Getting social in the Year Of The Dragon

Shaun Smith

Posted by Shaun Smith twitter@shaunsmith_cem


50% of the world’s population is under 30 years old. If like me, you happen to fall the wrong side of that demographic then the chances are that whilst you may be aware of the trends that are shaping the world and social media in particular, you may not fully embrace them. Douglas Adams, author of ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ famously summed up our attitude towards new technology and trends by saying that everything that already exists when we’re born is normal, anything created between our birth and age 30 is exciting and anything invented after we’ve turned 30 is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it. The fact is that the Y and Z generations are experiencing the world in very different ways from older generations and they are shaping the way that we communicate, consume and even consummate. (On-line dating is rapidly becoming the favoured way for finding a mate).

To find out what we should expect, I posted a poll on the recently launched LinkedIn ‘Customer Service Leadership Forum’* and asked members to vote for and suggest their predictions for the top trends that will impact us in 2012. Although the response rate was not large enough to report a statistically detailed order, the issues raised are revealing.

We have just entered a new Chinese year. So what trends can we expect in the ‘Year of the dragon’?

1) Brand purpose as a key differentiator

The media is full of commentary about big business, big bonuses and bad bankers. The fact is that society is beginning to question the legitimacy of the profit motive as the only, or even the primary driver in business. What this suggests is that the brands that will attract customer loyalty in the future are likely to be those that focus first and foremost on their purpose, believing that this will naturally lead to their being commercially successful.

In Bold - how to be brave in business and win (co-written with Andy Milligan), ‘Purpose before Profit’ is a key theme amongst the brands we researched. Not just amongst the obvious candidates like innocent and Zappos, but also brands such as O2, Air Asia and Umpqua Bank - a brand which puts priority on being 'community-centric' rather than 'city-centric'. In other words creating value for the society in which it exists rather than just the shareholders.

2) Creating multi-channel experiences

One of the questions I am most frequently asked is how to manage experiences across multiple channels. And unsurprisingly, this was by far the most popular trend in the poll, with 47% voting for it as their number one issue.

So how do you do it?

Well you can't. At least not completely. Experience is whatever the customer perceives it to be. What you can do is influence that experience by being very intentional about where and how you deliver your brand promise in a way that is absolutely consistent at every touchpoint.

Although social media, adds complexity, it actually makes this easier to do. It's only by listening to customers that you know what you need to do to deliver value. Customers choose to communicate anytime, anywhere, anyhow and companies have to be ready to hear them and respond accordingly. The good news is that this is becoming increasingly achievable because of the latest systems. Technologies like Radian 6 for example, allow brands to listen in to social-media conversations and mine insight from them.

Of course, listening is only half the battle - you also have to engage in the conversation too. Burberry for example, recently launched its new ‘Burberry Body’ line of cosmetics simultaneously via Facebook and Twitter to its 10 million followers as well as via the traditional channels of print media and in-store promotion. The key is to use a consistent tone of voice whatever the channel.

3) Social status is being redefined

Social status was traditionally ‘who you know’ but social status is becoming ‘who you influence’. It has been estimated that 34% of bloggers post opinions about products and brands and 90% of consumers trust peer recommendations. So what the community is saying about you is much more influential than anything you may say yourself. This is why more brands are using software such as which measures social influence in terms of True Reach - how many people you influence; Amplification - how much you influence them; and Network Impact - the influence overall of your network.

4) From customer loyalty to customer engagement

Conventional wisdom is about bribing customers to be ‘loyal’ to brands through offering card-based points to receive discounts or gifts. The new wisdom is that brands must engage with their best customers by offering them experiences that they cannot get anywhere else. So O2’s ‘Priority’ proposition invites its best customers (its fans) to meet their favourite rugby stars at Twickenham or see the Rolling Stones live at the O2 Arena. Guess what? Customers reciprocate by being loyal to the brand.

Some people fear that technology will distance customers and that we will lose the ‘personal touch’. Whilst it is true that some organisations use technology in the form of IVR’s, self-help and the like to minimize costs and reduce personal interaction, many others realize that their ability to truly engage with consumers is enhanced rather than diminished by the online experience.

5) Mobile personalisation

The more brands know about their customers the more they can tailor offers to meet their needs. Mobile is changing the nature of how brands do that. Brands are increasingly using geo-location, GPS and Facebook ‘likes’ to beam customized offers to consumers based on their current location. O2 Priority Moments, BMW Ultimate Drive and NikeTrue City are all apps that ‘curate’ information and provide guidance to consumers that help them get more of what they value from the locations they happen to be.

But as corporates embrace this technology so they must get smarter. For example, it would be a mistake to see mobile as just another advertising channel. As Craig Davis of J Walter Thompson so eloquently puts it; “We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in”.

6) Creating the internal social network

All of these trends require organisations to think differently about their cultures. As Ronan Dunne CEO of O2 says “In order to turn your customers into fans you must first turn your employees into fans’. The traditional hierarchy and speed of communications within most organisations does not facilitate the responsiveness required by the demands of social media. This means that organisations must become social in themselves - ‘The Social Enterprise’ as Marc Benioff terms it - and are using internal social networks like Salesforce Chatter to speed up internal communications and reduce the amount of time taken up by email and meetings.


These trends are going to create tremendous opportunities for brands but they require organisations to re-think their business models. Interestingly, according to Chinese astrology the ‘Year of the Dragon’ is associated with ‘rapid change’. It promises to be an exciting one!

Shaun Smith

Shaun Smith

Consultant, author and speaker

Shaun Smith speaks and consults internationally on the subject of the customer experience. His consulting company Smith+Co work advises leading brands worldwide on their customer experience. Shaun's new book 'BOLD- how to be brave in business and win' co-authored with Andy Milligan examines 14 brands that are embracing social media and transforming their markets.

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