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The Path from a Social Brand to a Social Business

I’ve been a long-time supporter of MediaTemple’s (MT)Residence program along with Gary Vaynerchuk, Neil Patel, and many others whom I respect. I wanted to share my “7 questions to answer to become a social business” with you here..

Social Media is pervasive and is becoming the new normal in corporate marketing. Brands who get this right are starting to build their own media networks rich with customer connections numbering in the millions. Right now, Coca-Cola has over 34 million fans on Facebook, but they’re hardly alone. Disney follows just behind with 29 million fans, Starbucks boasts 25 million, and Oreo, Red Bull, and Converse play host to over 20 million fans. If we were to look at other networks such as Twitter and Youtube, we would see a recurring theme. People are connecting en masse with the businesses they support and new media represents the ability to cultivate consumer relationships in ways not possible with traditional earned or paid media.

Sounds great right? This might sound abrupt, but the truth is that we’re hardly realizing the potential of what lies before us. Everything begins with understanding not just how other brands are marketing themselves in social media, but also seeing what they’re not doing and envisioning what’s possible.

We’re already approaching the first of many crossroads that new media will present. Do we take the path of a social brand or that of a social business? What’s the difference? A social brand is just that, a business that is remodeling or retrofitting its existing marketing practices to new media. A social business is something altogether different as it embraces introspection and extrospection to reevaluate internal and external processes, systems, and opportunities to transform into a living, breathing entity that adapts to market conditions and opportunities.

It’s a tough decision to make right now especially at a time when all we read about is how much success many businesses are finding without having to answer this very question. With all of the newfound success in social networks, the truth is that we’re only just beginning to learn what’s possible and that’s where you come in. When compared to the investment in time and resources across the board, social media represents only a small part of the mix. But with your help, that’s all about to change.

The CMO Survey, an organization that disseminates the opinions of top marketers in order to predict the future of markets, recently published a report that gave credence to the fact that social media is taking off. One of the most profound takeaways from the report was this gem; “The “like button” [in Facebook] packs more customer-acquisition punch than other demand-generating activities.” With insights like this, it’s easy to see why the race to social is becoming heated.

The report also highlighted exactly where social fits in the marketing mix today and as you can see, despite all of the hype, it’s not a dominant focus yet. As of August 2011, the percentage of overall marketing budgets dedicated to social media hovered at around 7%. However, in 2012 the investment in social media will climb to 10%. And, in five years, social media is expected to represent almost 18% of the total marketing budget. Think about that for a moment. In 2016, social media will only represent 18%?

Queue the sound of a record scratching here. With businesses finding success in social networks, why are businesses failing to realize the true opportunity brought forth by the ability to listen to, connect with, and engage with customers? While there’s value in earning views, driving traffic, and building connections through the 3F’s (friends, fans and followers), success isn’t just defined simply by what really amounts to low-hanging fruit.

The truth is that businesses cannot measure what it is they don’t know to value. As a result, innovation in new engagement initiatives is stifled because we’re applying dated or inflexible frameworks to new paradigms. Social media isn’t owned by marketing, but instead the entire organization. This changes everything and makes your role so much more important. It’s up to you to learn how to think outside of the proverbial social media box to see what others don’t, the ability to improve customers experiences through the evolution of a social brand into a social business. Doing so will translate customer insights from what they do and don’t share in social networks into better products, services, and processes.

See, customers want something more from their favorite businesses than creative campaigns, viral content, and everyday dialogue in social networks. Customers want to be heard and they want to know that you’re listening. How businesses use social media must remind them that they’re more than just an audience, consumer, or a conduit to “trigger” a desired social effect.

Herein lies both the challenge and opportunity of social media. It’s bigger than marketing. It’s also bigger than customer service. It’s about building relationships with customers that improve experiences and more importantly, teaches businesses how to re-imagine products and internal processes to better adapt to potential crises and seize new opportunities.

When it comes down to it, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Foursquare, are all channels for listening, learning, and engaging. It’s what you do within each channel that builds a community around your brand. And, at the end of the day, the value of the community you build counts for everything. It’s important to understand that we cannot assume that these networks simply exist for people to lineup for our marketing messages or promotional campaigns. Nor can we assume that they’re reeling in anticipation for simple dialogue. They want value. They want recognition. They want access to exclusive information and offers. They need direction, answers and resolution.

What we’re talking about here is the multidimensional makeup of consumers and how a one-sided approach to social media forces the needs for social media to expand beyond traditional marketing to socialize the various departments, lines of business, and functions to engage based on the nature of the situation or opportunity.

In the same CMO study, it was revealed that marketers believe that social media has a long way to go toward integrating into the overall company strategy. On a scale of 1-7, with one being “not integrated at all” and seven being “very integrated,” 22% chose “one.” Critical functions such as service, HR, sales, R&D, product marketing and development, IR, CSR, etc. are either not engaged or are operating social media within a silo disconnected from other efforts or possibilities. The problem is that customers don’t view a company by silo, instead they see one company, one brand, and their experience in social media forms an impression that eventually contributes to their view of your brand.

The first step here is to understand business priorities and objectives to assess how social media can be additive in achieving these goals. Additionally, surveying the landscape to determine other areas of interest as its specifically related to your business.

• Are customers seeking help or direction?

• Who are your most valuable customers and what are they sharing?

• How can you use social media to acquire and retain customers?

– What ideas are circulating and how can you harness user generated activity and content to innovate or adapt to better meet the needs of customers?

– How can you broaden a single customer view to recognize the varying needs of customers and how your organization can organize around each circumstance?

– What insights exist based on how consumers are interacting with one another? How can this intelligence inform marketing, service, products and other important business initiatives?

