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Getting Back to Basics: Why Brands are Getting it Wrong in Social Media

Question: What is your #1 advice for social media strategists and managers?

Answer: Stop talking about social media

Type “social media” into a Google search bar and you’ll find roughly about 4.7 billion results in .30 seconds. Next, try “social media conference.” You’ll see something along the lines of 1.2 billion results in .25 seconds. Social media is important but I’d argue we aren’t celebrating it for the reasons we should. Instead, we are forcing social media to conform to traditional thinking and processes rather than adapting business philosophies and supporting methodologies to meet new opportunities.

Every day, I hear about how social media strategists and managers are frustrated with the lack of executive support. Yet, many aren’t doing themselves any favors. Executives don’t speak the language of social media. They speak the language of the C-Suite and their audience are shareholders and stakeholders…not necessarily customers or employees or “people” in its most human sense.

So, in the face of skepticism or fear, the best advice that I can offer you is to learn the language of the C-Suite when making the case for what it is you believe is the right thing to do. Making the case for social media has less to do Facebook or Twitter or Likes, views or Retweets and more to do with using these networks to glean or introduce value. To earn the attention and respect of the C-Suite and ultimately customers is the ability to connect the dots to the very things that every stakeholder values and communicating it in a way that is approachable and appreciated.

This takes a thoughtful approach to rendering value in a contextual means that hits home with different people their way.

Altimeter colleague Charlene Li and I conducted a series of research interviews and surveys over the last year on this very topic…how social today’s social media strategies align (or do not align) with business goals. We shared our findings in a newly released report, “The Evolution of Social Business Six Stages of Social Media Transformation.” Needless to say, we found a significant gap And, it is this gap that makes communicating value to executives difficult if not impossible.

Charlene and I found that only 34% of businesses felt that their social strategy was connected to business outcomes and just 28% felt that they had a holistic approach to social media, where lines of business and business functions work together under a common vision. A mere 12% were confident they had a plan that looked beyond the next year. And, perhaps most astonishing was that only one half of companies surveyed said that top executives were “informed, engaged and aligned with their companies’ social strategy.”

In the early days of social media, emergent networks changed how people connect to one another and the information that’s important to them. With each update, shared experience, and event, the world shrank. People were and are becoming increasingly connected and as a result they are more informed. With information and connectedness comes the reality of increased customer expectations. Value, engagement, entertainment, personalization, people must takeaway something meaningful from the exchange otherwise there can be no relationship. A relationship is after all a mutual exchange where all parties believe that connectedness is beneficial.

Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and every network thereafter are merely communities, ecosystems, and platforms where information is exchanged and relationships are formed and abandoned. How you make the case for engagement and how to deliver or extract value isn’t directly tied to the nature of the environment as much as it is the facilitator of the way and the weight that value is defined, expressed, and measured.

If we’re not providing solutions we may in fact be contributing to the problem. See, social technology isn’t the answer; it’s part of the answer. Yet social strategists are often caught up in a socialized ecosystem of catch-up and that’s part of the challenge and the test. There’s always going to be a new network or another shiny object. There are always new case studies or expert theories flooding blogs, conferences, and books.

Again, the best advice I can give you is to stop talking about social media as a means to an end and start thinking about how social media becomes a means toward triggering meaningful activities or outcomes that align with business priorities or objectives and customer expectations.

This is the time to get back to basics. This is the time to take a step back.
Social media is not the crux of you argument. It is an enabler. This is your opportunity to lift the conversation from tools to value and to translate the promise and opportunity of social into an emissary of meaningful engagement that aligns business goal, social media strategies and customer value.

The story continues…

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

This post originally appeared at AT&T’s Networking Exchange

Back to Basics: Shutterstock

57 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Getting Back to Basics: Why Brands are Getting it Wrong in Social Media”

  1. Frank Strong says:

    It’s a good reminder Brian, execs and practitioners do speak separate languages. In the same vein, it’s true of marketing as well. I read a post recently that set of a light bulb for me — it read, “Marketers (especially ones focused online) live in an echo chamber of self-confirmation that doesn’t benefit you in the boardroom with C-levels. They simply have different and more high level priorities than you do.”

    • briansolis says:

      Frank, it’s so good to hear from you my friend. Hope you’re well.

      This is so true and one reason that I continue to SCREAM that we need to stop looking at the same old companies and what they deem as “successful” so that we can learn more about how this stuff can help move business agendas and improve relationships at the same time.
      That’s a different perspective.

  2. Social media is no doubt a great tool for exchange of information and spread of knowledge, however, if this medium is not used to promote the content and reach out to the target audience, this medium will remain under utilized,Kulwinder Singh – Chief marketing officer at synechron surely understands this mantra and makes sure to revamp social media plans monthly.

