We’ve reached the point where social media is, in the words of Altimeter analyst Brian Solis, "bigger than marketing. It’s also bigger than customer service. [It builds] relationships with customers that improve experiences and more importantly, teaches businesses how to re-imagine products and internal processes to better adapt to potential crises and seize new opportunities."
That’s what I’ve been learning about social business. In the most forward-looking businesses, which often include startups run by members of "Generation C" (the Connected Generation), social permeates every department of the business. Looking to hire? Put the job out on Twitter. Want feedback on your product from your customers? Set up a UserVoice account. Engage the customers in product development.
The common platforms now used by marketing to broadcast messages—Twitter, Facebook, and You Tube—will soon be used by other departments like HR, IR, and even research and development. Companies like Salesforce.com are already using You Tube to post recruiting videos.
However, Solis cites a recent CMO survey that reveals how little social channels are integrated even into marketing, much less into other departments. The survey says that on a scale of 1-7, the integration of social media into overall business strategy is at about a 1. That’s crazy! How can a business hope to survive if it doesn’t know what its stakeholders are thinking?
If a business is too slow to the social party, we can already predict what will happen. Customers who want a social buying experience will go to some of the newer companies who give them what they want. How do you think Kayak and Mobissimo and SeatGuru got started?
Simple. The travel industry missed the opportunity to develop real-time comparative fare information and offer it to its customers. So an entire group of secondary services, more social, more readily available (i.e. mobile) and more user-friendly moved into the space. Now no one goes to an airline for travel information, or to a hotel site for reservations. Instead, they go to TripAdvisor and Hotwire, where ratings and social channels are built-in.
Same with healthcare. Doctors were afraid to participate on the Internet, so patient-centered sites grew up just to furnish information through common social channels. Social health sites share information about everything from women’s health to drug interactions, helping patients better understand diseases and medications via crowdsourced solutions that bypass the traditional system.
The customer now controls the conversation, and the conversation is happening on the social channels. IR departments had better take notice of StockTwits, where brokers and investors with handles like ZeroHedge, Reformed Broker, and DayTrend share information traditional brokerages don’t. It’s almost as if the brokerages WANTED their customers to go elsewhere for information. StockTwits even allows public companies to send real-time compliant and trackable financial messages to establish direct connection with analysts, financial media, and institutions.
And boardrooms need to take note of social channels as more than just a place to talk about the brand.
It’s my belief that social business is the key to the survival of business in general, and that Solis is right when he says: "Customer demands far exceed the capabilities of the marketing department. While creating a social brand is a necessary endeavor, building a social business is an investment in customer relevance now and over time. Beyond relevance, a social business fosters a culture of change that unites employees and customers and sets a foundation for meaningful and beneficial relationships. Innovation, communication, and creativity are the natural byproducts of engagement and transformation. As a social brand, we are competing for the moment. As a social business, we are competing for the future…"
[Image: Flickr user David Spreekmeester]