Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

Social media is about social science not technology

In 2007, I wrote an article entitled, “Social Media is About Sociology Not Technology.” It’s a statement that after five years (and counting), I thankfully continue to see shared every day on Twitter. As time passed and experience matured, I amended that statement to now read, “Social media is about social science not technology.”

Why did I change such a powerful statement? I believe that it is not only stronger now, it is also truer.

See, sociology is just one part of the equation. Social science is the study of society and human behaviors. As an umbrella term, we should think about social media and mobile behavior as it’s related to psychology, anthropology, communication, economics, human geography, ethnography, et al. After all, everything comes down to people.

Unfortunately in new media, we tend to put technology ahead of people. Think about your current social media, mobile, or web strategy for a moment. Do you even know who you’re trying to reach? Do you know what customers or stakeholders expect or the challenges they face? Are you familiar with how they connect and communicate and why? Lastly, do you understand the journey they take to make decisions?

Whether we do or we don’t isn’t stopping us from embracing social and mobile technologies to reach the new generation of connected consumers.

In a Pivot study we conducted in 2011, we asked brand managers and marketers if they had a clear picture of who their Social Consumer is. An astounding 77 percent said yes.

When we explored specifically if respondent organizations asked Social Consumers what they expect from engagement, most responded, “No.” This is intriguing because we have 77 percent of organizations who say they know what their Social Consumers want, but 53 percent haven’t really asked. They do not—cannot—really know how to deliver value in social and mobile networks. On the other hand, 35 percent did note that they asked Social Consumers about their expectations. These organizations will most likely outperform organizations that did not ask.

There is no good reason or explanation for why we are not engaging or learning from customers. As it stands today unfortunately, the chart above says everything about how businesses see and value customer relationships.  This.must.change.

The great myth of social media is that it enables your business to build relationships with customers. Perhaps part of the problem is that the definition of relationships in this social economy is too simplified.  Relationships are not a function or derivative of technology. Pursuing the 3F’s of Friends, Fans, and Followers does not directly equate to value. At best, the definition of relationships when technology is at the center of connectivity, can mean nothing more than the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected.

Relationships are not static. They are in fact dynamic and becoming more so every day. The sales funnel of the past is now alive and is multidimensional.

Connected Consumers emphasize the input of those who define their interest graph – like-minded individuals on any given subject who share common interests and experiences with them. In this way, the connected evaluate the shared experiences of those they trust, and expect businesses to respond to their socialized questions. As a consequence, they don’t follow a linear approach through the classic ‘interest to intent’ funnel during their decision making process. Rather, they follow an elliptical pattern where their next steps are inspired by the insights of others, and their experiences are, in turn, fed back into the cycle to inform the decisions of others.

Reprinted from The End of Business as Usual, Chapter 14

A more sophisticated view of the customer is necessary to move beyond a static view of relationships. It’s time to get informed and emotional about customers. Doing so opens the doors to new touchpoints that are emerging and those that have already surfaced. Then and only then can we redefine online relationships to signify the way in which two or more people or organizations regard and behave toward each other.

If ignorance is bliss, awareness is enlightening…

This is why it’s critical that businesses shift resources away from social media monitoring and make a concerted move toward intelligence. This new listening movement will help businesses better understand who they’re trying to reach and what they value to inspire…well, everything. From marketing strategies to service models to new processes, products and services, intelligence becomes the key to meaningful engagement and ultimately increased awareness and relevance. In fact, I’d go so far to say that you should be as or more excited about intelligence and strategy as you are about Pinterest, Highlight, and all of the hot “it” apps.

Once you listen, not monitor, but truly listen to customer activity and observe online behavior, you cannot help but feel both empathy and harmony. Empathy is the secret ingredient in what I refer to as the ART of Engagement. It is the source of inspiring desired Actions, Reactions, and Transactions that means something to all those involved in commerce and relationship models.

