For the enlightened, the effective use of social media channels within a business’ sales, marketing and customer service cost centers has become the norm. Companies that “get it” are building their own media networks consisting of engaged, enthusiastic customers happy to contribute, share, help – and sell. These are 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 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 Social Business Is 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 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.
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, Google+, whatever. These are just the instruments. The true – and far bigger – opportunity is conversing, listening and connecting with customers (both new and existing) in realtime. 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.
For a social brand to transition to a social business, we’re talking about 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 shape the nature of the firm.
Engaged Customers Are Passionate – and Loyal
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? In the same way I’ve had countless discussions (in some cases bordering on arguments) will 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+? The same reason why the 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 that 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.
Will you let them? That’s the real question that a 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?