Social media? You really need a reason to get stuck in?

Recently, I have been involved in a number of debates about the usefulness of social media in business. I was slightly taken aback that the business value of social media even needed debating. However, many people are simply immersed in their everyday business and personal challenges and have not had the time to consider or explore these issues.

This short article is to get you started in the ‘why’ social media is so important to future business success. I am not going to pound you with statistics: they now overwhelmingly point to majorities of people being online and involved in social media, even if we need to remember the digital disenfranchised and many businesses that operate perfectly well without any online presence.

Social tools, networks and media have enabled customers to do what they’ve always wanted to do — be heard and to have the power to turn their ideas into ways to make the products and services they love even better. These tools are also allowing them to reach more people like them, with common interests and information needs, creating powerful communities not possible only a few short years ago.

So, if you are in business, and can afford to ignore your customers, and potential customers, clustering online and willing to help you deliver them what they want, then you are missing a huge opportunity.

That’s why the best advice about social media, customer service, or anything other business initiative has always been to master the basics before proceeding to the more advanced topics.
Social media will still be here next year (and even the year after). Take the time to first address any serious issues or problems within your customer service organisation before pushing ahead into social media. And if you really can’t wait and feel compelled to jump right into social media while revamping your customer service organisation in parallel, at least start small and stay focused.
Choose a particular channel — whether it be Twitter, a discussion forum, or an online user group — and put enough resources and effort behind it to make it work. Put in the time. Engage with customers. Show people that you are serious and that you plan to stick around for the long term. If you respect your customers — and the community — they will likely both respect you back.
And that’s a pretty good start. If resources, in terms of people, are either scarce and you can’t find an in-house social media champion, think of hiring an agency. In a future post, I’ll give you some tips about choosing one. Or find a guru like me who has not only been immersed in this stuff for a while and already made all those classic mistakes and learned from them!

What a company develops from venturing into social media marketing is social capital. There are sound economic reasons for the importance of social capital. Oliver Williamson won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2009 for his work on transaction costs. One element of his research found that trust reduces transaction costs — in other words, if you’re doing business with someone you know, the cost of doing it decreases.

The Cluetrain Manifesto

The manifesto that started us thinking about being connected

Remember The Cluetrain Manifesto? It was a set of 95 theses organised and put forward as a manifesto, or call to action, for all businesses operating within what was suggested as a newly-connected marketplace, as far back as 1999. The ideas put forward within the Manifesto aimed to examine the impact of the Internet on both markets (consumers) and organisations.

In addition, as both consumers and organisations are able to utilise the Internet to establish a previously unavailable level of communication both within and between these two groups, the Manifesto suggested that the changes that will be required from organisations as they respond to the new marketplace environment.

Here is a summary, in their words: “These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.

“Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humourless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.

“But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will corporations convince us they are human with lip service about ‘listening to customers’. They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf.”

So social media marketing barely needs an ROI, as the current demand is phrased. You just need to decide whether you want to be in business in five years or not. Ignore the sea slowly being sucked away from you and the social media tsunami will catch you unprepared.

Question on LinkedIn: how are you helping traditional clients embrace digital?

There are two strands to an organisation’s evolution into digital thinking.

The first is a communications challenge: this involves integrating website, email marketing, social media presence, SEO, blog…with the internal processes behind content production. Allied to this reorganisation is a change of attitude to one of listening to digital buzz, analysing and adapting to feedback from relevant communities.

The second challenge is realignment to new thinking: in the hearts and minds of senior management. They are already under pressure but time must be made for a workshop on how digital interaction needs a new management philosophy, one of openness, transparency and honesty.

Under traditional command and control hierarchies, this doesn’t come easily. Information used to be power. Now sharing information is power among the digital communities talking about your business every day.

Digital embraces recruitment, customer service, marketing, sales and manufacturing.

My help consists of a programme of workshops allied to some direct, hands-on help in getting marketing communications systems re-engineered. The returns can be phenomenal.