  3. Jeff Berezny says:

    Hi Brian, I can’t agree more with your perspective.

    One of the reasons that I find that it is so difficult to translate to the c-suite, even if focusing on outcomes versus ‘likes’, is that those interaction metrics are still there in the background forming the visibile building blocks of any outcome that occurs. Thus, these metrics have created somewhat of a false accountability as marketers try and draw lines between metrics that may or may not be able to tie directly to desired outcomes. I am a big advocate of getting my head out of all the little metrics and grouping broader trends and most importantly defining the role that social media marketing will play in the broader communications mix.

    Your post resonated with me quite strongly, particularly since I just wrote a blog exploring the role of social media marketing, entitled “Know Your Role on Social Media… or Shut Your Mouth About ROI” (borrowed language from The ROCK). I have been a long time follower of your books and blog and would love to know your thoughts on my approach. The article can be found at the following link:

    Thanks for the continued insight!

    Jeff B.

  4. Brian this is fabulous. I strongly agree. People tend to argue whether social media is a channel or argue that it is marketing. It can be a channel. It can be marketing. But at heart like you’ve indicated its a mechanism for communication and we’re all at the steering wheel. Little guy and Big Corp both have the capacity to have a voice in social channels. I very much believe that for the time being, while change is taking place, that businesses should aim at becoming “social businesses”. I like to use email as an example. Email theoretically existed in the 70s but it wasn’t until the early 90s that it became mainstream. At least in business, we expected people to have email addresses. And who now doesn’t have an email address? Social Media is a channel with many different uses. I wish more businesses would see that social media is an opportunity. A chance to connect with people, to share information with people, a chance to learn from the people you sell to and want to sell to, and more!!! It is a means to explore, discover, learn and create more valuable relationships. Marketing can build their social media campaigns. Customer Service can serve. Customers can evangelize or complain at will. Product development can research. This sounds so beautiful and exciting! Why do people keep questioning it?

  5. In addition to having clearly defined goals for your social efforts, you need to measure how your social media is performing. If you can clearly define how your social efforts are paying off (i.e. driving traffic to a site, increasing the amount of subscribers, or drawing traffic to a physical location) you can then see how it correlates with your overall business goals. With social media you need to take a holistic approach and look at social as a part of the bigger picture.

  6. And with business “leaders” still having differing levels of understanding/confidence in social platforms, that makes our job a bit more difficult. Just when you get them comfortable with the concept of blogging! A factor to weave into the results is the importance of search. For example, according to this Economics Intelligence Unit study (, 64% of senior executives are
    clicking ‘search’ more than six times a day seeking business information, and 69% of B2B buyers are using social networks. This is partly why 56% of B2B marketing executives stated ‘positioning our company as a thought leader’ as their top objective.

  7. Denis says:

    Understanding the importance of social media today, I definitely support organizations that use social media channels to connect with the public. Social networks are used by the companies as the tools that are effective and useful in their efforts to reach their target audiences, no doubts. However, from my own observations I defined several reasons why social networks are not the key influencers for evaluating company’s performance. At times, it is wrong and potentially dangerous for the brands to rely solely upon communication channels.

    Troubles while using Twitter or Facebook appear uexpectedly and usually caused by the delays in Application Programming Interface, which frustrates users who are trying to post something. Such platforms are also being changed frequently without any prior warning to users. The way content appears in user feeds and the following sharing are affected as well. The real social posts made by real people are often being pushed down to the bottom of the feed by the biased news feeds that are defined as “most popular”. Not every member of the social audience gets to see the the message posted at the moment. And the last but not the least, how uncommon is it for you to see annoying spam coming from fake or hacked accounts? A well established connection between organization and its audience can be seriously harmed in seconds because of virtual attacks. Many users would prefer to unsubscribe from the organization’s feed and find another source of information rather than wait till the problem is eliminated.

  8. Gaurav Varma says:

    Dear Mr. Solis,

    I just have a small point to mention, Organisations can leverage the most if they can answer the basic question; What value means to them and their customers and how when value is created or destroyed its recognized in a system. For ex, A customer complaining on the FB page is as much a problem and as much an opportunity to show much an organisation cares, our reactions and sincere intent matters and customers also recognize this new kind of value. The moment managers can have a collection of examples to show to C-Suite they start to notice, lead by example and people will follow even if they are C-Suite.

    Gaurav Varma

  9. Kayla L says:

    I agree 100% Brian. The percentages you offer are very informative. It is alarming to know so many people feel so unprepared. Social media is such a new and scary thing to so many people that they have a hard time accepting it to its full potential. The tips you give are very beneficial and we should all take note.

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