In many ways, we are right now contributing to the problem instead of the solution. As it is, organizations, perhaps unintentionally, are putting the “anti” in anti-social media. People are equally part of the problem. They are causing disruption based on how they embrace technology and wield its influence online. Over time, it affects all it touches to varying extent. And, often people do not know what it is they want. This is where you come in. The answers lie in intelligence and empathy. Leadership unfolds in how you translate what you learn and feel into appreciation and understanding of the state of customer sentiment and how that correlates to the state of customer relationships. Then and only then, can you imagine and eventually articulate a new vision for what customer relationships and experiences should and will look like and lead the organization in a new and promising direction.

This is your time to raise the bar. Someone has to.

Credit: @boomerangist

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91 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Social media is about social science not technology”

  1. KatieMendes says:

    Rx leadsnice work great blog we waiting to your new post 

  2. Zane Moi says:

    I think when you look at this from a
    large corporate point of view, there is a fundamental fear from
    companies that freer engagement over social networks creates issues
    around three items:

    (1) negative criticisms will be more
    highly visible to management;

    (2) any engagement from the corporate
    to users increases legal liabilities and risk; and

    (3) broad engagement is difficult to
    plan for or scale to, in case people really want to … engage.

    There’s even less incentive for
    companies to see past these issues, since in many firms, the social
    media function likely still sits in mid/high level executive tiers
    versus the senior executive suite, and it seems a large portion of
    large firms (60%+) appear to still outsource management of their
    social media assets to social marketing firms. This combination of
    staff not necessarily being willing to have a punt on something which
    can blow up in their faces (and careers) and agencies who don’t want
    to risk losing their retainers – creates incentives to keep things
    the status-quo.

    I love the idea of – “just asking”
    though – in fact, I left my old firm to start up my own web-start up
    which is focused on figuring out a way to allow brands to ask
    open-ended questions across social networks, but yet allows the same
    brand to – in real-time, capture key trends across what is being
    replied back to the said question, so that in fact – brands can
    monitor, listen, then respond – in a manner which doesn’t require an
    army of folks.

    The great thing is, with the confluence
    of the cloud, new database schema and natural language processing
    tools – what you are suggesting I hope will finally be possible in
    2012. I hope of course, it’s my firm that solves it.

  3. “There is no good reason or explanation for why we are not engaging or learning from customers. As it stands today unfortunately, the chart above says everything about how businesses see and value customer relationships.  This.must.change.”Yes, yes, yes!  Have you looked at the companies that are doing this well?  I think of two off the top of my head — Keurig, who use their customer’s insights to drive their product development, and Starbucks, who have an easy, promoted way for customers to offer suggestions to the company (called MyStarbucksIdea).  And then, of course, there’s the infamous example of the company (*coughNetflixcough*) that assumed something about their customers to great peril.Great research highlights, and very intriguing.  Thank you for revisiting this post, Brian!

  4. sex tonight says:

    thanks a lot for the post! very interesting!

  5. Rick K says:

    Provocative ideas on what social marketing means. Although social media is a powerful tool for the average person to get their point across whether good or bad for the world to hear. As we have seen some good examples in recent history,  my fear social media tool can be used by a business competitor using the very same social media tools to tarnish a competitor without just cause.

  6. Shubra says:

    The social media management is about know mental status of the consumer and its not just a technology. Even the very big idea originates from a very basic human attributes which is easy to understand and then act.

  7. Profit Lab says:

    You know what the technology of social media really is? Mom and Pop 2.0, Everything is going back to the old Mom and Pop shops when you think about it. Back then the local grocer wasn’t just a local business, he was also a neighbor and many times a friend. His recommendation came as a trusted source on the goods being considered for purchase and there was usually a conversation taking place before, during and after the purchase. Not only that, but customer loyalty programs were built in; sharing stories, giving samples, invitations for dinner or a free piece of this or that. That whole experience was what we all seek to achieve in this digital age. All in all people don’t change that much we all want the same things, regardless of our generation..

  8. Kristen E. says:

    It was extremely interesting to learn that a significant amount of companies are so disconnected with their customers. It would seem logical that companies would know their consumer. However, it does seem that with the advancements in technology and expansion of social media that more companies are jumping on the bandwagon to use more technologies and mediums without asking if it even makes sense to do it. If companies don’t know what their customers want, then how could they possibly know how to market to them?

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