– How can your business extend their current efforts to deliver better customer experiences and in turn more effectively unit internal collaboration and communication?

Customer demands far exceed the capabilities of the marketing department. While creating a social brand is a necessary endeavor, building a social business is an investment in customer relevance now and over time. Beyond relevance, a social business fosters a culture of change that unites employees and customers and sets a foundation for meaningful and beneficial relationships. Innovation, communication, and creativity are the natural byproducts of engagement and transformation. As a social brand, we are competing for the moment. As a social business, we are competing the future in all that we do today.

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

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66 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The Path from a Social Brand to a Social Business”

  1. This is a great piece on branding in the social media realm. Great thoughts – I’ll be making commentary in my next blog.

  2. Brian you continue to read my mind and clearly articulate the dialogue I have in my head daily.  (I am gonna have to wear aluminum foil lol)

    The question I have still unanswered is – why are we as consumers still tolerating businesses that do not value our insights or desire for recognition in how they build ( or do not build) relationships with us?

    Already using my dollars to do my talking.  Then laugh when I read companies state “We need to figure out how to gain back our buying influence that has dropped this year.”

    Seriously these people insides of these businesses cannot be that blind. ( there I go again giving people the benefit of the doubt)

  3. 40deuce says:

    Great read, Brian.
    It’s also quite timely for me as I’ve taken my organization already so far as to becoming a “social brand,” but I’m now currently working on transforming us into a real “social business.”
    This was quite helpful. Thanks!

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

  4. Adam says:

    Brian, thanks for a brilliant article.

    I would agree with everything you’ve said. It still flummoxes me as to why businesses (and individuals) still use their Twitter/Facebook etc as broadcast channels where they vainly believe that anyone listens to what they write when they haven’t bothered to engage their followers.

    My concern is that unless we see a change in behaviour those who seek to use social media as a cheap advertising channel (irrespective of the fact it isn’t) will potentially damage the viability of what social media CAN actually do for them, and potentially spoil it for everyone.

    Are my fears unfounded? I hope so, but I fear not.



  5. mediatemple says:

    Glad to have you as a guest on (mt) residence! Thank you for the awesome insight. 

  6. Brian,

    I always enjoy reading your thoughts. This stands out for me..

    It’s important to understand that we cannot assume that
    these networks simply exist for people to lineup for our marketing messages or
    promotional campaigns. Nor can we assume that they’re reeling in anticipation
    for simple dialogue. They want value. They want recognition. They want access
    to exclusive information and offers. They need direction, answers and

    Brands and small businesses are not thinking enough about this. All the social networks exist because we want to connect with our friends more. The more and more “likes” we give out, the more our news feeds become flooded and the less we see friends updates.

    I truly believe people are going to think twice before liking a page. Brands and businesses will be on a shorter leash so to speak. If the brand isn’t listening or shows they don’t care about their fans, they’ll be un-liked. 

    The final four sentences of the last paragraph are very powerful as well.

    Thanks Brian!

  7. Well written and insightful as usual. Ever get the feeling that all the big players right now will not even be though about in 5 to 8 years?  I wrote about it 18 months ago and have been seeing a lot of similar posts popping up. 

  8. Anonymous says:

    Now where IS the like button when you need one? 

  9. davinabrewer says:

    “Customers are more than just an audience” .. for ads, viral campaigns. Thank you. And I have to shout out to question 6, the insights you get from customers ‘interacting with one another.’ Read a concept a while back, totally stuck with me: unless your customers/fans are talking to each other, they’re an audience not a community. In moving towards becoming a social business -not just ‘doing’ social media marketing- there are so many questions that need to be answered; answering smart questions like these can only help. FWIW. 

  10. Anjula Ram says:

    Thank you! This is such a well written article. Whenever I read your work it anchors me in an understanding of social media on a social psychology level. I am very grateful for that.

    I love your statement:

    ‘How businesses use social media must remind them that they’re more than just an audience, consumer, or a conduit to “trigger” a desired social effect.’

    This rings so true! It is really about RELATIONSHIP. What you describe feels more like a healthy relationship with both parities best interest in focus. There is room to be creative, learn and grow as a business. I believe it is a process and we are shifting in the right direction. Hopefully more businesses will jump on and start to use social media in a more healthy, conscious, and relationship based manner. I believe this is how businesses will really thrive in social media in the long run. 

    Thank you for sharing!

  11. M-troin says:

    I really enjoyed this article. I love this quote “the truth is, businesses cannot measure what it is that they don’t know to value”. It is so true, what a lot of companies that may or may not have been established for very long may not have clued into the fact that this new generation is a very “hands on” personality type. IF we can’t be involved, it isn’t as exciting. The “like” button for Facebook was a great example of how easy it is to accommodate both the consumer and the business needs simultaneously. 

       MAdison Troin
    Southeast Missouri State

  12. Lou Pardi says:

    Fantastic article – spot on! So much (thus unrealised) potential for activity through social channels, and for listening to brands communities to shape businesses to make them even more successful.

  13. Olly Poole says:

    The excitement I felt was terrible compared from other articles I’ve read. The given quotes were deep rising on my veins through out my mental capabilities inserting to my brains. It was a very nice encounter on this valuable blog. Keep posting!

  14. Olly Poole says:

    The excitement I felt was terrible compared from other articles I’ve read. The given quotes were deep rising on my veins through out my mental capabilities inserting to my brains. It was a very nice encounter on this valuable blog. Keep posting!

  15. Both acquiring a social brand and social business was a very nice treatment and aid for your business. Imagine having a good endeavor and a good business investment at one! 

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