Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

Are You Building a Social Brand or a Social Business?

Part 8 in a series introducing my new book, The End of Business as Usual…this series serves as the book’s prequel.

Social media says so much and so very little at the same time. First, social media implies that media is just that, social. But when you study many of the best practices or test the advice dispensed through popular “top 10” posts, you find that at the heart of notable social media successes is simply brilliant creativity and desirable incentives, not necessary authentic or genuine value or engagement.  With every Tweet or Like to win campaign, hilarious viral video, and user-generated promotional series, businesses make social media more of an oxymoron than a movement to transform two-way conversations into improved customer relationships.

According to an annual IBM study, getting closer to customers is the overwhelming top priority for CEOs. And, social media is lauded as the great facilitator for engagement and renewed business relevance. What we tend to forget however, is that social networks are merely platforms for people to connect with friends, family and peers. Businesses are not the primary beneficiary of connections, but they can certainly benefit once they realize that a Like or follow does not equate to an opt-in for marketing communiqué.

If CEOs are placing increasing importance on customer relationships, why is it that we are less aligned with the “R” in social CRM and closer in alignment to the “M,” where M stands for marketing and not management. That’s because of where social media lives within the organization today.

In IBM’s recent “From Social Media to Social CRM” report, it was revealed that social media is already siloed within marketing, marketing communication, or public relations, accounting for 52%, 45%, and 42% ownership respectively. When we think about the primary function of each of those functions, it’s clear to see why the premise of many of today’s top social media best practices are marketing driven rather than market driven.

The difference between a social brand and a social business is internal connectedness, preparedness, and collaborative approach to customer and employee engagement.

A Social Media and Social CRM Strategy are Different

As good friend Paul Greenberg noted in his book CRM at the Speed of Light, “The underlying principle for Social CRM’s success is very different from its predecessor….traditional CRM is based on an internal operational approach to manage customer relationships effectively. But Social CRM is based on the ability of a company to meet the personal agendas of [its] customers while, at the same time, meeting the objectives of [its] own business plan. It is aimed at customer engagement rather than customer management.”

At stake here is relevance among the growing base of a more connected consumer landscape. Engaging consumers from a marketing-driven approach may work for the short term, but engagement requires a holistic approach. Consumers see one brand, one company, one experience and not a series of disconnected silos experimenting in social media without a common vision, mission, or process. While businesses are building an infrastructure to support social media, governance, policies, and strategies are only as strong as the experiences they’re designed to create, the problems they’re intended to solve, and the ability to adapt to and lead consumer experiences because you can see what others don’t.

IBM studied how businesses view their foundation for social media and found that many times, the prevailing corporate culture impeded innovation and collaboration, not just with consumers, but also within. And for any change agent, that will come as no surprise. Whether they know it or not, change agents are becoming hybrid cultural anthropologists and politicians learning how to adapt the culture while rallying internal champions to bring about real change.

Here you can see the number of businesses that have defined KPIs, flexible business models, established policies, adaptive approaches to incorporating social media into business strategies, and defined governance. The blue shades on the left equates to those that strongly agree while toward the right, companies start to show that they’re not where they would like to be. According to the IBM report, only 38% are confident in the support of their company in innovation and creativity. Just 30% can comfortably say that they have strong executive sponsorship for social media. And, a measly 27% say they share insights across functions.

Once you see these numbers, it’s clear that businesses are on the right path, but we’re really just at the beginning. More importantly, one could argue that the direction of the path is questionable. Even though the businesses on the far left are established and confident, they might be operating without a holistic strategy that spans across lines of business, products, functions or across the globe.

And what of a centralized or holistic approach, defined by a common goal and reinforced through not only governance, but compliance?The effects of connected consumerism require nothing less than internal transformation and in many ways, a new outlook.

The challenges that businesses face are still relatively immature as IBM discovered. ROI, employee use of social media, and negative brand exposure lead the top three challenges companies face today. In the number four and seven spots however, we see the true threat to progress, lack of strategy and lack of support. We can not march into new territory without a unified vision. We can not lead consumer experiences if those experiences are either undefined or unsupported by the leadership organization we’re to stand behind.

When’s the last time you looked at your mission and vision statement? Can you Tweet it? Does it speak to you? The truth is that in addition to processes, businesses must rethink who or what it is to a different breed of consumer. This consumer is not just social, they’re connected across networks, devices, and they influence and are influenced differently than traditional consumers.

Mo Data, Mo Problems

What we need to do, where we need to be, how, why and to what extent is available to us today. We won’t discover these answers in the form of brand or competitive monitoring using social tools. We must capture data, interpret it, and also act upon it, now and over time, to learn and pursue relevance without forgetting our core markets and competencies.

Companies are clearly capturing data as IBM found. But as you can see, how data is analyzed, interpreted, and in turn shared across the organization is scattered. And, what happens to information (or insights) once its distributed is unclear in this study, but we can assume that it isn’t embraced and acted upon across the board.

Businesses are experimenting. Businesses are learning and adapting. But this can’t just be about social media. This must be about using disruptive technology to improve customer experiences and relationships. We can’t find comfort until we’re clearly operating outside of our comfort zones. And even then, we can’t rest until we are meeting the needs of connected consumers, where they are, how they connect, and reinforce the values, products, and services that are important to them.

Times are a changing and as a result, the foundation of business must also change. It’s a new era of business and consumerism and you play a role in defining it.

Order The End of Business as Usual today…

Part 1 – Digital Darwinism, Who’s Next
Part 2 – Social Media’s Impending Flood of Customer Unlikes and Unfollows
Part 3 – Social Media Customer Service is a Failure!
Part 4 – I think we need some time apart, it’s not me, it’s you
Part 5 – We are the 5th P: People
Part 6 – The State of Social Media 2011: Social is the new normal
Part 7 – I like you, but not in that way

Image Source: Shutterstock

48 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Are You Building a Social Brand or a Social Business?”

  1. Bnk112 says:

    I think you are very right that we are just at the beginning. As a student about to graduate with a degree in public relations, your insight is very helpful. I am not surprised with the top challenges that the IMB study found, because I have observed many of them first hand in my internship experiences. I also agree that often corporate culture can stifle the creativity that social media requires, but hoping that in my future I will be able to work for a company that allows me to push that boundary. 

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