In today’s noisy, digitally driven, information-rich culture, being “social” online has seemingly become as mandatory as taking your daily vitamins. For those of us who place a higher value on in-person social interaction, prefer (semi)privacy online, and rather enjoy focusing on ourselves and close relationships instead of reading about ROPL (random other people’s lives), an over-abundance of information like the following can quickly erode our enthusiasm toward this somewhat forced socialization:

1. First boyfriend (who broke your heart and did a lil’ jig on it) just got married.

2. Head cheerleader from high school had her fifth kid.

3. Kim Kardashian’s child is wearing outfits worth more than your car.

It’s really just too much “data” to comprehend and process without wanting to walk yourself to the nearest mental institution and voluntarily put on a straitjacket. Or perhaps it’s just me? 

Regardless of where you are on the spectrum of wanting to be a modern-day, socially savvy creature (this ranges from highly engaged, Facebook-loving mom to old, crusty curmudgeon who refuses to join our social revolution), when it comes to business, “social” has changed the way customers source information, purchase products, and ultimately develop affinity for a brand.

Setting the stage for social business

Recently, I had the pleasure of participating in a Dell-hosted Think Tank centered on the topic of social business, moderated by Altimeter Group founder Charlene Li. The other “thinkers” included executives from enterprises like LinkedIn and DataSift to analysts and media. The AirPR CEO and I were there to represent the fast-growth tech constituency, who are somewhat (translation: extremely) resource-constrained but must nonetheless comply with this socially-driven customer landscape.

According to Li, social business can be defined as “the deep integration and use of social media tools, technologies, platforms, dialogues, and methodologies into the processes of the organization to drive meaningful business results.”

Simple, right?

What I learned, and what I believe is important to impart on anyone in a leadership position (particularly marketing or comms), is that if we ignore the many facets of social, then our companies will likely die a slow and painful death—with no friends and certainly no customers.

In no particular order of significance—because they are all of equal importance—are the key takeaways from the think tank, which I hope position us all for thinking differently about what it means to be a social business.

1. Humans are the centripetal force of data

Social media has enabled businesses to discover and nurture relationships with consumers (and pro-sumers) who may have otherwise gone unnoticed. The truth is, social is just another way to gather data, and there isn’t a business process today that can’t be improved by human data.

However, when we go about creating a social strategy to align with our business objectives, we must keep in mind that people are at the center of this data; and we need to treat them as such. The moment you begin automating aspects of the customer journey where humanity is required, thinking that you can live and die by the data, you’ve missed the point and you’ve lost.

Takeaway: Being social means being human. 

2. The sales process has been flipped

The availability of information and access to peer-to-peer data has single-handedly changed our purchasing behavior: they Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp their way to an opinion prior to decision-making. In fact, there’s a whole book on this topic by leading online data expert Bill Tancer.

Gone are the days when customers come to the proverbial buying table devoid of information about a product or service. Oh, no. They are researchers and analysts in their own right, and are basically over 80 percent of the way to making up their buying mind by the time the sales force reaches them. Thus, marketing has to be out in front of sales, feeding that potential customer useful (educational, engaging) content via blogs, social networks, mainstream/trade media—you name it. 

Takeaway: Social selling is the new paradigm for sales.


3. Ironically, social is sometimes about shutting up

With all the noise out there, a company is best served to understand the psychological disposition of a modern day customer: they have a lot to say but are very poor listeners. How could you possibly listen to and filter all that noise? In other words, while you do your best to engage customers in meaningful dialogue and equip your content producers with valuable information, it is often a better strategy to reverse the thinking around the benefits of social toward one of a “listening platform.”

Companies who insist on clogging up their own channels with content just to have something to say (or to increase SEO) should really rethink their approach. Social business etiquette isn’t dissimilar from other forms of social etiquette. I mean, do you really want to get cornered by that annoying guy at a party who talks about himself to no end? Well, newsflash, your customers feel the same way.

Takeaway: Social is a listening platform as much as it is a communication channel.

4. Social is a layer, not a silo

Much like its first cousin, PR, social has shifted from a function within the marketing department to more of a layer within an organization. In other words, social is not just about external communications and reaching the customer; it’s about empowering individuals within an organization to take part in the larger conversation, thus positioning them (employees) as potential brand advocates externally and idea generators internally.

Within Salesforce, for example, Chatter is used to collaborate internally and cross-functionally. By building a social (net)working environment, brands reposition themselves as “learning organizations” with continual feedback loops which can, in turn, unearth viable business opportunities. 

Takeaway: Empower your organization by thinking about social from the inside out. 

5. Measurement may be years in the making

As marketing pioneer Geoffrey Moore has famously said: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”  

But looking at social merely from a quantitative standpoint, as opposed to an opportunity to generate discourse, listen to customers, and ultimately understand your market, is short-sided.

The challenge then is to interpret the "signals" so you can best serve the customer; and by serving a customer aptly, you have a higher probability of closing the sale. 

Takeaway: Social is often a signal, not the end game. 

Final analysis

Li and her colleague, Susan Etlinger, have both spent a tremendous amount of time consulting with and analyzing this idea of social business in the enterprise environment. Both agree that to understand how social business is moving the needle, brands need to measure the changes from “ignore to awareness” and from “consideration to decision making.”

But this is not an easy task, and social monitoring solutions (the whole lot of them) are often disparate and require multiple integration points in order to be useful. What we likely have right now is 20 percent efficacy in terms of understanding how social drives business objectives from a quantitative standpoint. 

Eventually, the technological dots will connect, but for now it requires a tremendous amount of human capital to invest in developing a truly social business.

After all, as Li gently points out: “There are so many complexities, people are complex, and we are only at the start of social business. It’s not really about the tech; it’s about the relationships.”

To learn more about successful social selling, visit our website, or download the free e-book. 

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