Social media is not your saving grace: Experiences should first be defined and supported

Social media experts will tell you, and they’ll make a pretty good case too, that it is the golden key to unlocking meaningful customer relationships and the gateway to surprising and delighting them over time. So how does social media do this? Well all it takes is to listen, be part of the conversation, curate great content, run native advertisements, and oh yeah, be transparent and authentic. Done and done.

Well, wrong and wrong.

Social media isn’t going to save your business nor is it going to make it. This may sound commonsensical, but to succeed in business takes much more than a Facebook or Twitter account. Hostess baked over 400,000 likes on Facebook and yet the iconic American brand is now shut down. Even small businesses are not immune to the real world. According to the SBA, over 50% of small businesses fail in the first five years. Social media isn’t saving those businesses either.

Michael Ames author of Small Business Management, assembled the top 8 reasons that contribute to small business failure and you’ll notice not embracing social media isn’t one of the contributors:

1. Lack of experience
2. Insufficient capital (money)
3. Poor location
4. Poor inventory management
5. Over-investment in fixed assets
6. Poor credit arrangements
7. Personal use of business funds
8. Unexpected growth

From experience, there are two other ingredients that serve as harbingers to the future of any business, under scoping or underestimating sales and marketing and underemphasizing product quality and customer experiences.

In any one of these scenarios, social media is not your saving grace—regardless of business size, number of followers, or however many viral videos you’ve introduced.

Am I saying that social media is useless?

No.

It is after all where connected consumers are spending a significant amount of time these days. Nielsen recently found that Americans spend 121 billion minutes per month in social networks, which is significantly up from 88 billion just one year ago.

I do believe that many experts are however taking their eye off of the ball in the name of social media. But, success takes design, intent, and the relentless pursuit of opportunities even when they are elusive. As a digital analyst and also an entrepreneur and investor, I’ve learned that technology is always going to introduce new channels for engagement. And, that’s a good thing. But they are not in of themselves channels for necromancy. The ability to surprise and delight customers starts with the ability to understand how to exceed expectations. And, even before that, it takes an understanding of what expectations are and where they’re met or missed.

So, here’s where social media can help.

Listening with Intent

Listening is among the most valuable ways to use social media for business relevance and ultimately success. However for it to offer true value begins with the questions you chose to answer. For example, in addition to asking, “what are people saying about me or my competitors,” also ask, “what are people saying or seeking in to improve what they’re doing today?” It’s the difference between information and insight and also listening to and hearing customers in a way that inspires innovation or iteration.

Designing the Experience

To deliver exceptional customer experiences takes experience design. You have to articulate, thoughtfully, what you want people to feel, say, and share. This is more than defining differentiators and value propositions. Businesses must think through how products and services evoke the original inspiration for starting or joining a company and the ongoing aspirations necessary to exceed expectations in the future. Social media then represents a series of open windows to engage customers during each and every moment of truth before, during and after transactions to reinforce experiences and desired sentiment. Think marketing, sales, service, support, and word of mouth.

Paying it Forward

If social media is about conversations you can bet that much of it is based on people asking questions. People are often looking for answers or direction. Rather than “Googling It,” it’s easier to ask those you trust. In this economy where trust is fleeting and transparency is elusive, there’s a tremendous opportunity to become the resource in your community. Don’t sell…instead; sell through the art of reciprocity. Customers feel a sense of appreciation for those who help and provide value.

The Power to Tell

As my good friend Peter Guber says, storytelling or Telling to Win helps people align with your mission through aspirations or solutions. Don’t sell just on price or features. Make your customers the hero by helping them see what they can accomplish simply by aligning with you. If you use social media, don’t just post questions, polls, or random pictures, unleash a gravity that pulls customers to you because they can clearly see that you “get” them and the things they struggle or hope to accomplish with or without you.

These are just a few ways to think about social media. But, there are many many other initiatives that you can consider that deliver value during each moment of truth. You have to consider though, that social media represents a series of new channels that complement other avenues that define your digital and real world opportunities. There is no one way to reach all of your customers and prospects.

Mobile.

Web.

Digital signage.

Geolocation.

Social.

And that’s what makes these times so challenging. You can’t assume however that building a distributed presence is good enough. You don’t have time for that. Growth and success are intentional, which means you can’t afford to stumble your way around them. There are customers to earn now and yes, technology is changing how you’ll reach them over time. See, the people who represent your customers 10 years from now are not the people who you reach today.

Ten years you say!?

Well, perhaps that’s too far to appreciate. The same is true though for three and four years from now.

Start with getting to know who your customers are and what they need…and how to help them. Then let it inspire you to create meaningful marketing strategies, relevant products and services, and desirable engagement channels in the moments of truth in the medium of preference.

If you don’t continually invest in the awareness of your value or experience you cannot benefit from consideration.

