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Being A Social Brand Doesn’t Make You A Social Business

Gee RanasinhaSocial Media

Social isn’t something you become. It’s something you are.

For the enlightened, the effective use of social media channels within a business’ sales, marketing and customer service cost centers has become the norm for (hopefully) a number of years now. Companies that “get it” are building their own media networks consisting of engaged, enthusiastic customers happy to contribute, share, help – and sell.

In fact, you could say these people have become more than just ‘customers’. They’ve become audience members who have each made a conscious action to connect with the brand and (albeit with some reservations) gives companies the power to build relationships in ways that simply cannot be replicated using traditional media.

It’s one reason why companies need to see social media as a corporate-wide responsibility, and not just a Marketing one. Why? Because customers see brands as a single, cohesive entity – rather than a company made up of various departments – and their needs cannot be addressed by a single division.

So is that it? Is the goal of social media for business to get as many of your target audience to “Like” your Facebook or Google+ page, follow you on Twitter, or favorite your YouTube channel?

A Truly Social Business Is About More Than “Being Social”

Perhaps we’re coming to a point where, in order to move things to the next level, companies must make the first of (possibly) many more choices as this whole “empowered customer” thing continues to mature and develop.

For example, from a strategy perspective does a company continue its evolution along the path of a social-aware brand? Or does it use the opportunities that social media channels provide to reshape its entire value proposition and business model?

In short, does it become what we can describe as a “social business”?

What do I mean by “social business”? Well, imagine a company that reshaped its internal and external systems, processes, market intelligence and even commercial opportunities based upon actions and reactions from a trusted, supportive – but nonetheless external – sphere of influence.

Defining The Goal Of Social Within A Business

Perhaps you think that I’m inflating the importance of social media channels as it sits within most companies today? After all, there are plenty of businesses out there (perhaps yours is one of them) that’s making pretty darn good revenues without doing anything in the social space, thanks very much. Well, that depends on how small of a box you want to put social media into.

Is the ‘goal’ simply to increase website hits, drive traffic and build connections to help your site hit the first page of a Google Search? While there’s certainly value in such an approach, it seems as though many (most?) businesses haven’t actually realized that’s it not about the golden egg, but about the goose.

Forget the channels – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, whatever. These are just the instruments. The popular social channels of today are likely to fall in and out of customer favor, over time. And that’s OK. For the true – and far bigger – business opportunity lies with conversing, listening and connecting with customers (both new and existing) in real-time. It seems that very few businesses truly see the value of such a device. Maybe it’s because business owners see social media as just being about social media channels (hint: it’s not) and, since it doesn’t cost “real money” to have a presence on the social web, the spoils can’t be worth much.

And that’s where we get stuck. We end up with what we have now: Bolting-on shiny new social media initiatives onto tired, outdated (and increasingly irrelevant) marketing / sales / service methodologies that have pretty much remained unchanged for fifty years.

Engaged Customers Are Passionate – and Loyal

For a social brand to transition to a social business, I think we need to consider the position from a fundamental shift in the very make-up of the company. It’s about businesses taking their trusted, carefully-nurtured audiences and involving them at some level to actively and meaningfully shape the nature of the firm.

But do customers even want to get so involved? Hell yeah! Have you noticed how often you can find an armchair critic in front of the TV while watching an important sports match? It could even be that the person I’m using as an example is actually you!

In the same way I’ve had countless discussions (in some cases, discussions that have bordered on becoming heated arguments) with friends and colleagues about corporate decisions from companies that we care about, such as Apple or Google.

So why do I get hot under the collar when people slag-off Google, or think that Beats headphones sound better than ones from Sennheiser? The same reason why that armchair sports critic shouts at the TV when their team makes a bad play. Because customers want more from companies than creative marketing, nice-looking ads, or loyalty rewards.

There’s passion. They want to be heard – and want to know you’re listening. They want more. They want recognition, information, direction, resolution, commitment. They want value. They want to be part of what you’re building, and they’ll reward you with their insight, opinion – and devotion. They want to feel part of what you’ve built, and what you’re building.

Social Business: Letting Customers Into The Organization

Will you let them? That’s the real question that any aspirational social business needs to ask itself. Forget the veneer of pithy comment, inbound marketing campaigns and viral YouTube videos for a moment. What we’re talking about is something far bigger than Marketing, Manufacturing, Sales, or Customer Service.

For many companies, developing the social-side of their brand has become part-and-parcel of today’s commercial landscape. Not only does it give businesses an opportunity to build relationships, increasingly it’s become expected by customers.

But where do customers – and therefore companies – go tomorrow, when the “social brand” is the norm rather than the exception?