fantastic post, Brian. I’m constantly amazed by decision makers who continue to ignore or fail to recognize the importance of social media. Or, those who think it’s all about the technology. Thank you for helping us all keep our focus on what matters: people, conversations, and relationships that lead to new opportunities.

  • Anonymous

    Great post. I see this everyday.  So many misconceptions, misunderstandings and narrow vision not seeing the potential all of this can provide to a company with the right focus.

    Thanks for the great article and I’ll be sharing with all I know.

  • http://twitter.com/socialtoppings Social Toppings

    Awsome stuff. It’s great to see this shift from traditional mentality and like business models when it comes to marketing efforts. Powerful conclusion. Pioneering effort Brian. /kudos

  • Madison B.

    Good stuff. It’s hard to look at the “big picture,” but if you can do that and tie in social media and other similar marketing opportunities, your business will benefit!

  • Charles A. Tijou

    Astute observations.  You are a leader and oracle.  Thank you for generously sharing your expertise. 

  • http://mymediainfo.com/ Renee

    Great article. I wonder how long social media will have to be around before companies of all sizes realize that social media is here to stay, and make it a priority. The longer they wait the more advanced their competitors will be, and the harder it will be to catch up.

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  • http://twitter.com/erkramer Eric Kramer

    Great post Brian…a nice mashup of several key concepts you have been preaching for some time…

    I find it amazing how many key decision makers still continue to question the importance of co-creation. It can certainly be a difficult task to navigate the evolving landscape and select the best vehicles/platforms aligned with your strategic/business objectives. However, sticking with traditional tactics is clearly a recipe for disaster. This is something that I feel many current leaders will never fully understand if they haven’t already. These people need to retire early and companies must rebuild their management teams with people who embrace this paradigm shift.

  • http://webatonic.com Yevgeny Senkevich

    This is the year when Social Media ROI will be much more clear than it has been.  The “Social Media Tracking” industry is Red Hot right now, with new measurement tools and platforms springing out left and right.  If you show Critics the numbers that is when they will become true believers and jump on board!

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  • http://twitter.com/svenlauwers Sven Lauwers

    Great insight Brian, the basic concept of the use of social media in business is indeed the switch from interruption to permission marketing and the participation of the consumer in the communication about brands and products. Consumer behavior becomes; what do I buy, where do I buy it, how do I buy it (shift towards mobile), what is my experience of the product or service and with whom do I share this (instantly towards large numbers). A new challenge for business to participate in this evolution by engaging with core values like transparency and authenticity.

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  • http://twitter.com/stefaniehawkes Stefanie Hawkes

    Great post! Many of the issues facing social media success in marketing were touched on here.  It’s impossible to ignore that social marketing is a game changer. It’s a wonderful opportunity to embrace a chance to ask questions of your consumers on what they want and what you can do better. Fear is what drives companies away from social marketing – what they don’t understand is people are talking about them, even if they are not listening. Wouldn’t you rather hear what people have to say and take that opportunity to right your wrongs ultimately growing your business?

  • http://twitter.com/MikeSmithDev Mike Smith

    I like the focus on evolving past the training wheels phase “and graduate to a new era of greater social media significance, one where business priorities and customer needs and value coalesce.” Many blogs still seem stuck in the “social media isn’t a fad!” echo chamber, or are focusing solely on a particular service or tactics, while neglecting the strategic point of it all. And as a side note, I  actually decided to read this piece because the title reminded me of one of my first blog posts “Social Media Is Not Your Knight In Shining Armor”… and I got much more than I expected! Great article, thanks Brian.

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  • http://flandqvist.wordpress.com Fredric Landqvist

    Going social is inevitable! It’s not a tools quest as you continously argue in your post but a new mindshare to what business always has been all about. Building trust and engagement around your biz realm and make a difference to cultivate a competitive model. Social business will be engraved in everyday work, not a marketing outlier, leaving leadership and staff behind. Great post!

  • http://constantcontact.com Mark Schmulen

    Brian – I love this post. At the end of the day, businesses that provide a great customer experience always win. That’s because what your customers say about you has a greater impact on your brand than anything you can say about yourself. If you provide a great customer experience, social media will reward you with positive reviews and word of mouth. However, if you are not customer-centric and provide a poor experience, social media will let you know. That is not such a bad thing so long as you use that feedback constructively to improve your product or service. Bottom line: There is no marketing cure for sucking at what you do.

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  • http://homeremediesmd.com Home Remedies MD

    I lot of businesses seem to think this way, but social media is only effective by combining several other key components.

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  • http://www.limecubemarketing.co.uk/asqueezeoflime simoncmason

    Why is it so hard for some to see that this is just a box of tools – a channel which enables you to do what you’ve always done on the golf course, or in the pub or at the business lunch?

    The benefit is that social media lets you do it at scale – instead of connecting with half a dozen people at a networking event in a two hour block once a month (which traditional business types always saw as worthwhile) you can connect to hundreds or even thousands of people in five minute blocks every day.

    People like to connect with people and they like to do business with people they have connected with. 

    It beggars belief that anyone can think this is a waste of time – the opportunity to listen, respond and connect with customers and potential customers on a global scale – is it really so hard to understand the opportunity?

  • http://twitter.com/binamic binamic

    Thanks for sharing this informative article.
    It’s very important for business owners to note that social network is not about marketing alone. It’s a good avenue to reach out to both satisfied and dissatisfied customers… enabling good customer service!

  • sociologistfromwayback

    Nice Brian. Yes Social Media is about how we mix and blend the paints eh? To the bigger pix.
    For ex. – Stakeholders/exec. decision makers when asked about the importance of their “personal” reputation within the community, country club, alumni, non-profit orgs. – they quickly get it. Maybe if we can equate brand just a little closer to personal reputation, particularly in the community, digital or otherwise -  show the natural power of honest personalized interaction – it might be more comfortable for them to get it.  It seems to little ol me – that most seniors managers are so well versed on way old (40yrs) biz school marketing formulas it’s just tough for them to change. As one of your commentators already mentioned, they seem to get it on the golf course. We have to get these folks off the “you must pay the rent” Monopoly boards!

    Where is Dr. Suess when we  need him?

    I changed just one word…

    “Say! Brian

    So I will share them in a box.
    And I will share them with a fox.
    And I will share them in a house.
    And I will share them with a mouse.
    And I will share them here and there.
    Say! I will share them ANYWHERE!

    I do so get this SOCIAL MEDIA
    Thank you!
    Thank you,
    Brian Solis”

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Well versed. I have to say that the Dr. Suess reference is a first here. We have much work ahead.

ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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