You are now perpetually competing for the future. Social media is one of the channels that now present you with yet another opportunity to truly engage with your customers. In the end, you have to think deeper about this opportunity. Just because you’re in business doesn’t mean you’ll stay in business. If you stop competing for attention and relevance you by default stop competing. This is your time to not just survive but thrive.

What do you think? How else can social media help businesses contribute to business success while helping foster customer and employee relationships and experiences?

Originally appeared in AT&T’s Networking Exchange Blog

Connect with me: Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook | Google+

The End of Business as Usual is officially here…

Image credit: Shuttestock

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  • Dara Khajavi

    Social Media is often hyped up. Excited marketers have made social media seem like the ultimate form of marketing and communication, but I agree with you completely Social media is not the saving grace. In the right hands, I believe social media is a very effective tool. However, it is about more than just having a Facebook or a Twitter. These tools need to be used to communicate with and understand customers. Social Media is an important supplement but not the main meal of a business.

  • http://twitter.com/chrisbarber34 Chris Barber

    I totally agree, I think the the only way to build a community is to be communal yourself. Giving, sharing, and providing without any wish or guaranteed of reciprocity. Communal relationships are the deepest form of connection.

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Great comment. Thank you.

  • Mordim hugs

    Yes the internet is simply another tool to be used well.

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  • http://www.agencyplatform.com/ Dave Thompson

    Social Networking is becoming a large part of everyone’s daily life. Companies cannot afford to stay away from it these days. Often, companies expect a ROI from social media marketing, but that is not what social media is all about. Social media is more of making people talk about your product, in turn letting the company know what people think about their product. Social media isn’t really mandatory but cannot be ignored too.

  • Chris Baldwin

    Excellent post. Could not agree more! I particularly appreciate the point about using social media to ‘make your customers the hero’ & give them the chance to align with you.

  • Kymberlaine Banks

    Great post. I believe good listening is the foundation of every meaningful relationship we have. I’d even go a little further and say that if you adopt the customer’s mission, based on what they tell you, you will be even more successful at exceeding their expectations because you really did understand them.

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  • http://blogbizbuzz.com/ Joan-BlogBizBuzz

    Excellent wake up call, thank you!

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  • Suzanne McDonald

    Thanks for articulating, Brian, the harsh truth that social is no panacea or remedy for flawed businesses. It’s easy to put all the eggs in the hot basket rather than critically align your concepts and execution. Often social simply magnifies the problems, usually after great expense to maximize social, ultimately shining a glaring light on issues you’ve mentioned.

  • http://frozzen.net Tanya Stankeva

    Awesome eye-opening post. As community and digital PR managers we tend to forget or have to forget about communication with the community. They in turn don’t communicate with us but wait to be rewarded for being around. It’s all about a fruitful, entertaining and educating dialogue, which leaves both sides satisfied.

    As to your final question, how social media can help business success, I believe that the key is in sharing your mission and values, not products, with fans. If a group of people can associate with your values, I believe, they are more prone to taking in your products too.

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Great comment Tanya! Thank you!

  • RM Sorg

    Really great post!! Still absorbing all the content!! Completely agree that if you are not paying attention to relevance you STOP competing! Great way to fit social media into your business and not make your business all about social media!

    Thanks!
    RMSorg
    WallStreetBranding

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Thanks for the comment!

  • http://www.facebook.com/noreen.sullivan Noreen Sullivan

    Social Media is a content distribution channel. It is difficult to get people to go to your website there are 40 billion index on Google. I see it as a way to get your content in front of eyeballs. Bringing the content to where the people are rather than making them find you. You have to make appropriate content, useful content and fun content not just spam social streams. You need to develop a community around your business and add value. These things are not done solely through social the business itself has to have a culture of community and adding value. The business must be able to communicate what they do, how they are different, and provide great experiences. Then they should document those things and then share them on social platforms. Then social is simply an extension of the company not an outside force.

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Noreen…bravo!

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  • http://kempedmonds.com kemp

    Real Social Media Experts will never tell you that social media is a ‘GOLDEN KEY’ to unlocking meaningful customer relationships. Anyone who tells you this is certainly not an expert.

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Indeed…thank you!

  • http://www.cendrinemarrouat.com/ Cendrine Marrouat

    Brian, excellent article, thank you!

    “If you don’t continually invest in the awareness of your value or experience you cannot benefit from consideration.” – You sum up the problem so well with this sentence!

    I feel that a lot of businesses forget why they do social media. They don’t see the big picture, the changing landscape, and reciprocity as things of value. Instead they skip steps and just want to follow the movement.

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Thank you Cendrine!

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  • http://twitter.com/BenParis BenParis

    I totally agree with Chris, on building tust and confidence through building a community. Interactions with customers are essential and so valuable for any successful business…social media offer a unique opportunity to ask customers their feedback, advice, etc…and in that sense, it’s a double edge sword: social media can kill a non performing product, service or application, if it fails to deliver, and on the other hand it does speed up the natural selection between good and bad businesses.

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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